In the southern part of Alberta, travellers will come across one of the most incredible national parks that the country can offer. Bordering on the United States, Waterton Lakes National Park encompasses an area that, along with the neighbouring Glacier National Park (USA), has been designated an international peace park, a World Heritage Site, and a Biosphere Reserve.
For outdoor enthusiasts, this national park is the perfect place to spend time this summer, exploring and experiencing all that there is to do. Plan to spend several days if you can to really soak in the true nature and atmosphere of this park. Accommodations are available in the town of Waterton, or camping sites throughout the Park. Like all National Parks, there is a fee that comes along with visiting, please be prepared to pay before entering.
Visit Cameron Falls
This is one of the easiest waterfalls to visit as it is right beside the road and doesn’t require much walking, so if you are limited in your walking ability or don’t have a lot of time to head off on a longer trek to see some rushing waters, this is a good choice. This is probably the most photographed place in the entire park, so be prepared to see a lot of other visitors around. There are interesting information panels to explain the topography and history of the area, as this is the oldest rock found in the entire Rockies. The falls are lit up at night, so this also makes a great place for an evening stroll.
Take a Cruise
One of the best ways to explore the lakes of Waterton is to take a cruise! The scenic cruises are approximately one hour and fifteen minutes long and depart at various times of the day. There is usually a 10 am photography cruise, a couple of afternoon departures, and a 6 pm wildlife cruise. It is a good idea to book ahead as there are limited spaces. Please note that for this year (2021) there is no landing, drop off or pick up at Goat’s Haunt, which is on the U.S. side of the lake. The cruise line also offers shuttles to other hike start points, so you will see this company referenced in some of our other activity listings.
Hike Crandell Lake
This is a really good trail for a family or if you just want to spend some time relaxing and exploring rather than trekking all day. The out and back trail is only 3.2 kilometers and you really only need 1 to 2 hours to complete it. However, the lake itself is a great place to hang out and have a picnic, or explore by using the trail network. You can enjoy the emerald green of the lake from several vantage points, either using the loop trail around the lake, or from any of the craggy spots to which you can climb. Of course, like all other hikes in the Park, this one offers up incredible views with little effort. (Directions)
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Hike Bertha Lake and Bertha Falls
This is a classic hike of only just over 11 kilometers return (for those doing the entire route), with stunning views and a couple of options of turn around points. The first part of the hike is perfect for families as there is little elevation gain but still rewards hikers with views of Upper Waterton Lake, Vimy Peak and Mount Boswell and an end destination of the waterfall. Benches along the way make this a great hike for those who want to take their time and soak in the scenery. After the falls, more ambitious hikers can continue to the lake and then return. This is a popular hike which is good for the shoulder season, as snow tends to melt here faster than in other, more remote and higher places. (Directions)
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Bike the Kootenai Brown Trail
If you enjoy spending some time zipping down a dedicated pathway for bikers, this is a great trail to start with. The 6.9-kilometer pathway takes you from the town campground to the Visitor’s facilities in the Valley, with views that will make you want to keep going. This is just one of several lovely riding paths in the Park. If you don’t have your own bike, you can get a rental of a regular bicycle, or an electric bike, at Pat’s Waterton Cycle Rentals (you can also rent a kayak here if you are looking for another activity).
Take a Drive on the Akamina Parkway
There is more than one scenic drive available through the park for those who want a more sedate travel opportunity. This particularly lovely drive takes you from the townsite to the shores of Cameron Lake. Plenty of photo ops wait for you along the route, as well as historic stops and lots of trailheads if you feel inclined to walk awhile. Cameron Lake has an interpretive exhibit, along with a pretty trail that follows the western shore. From the town, follow signs for the Parkway. The drive time is only about 30 minutes with no stops with a distance of approximately 16 kilometers each way.
Do Some Stand Up Paddle Boarding (SUP) or Kayaking
Waterton is a fantastic place to try out some paddle boarding. In fact, paddling in Waterton has been named the #1 activity in previous years! Cameron Lake is always a good choice to spend some time gliding over the water, especially as it tends to be less windy and there are no motorboats allowed. Of course, you can always head to the Upper, Middle or Lower Waterton Lakes as well to enjoy some blissful time on the water. If you don’t have your own equipment, you can easily rent from Blakiston & Company right in town.
Hike to Crypt Lake
This is a longer, but still popular route that is considered one of the best in Waterton National Park. There is a lot of adventure to be had along this trail, as you need to take the boat to get to the start point, go up a ladder, go through a tunnel, and even, if you choose to, go along a cliff face hanging onto a chain. This isn’t for novice hikers though, as the 17 kilometer out and back hike will take 5 to 7 hours to complete. The ferry only takes 20 minutes to get there, and it will save you the additional 15 kilometers of walking you would have if you hiked around the shoreline to get to the start point. You will have an elevation gain of 690 meters, and it is well worth it! Make sure you take appropriate gear and be aware that this is bear country.
