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
21 responses to “Hole in the Wall”
Love the videos. It helps immensely planning a backcountry trip to Glacier. Have you experienced any grizzleys? Curious if you had any encounters and if you did how you handled them.
I’ve had encounters, but no incidents. The closest I came was to one that I jumped and it took off. Check out my Trout Lake blog to see that one. Stay alert, make noise, and carry bear spray. When you see a bear, back up slowly and talk in a non-threatening voice. Most will either ignore you and continue eating or will take off. By an large, they prefer space between you and them.
Is there a way to do this hike if you only have one car?
Not anything remotely simple. It would involve hitchhiking, free shuttles and paid shuttles. If you only have one car, I would recommend doing an out and back either from Bowman or from Goat Haunt. The North Fork area gets tricky with shuttles.
I’m honeymooning to Glacier in August and was hoping to do Hole in the Wall as a backpacking trip. I’ll only have a rental car and don’t want to lose a day taking shuttles, so I assume we’d hike it as an out-and-back.
How many days would you recommend allowing for this, starting & ending at Goat Haunt?
Where would you recommend turning around: Hole in the Wall, Boulder Pass, or Upper Kintla?
You really can do this as an overnighter, but that would be sad. Coming from Goat Haunt, I’d hike to Lake Francis and spend the first night there. Second night, Hole-in-the-Wall, then Boulder Pass if you have another night… or flip those last two. Sometimes, extending how far out you have a coveted site can get increase your chances. You may also consider Kootenai Lakes, then Lake Francis, then Hole-in-the-Wall. You’d not spend a ton of time hiking in between camps, but that frees you up to do things like Porcupine Lookout, foraging for huckleberries, or climbing Boulder Peak! I probably wouldn’t go down to Upper Kintla. The lake is beautiful, but it’s a lot of elevation that goes through trees. You’d probably enjoy exploring the alpine areas more.
Thanks for the info! I was lucky enough to get a permit for Lake Francis & Hole in the Wall, so I’ll be doing 3 days/2 nights out and back from Goat Haunt. After leaving from Lake Francis, what would be my best day/route to take on Day 2? Could I make it to both Boulder Pass Overlook and Boulder Peak? And would you recommending stopping at Hole in the Wall on my way to Boulder to lose some of my pack weight?
What a sweet trip! Yes, I would stop at Hole-in-the-Wall first and set up camp/slim down, then head up to Boulder. Keep an eye out for wolverines. There are a lot of marmots around which are wolverine snacks (and can be mistaken as wolverines as well). Also, the huckleberries are amazing on the slopes above Thunderbird Pond. It’s the switchbacks that head up towards Brown Pass. Might make for a nice evening stroll after setting up camp at Lake Francis and a little organic dessert. 😀
Hi, I came across the website and you really seem to know what you’re talking about. I’m planning a trip in the first week of August and we are really trying hard to explore the North Fork area. I came across the idea for what seems like an awesome hike and I was curious if you could help me out at all. So we are planning on backpacking from Bowman Lake to Kintla Lake or vice versa. I was curious if you could suggest doing one way versus the other. Also we are planning on arriving in the mid afternoon on Friday and we will head to the top of the lake that day. Then, the following day, Saturday, we would like to make our way through the mountains of Hole in the Wall, Brown Pass, and Boulder Pass. Then the following day, Sunday, we would hike back down to the other lake. Does this sound like enough time to you? Also I was curious if you could recommend any transportation between the two, everyone else has suggested hitchhiking which is fine with me, but if there’s any more reliable options I would love to consider those as well. Thanks!
We did the Northern Traverse this summer, and it was a great trip. We took out at Bowman instead of Kinta, but otherwise did the route from Chief Mountain. It is a great trip!! I would say that, having some issues with a fear of heights, the last bit of trail into Hole in the Wall is pretty terrifying, but it is worth it. The accompanying adrenaline rush helped, but Hole in the Wall and Brown Pass are both once-in-a-lifetime quality campsites. Not to mention that Thunderbird lake may just be one of the most beautiful small lakes in the world.
Thank you for all the helpful info.
