2017 is a pretty special year in Canada as we celebrate our nation’s 150th birthday. As a way of celebrating, Parks Canada is giving free entry to all of their parks, historic sites, and marine conservation areas. This is a pretty big deal and a great way to get Canadians and adventure seekers from around the world to explore the natural beauty of the 40+ national parks throughout Canada.
Each month, throughout 2017, we will be highlighting a national park to give you an insight into that park. You’ll learn about the history of the park, where to stay, & what to do once you’re there. Last month, we highlighted the beautiful Pacific Rim National Park Reserve along the west coast of Vancouver Island. This month we take you to south-west Alberta to Waterton Lakes National Park.
Waterton Lakes National Park
When you think of national parks located in Alberta, the first two that likely come to mind are Banff and Jasper. Those two parks see high amounts of tourists each year, but not to be overlooked is Waterton Lakes National Park to the south. The landscapes of Waterton Lakes offer up stunning views where the flat prairies meet the rugged peaks of the Rocky Mountains. The marriage of these two vastly different settings make Waterton Lakes the perfect place to enjoy some outdoor adventure & camping.
© Parks Canada / Nick Alexander
Location: Waterton, Alberta
Size: 505 sq. KM
-Waterton Lakes National Park was Canada’s fourth national park.
-The park is named after Waterton Lake which was named after Charles Waterton, a British environmentalist & conservationist.
-The world-famous Prince of Wales hotel first opened in Waterton in 1927 and quickly became the park’s most renowned landmark.
-The park shares borders with Glacier National Park in the U.S. & with Akamina – Kishinena Provincial Park in BC. In 1932, Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park was created as the world’s first international peace park.
How to Get There
There are multiple ways to get to Waterton Lakes National Park whether you’re coming from the north, south, east, or west. A lot of visitors will make their way to Waterton Lakes from Calgary, Banff, Lethbridge as well as Glacier National Park and British Columbia. Below are the driving times from the major points of interests along with links to directions provided by Google Maps.
Calgary: 258km/2.5 hours – Map/Directions
Banff: 360km/3.75 hours – Map/Directions
Lethbridge: 120km/1.30 hours – Map/Directions
Fernie, BC: 172km/2 hours – Map/Directions
Glacier National Park (St.Mary): 75km/1 hour – Map/Directions
If crossing the Canada/U.S. border there are two border crossings:
Carway/Peigan (Open Year Round): 65km from crossing to Waterton Lakes National Park
Chief Mountain (Open May 15 to September 30): This is the most direct route to Waterton Lakes National Park if travelling from St. Mary in Montana.
There are no airports located closely to Waterton Lakes National Park which means you’ll have to make the drive from one of the three closest (under 200km) airports – Calgary (YYC), Lethbridge (YQL), & Glacier Park International Airport (FC) in Kalispell, Montana.
Where to Stay
If you’re a camper, you’ll be happy in knowing that Waterton Lakes National Park has 3 campgrounds within the park – the Townsite Campground, Crandell Mountain Campground, and Belly River Campground.
Townsite Campground (April 14 to October 9)
The Townsite Campground is located at the south end of Waterton. For RV’s, the Townsite Campground includes 90 full-hook up sites & 45 electricity only sites & 49 unserviced sites. There are also 47 tenting sites. It’s worth noting that there are no fires permitted within the Townsite Campground.
A unique experience that is offered at the Townsite Campground is Equipped Camping. Basically, if you don’t have your own camp gear or you’re not sure if camping is for you and want to give it a try – this is for you. Parks Canada has two Equipped Campsites at Waterton Lakes National Park which come with a 6-person tent, propane stove, pots & pans, etc. You still must bring sleeping bags and pillows but it’s definitely a great option for those without camping gear.
Crandell Mountain Campground (May 18 to September 4)
Unlike the Townsite Campground, Crandell Mountain is set more in the wilderness for those who like to be closer to nature. Also, unlike the Townsite Campground, you don’t need any reservations for the Crandell Mountain Campground. Instead, it’s on a first come, first served basis which is a nice service offered by Parks Canada. There are 129 unserviced sites at the campground but there are food storage areas, recycling bins, a dump station, flush toilets, piped cold water, & kitchen shelters available. Fires are also permitted within the campground at assigned fireplaces. For RVs planning to camp at Crandell Mountain, it’s suggested that your RV be shorter than 30-feet.
Crandell Mountain also has one of the most unique camping experiences available in Canada – Tipi Camping. Within the campground, Parks Canada has set up two tipis for an amazing camping experience at the cost of $55 a night. This exclusive camping experience is available from July 1 to August 25. You must bring all your own sleeping and cooking equipment. Seriously, though, how awesome would it be to spend a couple of nights sleeping under the stars in your own tipi?
© Parks Canada
Belly River Campground (May 12 – September 25)
If you really want to get out into the wild while visiting Waterton Lakes National Park, the Belly River Campground is for you. Situated in the aspen forest, it’s backcountry-style camping that is on a first come, first served basis. Fires are permitted and there are areas for food storage but you must bring your own drinking/cooking water.
Pass Creek (Winter Camping)
If you’re feeling adventurous and want to enjoy winter camping in Waterton Lakes National Park, there is sheltered winter camping available at the Pass Creek picnic site. There are no reservations necessary and the camping is entirely free for those looking for a winter camping experience.
If the Parks Canada campgrounds are booked up or you don’t want to risk not getting one of the first come, first served campgrounds, Waterton Springs Campground is open from May thru September.