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Drive the Red Rock Parkway
A short 15-kilometer (one way) drive will take you up the incredible Red Rock Parkway. This is a great area to see how the prairies blend with the mountains. As well, the roadway offers amazing views of Mt. Blakiston, the park’s highest peak at 2,940 m (9,645 ft) above sea level. If you are a wildflower lover, this is a perfect place to view the multitudes of species, especially in June. There are many pullouts where you can stop to take pictures or read the interpretive displays. This is also a great place to see wildlife, so watch carefully as you are driving. Be aware that this is a narrow roadway and large motorhomes or long trailers are not recommended.
Walk the Red Rock Trail to Blakiston Falls
Since you are going to head down the Red Rock Parkway anyway, take a bit of time to enjoy the site at the end – the Red Rock Canyon. This gorgeous red-walled canyon is a unique area to explore. There is a loop trail that is just under 3-kilometers long and will take you to Blakiston Falls if you want to explore further than the canyon. Otherwise, take some time to stick your feet in the water and enjoy the sunshine while you explore the canyon area. Please, whatever you take in with you, take out – don’t leave garbage in the Canyon.
Watch for Wildlife
There is no more diverse National Park in Canada when it comes to flora and fauna. Covering an area of 505 square kilometres, Waterton is home to more than 60 species of mammals, 250 species of birds, 24 species of fish and 10 species of reptiles and amphibians. There is a healthy population of grizzlies and black bears in the region, not to mention the cougars, lynx, coyotes and foxes! Of course, deer, elk, sheep and moose are also commonly seen in the Park, in fact, more so than seeing the predators! Get your camera ready and keep your eyes sharp. Please remember, these are wild creatures. Don’t ever get out of your vehicle, or if you are on foot, approach any wild animal. Please don’t feed wild animals.
Since there are more than 250 known species of birds that inhabit Waterton, this is an excellent area for avid birdwatchers to grab their binoculars and head out to find the incredible birds amongst the beautiful scenery.
The recommended areas are as follows: the Maskinonge Lake area near the park entrance; Bertha and Rowe trails; Carthew-Alderson trail; and the aspen/prairie areas of the park and along the Waterton River. There are even bald eagles that nest in the Park and are seen frequently.
Hike the Bear’s Hump
This is a short but challenging hike that will reward you with stunning views of the Waterton Lakes as well as the town. Even though this is a bit steep, because it is short – less than 3 kilometers – most kids with some walking experience should have no problems getting up and down on this trail. At each 1/3 marker of the trail there is a bench where you can rest. It’s a good way of keeping track of how much farther you have to go! Once you reach the top you may not want to hike back down – the view is that good.
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Take a Drive along the Bison Paddock Loop Road
Since 1952 there have been Plains Bison roaming an enclosed area of the Park. This short driving route will allow you to view the Bison in their natural habitat – the prairie grasslands. Please don’t leave your vehicle at any time while in the paddock. You can travel instead to the lookout which can be reached by a short walk and will be rewarded with amazing views of the bison, the valley and the surrounding mountains. The Loop Road is located just inside the park’s north boundary, off Highway 6. Ask at the Visitor’s Center for more information.
Enjoy the Waterton Wildflower Festival
We are listing this event though there is no guarantee that events will go on ahead for this June, 2021. However, there is nothing stopping the wildflowers from blooming, so even if there is nothing officially organized, if you are a lover of lovely flora and an abundance of colorful wildflowers, then you should head to Waterton during the 10 spectacular days in June when everything is in bloom. There are usually guided tours, photography walks and workshops along with other fun activities during this time. Keep check in the calendar to see what will be listed for events for this year.
Take Yourself on a Historical Walking Tour
No guide is required for this fun historic walking tour of the townsite. There are a total of 22 historic buildings from pre-1950’s that you can see and learn about. The Park Architectural Division was established back in 1927, and William Cromarty, the chief architect, either designed or helped design many of the featured buildings. Structures were required to have a Swiss chalet inspired design, or Tudor classic theme, which is why there are such interesting elements to each building. It’s a bit tedious, but you can download the map and all the different stops from the website so that you can read along as you go.
Enjoy Some Horseback Riding
With a variety of horseback trails to enjoy, this company offers an amazing opportunity to see Waterton from a completely different perspective – the back of a well-trained horse! From short one-hour trail rides to longer day trips, and even overnight trips, you don’t need any horse-riding experience to have some fun! Marvel at the spectacular scenery while you travel in a traditional way. Your guides are knowledgeable about the area and the history, regaling you with information about flora and fauna and stories of the mountains as you make your way along the beautiful trails.
