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The Crypt Lake hike in Waterton Lakes National Park

Crypt Lake Hike – One of the Best In Canada

Look for a ladder, tunnel and chains on route to the lake

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The Crypt Lake hike in Waterton Lakes National Park has been called the “Indiana Jones adventure of the Canadian Rockies.” The hike to the lake is by no means the prettiest hike in the Rockies – or even in Waterton Lakes National Park for that matter.

But the Crypt Lake hike does offer a variety of experiences that you’re not likely to find on any other hike in Canada. There are some glorious views along the trail – and the lake itself is a beautiful Caribbean blue colour. You’ll want to spend at least an hour lounging by the lake if it’s a sunny day. It has been called by some the best hike in Canada.

Upper Waterton Lake at dusk
Upper Waterton Lake at dusk

The Crypt Lake hike starts with a boat ride

No one has ever died on the exposed section” declares our boat guide on route to the hike. Would you call those reassuring words as you headed out to test your mettle on a trail known for a ladder, tunnel and chains? 

The hike starts off with a scenic 15 minute boat ride. 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 the lake unless it’s a weekday in September.

You need to buy boat tickets to get to the Crypt Lake trailhead
You need to buy boat tickets to get to the Crypt Lake trailhead

Crypt Lake hike description 

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 m (2,263 feet). You can also take a spur trail to Hell Roaring Falls near the beginning of the hike.

Few people visit Hell Roaring Falls, so its a good way to get to the back of the pack so you feel like you’ve got the trail more to yourself.

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.

It’s easy walking above tree line – granted with continual elevation gain. And once you’re through the 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. It’s super easy and enjoyable from the end of the chains section to Crypt Lake. It will only take you 10 minutes.

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.

Starting off through the trees
Starting off through the trees
Lovely hiking on the way to Crypt Lake once you're above tree line
Lovely hiking on the trail once you’re above tree line
One of the waterfalls you see along the trail
One of the waterfalls you see along the trail
Crossing a narrow scree slope on route to the ladder
Crossing a narrow scree slope on route to the ladder
Heading for the tunnel on route to Crypt Lake
Heading for the tunnel on route to Crypt Lake
John at the top of the ladder heading into the tunnel
John at the top of the ladder heading into the tunnel
John looking out through the far end of the tunnel
John looking out through the far end of the tunnel
Hanging onto the steel cables
Hanging onto the steel cables
Heading back to the trailhead
Heading back to the trailhead

Why you should do the hike to Crypt Lake

The Crypt Lake hike 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.

The Crypt Lake hike packs a lot of excitement and adrenaline hits in only 8.7 km (5.4 miles) one way – and you get those adrenaline hits not once but twice if you want to get back to the boat.

On the way to the tunnel - if you want to get to Crypt Lake
On the way to the tunnel
Looking over to 600 foot Crypt Falls
Looking over to 600 foot Crypt Falls
The Crypt Lake trail immediately after exiting the tunnel
The Crypt Lake trail immediately after exiting the tunnel

The beaches at Crypt Lake

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. On thee US side of the lake there is a permanent snowfield.

The beaches at the lake are a great place to hang out and relax
The beaches at the lake are a great place to hang out and relax
Hiking around Crypt Lake
Hiking around Crypt Lake
A view from the far end of the lake Lake
A view from the far end of Crypt Lake

At the end of the hike

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. Some people will even go for a swim if its hot enough. That’s the perfect way to end the Crypt Lake hike.

More information for 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.

Contact the Waterton Inter-Nation Shoreline Cruise Company for the latest schedule. They can be reached at 403- 859-2362. The pricing for the boat ride is $27 per person in 2019. Children 1 – 12 are $14.

Don’t forget to take the 10 hiking essentials along with a can of bear spray. Before you go you might want to read Bear Safety Tips: What You Need to Know.

You can do the hike as early as late May, depending on the year, through to Canadian Thanksgiving weekend in October.

For more information on Waterton Lakes National Park visit their website.

Where to stay in Waterton

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The Townsite Campground on the lake is a good choice if you’re into camping. You can reserve online or call Parks Canada at 1-877-737-3783.

One place I highly recommend is Waterton Glacier Suites. You can do your own cooking and it’s also very conveniently located.

If you’re after a B&B experience Northland Lodge is a very good choice. And if it’s an iconic hotel you’re after in an incredible setting then check out the Prince of Wales Hotel. At the very least have a drink in their lounge with a view down the lake.

Location map

                         

Other hikes in Waterton Lakes National Park

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The thrilling Crypt Lake hike in Waterton Lakes National Park - one of the top day hikes in Canada

 

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