Waterton Lakes National Park is a superb destination for hikers who love the Canadian Rockies. The best hikes in Waterton cover the gamut from easy family-friendly hikes to the justly famous Crypt Lake hike that features a ladder, tunnel, and chains.
Waterton doesn’t see anywhere near the crowds that Banff and Jasper National Parks see – and yet the Rocky Mountain scenery here is truly spectacular. The park abuts Montana’s Glacier National Park forming the Waterton – Glacier International Peace Park.
It has received UNESCO status for both the outstanding scenery and because “the parks are exceptionally rich in plant and mammal species as well as prairie, forest, and alpine and glacial features.”
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Best hikes in Waterton summary
Best time to visit: If its the best hikes in Waterton you’re after, go between late-June and September to early October. By Thanksgiving, Waterton Lakes National Park is very quiet and there is almost no one around. If you can time a hike with the Waterton Wildflower Festival even better.
Bears: Waterton is known for its grizzly bear population so on any hike you do, be bear aware and always carry quick to access bear spray. I would recommend carrying it in a bear spray holster so you don’t set it off accidentally.
Camping: Reservations open for camping in Waterton Lakes National Park on January 24, 2024 at 8 AM MT. That includes camping at Waterton Townsite.
Location map for the best hikes in Waterton Lakes National Park
Click on the three dots in the upper right hand corner (that form part of a triangle) to email a copy of the map.
Hikes in Waterton – Rowe Lakes and Lineham Ridge
The trail to the Rowe Lakes and even to Lineham Ridge is spectacular from start to finish. It begins at the Rowe Lake Trailhead on the Akamina Parkway. From there it follows the north shore of Rowe Creek – an amazing site in itself as the bedrock is a brilliant red argillite through low brush at a moderate grade.
Make lots of noise in this area as it is bear country and they are hard to see in the brush. Reach the intersection to Lower Rowe Lake at 3.9 km and continue to the next junction at the 5.2 km mark. Then it’s a short 2.4 km out and back to the Upper Rowe Lakes – which would be very worthwhile, even if your sights are set only on Lineham Ridge.
Energetic hikers might want to consider the full 17.2 km hike to the top of Lineham Ridge and back. It affords magnificent view of the Rowe Lakes from above. Just beware that Lineham Ridge is notoriously windy – so if at all possible pick a day with little wind in the forecast.
I don’t think the Crypt Lake trail hike is the prettiest one in Waterton, but it does offer a variety of experiences that you’re not likely to find on any other hike in Canada. That’s not to say that the trail isn’t lovely.
It does offer some beautiful views and a sparkling turquoise lake at it’s end. But it’s the sum total of all the experiences that keep people visiting.
Start with a boat ride to the trailhead – offered just once a day in the morning and late afternoon from early summer until Thanksgiving.Check ahead of time to be sure the boat is operating.
The hike itself is 8.7 km one way with 700 m of elevation gain. It’s not until you get into the scree that it gets “interesting“.
After crossing a narrow scree slope you must climb an eight foot ladder (easy), negotiate a 20 m tunnel (duck) and finally inch your way along a steep, rocky trail while holding onto a steel cable (can be scary). It sounds worse than it is – though many people do freeze here. The rest of the hike is a snap – though leave enough time to hike back to the shuttle – as they don’t wait around.
Crypt Lake itself is a pretty one so take the time to walk around it. With luck you’ll be visiting on a sunny day and will be able to enjoy your lunch on the beach.
The Bear’s Hump
The Bear’s Hump is the perfect trail to hike if you don’t have a lot of time.
It’s only 2.4 km round-trip with an elevation gain of 238 m – enough to give you a bit of a workout. It’s one of the best hikes in Waterton to do year-round, but it’s one that sure gets windy on top.
The hike leads to an inspiring view down the full length of Upper Waterton Lake. The trail switchbacks up to the summit at a moderate grade so it’s more doable than you might think. In the fall, the views of the surrounding townsite dotted with oranges and yellows is particularly attractive.
You can hike it in winter too, but I’d sure recommend icers.
Lower Bertha Falls hike
The Lower Bertha Falls hike is one of the most popular hikes in Waterton. It’s easily accessed from the Waterton townsite just past the bridge at Cameron Falls.
It’s 2.6 km one way to Lower Bertha Falls, much of it through burnt forest – though it’s still pretty. It shouldn’t take you more than 2 hours for the up and back hike.
