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Heading for the Carthew Lakes
Heading for the Carthew Lakes

Carthew Alderson Trail in Waterton Lakes

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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.

Come 2021, the road to the trailhead for the Carthew Alderson Trail reopened after extensive repairs thanks to the Kenow Fire. Check the Waterton Lakes National Park website for up to date trail conditions.

Shuttle to the trailhead

You are able to shuttle from the Waterton townsite to Cameron Lake (a gorgeous start to the day) and then do the one-way 20 km hike on the Carthew Alderson trail back to your car right in Waterton Village. Book a seat with the Tamarack Hiker Shuttle.

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

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Carthew Alderson trailhead location

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 4 km 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.

Map of the trail
Map of the trail with the start of the trail by Cameron Lake where it says – You are here

The hike to Carthew Summit on the Carthew Anderson Trail

From Summit Lake to the Carthew Lakes it’s 6 km. 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 trail just above treeline
On the trail just above tree line
Looking back at the 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. I didn’t want it to end.

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 trail 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.

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

Pretty scene with rock and wildflowers
Pretty scene with rock and wildflowers
Gentians - a type of wildflower
Not sure what these wildflowers are but what a gorgeous colour – and then a reader told me they were gentians (thank you Andree)

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

The hike from 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 7 km. 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 trail in September
Lots of elderberries along the 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

Carthew Alderson trail details

Distance: 20.1 km one way

Elevation gain and loss: 651 m (2135 feet) gain and 1016 m (3,332 feet) loss

Time needed: 5.5 – 7 hours one way

Level of difficulty: Moderate   

Location map

                                                             

Where to stay in Waterton Lakes National Park

There is a wide range of accommodation options in Waterton from camping to a large hotel. Be sure to reserve well in advance, especially for weekends.

Some suggestions include the following – Waterton Lakes Lodge Resort, Waterton Glacier Suites (especially if you want to do some of the cooking) and the iconic Prince of Wales Hotel.

Other southern Alberta area hikes you might like

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The fabulous Carthew Alderson trail in Waterton Lakes National Park

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