Waterton Lakes National Park is a beautiful Canadian national park in located in the southwest corner of Alberta along the Canada-USA border with Montana. The park features breathtaking landscapes and beautiful natural scenery including a unique combination of thick and beautiful pine-tree forests, Prairie grasslands, rolling hills, beautiful meadows, a selection of lakes and waterfalls, towering snow-peaked mountains, a charming and lovely townsite, a fantastic selection of hiking trails from easy to challenging, rugged and unspoiled wilderness, and an abundance of wildlife. This park is the perfect place to hike, camp and have amazing outdoor adventures! It is unique and diverse in its landscapes, which include both flat prairie grasslands and mountains.
Waterton Park is largely uncrowded and features some of the best unspoiled natural beauty which you can enjoy in a serene and tranquil atmosphere, with fewer crowds than many other national parks in Alberta.
After a four hour drive from Canmore (during the last week of August), where we had previously been staying for three days, my mom and I arrived at Waterton on a warm and sunny morning – a sharp contrast to the chilly winter-like weather we had been experiencing in Banff and Canmore! It was a beautiful day and we started off our visit by spending time exploring the gorgeous Red Rock Canyon. The drive to the canyon was gorgeous and I was in awe of how unique and different the landscape was in Waterton, compared to Banff. The rolling Prairie grasslands met up directly with the base of the tall Rocky Mountains. From there, we hiked to Crandell Lake off the Red Rock Parkway and then headed to our campsite, which was located in a large campground in the middle of the Waterton town.
I spent three days camping and hiking in Waterton Park this past summer and had some amazing experiences there! These are some of my highlights from my time in Waterton and my guide of what to see and where to hike in this beautiful park.
Where To Hike
Waterton Park is filled with a variety of fantastic hiking trails, from easy shorter hikes to longer and more challenging treks. Unfortunately, there was significant construction being done along the Akamina Parkway during my visit and the hikes along that road were only accessible via a special hiker shuttle (free). It was a little bit disappointing, as I had been looking forward to driving along this scenic highway and had also been looking forward to visiting Cameron Lake, which was closed. But I know for sure that I will return to Waterton and will just have to visit these places at that time!
This is a list of my favourite hikes in the park. There are many other wonderful trails throughout the park as well though, and I have included a list of them as well.
The Red Rock Canyon is a deep and narrow canyon featuring vibrant red-coloured rocks that is located at the end of the scenic Red Rock Parkway highway. The canyon is a beautiful, fun and unique place to explore and take photos.
The drive along the highway to the canyon is very scenic with fantastic mountain views and the unique opportunity to see the prairies meeting the mountains.
There is a 0.7 km paved pathway that encircles the canyon which offers beautiful views looking down into the canyon. You are able to climb down into the canyon and explore as well, which was my favourite part of visiting here! I enjoyed hopping across the stones to cross the water flowing through the canyon and navigating my way around the deep canyon. There are some areas where the water is deeper and lots of people come there to swim and slide down the slippery rocks and small waterfalls into the water. There are a bunch of really interestingly shaped and jagged rocks inside the canyon, which make for great photos.
Location – At the end of the Red Rock Parkway.
The Bear Hump is a strenuous but short steep uphill hike along the side of a mountain that leads to an open rocky area at the top of the mountain with absolutely stunning views overlooking the town of Waterton and the surrounding landscape of prairies, mountains, deep lush green valleys and lakes. Although it is challenging, the views are well worth the effort to get there!
The 2.8 km round trip hike is not easy and you are literally climbing uphill the entire way, but the views are spectacular. There are rocks and wooden benches at the top of the mountain where you can sit, relax and admire the views. Watch out for the aggressive and hungry chipmunks at the top, who have clearly been fed by humans judging by their size!
Location – The hike begins from the parking lot of the Parks Canada Visitor Centre along Highway 5, just north of the town of Waterton.
The 11.4 km round trip hike to Bertha Lake is far from easy, but it’s a fantastic work-out and is well worth the climb to see the beautiful Bertha Lake!