It’s 5.2 km one way to Bertha Lake, named after a local resident who has been called a bootlegger and a counterfeiter. It sits in a high alpine cirque surrounded by Mount Richards and Alderson.
The trail to the lake passes Upper Bertha Falls at the 4.8 km mark and affords grand views of Upper Waterton Lake. Allow 3 – 4.5 hours to do the return hike to the lake.
Carthew Alderson Trail – one of the exceptional hikes in Waterton
The beautiful Carthew Alderson Trail weaves through a lot of diverse terrain that includes mountains with glacier views along with a couple of very beautiful high alpine lakes.
Most people access it via a shuttle to Cameron Lake – and then from there you hike back 20 km to Waterton townsite. The hike gains 651 m at the beginning and then proceeds to lose 1,016 m.
In wildflower season you’ll be wowed. And with luck you’ll see wildlife including marmots, mountain goats (look at the cliffs above Alderson Lake) and even a grizzly bear.
Goat Lake hike
The Goat Lake hike starts from the Red Rock Canyon parking area too. It’s one of the top hikes in Waterton to do, especially at it offers an option to camp at Goat Lake or hike all the way to Avion Ridge with its expansive views, but that adds 3.2 steep kilometres return.
The first 4 km of the Goat Lake trail is shared with mountain bikers – so be on the lookout for them. The Goat Lake hike gains 525 m or 1722 feet over a 13.6 km round trip. I’d rate it as moderate and would suggest allowing 4 – 5 hours.
The first 4 km of the hike are actually on the Snowshoe Trail. After about 1.25 hours of hiking you reach a signed junction and the climbing begins. Switchback up to a lip of a stream – enjoying increasingly better views.
The tough hiking is over once your reach the stream and its an easy saunter through the woods to the lake.
Red Rock Canyon Trail
The Red Rock Canyon Trail is a very short 0.6 km loop hike and very beautiful as you can see in the photo below. It’s really more of a pretty nature stop than a real hike and because it is so stunning, everyone should try to do it.
On a hot day, it’s one of the hikes in Waterton where its easy to stay cool. Soak your feet in the very cold water for a few minutes and they’ll feel so much more alive.
Blakiston Falls hike
The trail to Blakiston Falls also starts at the Red Rock Canyon parking area. When I did the hike, it was in the dark as part of a star-gazing evening. I can only imagine how much more dramatic the falls would be in daylight.
As one of the easiest hikes in Waterton at only 2 km return, Blakiston Falls is the perfect outing for families.
To get to the falls turn left after you cross the footbridge to reach the formal start of the trail. Walk the mostly flat trail through lodgepole pine forest to reach the waterfall viewpoint. Explore all the walkways to get different perspectives of the falls.
The falls themselves are 15 – 20 metres tall – but they sure sound bigger than that!
Crandell Lake Hike
For another easy, family-friendly hike do the 3.8 km return hike (with minimal elevation gain) to an emerald-green lake located in a forested saddle between Mount Crandell and Ruby Ridge. Fast hikers can knock the hike off in just over an hour, but take a few hours to enjoy the easy tromp through lodgepole pine forests.
Find the trailhead on the Akamina Parkway though you can also access it from the Crandell Mountain Campground if it’s open.
A few more hikes in Waterton to consider
I’ve been to Waterton Lakes National Park on numerous occasions but there are still a few hikes I have yet to do but would like to.
Lineham Creek Falls, accessed from the Akamina Parkway, is an 8.4 km return hike with 375 metres of elevation gain that would be ideal in the shoulder season. You would only need a couple of hours to do it.
Another easy shoulder season hike would be the 12.8 km return hike along the Waterton lakeshore. Either do and out and back from the Bertha Lake trailhead or take the boat (when operating) to the Goat Haunt boat dock (with your passport) and walk back.
The full day hike to Akamina Ridge along with Wall and Forum Lakes has been on my list for years. Ideally, you need a non-windy day to do the full 18.3 km circuit that includes both lakes and the ridge. Access is from the Akamina Parkway, but you will eventually be hiking into British Columbia. Allow up to 8 hours for the full circuit.
For a B&B experience the Northland Lodgeis a great choice. And if it’s an iconic hotel you’re after in an incredible setting then book the Prince of Wales Hotel. Enjoy their high tea or a drink in the lounge, even if you don’t stay here.
Kilomorey Lodge is open after a complete rebuild. It’s got a wonderful location on the lake.
Further reading on things to do in southern Alberta