Waterton Lakes National Park may be the smallest national park in the Rockies but it sure delivers a punch for its size. While parts of the park remain closed after the Kenow Fire last year, the townsite itself was unaffected and there is plenty to keep you happily busy for a couple of days, especially in summer and fall.
Try an e-Bike
If you’re at least 16 years old, you can rent an ebike (which stands for electric bike) at Pat’s Waterton Gas and Cycle Rental. I personally guarantee a whole lot of fun – especially as you effortlessly roll up the hills. If you aren’t a hard core cyclist you may end up a convert forever.
Explore a large part of the car-free Red Rock Parkway. Or hop on the Kootenai Brown Trail – a dedicated bike path that travels for 6.9 kilometres from the Townsite campground to visitor facilities in the Waterton Valley – while enjoying superlative mountain views.
Take a hike
There’s still time this year to hike what National Geographic describes as “one of the world’s most thrilling trails” – Crypt Lake. It involves a boat ride, a five to seven hour hike complete with a ladder, tunnel and chains along with a finish at a beautiful beach.
Read the full details in this blog – The Crypt Lake Hike in Alberta.
Of course there are easier hikes in the park to try as well. I highly recommend the hike to Bertha Falls and Bertha Lake if you have the time. It starts near Cameron Falls (a must see if you’re into photography) and offers up stunning views of Waterton Lake along the way.
Other hiking choices at the present time include the Wishbone and Lakeshore Trails.
Try stand up paddleboarding (SUP) or kayaking
From summer all the way through until October, SUP and kayaking are a great way to experience Waterton Lakes National Park. You can bring your own kayak/SUP or rent from local outfitter – Blakiston & Company. Early and late in the season you may want to wear a wet suit!
Go for a cruise
The best way to see Waterton Lake is via a scenic cruise. Over the two hour cruise you are treated to a mountainscape that includes soaring vertical cliffs, waterfalls and glacial valleys. Part way down the lake you’ll cross the international border into Glacier National Park in Montana – where a 30 minute stop (with the proper ID of course) at Goat Haunt is part of the deal. Sign up for a cruise in the morning for the best lighting – and the evening for the best chance of seeing wildlife.
Cruises run through to Thanksgiving weekend. Note that from the last week of September through to Thanksgiving there are only two cruises a day.
How about a horseback ride?
From one hour to full day rides, Alpine Stables in Waterton has something for everyone – at least if you’re five years or older. There are three rides to choose from this year – including an exploration of the prairie grasslands, a shorter wildlife habitation ride and a full day of riding up to Vimy Peak.
You have to eat
Waterton has a lot more going for it food wise than first meets the eye. Many establishments are second and even third generation – and what you find is locals owning and running the restaurants.
Diner’s Choice recently awarded Red Rock Trattoria with the title Best New Restaurant. It serves up Italian Food – but in the evening only.
Even if you never eat hotdogs you’re going to want to at Wiener’s of Waterton. I scarfed one of their gourmet hotdogs down on my recent visit – the first in years – and it was divine. It made Fodor’s list of places to eat in Waterton.
Other great choices include The Lakeside Chophouse, Thirsty Bear Kitchen & Bar and Pearl’s Cafe for coffee.
After a full day of ebiking and hiking I was ready to slump into a comfy chair with a view down the length of Waterton Lakes. If this sounds like something you’d like, visit the iconic Prince of Wales Hotel for high tea. Smiling servers dressed in kilts (both male and female) will offer you a choice of teas and then let you poke away at a choice of goodies while enjoying the scenery. Fall is a great time to take advantage of high tea as there aren’t nearly the lineups that you get in summer. But beware – the hotel is the first to close for the season in Waterton.
Come for a festival
Waterton boasts a number of festivals including the Waterton Wildlife Weekend (September 13-16) and the annual Wildflower Festival in June. Also in either late May or early June there’s a Taste of Waterton event that features a pie cruise. In mid-September check out the Artisan Fair – held in 2018 on September 15 -16th.
How to Get to Waterton Lake National Park
From Calgary it’s only about a 250 kilometre drive. Take Highway 2 to Fort Macleod, then turn west along Highway 3 to reach Pincher Creek, From there go south on Highway 6 for about 50 scenic kilometers to reach the park gate. From the gate it’s another 8 kilometres to reach the townsite with all the services. It takes between 2.5 and 3 hours to drive from Calgary.
Fall 2018/ Spring 2019
There has been a misconception that the Waterton townsite burned down. The Park’s Canada Visitor Centre was lost in last year’s fire (and it was out of town) but the townsite is very much in one piece and unaffected. Local businesses are happy to welcome visitors. September is actually one of the nicest times to visit as the temperatures are ideal and the bugs are gone. There are no alerts in place.
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Thank you to the Waterton Chamber of Commerce for making this post possible. All thoughts as always are mine.
Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta
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