If you learn about Crypt Lake after you’ve left Waterton Park, you’ll be on you knees, eating dirt, shaking you fists at the heavens, crying ‘Why? Why did I miss it?’

– Kathy and Craig Copeland, authors of ‘Don’t waist you time in the Canadian Rockies’

After reading the introduction to this famous hike in Waterton Lakes National Park in our hiking guide there was no doubt, this was a hike we had to do! This hike offers gorgeous waterfalls, views over Hell Roaring Valley and end at a lovely hidden lake about 1970 meters above sea level. But that is not what has made this hike famous, you can thank the airy route which includes a ladder, dark tunnel and safety cable for that. That is probably what made this hike make the 2014 list of ‘World’s most thrilling trails’ by National Geographic.

This hike starts with a short boat ride from the docks at Waterton Village across Upper Waterton Lake to Crypt Landing where the trail head is. Crypt Landing is nothing but a dock for the boat to land on so bring everything you need for a full day out and make sure you are back for the last pick up to bring you back to Waterton Village.

Crypt Lake Hike WatertonUpper Waterton Lake

Before you start ensure you have a bear spray with you, this is bear country and Waterton has a high density of these fury friends. An encounter is not completely unlikely, they do however usually end well. Best way to avoid bears is to hike as a group and make noise. If you are alone you are sure to find someone to hike with as this is a popular trail and you will not be the only one heading towards Crypt Lake.


The hike starts at the shoreline and it takes a couple of kilometres before you build enough altitude to get views, but once you do you basically watch down on Hell Roaring Valley the rest of the hike. You will pass nothing less than 4 waterfalls on your way towards Crypt Lake.

Crypt Lake Hike WatertonClose to the trail head with Upper Waterton Lake in the background

Crypt Lake Hike WatertonHell Roaring Valley

It is not before the last couple of kilometres before the lake the hike starts getting nerve-wrecking. At this time you start to realise how airy this hike is about to get. After passing a scree you get your eyes on the earlier mentioned tunnel. To get there you have to pass a narrow shelf with a huge drop below it. I stayed as close to the rock wall as possible. The section between the scree and the tunnel is not long, but it definitely got my adrenaline level up. The ladder at the end of the narrow shelf will help you get up to the tunnel.

Crypt Lake Hike WatertonManoeuvring the narrow shelf (don’t look down…)

Crypt Lake Hike WatertonHappy to have reached the ladder

Crypt Lake Hike WatertonLooking out the tunnel at the last section of the trail before the lake

The tunnel is not natural, it was blasted out to make the hike to Crypt Lake easier. I can’t imagine how people were able to get here before the tunnel. On the other side of the tunnel the airy hike continues as you cling on to a safety cable to get around a rock band. Ok, clinging might be slightly exaggerated but it was a thrilling section of the hike.

Crypt Lake Hike Waterton

If you didn’t turn around at the narrow ledge, the tunnel or at the sight of the safety cable you will be rewarded with emerald green waters beautifully surrounded by mountains when you reach Crypt Lake.

Crypt Lake Hike Waterton

How long you get to enjoy the lake depends on how fast a hiker you are. Last pick up at Crypt Landing is usually 17:30. Make sure you check the latest schedule with Waterton Shoreline Cruise Co who run the shuttle service. Reservations are usually not required.

And did I mentioned the group arriving back at the dock 20 minutes behind us got delayed as they had a black bear and her cub cross that trail just in front of them.

Crypt Lake Hike WatertonThe shuttle is coming to pick us up at Crypt Landing

Thank you for reading! Please leave a comment, we’d love to hear what you think. Do you have an exciting hike you would recommend? Have you done any of the hikes from National Geographic’s ‘World’s most thrilling trails’?

Signature Inger

twitter button instagram