Once a massive glacier, Waterton Lakes National Park is the Canadian half of the Water Glacier International Peace Park and a World Heritage Site. Located in Southwestern Alberta, Waterton Lakes National Park shares borders with British Columbia in Canada and Montana in the United States. As you pay your entrance fee (If you visit between October and May 15th, entry is FREE) and follow the road into the Rocky Mountains the first sight to greet you is the famous Prince of Wales Hotel.

Prince of Wales Hotel

Built in 1926- 1927 by the American Great Northern Railway, the Prince of Wales Hotel sits on a hill that overlooks the Waterton Townsite and Upper Waterton Lake and is located in one of the windiest areas of Waterton. In fact, people have been known to lean over the cliff, as the wind will keep them from falling over into the lake (I really don’t recommend this!).

Staying at the hotel can be a bit pricey. The rooms don’t have a television or phone because the hotel is meant to be a getaway, which makes it popular with celebrities who make yearly visits to the hotel (David Letterman and the band Coldplay are among recent guests). However, if you’re into the supernatural, then splurge a little and ask to stay in one of the hotel’s haunted rooms (I’m too chicken!).

Aside from the Prince of Wales Hotel, Waterton Lakes National Park has plenty to see and do and still has a small town feel. One aspect that’s bound to amaze and surprise first-time visitors is the wildlife. Over the years Deer in the area have become very accustomed to having people around and can be seen walking the streets or lounging on lawns. However, the deer are not alone, occasionally families of Big Horn Sheep can be seen walking through town as well. If you’re a wildlife enthusiast, continue reading. There are some tips listed below.

Hotels

Waterton is very strict, as far as the amount of building and construction that can happen in the park. For that reason, there are only a handful of hotel options available. These are my recommendations.

Crandall Mountain Lodge • This is a wonderful, family-run hotel. Small, but cosy! Open all year.

Kilmorey Lodge • I’m including this as it’s popularity may have reached your ears. Unfortunately, there was a fire a couple of years ago and the lodge burnt down. However, it’s currently under construction! Look for its re-opening, they have an amazing staff and usually the best food in town!

Bayshore Inn • I use to work here, I had to mention it! A great option, right beside Upper Waterton Lake. Open May- Oct.

Food & Drink

Pizza of Waterton • The name says it all. If you’re in the mood for pizza, then walk on over and buy some from this place. So yummy!

Zum’s Eatery • By far, the BEST burgers in the park. This is a popular place on the main road, which has a patio!

Big Scoop Ice Cream Parlor • I love the ice cream here almost as much as I love their homemade waffle cones. This place is a summer favourite and a must stop for any and every visitor to Waterton. It’s located on the main road, just a few doors from Zum’s.Glacier Bistro & Burger Barn • Mmmm nachos! This is one of 4 dining facilities at the Bayshore Inn.

Glacier Bistro & Burger Barn • Mmmm nachos! This is one of 4 dining facilities at the Bayshore Inn.

Thirsty Bear Salon • If you’re in the mood to party, then this is pretty much the only place in town!

Activities

Waterton Shoreline Cruises • On a beautiful sunny day, taking a cruise down Upper Waterton Lake is a must! The M.V. International has been in service since 1927 and holds roughly 200 people. For $36 (a round-trip ticket) you can cruise down Upper Waterton Lake to Goat Haunt, Montana (where you stop for about 30 mins) and then back to the Waterton townsite. The cruise is about 2 1/4 hrs in length and if you take the first one of the day, you may be rewarded with a bear sighting or two!
Rent a Bike/ Scooter • Go to Pat’s and rent a surrey bike. It’s just plain fun! Pat’s has everything- fishing gear, snacks, bikes, scooters, gas…
Rent a canoe or paddle boat • Cameron Lake is breathtaking! During the summer season, you can rent a canoe or paddle boat and enjoy stellar views and possibly some wildlife sightings as well!
Horseback Riding • Alpine Stables is located within Waterton Lakes National Park and offers trail rides and overnight trips. If you’re looking for a unique way to experience Waterton, go on a trail ride.
Scuba Diving- Believe it or not, there are some fun treasures at the bottom of Upper Waterton Lake, including a ferry boat!

Hikes

There are plenty of hikes in the park, for all skill levels. Below are some of my personal favourites.

