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A Hike On The Carthew Alderson Trail In Waterton Lakes

A Hike on the Carthew Alderson Trail in Waterton Lakes

One of the great Canadian hikes I’ve done is the Carthew Alderson Trail in Waterton Lakes National Park. It’s a beautiful hike – with varied and outstanding scenery. You’ll see mountains, glaciers and many high alpine lakes. Throw in wildflowers in season, marmots and mountain goats, and possibly even a bear and you can understand why it’s one of the best hikes in Waterton Lakes National Park.

In 2020 you will have to ride a bike to the trailhead to start at Cameron Falls. Or do the Carthew Alderson Trail as an out and back hike – though you’d have a long day on your hands. Come 2021, the road to the trailhead should be reopened. Check the Waterton Lakes National Park website for details.

Once the road reopens

You will be able to shuttle from the Waterton townsite to Cameron Lake (a gorgeous start to the day) and then do the one way 20 kilometre hike on the Carthew Alderson trail back to your car right in Waterton Village. 

Beautiful Cameron Lake in Waterton Lakes National Park
Beautiful Cameron Lake in Waterton Lakes National Park

Finding the Carthew-Alderson Trailhead

To find the trailhead you have to hike past the boat rental office, cross the bridge and look for the sign; it’s hard to miss. Then its four kilometers of steady but gradual climbing to reach Summit Lake. From there you get views of glaciers off in the distance. Don’t waste too much time at this lake though because the good stuff lies ahead.

The hike to Carthew Summit

From Summit Lake to the Carthew Lakes it’s six kilometres. On a hot day you would want to have a lot of water as this is barren, rocky country where the heat gets reflected back at you.

The trail contours across scree slopes – which are steep in places – to reach the Carthew Summit. It’s actually a pass and not a summit. When we were there it was cold and windy so dress in layers.

On the Carthew Alderson trail just above treeline
On the Carthew Alderson trail just above treeline
Looking back at the Carthew Alderson Trail in the direction of Cameron Lake
Looking back at the Carthew Alderson Trail in the direction of Cameron Lake
John heading for the crest of the Carthew Alderson Trail
John heading for the crest of the Carthew Alderson Trail

When you reach the crest of the Carthew Alderson Trail

Once you crest the pass you head down, steeply at times, through a barren landscape of rock but the Carthew Lakes beckon in the distance. And if you look south you can see the peaks of Glacier National Park in Montana.

The hiking through here is fabulous!!

Walking the ridge through fabulous red rock
Walking the ridge through fabulous red rock
On the Carthew Alderson hike pass the beautiful Carthew Lakes
On the Carthew Alderson hike pass the beautiful Carthew Lakes
Walking around one of the Carthew Lakes
Walking around one of the Carthew Lakes

It would be easy to spend some time at the Carthew Lakes just admiring the scenery. Once you’re ready to leave, continue along the northeast side of the lake. Pass a second, larger lake – that boasts a little more in the way of wildflowers – and re-enter stunted forest, just above the Alderson Lake cirque.

Pretty scene with rock and wildflowers
Pretty scene with rock and wildflowers
Not sure what these wildflowers
Not sure what these wildflowers are but what a gorgeous colour

Don’t forget to turn around every so often as the views are equally glorious looking back.

The hike to Alderson Lake is very pretty

On the way to Alderson Lake we passed outcrops with stromatolites – ancient algal mounds and some of the earliest life forms. It would be easy to mistake them for lichen if you didn’t know what you were looking for.

Beautiful scenery on the way to Alderson Lake
Beautiful scenery on the way to Alderson Lake
Stromatolites - some of the earliest forms of life
Stromatolites – some of the earliest forms of life
Exquisite mountain scenery on the way to Alderson Lake
Exquisite mountain scenery on the way to Alderson Lake

It’s only two kilometres from Carthew Lakes to Alderson Lakes and they pass all too quickly.

We stopped to have lunch above Alderson Lake and were treated to the escapades of a few mountain goats eating and hopping on the cliffs at least 1,000 feet above the lake. I couldn’t get over the steepness of the slopes they were on.

Mountain goats on impossibly steep cliffs
Mountain goats on impossibly steep cliffs
Deep blue coloured Alderson Lake
Deep blue coloured Alderson Lake

Alderson Lake to Waterton Village

It’s possible to camp at Alderson Lake but not at the Carthew Lakes.

From Alderson Lake you head back into the woods for the final seven kilometres. They turned out to be more interesting than I thought they’d be with plenty of peek-a-boo views and lots of wildflowers to appreciate.

Close to the end you reach the beautiful Cameron Falls and you can see Waterton Village off in the distance.

The last seven kilometres take you through the woods
The last seven kilometres take you through the woods
Lots of elderberries along the Carthew Alderson trail in September
Lots of elderberries along the Carthew Alderson trail in September – which bears love
Waterton Townsite less than a kilometre away
Waterton Townsite less than a kilometre away
The Carthew Alderson hike ends at Cameron Falls
Cameron Falls at the end of the hike

All told the hike gains 651 metres (2,135 feet) and loses 1,016 metres (3,332 feet) over 20.1 kilometres. We did it in just under six hours including a thirty minute break for lunch and didn’t feel rushed.

Other southern Alberta area hikes you might like

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

The fabulous Carthew Alderson trail in Waterton Lakes National Park

 

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 14 Comments
  1. Beautiful photos as always, Leigh! Looks like the Mountain Goat couldn’t find a better place than that 🙂 Love the Cameron Falls.

  2. That is such beautiful scenery and looks well worth the hike. Being a gardener I would love to know what the pink and grey plant is and if it’s commercially available, anybody know?
    Thank you as always for brightening my day with those vicarious trips that get me out of the office!

  3. That is such beautiful scenery and looks well worth the hike. Being a gardener I would love to know what the pink and grey plant is and if it’s commercially available, anybody know?
    Thank you as always for brightening my day with those vicarious trips that get me out of the office!

  4. Wow, what an amazing trail with some incredible views. The picture of the mountain goat high up the steep mountainside is incredible. The only mountain goat I have ever seen was crossing the road. Your sighting is much cooler.

  5. Wow, what an amazing trail with some incredible views. The picture of the mountain goat high up the steep mountainside is incredible. The only mountain goat I have ever seen was crossing the road. Your sighting is much cooler.

    1. Ted: I asked my husband if he could see the white dots up on the mountain – and then they started to move. My heart was literally in my mouth as I watched them jump around up on the cliffs. Very cool indeed.

  6. It couldn’t have got any better, this is simply fabulous.
    Nature has been quite benevolent to the Waterton Lakes National Park. I wonder
    how that goat stands and possibly climbed that steep cliff. They must be
    greater trekkers 🙂

  7. Heck, sure, rank it one of the best Canadian Hikes. But it really depends on how many from the Rockies you’re including, lol. I think I’d rank the Helen Lake trail a bit higher, but that’s just me 😉 And then there’s the Iceline trail, even better yet 😀 And what about the hikes at Lake O’ Hara?!?

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