One of the most iconic hotels in all of Canada resides in the surroundings of Waterton Lakes National Park – the stunning Prince of Wales of Hotel. Overlooking the pristine Waterton Lake and the perfectly carved mountains, the Prince of Wales Hotel is a fantastic option if you’re looking to enjoy Waterton Lakes National Park in style. There are also some other lodging accommodations available to you at more affordable rates.
What to Do at Waterton Lakes National Park
While Waterton Lakes National Park tends to be busier in the summer, it still is very much a park you can enjoy at any time of the year. The park also offers up a tonne of things to do that range from casual hikes to thrilling adventure. Let’s take a look at the different types of fun you have at Waterton Lakes National Park.
Go for a Drive
Like Banff & Jasper National Park to the north, Waterton Lakes National Park has wonderful scenery and wildlife that you can frequently see at any time on one of the many scenic parkways. From the prairie grasslands to the picturesque lakes and mountains to the vast amount of wildlife, you will be amazed at what you see just by driving around Waterton Lakes National Park.
There are 5 scenic drives that you can enjoy when visiting the park including the Chief Mountain Highway, Red Rock Parkway, Entrance Parkway, Akamina Parkway & Bison Paddock Loop Road.
© Parks Canada / Jordan Fraser
If you want to get out of your car and stretch your legs there are more than a few great opportunities to do so by hiking around Waterton Lakes National Park. The park is home to 30+ trails spread over 200+km. Whether you like quick & easy hikes or a more challenging hike, you’ll have plenty of options in the park. Check out the 10 Great Hikes in Waterton Lakes National Park from Hiking with Barry.
© Parks Canada / Nick Alexander
During the winter months, you can still enjoy the trails. All you need is a good pair of snowshoes to help guide yourself through the fresh powder of the park.
Ready to scale some rock? Waterton Lakes National Park has some good options for you if you’re ready to start climbing the Rockies. For a list of routes and route details check out rockclimbing.com. If you like the thrill of ice climbing, you can also do that within the park. Summitpost.org has more information on routes and details if you’re looking to do ice climbing.
Depending on your bike, you can see the beautiful scenery of Waterton Lakes National Park in a couple of ways. If you have a road bike, cycling the parks beautiful parkways is a great option. The shoulders are mostly narrow, however, which may be hazardous for less experienced riders.
Mountain biking is another fantastic option to have some fun on the various trails. There are 5 total trails within the park to enjoy. The trails are mostly easy and short with the longest trail being 8.2km.
© Parks Canada / Cam Koerselman
Cross Country Skiing
During the winter months, trade in your hiking boots for a pair of skis and poles to have fun exploring the snowy side of Waterton Lakes National Park. There are a variety of 6 designated and undesignated trails within the park ranging from 1.6 km to 10.4 km.
From golden eagles to trumpeter swans, Waterton Lakes National Park is a fantastic place to spot birds. In total, over 250 types of birds have been spotted in the park. During the fall, many waterfowl will travel through the park on their way south.
The various forms of paddling are a popular way to explore Waterton Lakes National Park during the warmer months of the year. If you’re lucky enough, you will get to see wildlife from the comfort of the water. If you don’t have your own equipment, you can rent it from Parks Canada.
© Parks Canada
Waterton Lakes National Park is a very wild place with a plethora of mammals to spot roaming throughout the park. It’s very common to see big horned sheep, mule deer & elk while simply travelling through the various parkways in the park or even in the town of Waterton. Predatory animals such as black & grizzly bears, cougars, foxes, wolves & coyotes also frequent the park.
The park is also home to a bison paddock where a small herd of bison enjoy their natural surroundings. You can drive the Bison Paddock Loop Road in hopes of seeing these beautiful animals.
If you wish to get wet and go for an adventure you can dive deep into Emerald Bay. At the bottom of the bay (20m) divers will find a paddle wheeler named Gertrude. For the best views of Gertrude, it’s best if you dive in the spring or fall.
Over the past decade, adventure seekers looking for a bounty have taken to Geocaching where you hunt for a treasure with the help of your GPS. Located throughout Waterton Lakes National Park are multiple geocaches. You can get the coordinates for the parks geocaches from geocaching.com.
Wander the trails and landscape of Waterton Lakes National Park in a fun and traditional way – on a horse. Horseback riding is very popular in Alberta, so why not hop on a horse and enjoy a trail ride? Alpine Stables offers guided horseback riding in the park. You can also bring your own horse but you are urged to contact Parks Canada for guidelines.
National Historic Sites
Located within Waterton Lakes National Park are two National Historic Sites – the First Oil Well in Western Canada & the Prince of Wales Hotel.
The First Oil Well in Western Canada is the site where Allan Patrick filed a mineral claim near Oil Creek. By 1897, oil was flowing from the site making it the first in Western Canada. Nowadays, oil drilling in the Waterton area is mostly non-existent.
The Prince of Wales Hotel is hard to miss when visiting Waterton Lakes National Park. Named for Prince Edward, the hotel sits on top a hill where it can be seen from miles away. The hotel was constructed in 1926-1927 by the American rail company Great Northern and allowed more travellers to visit the area.
We hope this guide to the Waterton Lakes National Park has provided you with a sense of desire to travel to and enjoy this wonderful park. Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter to stay up-to-date with all our other #Canada150 national park features throughout 2017. If you found this post helpful, please share it with your friends and family. You can Pin these retro-style posters, too!