Waterton National Park, Alberta Waterton Lakes National Park is where the grassland prairie meets the Rocky Mountains. This is one of our favorite places to visit in Alberta. It has so much to offer and is considerably less crowded with tourists than the more famous Banff and Lake Louise. Here are our recommendations on what to do when in Waterton.
Top 10 things to do in Waterton National Park
1. Go bear watching
Waterton has a high density of bears and we have probably seen in excess of 20 bears in total on our two visits. To be guaranteed a bear sighting go during berry season as the bears often are sitting close to the roads at this time of year focusing on eating as much berries as possible before hibernation and they mostly ignore the crowd of people watching them. Best location to see them is the scenic drive Red Rock Canyon Parkway and as a bonus at the end of the parkway you will reach the red canyon the parkway has its name from. This is a popular spot for pictures and there are a couple of smaller hikes and interpretive trails starting from Red Rock Canyon.
2. Hike Akamina Ridge
Akamina Ridge trail in a fantastic hiking loop that passes Forum Lake, you hike along Akamina Ridge and decend at Wall Lake. What a view! When you hike along the ridge you see mountain tops as far as the eye can see. The hike is just short of 20 kilometres and should be done later in the summer season to allow snow to melt before you head for the trail head.
3. Lower and Upper Waterton Lakes
The national park has it name from the breathtaking beautiful Lower and Upper Waterton Lakes you have on your left hand entering the park. Be sure to stop by the lake and get a photo of the lake with the historic Prince of Wales hotel in the background. The lakes are also popular for kayaking and for enjoying a picnic at the beach.
4. Paddle Cameron Lake (and pass the US boarder without a security check!)
Drive up the scenic Akamina Parkway and at the end of the parkway you reach Cameron Lake. The lake is surrounded by mountains and waterfalls and the far end of the lake is on the US side of the boarder. You can paddle all the way to the end of the lake and you have entered US without even having to show your passport. Stay clear of the big blocks of ice that has fallen down to the water as they are continuously melting and calving. If you don’t feel like canoeing there are several walking and hiking trails in the area, both along the shoreline and leading up above tree level.
5. Drink tea at Prince of Wales Hotel
This historical hotel is a must-see when in Waterton. The hotel dates back to 1926 and is designated a National Historic Site by the Canadian government. And the view over Waterton Lakes and Waterton Village is great from the hotel property.
6. Drive through the Bison Paddock in true ‘Jurassic Park’ style
At the north entrance of Waterton Lakes National Park boundary (before you get to the park pass gatehouse) there is a fenced area dedicated to bison. You can enter this large area with you car and follow the dirt road inside this enclosure looking for bison. Don’t be surprised if a herd of bison is blocking the road and you end up waiting a while for them to move on!
7. Take a stroll through the Waterton Townsite
The small village of Waterton has a relaxed, soothing atmosphere with a small main street surrounded by shops and restaurants. Be sure to stop by the traditional Trappers for a solid dinner after a day of exploring!
8. Hike to Crypt Lake
This is likely one of the most popular hikes in Waterton Lakes National Park, probably due to some spectacular (and a bit unnerving) sections of the trail. You will need to use an iron ladder and safety chains built into the rocks on this spectacular hike! The trail head starts on the east side of Waterton Townsite and there is a dedicated ferry service from the town taking you to the landing where the trail head is.
For a full trip review: ‘Adrenaline Kicking Crypt Lake‘
9. Go elk watching on the grasslands
The landscape in this area is amazing as there are no foothills transitioning from the prairie to mountains, the mountains stand tall directly from the prairie. Be sure to take this in, either by hiking in the area, driving or if you are more adventurous go on one of the daily horseback tours offered. On the grassland leading up to the mountains there are also large herds of elk and during mating season they meet in hundreds as dusk sets in.
10. Take a boat ride to the U.S
From Waterton Townsite there is a boat cruise twice a day to Goat Haunt Ranger Station in the US. The ride itself is beautiful as it cruises along the shoreside of Upper Waterton Lake with magnificent views of the surrounding mountains, and there is always a high likelyhood of spotting a bear or two along the shore. On your way you pass the International boarder (no pass control required) and you get the opportunity to go ashore at Goat Haunt Ranger Station on US soil and meet the rangers on duty before the return to Waterton.