Ha! There are a few “goat walks” in the park and that would be one. (Dawson-Pitamakan comes to mind as well as the beginning of the Highline Trail.) That area is one of my favorites. Probably the top one or two campsites for sure! Glad you had a great trip. Hopefully you ate some huckleberries on the slope above Thunderbird Pond.
I am also looking at doing a backpacking trip from Bowman Lake to Kintla Lake via Brown Pass and Boulder Pass (or vice versa). We only have one car and I am concerned we might have difficulty hitchhiking between the two. Did you meet any other hikers that were doing the same trip, and would you recommend starting at Bowman or Kintla, for the main purpose of hitchhiking between the two?
Thanks in advance!
That’s a bugger of a loop to hitchhike. You’ll eventually be able to do it most likely, but you’ll be waiting for a long time. Generally people all go in in the morning and leave in the afternoon when you’ll be getting off the trail. You’ll find a ride out fairly more easily, but getting up to the other lake is difficult. I would probably hike up to Kintla and get a ride down to the Bowman junction… you might, however wait a bit. The other option would be to park at Polebridge and hitch a ride to your trip, then hitch out.
I have been very interested in the hole in the wall for a backpacking trip. I read in one of the above post though that there is an area that is difficult if you have a fear of heights. well I don’t have a particular fear of heights I do have a fear of falling. so my question is how wide is the path?
It sounds like boat to Goat Haunt will not run in 2021. Between that and not have any shuttle/taxi services available from Polebridge, it sounding like access to Hole in the Wall will be nearly impossible for most of us for summer of 2021. Please advise if you have any ideas to make a trip here possible. Which trailhead is closest to Goat Haunt if you have to hike in?
You’d probably want to look at hiking in from Kintla Lake.
Yeah, that’s what I’m looking at now. I’m sketched out though about that road to the trailhead. There will be three of us and traveling with a rental car. Driving rental up that roads sounds like a bad idea and hitching is not something we want to bank on. I’m seeing if I get accomodations in Polebrige the night before, and if I can arrange through
property owner to get them to get dropped off at Kintla. Haven’t heard anything back yet.
I haven’t been to that side before, only in through Goat Haunt. If it were me, I’d take the rental car out there.
I second Brad’s advice on taking the rental car. You’ll be fine. The road does suck, but it’s not like you need an off-road vehicle with high clearance. People drive up there in Civics and whatever else they can take. You’re good with either Kintla or Bowman as an access… and those routes are the more popular ways to get there. It only gets tricky when you want to make it a one-way trip from one trailhead (Goat Haunt/Kintla/Bowman) to another one as there really aren’t great options without two cars.
[…] is pretty hard to describe the hike from Boulder Pass, past Hole in the Wall, over Brown Pass, and down to Bowman Lake, especially in the conditions I had. […]
Thanks for posting the video. I really enjoyed that. In 1991 a buddy and I hiked from Kintla Lake to the Loop. We actually got off to a rough start. Our friend who was driving us to the trailhead missed the turn over the North Fork at Pole Bridge and we ended up at the Canadian border on the wrong side of the river. We didn’t have time to go all the way back and around so we found a spot where we got out and trailblazed, fording the river to the road on the other side. We were miles away from the trailhead and it was getting super late when a ranger drove up on us and offered a ride. He not only drove us to the trailhead but he took us all the way across the lake to our campsite on his boat. A very fortunate turnaround for us for sure. We would have had hours of hiking in the dark otherwise. The next day we climb the boulder pass and camped at hole in the wall. I agree it was the most amazing campsite ever. Day three we hiked down to Goat Haunt an up the Waterton River to Kootnai lake to camp. It wasn’t the most impressive Lake in the park but there was a moose wading out in the water. We then made a detour and climbed Mount Cleveland. That was a really tough but fun hike. Bushwacking was the hardest thing ever. Straight up through alders reaching down at you like Spears.We made our own campsite that night right at the base of the cliffs. We then continued up to 50 mountain campground which was amazing. It sits on the Continental divide trail which wasn’t much of a trail back then. We met a group of hikers who were about to finish the entire Continental divide which was cool. On day five we finished up at the loop. That was an unforgettable experience and your video brought back lots of memories.