No one has ever died on the exposed section declares our boat guide en route to the Crypt Lake hike in Waterton Lakes National Park in southern Alberta. Would you call those reassuring words as you headed out to test your mettle on what has been called the Indiana Jones adventure of the Canadian Rockies?
I don’t think so. I really didn’t know what I was getting myself in for.
But the one thing I did know was that I was not alone. John and I joined the throngs (we’re talking a few hundred here) of other hikers vying to hike the Crypt Lake Trail on the Sunday of Labour Day weekend. It’s a trail that packs a lot of excitement and adrenaline hits in only 8.7 kilometres (5.4 miles) one way – and you get those adrenaline hits not once but twice if you want to get back to the boat.
Getting to the Crypt Lake Trail
The Crypt Lake Trail starts off a little differently than your average hike with a 15 minute boat ride as the first order of the day. This is when it first strikes you that you won’t be alone on the trail. For some that will be a positive thing since this is bear country after all. But if you’re looking for the solitary hiking experience you won’t find it hiking to Crypt Lake unless it’s a weekday in September.
It isn’t the prettiest hike I’ve done in the Rockies – not by any stretch of the imagination but that’s not to say that it doesn’t offer up some glorious views and Crypt Lake itself is a beautiful Caribbean blue colour.
Why you should do the Crypt Lake Hike
Hiking Crypt Lake is really about going for the thrill of crossing a narrow scree slope with drop-offs – climbing an eight foot ladder, getting low and wiggling through a 20 metre (60 foot) tunnel and then scaring the living daylights out of yourself as you inch along the narrow rocky trail – with a steel cable handhold on one side and a drop-off on the other.
Once you’re through the cable section, you can breathe a big sigh of relief. Or stop crying. But you do have to return the same way you came if you ever want to eat a hot meal again.
Once you’re through the exciting section it will only take you 10 minutes to reach Crypt Lake. It’s super easy and enjoyable from here on.
Crypt Lake itself is also a treat. Beaches line part of the lake – and because you likely have some time before you have to head back for the return boat trip, it’s a perfect place to lie out in the sun and relax.
Or take the 30 minute walk around the lake – the far end of which is on the United States/Canada border and get a very different set of views.
What the route is on the Crypt Lake hike
The route up to Crypt Lake is always easy to follow. On the way you’ll pass three waterfalls – Twin Falls, Burnt Rock Falls and the wonderful Crypt Falls as you climb a total of 690 metres (2,263 feet). You can also take a spur trail to Hell Roaring Falls near the beginning of the hike. It took us 2.5 hours to hike each way. On the return there was a lot of waiting required to let people pass who were still heading up on the cabled section. Factor that into your plans.
I think the views on the way down were far superior to those on the way up – though maybe that’s because the lighting was better.
If you get down to the lake before the boat arrives you can enjoy some lakeside R&R. That’s not a bad way to end such an exciting hike.
Before you do the Crypt Lake hike:
- You must reserve a seat on the boat. We bought our ticket down on the dock the minute the window opened at 8:15 AM for the 9 AM boat ride. You must reserve your return too. (You can do this the day before too.) We chose the 4 PM return and that gave us one hour at the lake plus 30 minutes to hike around it. We didn’t waste much time coming down. In peak season there is a 5:30 pm boat as well.
- The pricing is $20 per person.
- Contact the Waterton Inter-Nation Shoreline Cruise Company for the latest schedule. They can be reached at 403- 859-2362.
- Take a canister of bear spray.
- Dress in layers.
Have you ever hiked the Crypt Lake Trail? Would you want to?
Other hikes in Waterton Lakes NP you might enjoy:
- A Gorgeous Alberta Hike: Lineham Ridge in Waterton Lakes NP
- Hiking the Carthew-Alderson Trail in Waterton Lakes NP
- 7 Things to do on a Trip to Waterton Lakes National Park
Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta
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