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The Crypt Lake Hike In Waterton Lakes

The Crypt Lake Hike in Waterton Lakes

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 it does offer a variety of experiences that you’re not likely to find on any other hike in Canada. And there are some glorious views along the trail – and Crypt Lake itself is a beautiful Caribbean blue colour.

Upper Waterton Lake at dusk

Upper Waterton Lake at dusk

The hike to Crypt Lake starts with a boat ride.

No one has ever died on the exposed section” declares our boat guide en route to the Crypt Lake 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 Crypt 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

The route up to Crypt Lake

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.

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 treeline – 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.

Starting off through the trees

Starting off through the trees

Lovely hiking on the Crypt Lake trail once you're above treeline

Lovely hiking on the Crypt Lake trail once you’re above treeline

"No shortage of people on the trail"

No shortage of people on the trail

One of the waterfalls you see along the Crypt Lake trail

One of the waterfalls you see along the Crypt Lake trail

Crossing a narrow scree slope on route to the ladder

Crossing a narrow scree slope on route to the ladder

John at the top of the ladder on the Crypt Lake trail

John at the top of the ladder heading into the tunnel on the Crypt Lake trail

Looking out through the far end of the tunnel on the Crypt Lake hike

Looking out through the far end of the tunnel on the Crypt Lake hike

Hanging onto the steel cables

Hanging onto the steel cables

"A terrified woman fighting to hold the tears back"

A terrified woman fighting to hold the tears back

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.

Heading back to the trailhead

Heading back to the trailhead

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.

The Crypt Lake trail 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.

On the way to the tunnel - if you want to get to Crypt Lake

On the way to the tunnel

"The start of the tunnel"

The start of the tunnel

"Looking over to 600 foot Crypt Falls"

Looking over to 600 foot Crypt Falls

"Immediately after exiting the tunnel"

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.

The beaches at Crypt Lake are a great place to hang out and relax

Beaches at Crypt 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 Crypt 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.

More information for the 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

This post includes some affiliate links. If you make a qualifying purchase through one of these links, I may receive a small percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you. Thanks for your support.

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.

Other hikes in Waterton Lakes National Park you might enjoy

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

The Crypt Lake Hike in Waterton: A Ladder, A Tunnel & Chains

 

 

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 57,000 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 29 Comments
  1. Wow! That was exciting and I was only reading about it. Did anyone get a little panicky or start crying? It would be understandable! Although I’ve never done anything quite like this, I think it’s the going back down that’s the scariest.

    1. @Cathy One woman was pretty distraught near the end of the cable section and I’m not sure how she managed getting down. I actually found it way easier on the return – perhaps because I knew what was ahead of me.

  2. I would, Leigh, if only to say I’ve done it. As I read, I was trying to remember if I’d ever done anything that would cause me to cry like that woman did. No, nothing came to mind. I imagine it was the cragginess of the rock and perhaps the drop-offs that unnerved her.

    The views are just absolutely breathtaking, though and well worth the trip. Would you do it again?

  3. You really captured the intensity and beauty of this hike, Leigh. That scenery is almost worth the thrill. Just the thought of those dropoffs and steel cables is enough to make me think twice about this hike. That poor woman – I guess she didn’t know what she was getting into? Kudos for making it through this hike unscathe and while taking awesome pictures.

  4. You really captured the intensity and beauty of this hike, Leigh. That scenery is almost worth the thrill. Just the thought of those dropoffs and steel cables is enough to make me think twice about this hike. That poor woman – I guess she didn’t know what she was getting into? Kudos for making it through this hike unscathe and while taking awesome pictures.

  5. I love Crypt Lake, I’ve hiked it 8 times. I like the changing scenery it offers and of course the tunnel and the chains – that part is so much fun. I’ve also learned to be first off the book, hike fast for the first 15 minutes and then you’ll avoid most of the crowds from the boat, making it a much more enjoyable hike.

  6. Absolutely stunning! But I’m still not sure I’d have the guts to do this. I’d probably freeze half way up a mountain and need airlifting out!

  7. Waterton is such an overlooked destination! Canada’s smallest National Park has everything going for it, except crowds. Well, it gets busy in the summer, but nothing like the other resort towns in a National Park. I think I might have to give that boat trip a go this summer now!

  8. Great article, love the pictures!
    Just wanted to point out that you went for your hike to Crypt Lake on the busiest “hiking weekend” of the season.
    It’s always better to hike on weekdays.
    Trust me, I have been hiking Waterton Park for 27 years… and still love it!

    1. Even though it was the busiest hiking weekend of the year we managed to get away from the crowds by hiking quickly. The only hold-up was getting across the area with chains on our return as we had to wait for people still heading for Crypt Lake – and some of those people were literally paralyzed with fear. No matter what it’s a first class hike!

  9. @Jody You are so right about Waterton being overlooked. The other trails we hiked – on a Labour Day weekend – were practically deserted. The boat trip was great fun and something I bet your daughter would enjoy too.

  10. If it is indeed this busy, would you recommend I try this trail solo? None of my friends are willing to do it with me and I have never hiked alone, but if there are that many people there I would assume it would be safe, and I right? I’m a slower hiker and would take the first boat out, so I would have people ahead of me and definitely people behind me.

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