Length of stay: 2 day
Visited: August 2016
Situated in southwestern Alberta, Waterton Lakes National Park is where the prairies meet the mountains. It is nestled right on the border just north of Montana’s Glacier National Park. Together, these two parks formed the first ever International Peace Park to better preserve and protect the shared ecosystem.
Day 1: Welcome to Alberta
We booked a last minute flight to Calgary and planned to spend the next two weeks on a road trip visiting some of the national parks in the surrounding area. First stop on our itinerary: Waterton Lakes National Park.
We arrived in Calgary at 10:30a.m, picked up our rental car, and stocked up on supplies for the next few days. We then drove 270km south to Waterton Lakes. We entered the park just before 4p.m and picked up our Park’s Canada Discovery Pass, which allows entry into in Canada’s national parks, National Marine Conservation Areas and National Historic Sites for a full year. Since 2017 marks the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation, admission into our national parks will be free. So our pass is actually valid for two full years.
There aren’t many options for accommodations in and around Waterton Lakes. There are three campgrounds inside the park, two of which are available on a first-come, first-served basis and only offer unserviced sites: Belly River (24 campsites) and Crandell Mountain (129 campsites).
Given that we were arriving to the park pretty late in the day, we drove straight to the Crandell Mountain Campground in the hopes of finding a campsite that was still available. We knew Waterton Lakes was going to be great because along the drive to the campground we saw a black bear with two cubs cross the road.
Our luck continued as we rolled into the campground and snagged the second last campsite. And in a section without generators. We quickly set up our tent and headed back out to squeeze in some short hikes before it got dark.
We continued driving along the rest of the Red Rock Pathway to the car park, which marks the start of two short and easy hikes. We first hiked to Blackiston Falls (2km roundtrip, rated easy). There was some confusion as to whether this trail was actually closed or just closed to horses due to construction signs in the area. We decided to hike it anyway. A viewing platform for the falls was being installed or expanded, but it didn’t impede our view of the waterfall.
Once we returned to the parking lot, we hiked along the Red Rock Canyon Loop (0.7km roundtrip, rated easy). It wasn’t much of a loop because the bridge to cross the canyon to the other side was closed. We returned the way we came and then scrambled down into the shallow canyon to walk through it. It was quite an enjoyable way to cool off from the hot weather. We managed to make it pretty far into the canyon while strategically maneuvering over rocks and around the side without taking off our hiking boots. And when we couldn’t proceed any further we finally took off our boots only to put them right back a second later after dipping a toe into the frigid cold water.
After wrapping up our hike, we drove back to the park entrance to drive through the Bison paddock. The paddock contains a small protected herd of rare Plains bison. There’s a road that takes you through the paddock and allows the opportunity to see bison up close from the safety of your vehicle.
At this point we were getting pretty hungry so we headed back to our campsite to make dinner. We played some cards for a bit and headed off to bed shortly after it got dark outside.
Day 2: Leaving Alberta
We woke up super early this morning at 6:45a.m as we had another long day of driving ahead of us. We packed up our tent and just threw our sleeping pads and sleeping bags in the backseat of the car. We planned to spend the morning in Waterton Lakes before heading south of the border to Glacier National Park over in Montana.
Along the drive to the Information Centre we saw another bear cross the road. We also saw a deer with two fawns. The wildlife viewing opportunities have been phenomenal.
We parked at the Information Centre which is also the trailhead for Bear’s Hump (2.8km, rated moderate). The trail consists of a series of steep switchbacks up the shoulder (which resembles a hump) of Crandell Mountain (formally known as the Great Bear or Grizzly Medicine Mountain by the Piikani) – hence the name “Bear’s Hump”. Don’t let its short distance fool you, it’s uphill the entire way to the top. A thick layer of fog blocked our panoramic view of Townsite, but it was still a nice hike.
After making our descent back down to the car we made a quick detour to Cameron Falls.
We also stopped at the The Prince of Wales Hotel, a historic hotel located in the park that was constructed in the late 1920s for the Great Northern Railway company.
It was now time to head further south of the border to Glacier National Park in Montana.