Waterton Lakes National Park – Alberta’s Southwest Rocky Mountain Gem

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By: Bob Kenyon

Prince of Wales Hotel

Prince of Wales Hotel – Waterton, AB
Photo: David Howe

Waterton Lakes National Park is like a mountain oasis off of the dry southwest Alberta prairie. The village of Waterton is on the shores of Waterton Lake, with the creaky but majestik Prince of Wales Hotel sitting above on a wind swept bluff.

Built between 1926 and 1927 this old wooden hotel, one of the only railway hotels in it’s original form. Others (Banff Springs, Chateau Lake Louise, Jasper Park Lodge) have been rebuilt after fires and modified greatly. It’s also the only one in it’s class to be built by Americans as opposed to Canadians.

The hotel, is well known for its creaking and groaning that drive the guests down to the lobby at night, during regular wind storms.

Cameron Falls

Cameron Falls – Waterton, AB.
Photo: Ron Grant

Waterton is offers great camping, hiking, backpacking, cycling and horse trail riding opportunities, as well as spectacular scenery. For hikers and trekkers, Waterton is dream come true! For those that enjoy a challenge, try going to Crypt Lake for the day. The trip passes waterfalls, takes you through a water eroded tunnel and along a path with a sharp drop (and a steel cable to hang on to). For less challenge; try trekking the many hikes that are less than 5 kms. in length. For longer treks you can take the Lakeshore trail (13 Kms.) that goes across the border into Montana, US. On this trail, passports are required by both Canada and the United States, at the border crossing.

The Park offers three regular campgrounds (Townsite Campground, Belly River Campground, Crandell Campground, ) and one group camp at Belly River. During the summer months, sites in campgrounds in are at a premium and it is suggested that campers should use Parks Canada’s online Campground Reservation Service, for those sites in bold. Travelers using hotels, motels, hostels and bed and breakfast are also encouraged to make reservations.

For overnight, back country treks, permits are required, from the park office and can be difficult to acquire do to the quota system. Dogs are not allowed in the back country, of the National Parks, nor are open fires. Always check with the park office for trail closures and other regulations prior to departure.

Travelers into Waterton’s back country should be trained in map and compass use, proper gear, clothing, food storage/disposal and experience and bear avoidance skills are mandatory!

Of all the Canadian Rocky Mountain National Parks, Waterton is the only one that has been designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The Park has more than 50% of the wildflowers that grow in Alberta and with it’s southern location has more flowers than any other of the Canadian rocky mountain parks. There are 30 wildflowers, that  are found only in the park! Each mid June, for nine days, visitors can attend the annual Waterton Wildflower Festival.

Getting To Waterton Lakes National Park:

  1. From Calgary, take Highway 2 south out of town to Cardston and then follow Highway 5 west to the park.
  2. From the junction along Highway 3 (Crowsnest Highway) north of Pincher Creek to the Canada–U.S. border at Chief Mountain. As it travels (72 kms.) south, it passes through Twin Butte and intersects Highway 5, which is the main route into Waterton Lakes National Park
  3. The Chief Mountain Highway is the road that links Waterton National Park to its sister Glacier National Park in Montana, U.S. (not to be confused with Glacier National Park on the TransCanada Highway in British Columbia).
  4. From US 89, continue west on US 17 (into Glacier National Park) or north of the US/Canada boarder on Hwy 2 and west at Cardston

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