It’s the perfect time of year to plan a hiking trip to Waterton Lakes National Park. The crowds are gone, the air is crisp and the skies are clear. With fall colours nearing their peak, and with today being the first official day of fall, you’ve still got several weeks of fabulous hiking possible.
The shuttle to Cameron Lake is still running – at least until September 27th – so you can continue to do the fantastic Carthew-Alderson trail. You can get to the Crypt Lake trailhead until Thanksgiving and this year for the first time ever the park itself is offering four guided hikes from now until Thanksgiving. (Check with the park to get updates after the forest fire of 2017.)
The guided hikes are led by an experienced park ranger who interprets the landscape as you go. They are of varying length and difficulty and ideal for the solo hiker, anyone who is new to the backcountry or for those people who are interested in learning more about nature and what they see around them.
Here are four fabulous fall hikes you can do right now in Waterton.
The Rowe Lakes
The trail to the Rowe Lakes and even on 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 kilometres and continue to the next junction at the 5.2 kilometre mark. Then it’s a short hike into Upper Rowe Lakes.
Energetic hikers might want to consider the full 17.2 kilometre hike to the top of Lineham Ridge and back. It affords magnificent view of the Rowe Lakes from above. Add just another 2.4 kilometres to do a quick out and back to the Upper Rowe Lakes.
The Crypt Lake Trail
I don’t think this trail is the prettiest one in the park 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 now until Thanksgiving – except between October 5th and 9th. Check ahead of time to be sure. The hike itself is 8.7 kilometres one way with 700 metres 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 metre 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.
The Bear’s Hump
This is the perfect trail to hike if you don’t have a lot of time. It’s only 2.4 kilometres round-trip with an elevation gain of 238 metres – enough to give you a bit of a workout. Located beside the Visitor Centre, it 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.
Considered one of the most popular hikes in the park, the hike is easily accessed from the Waterton townsite just past the bridge at Cameron Falls. The hike can be done two ways; either do and up and back to the lake for a total distance of 10.4 kilometres or circle the lake adding close to another five kilometres. It shouldn’t take you more than 3½-4 hours for the up and back hike.
Bertha Lake, named after a local resident who has been called a bootlegger and a counterfeiter, sits in a high alpine cirque surrounded by Mount Richards and Alderson. The trail to the lake passes by several waterfalls and affords grand views of Upper Waterton Lake.
Three of the four guided hikes offered by the park are different from those I have described and recommended. They vary in length from 6.5 to 17 kilometres return. You can call 403-859-5133 to get more information or visit their website to get a complete description.