Just back from a couple of days camping and hiking in Waterton Lakes National Park. If you are in the Calgary, Alberta area you need to take a trip here! Banff is the internationally known mountain/park area but I personally believe it is surpassed in beauty and diversity by Waterton. Its variety of flora, fauna and wildlife make it one of the most beautiful mountain parks I have visited and I try to go every summer although there is lots to do here in the winter also.
You can see a few pics here at Waterton Lakes Photo
Information and Park Fees
From Calgary you head south on the Trans Canada towards Lethbridge/Fort Macleod, you then turn west onto the Crowsnest Pass and head to Pincher Creek. As you are going into town look for and follow the signs to Waterton Lakes National Park. From the windswept prairies you quickly enter the lush, green foothills and follow them to the park entrance where you are suddenly facing the majestic beauty of the parks Mountains; Mount Alderson, Carthew, Hawkins, Crandell…… You will have to purchase a park pass at the gates for the duration of your stay, see: Waterton Lakes National Park Fees. If you are visiting other parks, staying for multiple days or taking numerous trips then the Annual-Discovery Pass is the best bet. It allows you unlimited trips annually into any National Park and entrance into 77 participating national historic sites so your additional trips to Banff or Lake Louise are covered. I have the family pass as we make multiple trips to visit Banff and Lake Louise, camp or hike in the parks and numerous ski trips to Sunshine Village Ski Resort or Lake Louise Ski Resort. All these trips are within 3 hours of the city limits.
Camping and Accommodations
Crandell, Belly River or Townsite Campgrounds
Waterton Park is accessible all year and can be quiet in the winter but is an incredible spot for snow shoeing or cross country skiing. It can be somewhat busy in July and August, the peak summer months but even then you can still have a reclusive retreat. Campgrounds and Hotels/Motels can book up quickly in peak season so either plan ahead or arrive earlier in the morning around 9am to get in the cue for a campsite or check availability of a room. Don’t worry if you are last minute, you’ll find something or at the very worst you can track back to Pincher Creek and get a room there (about 30 min out of the park). My preference is to camp, I can’t get enough! Usually we’ve stayed at Crandell Mountain Campground ‘where to stay’ but this year we arrived later in the day, around 4pm to find the campground was full so they diverted us to the Belly River Campground just outside of the park toward the Chief Mountain US border crossing. It was awesome! Very quiet and a little more rustic than Crandell but it has flush toilets which are a camping luxury. You’ll have to haul in your own water for drinking or washing but they have unlimited firewood (with permit at self checkin). For both Crandell and Belly River you can head into town and visit the Townsite Campground for a free shower which makes ruffing it a little more enjoyable.
My favorite time to visit the park is the first week in July when summer is just beginning and some of the winter snow still remains. I bring my kayaks and head up to Cameron Lake where on the road up you have a great chance to see some bears (another good spot is the road to Red Rock Canyon), last year we saw 6 bears in one day (don’t worry- it was from the car). You can also rent kayaks at the entrance to the lake, its an experience this time of year to paddle to the end of the lake and view the annual multitude of waterfalls as the spring runoff subsides upon summers approach. Its literally like being in a breath-taking scene from Jurassic Park with the mountain ahead, its thick-lush vegetation and numerous waterfalls cascading from the mountain top. I get a little emotional every time from the shear beauty that mother nature provides for us all.
(Note: Cameron Lake access is currently closed until November 2016 as they make infrastructure repairs)
If you are an avid hiker or a wannabe then the options are unparalleled in Waterton! Stop at the Waterton information center in town across from the iconic Prince of Wales Hotel, pick up a free brochure on all the different hikes or talk to one of the very experienced park staff available at the counter. They can offer suggestions or answer questions (concerns about bears!), there are all levels to challenge, see Waterton Hikes and Activities to view most of the trail options and ratings. I’ve done many of the trails but have a bucket list goal of checking them all off on future visits. Last summer I did the hike to Crypt Lake which was rated last year as one of the top 20 trails in the world by National Geographic. Its starts and ends with a short 15 min. boat ride across the lake by Waterton Shoreline Cruises for $22.00, well worth the fee. This was a challenging hike at 17.2 Km with gradual to sometime steep inclines but has some thrilling traverses over shale ledges, a 9ft steel ladder climb to enter a short crawl into a cave through the mountain and a steel cable assisted traverse over some ‘drop to your death’ ledges! Sounds dramatic huh! and it is, but if I can do it anyone can! I’m a little girl when it comes to heights and have mediocre athletic ability. I was impressed to see some young kids on the trail and they made it no problem, however I’d be a nervous wreck watching my kids cross the tricky parts. Have a look at my video of the entire hike, you can live vicariously through me or try it yourself!
I’ve heard that many long term Calgarians have never taken the opportunity to explore Waterton and the many recreational opportunities it offers. If you are a local or visiting from afar make a plan to visit this national park, you’ll be glad you did!