View Full Version : Best way to get to the Canadian border for a SOBO hike?

12-12-2011, 20:42
Are the only options to fly into Columbia Falls and hitch into the park (how do you get to the border from there?), or fly into Calgary and take a bus south to Waterton?

12-12-2011, 21:49
I was a northbounder so I walked into Canada.
I had different logistics so maybe a southbounder can comment.
My southbounder buddies mostly took a train, or bus, or car to East Glacier Montana. This is a small town outside the national Park.
From there you can hitch a ride to the Candain Border at Chief Mountain.
This is where things get strange.
The CDT has two major possible starting points up North for you.
You can begin southbound right there at cheif mountain and make your way up along the belly river into Glacier NP.
Or, you can hitch to Waterton and begin by hiking down along the west shore of Waterton Lake past goat haunt.
Southbounders are sometimes more or less forced to start at cheif mountain due to all the snow and the Ahern glacier area of the highline trail even in late june some years.
In my case i walked into Canada without seeing any Canadian Customs. Even weirder was that US customs stamped my passport at goat haunt even though I have just come from the US and was still 6 miles from the international terminus. I have to admit, the little stamp of the mountain goat in my passport is cool though.
Once in Waterton i went to the RCMP office in Waterton and announced my arrival.. this totally threw the Mountie for a loop. The called over to Cheif mountain and gave them my passport info, asked me a bunch of silly questions like: Are you bringing more than 10,000 dollars into Canada? DUDE, I am a thru hiker that just spent the last four months un-employed and walking here from Mexico!
Any guns or weapons? Yea, this victorinox classic knife with it's razor sharp .7 inch blade.
Are you planning on staying in Canada indefinetly? Only if you'll let me.
Actually i was polite with my answers.. but they did ask those questions!
Anyhow, after ten minutes they turned me loose in Canada.
I spent a few days hiking around the gorgeous vicinity of Waterton and then took a private shuttle to Calgary.
It turns out that it was cheaper to fly from Calgary to San Jose than to shuttle to Kalispell and fly to San Jose.
If for some reason you want to go to Calgary anyways there is an awesome hostel in the city.
It's called the Wicked Hostel. Super awesome place. Don't miss the Calgary tower. there is a clear glass deck you can walk out onto and "hover" 40 stories above the city.
Anyhow the shuttle i used was based out of Welch's chocolate shop in Waterton Lake Alberta.
Yes, that is an actual chocolate shop...AND shuttle service.
It cost me 70 bucks US for the ride but the price varies depending on how many folks are going on that day.
In your case you probably just need to show your passport at cheif mountain and continue on your way to Waterton.
Oh yea.. don't have a Felony on your criminal record. Even a DUI will cause them to deny you entry to Canada.
If that were the case you could start at Cheif Mountain and remain in the US.
I have heard that you can also take the red Glacier National Park tour busses (Those really cool old looking rag top ones!) from East Glacier.
Yogi's CDT guide has a detailed section on all the travel options to and from the termini of the CDT.
She is updating the guides as we speak and they will be availiable near the end of December.
The Northern Terminus of the CDT at Waterton lake Alberta Canada/Glacier NP Montana USA.
Looking back towards Goat Haunt and the US side.
That clearcut line to the left IS the border between Canada and US.

12-12-2011, 22:47
Oh - thanks for reminding me, I need to get the guide after the first of the year! I've been reading through some trail journals, I was just curious as to what others' experiences have been.

Spirit Walker
12-12-2011, 22:52
You can fly into Kalispell, take a taxi about 10 miles to the train station in Whitefish, and take Amtrak to East Glacier (one train a day). You could also take Amtrak from either Minneapolis or Spokane to Whitefish if you live near either of those cities. Stay at either the Whistling Swan motel (hiker friendly owner who hiked the AT) or the hostel, then hitch or take the Park shuttle to either the border or Waterton. Both the Chief Mountain and Waterton routes are good. If you are SOBO, get the permit before you go, if you can. If you can't, you'll need to pick up your Park permit before you start hiking. You may have to hike the park northbound if there aren't available spaces in the campgrounds. If you choose to fly to Calgary, Greyhound has a bus from there to Pincher Creek, and from there it is a 50 km hitch to Waterton NP. All in all, Whitefish is easier.

12-13-2011, 04:06
Why do you prefer Whitefish over Columbia Falls, isn't the latter closer to the park?

12-13-2011, 12:15
Renting a car is another option. East Glacier has (or had, in 2007) a car-rental shop (same building as the hotel I stayed in, I think it was the Whistling Swan). I rented a car one-way from Denver and drove with a friend. It was cheaper than two plane, bus and train fares. Once in East Glacier, it was good to have the car for a few hours to drive to a ranger station to get a permit. Then we took the park shuttle to the Chief Mt TH at the border.

Feral Bill
12-13-2011, 12:23
Why do you prefer Whitefish over Columbia Falls, isn't the latter closer to the park? Same airport.

12-13-2011, 19:16
It looks like it might be worth it to fly into Seattle, take Amtrak from there to East Glacier, spend the night at the hostel and try to hitch to Chief Mountain the next day, maybe camp at Gable Creek if I get there early enough. It's a good 70 miles from East Glacier to Chief Mountain. How difficult is that hitch?

Spirit Walker
12-14-2011, 00:37
It can be very difficult to hitch out of E. Glacier sometimes. We didn't want to start as late as the bus would get us there, so Jim and I stood in the rain/snow for about 3 hours trying to get a ride before we gave up and got on the bus. Since we had a reserved campsite, there was some pressure to get going.

If you aren't picky about direction, get a permit if you can for a northbound hike. It is easier to spend the night in E. Glacier and walk the CDT north out of town than wait for a ride north. I think it's easier to get a ride south since most people crossing the border are heading at least as far as Browning.

Northern Lights
12-14-2011, 00:44
You can fly into Kalispell, take a taxi about 10 miles to the train station in Whitefish,

Are there taxis in Kalispell, I was there in June and couldn't find one to save my life.

12-14-2011, 00:48
If you can get to East Glacier by train all the better. One time I tried to hitch from Kalispel to E. Glacier and after hours of trying and walking a few miles I inquired at a rent-a-car. It cost $75 one way. Another hour or so trying to hitch and another mile walking down the road, I called the place and had them pick me up. I made it by mid afternoon, had use of the car to sleep in and get to Two Medicine to get my permit before dropping it off.

I've done both the Chief Mountain and Waterton route and the latter is by far the better of the two. It's also the official route, rather than the official alternate, if things like that matter. If you choose the Waterton route, I believe a passport is now required to enter Canada. A word of warning, one hiker I know was denied entry because of a DUI. Fortunately, if one is denied entry, the alternative terminus is right there.

There's usually a shuttle that runs once a day from East Glacier, to the Prince of Wales in Waterton. If snowpack and permits allow, and you can do that, it would be worth the extra effort.

Here's a pic a mile or two into the Chief Mountain route. If I'm not mistaken, facing west, the Divide is the mountains off to the right, and as you can see there's a lot more snow.


01-19-2012, 11:19
+1 on preference for the Waterton hike. The Mapping crew did both routes and I prefer the Waterton one. It is spectacular country and we had a wolf walk up to us while taking a break just before Waterton Lake. You won't need the passport to get to Waterton via the trail but you do need it to get back into the US at the border crossing on the highway. We brought some other hikers back with us and one of them was allowed to cross with a certified birth certificate and two photo ids.