The first portion of the hike leading to the Lower Bertha Falls is fairly easy with only some moderately steep areas and amazing views of the gorgeous mountains along the way. The Lower Bertha Falls are very pretty waterfalls which cascade over some slanted and flat rock ledges into a creek below. You can get good views of these waterfalls from the wooden footbridge which crosses over the creek. Beside the footbridge, there is a well beaten narrow pathway off the main trail which leads up a small hill and through the trees to a ledge along the creek where you can get even better views of the waterfalls while standing directly across from them. The atmosphere is peaceful and pleasant and if you get there earlier in the morning, you will likely have the entire place to yourself.
From these waterfalls, the trail continues over the footbridge all the way to Bertha Lake. It becomes considerably steeper and is a steady uphill climb all the way to Bertha Lake. There are a series of very steep switchbacks up the side of the mountain as you get closer to the lake. The views and scenery along the trail are incredibly gorgeous!
Bertha Lake is such a serene place and stunningly beautiful. It is surrouded by thick forests and mountains and the water is so calm that it resembles glass, displaying pretty reflections from the surrounding scenery onto the surface of the water. Once you reach the lake, there is an additional 4 km trail that encircles the shoreline of the lake. Although the hike is challenging and physically exhausting at times, it is worth the effort to see the lake and the landscapes along the way.
Location – The trailhead to Lower Bertha Falls and Bertha Lake begins on Evergreen Street in the town of Waterton, just past Cameron Falls.
This hike took me around 4 hours to complete (round-trip).
The hike to Wall Lake begins near the end of the Akamina Parkway and then crosses over into British Columbia’s Akamina-Kishinena Provincial Park, which is where the lake is located. Aside from a short section at the beginning of the hike where the trail is a little bit steep, the remainder of the trail was relatively level and easy to hike.
This trail passes through gorgeous lush and dense forests the entire way and doesn’t offer any views of the mountains until you arrive at the lake. The trail is absolutely gorgeous and I saw a male moose while hiking there in the morning, which was so exciting! It took me about an hour and a half to reach Wall Lake from the trailhead.
Wall Lake is pristine and absolutely gorgeous and is surrounded on all sides by tall mountains and thick forests. The water is clear and calm and the atmosphere is very serene and tranquil. It makes a great place to relax and rest before heading back along the trail.
The trail is 11.2 km round-trip but it is not challenging. It is a perfect hike for those looking to experience some amazing natural beauty!
Location – The trailhead for Wall Lake is located at the end of the Akamina Parkway in Waterton Park.
The Crandell Lake Trail is a short and easy hike that leads to the beautiful Crandell Lake and can be accessed from both the Red Rock Parkway and Akamina Parkway.
The 4 kilometre round trip hike starts off by passing through a gorgeous forest with some lovely views of the surrounding mountains along the way. The trail then became quite rocky in some sections. There are a few inclines along the way, but nothing too challenging at all for someone of average fitness.
Crandell Lake is very pretty and it is different than many other lakes in the mountains in that its water source is not from glaciers therefore, it lacks the vibrant turquoise colour. Two mountains towered above the lake and it was surrounded by pine trees. There was no-one else there during our visit and the atmosphere was serene and peaceful. It was a beautiful place to sit along the shoreline and relax.
Location – The trailhead begins along the Red Rock Parkway as well as the Akamina Parkway.
What To See
In addition to hiking the trails in Waterton Park, here are some other things that you should check out while you’re there.
Visit the Prince of Wales Hotel & Admire the Views
The Prince of Wales Hotel is a gorgeous hotel situated on a hilltop where you can find fantastic views overlooking the town of Waterton, the surrounding mountains and Upper Waterton Lakes. The hotel was built in 1926 and is a historic gem in Waterton that is worth a visit.
Even if you aren’t staying at this gorgeous hotel, take a drive to the top of the hill anyways and head to the grassy area behind the hotel. This is where you will find incredible views of the lake, town and surrounding mountains.
Cameron Falls is a gorgeous waterfall located right in the town of Waterton, along Evergreen Street. The waterfalls can be viewed directly from the street and you can also walk a short but steep trail to a viewing platform at the top of a hill in order to see these beautiful cascading waterfalls from a different perspective.
Although they are popular and often crowded, these waterfalls are a fantastic place to visit in Waterton and they offer some wonderful photo opportunities.
Take a Scenic Drive Along the Red Rock Parkway
If you plan to visit the Red Rock Canyon or Crandell Lake, then you will be driving along this scenic roadway in the park. I highly recommend taking a drive here, even if you don’t plan to visit either of those places.