Hike to Lineham Falls
This is an out-and-back trail that will ultimately take you to the spectacular 410-foot tall Lineham Falls. With only a distance of 9 kilometers, you will only need about 3 hours to complete this journey. The best thing about this hike (aside from the view of the waterfall) is that you have an opportunity to walk through several ecosystems, with coniferous forests, open hillsides, and areas full of wonderful wildflowers. The trailhead is located off of the Akamina Parkway, which is now open to road traffic.
Have Afternoon Tea
In the traditional British style, the Prince of Wales Hotel offers up an excellent way to spend the afternoon with stunning views of Waterton Lake, along with yummy pastries, sandwiches and a selection of teas. The hotel itself is a historic property built in 1927 and well worth a visit. We can’t overlook this unique activity in Waterton, but keep in mind that even in the best of times reservations are recommended.
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Eat a Hot Dog
A seasonal, family-owned business, even if you are not a hot dog enthusiast, this is a must-eat place in Waterton. Wiener’s of Waterton offers up incredible wieners with all sorts of yummy sauces and sides to create unique dogs. They bake their own buns and cook the wieners on demand so that everything is as fresh as possible. Don’t worry, they also serve other food favourites if you aren’t into the hot dogs.
Play a Round of Golf
Time to get out your clubs and enjoy some holes at the historic Waterton Lakes Golf Course. Opened way back in 1922 with only 9 spectacular holes, the course was increased to 18 holes in 1935 and revamped with the help of famed golf course architect, Stanley Thompson, in the 1950’s. You can’t ask for better scenery to accompany you through the game, and you never know, one of the local animals may join you in the game.
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As with most tiny towns within National Parks, Waterton townsite is chock full of interesting and unique places to shop. Of course, you will find the standard (and not so standard) sports stores which offer up equipment for sale or rent, along with any of the outdoor odds and ends that you might require or have forgotten. The other stores in town are worth a browse though as well, as you can find some uniquely named (and full of fun stuff) stores such as Zum’s Merchantile & Bear Shop, the Trappers Trading Post, the Gust Gallery, along with many more. Spend a morning, or an afternoon, or a day checking out the stores and shops in town.
An amazing place to fish, there are a variety of places where you can throw your hook in, and a variety of fish to be caught, including Rainbow, Cutthroat, Bull, Lake Trout, Northern Pike, Lake and Mountain Whitefish, as well as rare species of Deepwater Sculpin and Pygmy Whitefish. Don’t forget that you will need a special Parks Canada fishing permit, which are available at Park headquarters, the visitor centre, campground kiosks and from local tackle shops. Check the government website for current open and close dates for fishing areas and any special instructions needed to enjoy this activity here.
Bike Wishbone Trail
This is also a hiking trail, so watch out for walkers as you make your way along. The path winds its way along the base of Vimy Peak and near to both the Lower and Middle Waterton Lakes. The 21-kilometer trail will allow you plenty of time to get your adrenaline going, as well as offering up the experience of exploring the south shore of Middle Waterton Lake. Keep your eyes open for wildlife as you are zipping along, this is a great trail to see a variety of animals. This is a lesser used trail than some of the others, so a good one if you are wanting to get away from the crowds.
Hike Horseshoe Basin Trail
It is impossible to list all the different hiking and biking trails in this short list of activities, but this is one we didn’t want you to miss. This is a long trailand you will probably require 7 to 8 hours to complete the 24 kilometers, but if you are a wildflower lover and can travel early in the season, this is one that you should put on your must do list. The early season will allow you to soak in the meadows with their vibrant and abundant wildflowers. This moderate hike has an elevation gain of 350 meters and is mostly open terrain with phenomenal views.
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Drive Chief Mountain Highway: This is one of the most unique scenic highways in Canada. Like the South Klondike Highway from Whitehorse, Yukon to Skagway, Alaska, it connects the gorgeous Waterton National Park to the Glacier National Park in Montana, USA. Don’t worry, you can turn around before, or at the international border, just make sure to do it on the Canadian side (or continue on if you have the necessary documents that will allow you to enter the US and come back to Canada)!
PLAN YOUR TRIP TO WATERTON LAKES NATIONAL PARK
When: Open Year Round, Activities Vary.
How Much: Adult: $ 10.00; Senior: $ 8.40; Youth: free; Family/Group: $ 20.00
Where to Stay: Camping and Hotels Available inside the Park.
Where: Located in southwest Alberta at the Montana/Alberta Border.