Hole in the Wall is a fantastic basin perched above a cliff at the head of the Bowman valley. This is one of the spots in Glacier National Park seen only by those willing to go backpacking. For those people, it truly is a reward as it is a special place.
The three main ways to get to this site are from Kintla, from Bowman or from the East starting at either Chief Mountain trailhead for what is traditionally called the Northern Traverse or from Waterton. This particular trip was the Waterton to Kintla Lake route.
Starting out at Waterton, you take a pleasant boat ride down Waterton Lake where the boat operators offer an interesting and entertaining tour of the lake, some history, geography and outdoor fun facts. You’ll slow down as you cross the international border between Canada and the US at the 49th Parallel, then continue on to Goat Haunt which is the US customs station.
From there you can take a couple of short hikes to such places as Rainbow Falls which is a nice little set of falls along the Waterton River. Most folks on the boat are there for the boat ride and maybe a short hike, so once you hit the trail heading west, you find yourself all alone.
Heading west through the trees, you come across Lake Janet, then the campground (which is not at the lake, but past it) and then Lake Francis. Lake Francis is a beautiful lake and a nice little campground. A huge waterfall cascades down from the Dixon Glacier and just makes the lake a special place.
From there, you continue through a trail that is surrounded by high alders and other brush limiting lower visibility, but still affording views to the surrounding mountains. You skirt a beautiful little pond called Thunderbird Pond which is fed by Thunderbird Falls. From there, you climb a hillside with a bunch of switchbacks that are covered in huckleberry bushes. Catch it at the right time and you’ll want to take frequent breaks.
At the top of this hillside, you finally break out into alpine at Brown Pass. Taking the high fork, your views continue to improve until you’re looking down into the Bowman Valley with little views at Bowman Lake. You round a ridge and get a fantastic view of Hole in the Wall valley and see the waterfalls shooting out from the cliffs below it. Hole in the Wall is an amazing basin covered in wildflowers and surrounded by waterfalls and towering peaks. This area is generally open for camping primarily in August and September and sees a lot of visitors in this time. Heading back up to the main trail, you make your way to Boulder Pass.
Boulder Pass is an area named for its metamorphic rock boulders. Some of the trail just walks on the rock slabs and is marked by cairns. Boulder Peak is beautiful and prominent as you pass some small lakes on the way to the Pass. Once at the pass, you can see into Canada and stay at a campground.
From Boulder Pass, you start heading down through floral meadows with magnificent views at the Agassiz Glacier on Kintla Peak and its neighbors. The trees start getting taller and thicker, thus obstructing the views, with the views reappearing in avalanche chutes. Eventually these stop as well and you trudge through until you get to the beautiful Upper Kintla Lake campsite.
From there, you skirt around the lake, follow a burned forest and a creek that connects the two lakes until you get to the Patrol Cabin and the head of Kintla Lake. A ways down Kintla Lake, you come across the campground and get so see old oil drilling equipment and a little window into the area’s past.
The trail goes up and down as it follows the shore of the lake until you get at the foot of the lake and your car.
This trip is one of the gems of Glacier National Park and should be on the list of anyone that loves backpacking and doesn’t mind a bit of elevation change. The incredible views, variety of terrain, wildflowers, waterfalls and peaks… what’s not to love?!
Goat Haunt to Lake Francis
Lake Francis to Hole in the Wall
Hole in the Wall to Upper Kintla Lake
Upper Kintla Lake to the foot of Kintla Lake