The narrow and newly paved highway winds its way through gorgeous landscapes of prairies meeting the mountains. There lots of pull-outs along the highway where you can stop your car and take photos of the beautiful views. There are plenty of photo opportunities and the views are so stunning and unique along this scenic highway!
Explore the Town of Waterton
Waterton is the name of the small and peaceful town in the national park of the same name. The town is surrounded by mountains on all sides, which tower above the town, providing a beautiful backdrop. I recommend spending a few hours during the afternoon or evening simply wandering the streets of the charming town. You will find a selection of restaurants and souvenir shops which are interesting to check out, as well as a general store, small movie theatre, marina, and an outdoor clothing/gear store.
I enjoyed walking around town during the evenings, browsing the shops and photographing the charming street scenes.
Walking the Lakeshore Trail along the shoreline of Upper Waterton Lake in town is also a relaxing activity to do in the evenings and you will find lovely views of the lake and the surrounding mountains.
Drive Through the Bison Paddock
There is a large bison paddock at the northern edge of Waterton Park where you are allowed to drive through enclosed pasture to see the bison living there. Driving through the bison paddock offers plenty of great photo opportunities from the car of the bison roaming around in their natural habitat. The scenery was gorgeous with rolling Prairie grasslands surrounded by beautiful mountains.
The paddock consists of a large grassy area of rolling meadows and some treed areas where a herd of bison live in this fenced protected area. Driving through the paddock provides a fantastic opportunity to see these large and beautiful animals in their natural habitat while getting up close and personal. The bison is the official animal of my home province of Manitoba, yet I have only seen a handful of them from a far away distance at home, so it was a very cool experience to see these bison there! It is mandatory that you remain in your vehicle while driving through paddock as bison can run quite fast and it could be dangerous to approach them.
Most of the bison were pretty far away from the road as we drove through or they were hiding in the trees, but I did manage to get some photos of a few of them who had wandered away from the group and were closer to the road.
The bison paddock is definitely worth checking out when you are in Waterton. However, just be aware that you may not see the bison at all or get as close to them as you might like, as sometimes (depending on the time of day) they like to hide among the trees or stand in the farthest corner of this huge pasture. The gravel road going through the pasture is in pretty bad condition and it has lots of potholes, so drive SLOWLY.
Location – The bison paddock is located at the north side of the national park, along Highway #5.
Check out the reviews from other travelers on TripAdvisor!
Have a Picnic at the Lake
There is a beautiful picnic area located along a narrow gravel road just outside of town, where you can enjoy a homemade meal while admiring the gorgeous views of Upper Waterton Lake. My mother and I ate here a few times during our three-day stay. We also came down to this area on two evenings, to walk along the water’s edge and collect smooth rocks and both times we saw a baby black bear, which was really cool!
Where To Stay
During my three days at Waterton Lakes National Park, I camped in the Waterton Townsite Campground. The campground is located directly in the middle of “downtown” Waterton, which is different than most campgrounds in the mountains. The campsites were situated very close together on a wide open manicured grassy lawn, with no trees separating them. As a result, privacy was definitely lacking. In addition, none of the campsites had a fire-pit, which was unfortunate as I always enjoy roasting marshmallows over the fire in the evenings.
Because the campground is situated on a wide open grassy area, it is very exposed to the weather elements and can get quite windy. During one of the nights we camped here, there was an intense thunderstorm with such strong winds that I actually thought it was going to pick up our tent or that it would topple on top of us! It was a little bit scary, so just know that high winds and storms are possible.
The campground is a great place to stay if you are looking for something simple, budget-friendly and affordable. We spent our days in the park exploring Waterton and its many hiking trails and beautiful nature, so we really only spent time at the campsite in the mornings, evenings and nighttime. The campground was sufficient for what I was looking for, but it would have been nice if there were some trees and fire-pits.
My phone didn’t get any service in the entire town of Waterton and the only place where I was able to find a few bars of cell phone service was at the Prince of Wales Hotel parking lot and the Parks Canada Information Centre parking lot. Waterton does have free Wi-Fi, which anyone can connect to, but it was unbelievably slow and wouldn’t load anything the vast majority of the time.