Bear’s Hump • The entrance for this hike is at the Visitors Centre (across the road from the Prince of Wales Hotel). The hike takes about 30-60 minutes and offers amazing views of the valley. Be prepared for a workout though, it gets a little steeper as you get closer to the top.
Lineham Falls • OMG, this hike offered amazing views, but boy were my legs tired! The hike is about 8 km, with a steady incline all the way to the falls.
Wall Lake, BC • I remember repeating “I think I can, I think I can” at the beginning of this hike. The first part is pretty steep, but it eventually levels off.
Red Rock Canyon/ Blackiston Falls • Not a challenging hike, but a beautiful one.

Crypt Lake • A popular hike, which I have yet to complete is Crypt Lake. Crypt Lake is on the other side of Upper Waterton Lake and is a full-day hike. The incline is steep, complete with ropes and a tunnel, but I’m told it’s totally worth it. Check with the visitors centre before going as there are Grizzly Bears on that side of the lake and sometimes the hike will be closed if bear scat or dead animals are found on or near the trail.

Wildlife

There is plenty of wildlife in Waterton, aside from the Deer and Big Horn Sheep who regularly visit the town-site. The following is a list of wildlife and where they can generally be seen within the park. Please remember that these are wild animals and should not be approached. If you see one, admire from a distance, do not take risks with your personal safety!

Bears • As I mentioned above, Grizzly Bears are more common on the eastern shore of Upper Waterton Lake, around Crypt and Vimy. The western shore has more brown bears. Although bears are known to wander into the town-site, the rangers are quick to respond and “encourage” them back into the mountains. Bears can be spotted around Cameron Lake and on the road to Red Rock Canyon. They’ve also been known to frequent the golf course.

Moose • Sometimes a pair of antlers can be seen poking up from Upper Waterton Lake, but the most common sighting is along the river the runs through Red Rock Canyon.

Elk • There’s a herd somewhere in the park. These guys are harder to find. I’ve generally seen them on the road between the town-site and the entrance to the park.

Buffalo/ Bison • There’s a paddock of Buffalo located outside the park, and it’s pretty cool if you’ve never seen one before!

Waterton Lakes National Park holds a special place in my heart. In the summer of 2003, it was my home. I worked and played and had an amazing time. I lived in a dorm room, and remember the entire town smelling like one massive camp fire because there were serious Forest fires located nearby (we were on an evacuation alert). Although Banff is still the big draw in Alberta, I highly recommend a visit to Waterton. It’s a quiet, peaceful place- even when it’s in the height of tourist season.

** Note: IF you decide to take the cruise to Goat Haunt, Montana and want to do a hike in Glacier National Park before returning to Waterton, remember the bring your passport. You’re still crossing an international border, even though it consists of a ranger and a hut the size of an outhouse.

About The Author

I'm a travel writer and photographer who specializes in bespoke travel experiences. I write about boutique, savvy and cultural travel. My writing has been featured in Outpost Magazine, Travel + Escape, and UP! Magazine.

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10 Responses

  1. Tweets that mention A Guide to Waterton Lakes National Park | Spunky Girl Monologues -- Topsy.com

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Gray Cargill, Pamela MacNaughtan. Pamela MacNaughtan said: New Blog Post: A Guide to Waterton Lakes National Park http://ht.ly/1QEP7 #lp #MatadorN #travel […]

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  2. Dustin Main - Skinny Backpacker

    Lots of great memories from Waterton. The Crypt Lake hike is one of Canada’s best day hikes, you’ll have to make a return trip soon and do it up!

    Reply
    • Pamela

      OMG, I am SO out of shape for hiking! I’m going to try and do Crypt late summer.

      Reply
  3. Gray

    I love the way you’ve set this guide up, Pam. I’ve never heard of this place, but now I’m intrigued. It sounds like a great place to visit!

    Reply
    • Pamela

      Thanks, Gray! I love Waterton and have a lot of wonderful memories. It’s a beautiful park, and a lot more relaxed than Banff.

      Reply
  4. Rachel

    Just as an FYI- the same sous chef who worked at the Kilmorey Lodge’s restaurant is now at Vimy’s Lounge & Grill in the lobby of Waterton lakes Lodge.

    Reply
    • Pamela

      I didn’t know that, thanks for the info! I didn’t include the Waterton Lakes Lodge because it’s had questionable management and housekeeping over the years. Has there been an improvement there?

      Reply
  5. Eli

    Awesome guide, Pam. This is something that is right up my alley. When I get around to doing a US/Canada Road Trip I have to be sure to put Waterton on the route. It looks great. Reminds me of Alaska. Parks, animals, lodges, a big lake… I was made for that kind of enviornment.

    Reply
    • Pamela

      Thanks Eli! Waterton is fabulous. A big part of that is the residents. It’s a very laid back place. If you enjoying hiking, camping etc. It’s a wonderful option.

      Reply

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