The Hike to Crypt Lake is the Ultimate Thing To Do While in Waterton Lakes National Park
If you're only going to do one thing while in Waterton Lakes National Park, make sure it's this hike.
photographs by Ricky Chin
The challenging hike to Crypt Lake in Waterton Lakes National Park was named one of the world’s 20 most thrilling trails by National Geographic in 2014. That’s a lot of hype. However, when a day-long excursion into some of the country’s prettiest backcountry packs in a boat ride to the trailhead, a 175-metre-high waterfall, a dark crawl through a 12-metre-long natural mountain tunnel and a cable-assisted cliff traverse, the thrills — and the stunning scenery that makes it all worthwhile — are for real.
The 17.4-km round-trip trek gains 700 metres from the shore of Upper Waterton Lake to Crypt Lake, so called because it’s hidden away in an alpine bowl and surrounded on three sides by imposing cliff walls that form a sequestered sanctuary. Along the way you’ll watch for wildlife (including grizzlies) and be blown away by the beauty of the wildflowers, waterfalls and mountains. Not only will you relish the experience, you’ll have pushed yourself in the process, as this hike requires you to conquer your fear of heights, tight spaces, bears, darkness, or all of the above.
The Crypt Lake trail is usually hike-ready from mid-May through Thanksgiving weekend in October (call 403-859-2362 if you’re planning to hike in the early or late season to make sure the trail is open). A good move is to book the boat ride to the trailhead in advance online at watertoncruise.com/crypt-lake.php. Plan to go midweek for fewer crowds.