At 505 square kilometres, Waterton Lakes National Park is the smallest National Park in the Canadian Rockies. It sits in the southwest corner of the province where the Rocky Mountains meet the prairies. The contrast of mountains and plains gives it that postcard look that often defines the prairies. It also means the park is home to an unusually diverse mix of plants and animals. It has more than half of Alberta’s native plants within its boundaries. The lake itself crosses over into the United States and in 1932 Waterton Lakes National Park combined with Glacier National Park in Montana to form Waterton Glacier International Peace Park, the first of its kind in the world. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The park may be small but it’s packed with things to do such has hiking, SUPing, windsurfing and boating on one of several lakes. It’s a prime location for spotting wildlife and wildflowers. After a busy day of outdoor adventures, the tiny village of Waterton with a year-round population of around 100 offers multiple options for a quick snack or gourmet dinner. The town is much mellower than some of the other national park towns. Most businesses close down for the winter and reopen in May. The speed limit is about as fast as a peddle-powered Surrey Bike rented from Pat’s goes. It’s part of Waterton’s charm.
Despite a major wildfire in 2017, Waterton is back open for business and welcoming visitors in 2018 with closures. The Kenow Wildfire swept through the park in September 2017, damaging almost all of the hiking trails, including bridges and picnic areas on the Akamina Parkway and Red Rock Parkway. The Visitor Centre, Alpine Stables and Crandell Mountain Camp Ground were all destroyed, but the townsite itself was spared. Recovery is in full swing in 2018 so be mindful of any construction that is happening as well as closures by Parks Canada as they assess the wildlife and natural recovery. Check the Parks Canada website for updates on what is open and closed and the progress of the recovery.
258 kilometres from the Calgary Tower | South on Hwy 2
What to do
The trails to the west of Waterton all the way to the B.C. border are closed for 2018. That includes the popular Bertha Peak, Mount Blakiston and Bear’s Hump. Trails to the east of the lake including Vimy Peak and Crypt Lake are open as usual in 2018. Check the Parks Canada website for updates on trail closures.
Waterton Shoreline Cruise Co.‘s two-hour, guided scenic boat trip takes you along the shoreline of Upper Waterton Lake and across the international border into Goat Haunt, Montana. The cruise company also offers daily trips to Crypt Landing, the trailhead for the Crypt Lake hike. Book your tickets in advance or go down to the ticket office at the marina.
Take to the lake on a SUP or in a kayak or canoe. Blakiston & Co. rents all three from its location inside Crandell Mountain Lodge. You can rent for one-hour solo trips or four-hour guided excursions.
102 Mount View Rd., Waterton, 780-288-5015, blakistonandcompany.com
The 18-hole course was built in the 1930s and designed by golf course architect Stanley Thompson who is known for his courses in Canada’s national parks including the Banff Springs Hotel course, the Jasper Park Lodge course and the Fundy National Park course. All those courses, along with Waterton’s take advantage of the beautiful surroundings. In Waterton, you’re surrounded by mountains as you tee off.
The Waterton Lakes Opera House opened in 1935 as a cinema. Now it is a cinema and theatre and the home of Waterton Stage and Screen. The organization presents several events through the year including film fests, live opera, ballet, theatre and symphony orchestra concerts. Find the full schedule of events on mywaterton.ca.
309 Wind Flower Ave., Waterton, 403-859-2467
High, gusty winds are pretty common in Waterton, which makes it popular with experienced windsurfers. The water is very cold, so come equipped with a dry suit.
Every year in late May and early June, restaurants in the town get together and throw several food events over two weekends. There’s Pie Cruise where you eat slices of pie from various restaurants in town while taking a boat tour of the lake. The Thirsty Bear Social has an evening of beer and food samples in the town’s popular bar. There are Chef’s Table dinners and breakfasts. You can dine under the dark skies or dine while listening to opera. The 2018 festival takes place May 25 to June 3.
Waterton is the Wildflower Capital of Canada and this week of events takes full advantage with photography and painting sessions, guided walks and concerts. The 2018 theme is Renewal after the Kenow Fire and it takes place June 14 to 19. June 15 is Free Admission day to the National Park.
Where to stay
Prince of Wales Hotel sits perched on a hill overlooking the lake.
Built in 1927, the Prince of Wales hotel sits on a bluff overlooking the lake and Waterton Village. A national historic site, the luxury hotel was built by the Great Northern of United States railway line as a stop for backcountry explorers. The handsome hotel has a colourful history and is rumoured to be haunted. With views of the mountains and lake, plan to stay for afternoon tea.
Alberta 5, Waterton, 1-844-868-7474, glacierparkinc.com
This is the only hotel right on the lake shore. Those views make it a popular spot for weddings. The hotel restaurant, Lakeside Chophouse, has great views from inside and out on the patio. For similar views, try to get a lakefront room.
111 Waterton Ave., Waterton, 1-888-527-9555, bayshoreinn.com
The Townsite Campground has plenty of sites with water, sewer and electrical as well as several unserviced sites if you are tenting. You can reserve a site through the Parks Canada Reservation Service.
Where to eat
A wall of windows give you a view of the lake, or get a table on the patio for an even better view, while you enjoy your lobster bisque, braised short ribs or prime rib burger. This is the restaurant in the Bayshore Inn Resort & Spa where you will also find the Fireside Lounge & Wine Bar. It’s a cosy place to go for a drink and listen to live music.
111 Waterton Ave. Waterton, 403-859-2211, lakesidechophouse.com
Inside the Prince of Wales, the Royal Stewart has breakfast, lunch and dinner. The dinner menu features hearty dishes including in the braised bison stew.
Alberta 5, Waterton, 1-844-868-7474, glacierparkinc.com
The Thirsty Bear Saloon, inside the Bayshore Inn & Spa, is Waterton’s only pub. Try the Bear’s Hump nacho platter or the Grizzly Mountain Burger.
111 Waterton Ave., Waterton, 403-859-2211, bayshoreinn.com
This waffle, coffee and frozen yogurt joint is perfect for breakfast or a sweet treat. It specializes in Liege waffles made with pearls of sugar in the batter. Try the classic and always tasty strawberry and whipped cream waffle.
301 Windflower Ave., Waterton, 403-859-2131
This hot dog shop is right beside Waffleton. Look for the lineups and crowded picnic tables. Wieners of Waterton bakes its buns fresh and grills its meat to order. Get a Nathan’s dog or a smokie made locally and have it topped how you want it.
301 Windflower Ave. Waterton, 403-859-0007, wienersofwaterton.com
This casual restaurant has a menu of pizza, burgers and fried chicken. Outside, there is a great patio. Inside, the walls are decorated with license plates from around the world and the tables have checkered tablecloths. In 2018, one of Zum’s gift shops is being converted into a BeaverTails counter.
116 Waterton Ave., Waterton, 403-859-2388, zums.ca