Bearing north 

A three-year-old tests border security at Waterton. Her findings: Canada's got cute bears.

Goat Haunt does not look like an official international border crossing. As we approach the checkpoint from the Canada side, there's exactly one park ranger and one border agent standing between us and our homeland. I see only two buildings—one up the trail a bit, another just off the trail. That's the ranger station, about the size of a large outhouse. While 11 park and border personnel inhabit Goat Haunt during peak summer weeks, typically just two or three people occupy the post, giving it status as one of our country's most remote points of entry.

"The moose outnumber us 10-to-1," says the park ranger, half-jokingly. "They're our backup."

After Sept. 11, the government completely shut down the Goat Haunt Border Crossing, fearing that terrorists would take advantage of the minimal operation. But even as border requirements tighten—beginning June 1, travelers must have a passport to cross into the United States—Goat Haunt remains a throwback. For my wife, my 3-year-old daughter and myself, the port is nothing more than a pleasant conversation, a quick flash of paperwork, and a recommendation for a hike to a favorite nearby overlook.

click to enlarge The Prince of Wales Hotel, overlooking Upper Waterton Lake.
  • The Prince of Wales Hotel, overlooking Upper Waterton Lake.

The area's quaint, un-touched feel makes it an ideal day trip while vacationing in Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada, just north of Glacier National Park in Montana. The park's hub—Waterton Townsite—is a charming Canadian village just six hours from Missoula, and it offers the perfect jumping-off point for all levels of thrill-seeking, from longer hikes to shorter excursions more suited to our daughter's attention span.

Returning to Waterton after a day in the sun, we soaked in small-town hospitality and relaxed in rustic accommodations, promising to return once we realized we couldn't see everything in a single trip.

Bears on the brain

My daughter asks for just one thing out of this family getaway to Waterton: to see a bear. Aside from the promise of waterfalls, vistas, boat rides and a must-have slice of pie from the famous Park Café in St. Mary, I mention we just might glimpse a bear—not knowing this would become the only thing she cared about.

Fortunately, the Red Rock Parkway leading into the townsite carries a reputation for excellent bear viewing, and it does not disappoint. Three miles into the drive my wife spots a mother and cub on a ridge overlooking the two-lane road. Soon after, we see another pair of black bears playing in a grassy field, just 30 yards from the parkway. Staying close to our car, we watch for nearly an hour as the two bears roll around, occasionally poking up their heads to watch the watchers. Before lunch on the first day of our trip my daughter is already ecstatic about seeing her first real bears.

click to enlarge headtrip2-2.jpg

Red Rock Canyon lies just 25 minutes north of Waterton, but its geography is more reminiscent of an Arizona landscape. Brilliant magenta, taupe and green rock formations line the streambed, and well-maintained trails—suitable for kids or grandparents—meander along Bauerman Creek, offering enough variety to keep a family busy for at least a half day.

The next day delivers another mellow Canadian gem. Akamina Parkway bends west toward Crandall Lake before dropping south to Cameron Lake—a serene subalpine tarn nestled between the snow-covered peaks of Akamina Ridge. Arriving at 10 a.m., the place is empty, save for a few park personnel running the dock. We rent a canoe for $25 (row boats and paddle boats are also available by the hour) and paddle the lake's perimeter, taking in the view of the towering Mt. Custer and searching the shorelines for grizzly bears.

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