Despite a few negative things, I enjoyed camping in the townsite. The campground was conveniently located within easy walking distance to the rest of the Waterton town, where you can find restaurants and shops and the trailheads of a number of hiking paths.
I spent my evenings at the campsite relaxing in my tent following lots of hiking and exploring during the daytime, reading while there was still daylight, watching the sunsets, and editing photos on my laptop.
Reservations – Click here to make a reservation using the Parks Canada Reservation Service.
Other budget places to stay in Waterton Park include the following (please note that I have not personally stayed at any of the below accommodations):
- Bear Mountain Motel – This simple motel is clean, comfortable and affordable and is conveniently located along the main route to the Waterton townsite, with easy access to restaurants, shops, hiking trails and other park attractions. You can reserve a room by clicking here. Location – 208 Mount View Road, Waterton Park, Alberta.
- Crandell Mountain Campground – This campground is located along the Red River Parkway and is set among a beautiful forest. It offers 129 unserviced sites which are available only on a first-come, first served basis (no reservations are accepted).
Where To Eat
The Waterton townsite had a pretty good selection of restaurants that were vegetarian-friendly and offered gluten-free options. These are the restaurants where I enjoyed eating during my stay in Waterton.
49 Degrees North Pizza
49 Degrees North Pizza is a delicious local pizza restaurant in Waterton. They serve a variety of homemade pizzas including vegetarian options, and they also offer the choice of a gluten-free crust.
I ate here for dinner and ordered a vegetarian pizza on gluten-free crust (spinach, fresh tomato, cheese and balsamic glaze) to share between my mom and I. It tasted absolutely delicious and was very satisfying!
The Taco Bar is a Mexican restaurant in the Waterton townsite. I ate here for dinner once during my stay in Waterton and absolutely loved it! This restaurant is great for me as they offered vegetarian and gluten-free options. Their menu was simple and featured a selection of Mexican-inspired foods like tacos and burritos made from fresh and healthy ingredients.
I ordered a burrito bowl for dinner during my visit and it was filled with black beans, rice, spinach, sour cream, homemade salsa and crushed tortilla chips and it tasted delicious and fresh!
I enjoyed the atmosphere inside the restaurant with colourful Mexican touches for the decor and it was quaint and peaceful. The service was friendly and they also had an outdoor seating area, but the wasps were too terrible to actually eat there at the end of the summer.
Location – 310 Windflower Avenue at the intersection with Cameron Falls Drive. In the summer, they are open daily from 11:30 am to 9:30 pm. Click here to read reviews on TripAdvisor. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter and visit their website here.
Pizza of Waterton
Pizza of Waterton is another restaurant in Waterton that specializes in homemade pizza. Their menu features a variety of specialty and custom pizzas in addition to sandwiches, salads, wraps, breakfasts and pasta.
I was pleased that they offered gluten-free pizza crusts and I ordered the Greek pizza (which was the only vegetarian option). The pizza was very tasty and flavourful and I enjoyed my dinner there. I would definitely return to eat here again.
How To Get There
Waterton Lakes National Park is located 271 km south of Calgary and 132 km southwest of Lethbridge. It sits along the Canada-USA border and is joined with Montana’s Glacier National Park, which is situated directly to the south.
A vehicle is required to access the park, as there are no public transportation options available.
I thoroughly enjoyed my three day stay in Waterton Lakes National Park this past summer! The hiking trails were fantastic and there were many gorgeous landscapes and plenty of photo and wildlife viewing opportunities. I can’t wait until my next trip here!
Practical Information – Waterton Lakes National Park
Location – Waterton Lakes National Park is located along the border of Alberta (Canada) and Montana (The United States) and it connects with Glacier National Park in neighbouring Montana.
Entrance Fees – Click here to read about the fees for Canadian national parks.
Click here to see the important park bulletins.
Click here to view a detailed map of the national park.
Click here to check out the trail conditions in the park.
Waterton Lakes National Park is a wonderful park to explore and I had so many enjoyable and memorable experiences there!
Have you been to Alberta’s Waterton Lakes National Park? What were some of your favourite experiences, activities and hikes there?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below! If you enjoyed this post, check out my other blog posts about Waterton Lakes National Park by clicking here.
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