Waterton Lakes National Park

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location

Waterton Lakes National Park is the fourth oldest Canadian national park, it is in located in the southwest corner of Alberta along the Canadian-American border with Glacier National Park (US) on the American side. The park features breathtaking landscapes and beautiful natural scenery including a unique combination of thick and beautiful pine-tree forests, Prairie grasslands, rolling hills, beautiful meadows, the deepest lake in the Canadian Rockies, abundant waterfalls, towering snow-capped mountains, a charming village, a fantastic selection of hiking trails from easy to challenging, rugged and unspoiled wilderness, and an abundance of wildlife.

From Calgary, your drive will be 260 km (161 miles) and requires about three hours.  From Glacier National Park, Montana, take the Chief Mountain International Highway. Chief Mountain port of entry is open seasonally from May through September and the Carway/Peigan port of entry is open year round from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. From the St. Mary entrance of GNP it is approximately a one hour drive. The nearest town to Waterton Lakes National Park is Cardston - the drive is less than 40 minutes.

There is also a small village located within the national park that shares its name. The village of Waterton is vibrant in the summer months but please note the park has no gas or groceries available in winter. Even without gas and groceries, the restaurant "Wieners of Waterton" is open year round and I highly recommend it!

 Catching morning light from the summit of Bear's Hump. 

Catching morning light from the summit of Bear's Hump. 


most iconic views

Sunrise from the summit of Bear's Hump shows visitors why Waterton is colloquially knows as "where the mountains meet the prairies" - the trail description is given below but making your way up for sunrise guarantees the best images of the day as well as a crowd-free hike. 

 First light cascading into the valley from the summit of Bear's Hump on an autumn morning. 

First light cascading into the valley from the summit of Bear's Hump on an autumn morning. 


explore

beginner - Crandall Lake

Length: 4 km ( 2.18 miles) roundtrip
Hiking time: 1 hour
Elevation: 150m (492ft)
Trailhead: Trailhead access is at the Crandell Lake trailhead on the Akamina Parkway OR behind the Canyon Church Camp off the Redrock Parkway. The camp road is about 1km past the entrance to Crandell Campground.
Habitat: The trail is short, easy, wide and winding through lush forest with rocky sections and wildflower borders on the hike up and over a shallow ridge prior to the brief gradual descent to Crandell Lake. There is also the occasional mountain view along the path.

A trail shared with both anglers and mountain bikers as well as campers beware that it can be busy on summer weekends. We visited the lake mid-week I the early autumn and had the entirety of the shoreline to ourselves. We spent a day taking in the quietness of the park, skipping rocks and enjoying a picnic along the shoreline.

 A sunny afternoon at Crandall Lake, photo / Michael Matti

A sunny afternoon at Crandall Lake, photo / Michael Matti

moderate - Bear's Hump

Length: 2.8 km (1.8 miles) roundtrip
Hiking time: 1 hour
Elevation: 225 m ( 738 ft.)
Trailhead: The trail begins behind the Information Centre in Waterton Park.
Habitat: The Bears Hump is a short, strenuous but rewarding climb that begins at the Waterton Visitor Resource Centre.  Once known as Bear Mountain by the Piikani (Blackfoot) tribe for its humplike appearance, this rocky trail becomes a veritable staircase by the half way mark yet ends on the flat dome of the "Hump".

Unfortunately this trail is currently closed due to the September 2017 Kenow Wildfire but will hopefully re-open soon. One of the most popular hikes in Waterton Lakes National Park this short but steep trail meanders through the forest before popping you out on its summit, offering expansive views of the entire valley. The best bang for your buck in the park.

 A autumn morning on Bear's Hump overlooking the lake, photo / Michael Matti

A autumn morning on Bear's Hump overlooking the lake, photo / Michael Matti

challenging - 3 Peaks - Mount Bauerman, Kootenai Brown, Lost and Anderson

Length: 28km (17 miles) roundtrip
Hiking time: 14 hours
Elevation: 1,600 m  (5,249ft)
Trailhead: From Red Rock Canyon, cross the creek and take the left (south) trail to Blakiston Falls. Follow this trail for 11.5km to what's called (but not signed) Bauerman Divide. This is an obvious height of land above Blue Grouse Basin and Twin Lakes. There is a large cairn (photo) at the point where you will start up through the trees towards Mt Bauerman.
Habitat: Easy hiking and scrambling on grass/shale with some easy route finding.

My very first multi-summit hike. This is a long day but not technically difficult at all. Starting with a walk along the valley floor you make your way to the Twin lakes Campground before hiking up the back ridge of the range and traversing back to the parking area. Start early in the day to avoid losing light on your way down. 

