Last updated: June 28, 2016
Seriously! You can get to a few backcountry campgrounds without hiking to them. Yes, I’m talking about paddling. Who wouldn’t want to canoe or kayak around large glacially carved lakes surrounded by mountains? I’m Ranger Carol to help you figure out where you can go for your Glacier National Park backcountry paddling expedition.
First, what about an international opportunity to paddle from Canada to the United States? For this unique paddle, you must start up in the Waterton Lakes National Park side of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park and paddle approximately 8 miles down Waterton Lake to a backcountry area in the United States called Goat Haunt. There are 7 three-sided shelters aptly called the Goat Haunt Shelters that you can obtain a backcountry permit for; Goat Haunt is the only area with these covered camping shelters in the park. It is also the only location to backcountry camp in Glacier where you will have luxurious flush toilets—most of the time.
Before you jump aboard and start paddling, there are a couple things to note. Please inquire at Waterton Lakes National Park about getting your canoe/kayak inspected for weeds, mussels, and other aquatic invasive species. Once at Goat Haunt, USA, you will be checking in with customs authorities and will need to have proper documentation for across border travel. Also hours for customs are limited at Goat Haunt (1115 to 1700 each day) and, yes, you must check in with the custom agents during this time. And perhaps most importantly, Waterton Lake can be extremely windy, making paddling extremely difficult. Check your wind forecast.
Okay, so it’s windy on the day you want to “not hike” to a backcountry campground or you forgot your passport on the kitchen table. Two lakes in the “North Fork” area of the park might be for you: Bowman and Kintla. Both of these large lakes have a public launching area for your canoe or kayak. For Bowman Lake you’ll have a 7 mile paddle to the Bowman Lake Head backcountry campground, for Kintla Lake it’s a little over 6 miles to the Kintla Lake Head backcountry campground. These lakes tend to get less wind than Waterton Lake and you won’t be traveling across an International border. Both are lovely picturesque lakes surrounded by mountains…of course that’s true of all Glacier’s lakes.
Again, before you jump aboard and start paddling, there are (always) a couple of things to consider. You can only access Kintla and Bowman Lakes’ public launches via a bumpy dirt, boulder, and pothole road that’s mostly one lane. Apparently some rental companies don’t let you take rentals up there. Also please pick up or print a copy of our self-certification for non-motorized watercraft form. You will be required to self-inspect your vessel and certify that you are without any doubt aquatic invasive species free. Carry the form on you and check the wind forecast. The wind tends to pick up in the afternoon and tends to blow West to East, but this is not always true.
Alright so it’s windy on Waterton Lake, you forgot your passport and your rental company won’t let you drive to the North Fork…Great! I have one last option for you. There just happens to be a backcountry campsite on Lake McDonald. You may even be able to Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) here, if you’re not taking a lot of gear and you’re good at it. Sometimes, although not always, it’s wise to head out earlier in the day for the calmest waters. Still obtain and keep a copy of that self certification on you and check that weather forecast.
There is one last thing I need to mention before you decide to paddle. We can’t guarantee the safety of your watercraft. Theft of your watercraft by an envious party could potentially happen. Also, I understand that sometimes in a big canoe it’s tempting to take a lot of large, heavy food…just remember that when you get to camp after paddling and your arms are tired, the first thing you’ll be doing is hanging all that food. Just something to think about.
See you in a permit office soon!