 Just before the final summit, Mount Anderson I found a field of purple shale and had to stop for a photo.

Just before the final summit, Mount Anderson I found a field of purple shale and had to stop for a photo.

note: the ratings and estimated hiking times have been provided by Parks Canada, I have personally done all of these hikes. There is no technical sections of these hikes and no additional equipment outside of comfortable hiking shoes or boots, water and snacks should be required.

If you are looking to complete more challenging objectives in Waterton Lakes National Park I recommend this book - I have no vested interest in your purchase but personally utilize it for planning my trips. 


September 2017 Kenow Wildfire

From Parks Canada.

While some areas of the park were affected by the September 2017 Kenow Wildfire, Parks Canada is committed to providing fun and memorable visitor experiences in Waterton Lakes National Park in summer 2018.

Parks Canada’s staff has been working hard to assess and reduce wildfire-related hazards on trails and backcountry facilities in Waterton Lakes National Park. Trail crews have repaired damaged and destroyed infrastructure (benches and small footbridges) and assessed, cut, and cleared fallen and burned trees.

The Entrance Road and adjacent facilities, townsite, Waterton lakes and Chief Mountain Highway are open. And as  a result of their hard work, Parks Canada has reopened over 50 kilometres of previously closed trails and three backcountry campgrounds in Waterton Lakes National Park. Areas now reopened include the Bertha Falls, Bertha Lake, Crandell Lake Loop, Horseshoe Basin, and Lakeshore trails. The portion of the Red Rock Parkway open to non-motorized use (biking and hiking) has been extended – from Bellevue Trailhead to Coppermine Creek. 

Visitor safety is a priority for Parks Canada. Backcountry travel always comes with inherent risks. Visitors should be aware of their surroundings and prepared with the appropriate equipment during backcountry travel. Areas affected by the Kenow Wildfire may have increased hazards such as poor water quality, blowing dust, reduced shade, rock fall on steep slopes, and burned trees.

 The devastation of the 2017 wildfires from the Parks Canada Website

The devastation of the 2017 wildfires from the Parks Canada Website

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additional information 

  • The park was named after Waterton Lake which was named after Charles Waterton - an English conservationist and naturalist. Made up of wilderness and rugged mountains, Waterton Lakes National Park was designated a biosphere reserve in 1979 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, along with Montana's Glacier National Park.
  • Waterton is one of Alberta’s windiest places. Winter winds over 100 km/hr are common. Waterton has many chinooks, which contribute to it being one of Alberta’s warmest areas in winter. Chinook winds can cause winter temperatures to rise dramatically within hours.
  • Large predators in Waterton include grizzly bear, black bear, wolf, coyote and cougar. Bear activity is extremely prevalent in Waterton National Park - Click here to learn about bear basics, safety and conservation.  
  • Waterton Lakes National Park and Glacier National Park in the United States are excited to announce that the two parks are now recognized by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) as a provisional International Dark Sky Park. Some great places to stargaze:
    • Cameron Bay
    • Red Rock Parkway - stop at any one of the pullouts to see where the mountains meet the prairie and the sky.
    • The Bison Paddock overlook.
 Trying not to be blown away on top of Bear's Hump with Jess Dales and Quin Schrock

Trying not to be blown away on top of Bear's Hump with Jess Dales and Quin Schrock


passes and permits

note: all prices in CAD and include all taxes and fees

ADMISSION

Daily

Adult - $ 7.80
Senior - $ 6.80
Youth - free
Family/Group - $ 15.70

Daily - Shoulder Season

Adult - $ 5.80
Senior - $ 4.90
Youth - free
Family/Group - $ 11.75

Parks Canada Discovery Pass - these passes are valid for entry to all National Parks in Canada for a full year

Adult - $ 67.70
Senior - $ 57.90
Family/Group - $ 136.40

Order your 2018 Discovery Pass here!

CAMPING

Per Night

Townsite (water, sewer, and electrical) - $ 38.20
Townsite (electricity -high occupancy rate) - $ 32.30
Townsite (unserviced with washroom building having toilets and showers) - $ 27.40
Townsite - walk-in  (Unserviced with washroom building having toilets only) - $ 22.50
Belly River (primitive) - $ 15.70

Please note that the Crandell campground is closed for the 2018 season.

Group Camping - Per Night

Belly River (no showers, per person) - $ 4.90

CAMPING SERVICES

Fireplace Permit (per day) - $ 8.80
 

Camping and backpacking in Waterton National Park can be booked here. A map of the park is added below.

*all fees indicated are per night unless otherwise noted

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