Waterton Lakes National ParkWaterton Lakes National Park is the Canadian portion of Waterton Glacier International Peace Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site which extends into the US as Glacier National Park. The park is in the southwestern corner of Alberta, and protects the southernmost portion of the Canadian Rockies. As a destination, Waterton is best known for hiking and sight-seeing.
Waterton is open all year, but the main tourist season is during July and August. The only commercial facilities available within the park are located at the Waterton Park townsite. The park ranges in elevation from 1,290 metres (4,232 ft) at the townsite to 2,910 m (9,547 ft) at Mount Blakiston. It offers many scenic trails, including Crypt Lake trail. In 2012/2013, Waterton Lakes National Park had over 400,000 visitors.
Contact the park office +1 403-859-5133, toll-free: 1-888-773-8888 or email: email@example.com
HistoryThe park is part of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, designated as World Heritage Site in 1995 for its distinctive climate, physiographic setting, mountain-prairie interface, and tri-ocean hydrographical divide. Together the parks are areas of significant scenic values with abundant and diverse flora and fauna.
LandscapeIn 1979, Waterton and bordering Glacier National Park in the US were designated as World Biosphere reserves, preserving mountains, prairie, lakes and freshwater wetlands ecosystems. Habitats represented in the parks' range include: prairie grasslands, aspen grove forests, alpine tundra/high meadows, lower subalpine forests, deciduous and coniferous forests.
Flora and faunaThere is a good chance of seeing black and grizzly bears in the park, also if you are lucky badger. Birds in the area include osprey, bald eagle and a number of waders.
Animals that inhabit this national park include wolverines, bighorn sheep, bald eagles, white-tailed deer, mule deer, mountain goats, elk, moose, foxes, wolves, coyotes, beavers, river otters, cougars, lynxes, bobcats, snowshoe hares, pikas, hoary marmots, grizzly bears and black bears.
ClimateThe climate is typical of the northern hemisphere, located at just above the 49th parallel. The summers reach temperatures up to 30ºC/86ºF but it is usually mild around 23-25ºC/73-77ºF for most of the summer. There are a few heat waves that last a couple of days, but for the most part summers are very comfortable for people from warmer climates. Winters are a bit more severe due to the mountain elevations which bring heavy snowfalls to the mountain peaks and to the townsite. Temperatures can dip to -30ºC/-22ºC but the prevailing western air currents bring warm air from the Pacific Ocean in the winter time. These are called chinooks by the locals and can raise the temperature from -30ºC to +2ºC in a couple of hours. If you do not mind a bit of wind the climate is good here. The park is sheltered by trees so the winds are not so bad in the camping areas and in the townsite.
Waterton Lakes is at the end of Highway 5, about an hour and a half from Lethbridge and 3 hours from Calgary. If driving from Calgary, take Highway 2 south out of town to Cardston and then follow Highway 5 west to the park.
There is no bus service into the park. The nearest Greyhound station is in Pincher Creek, 30 minutes north on Highway 6. Some cab companies will drive to the park from Pincher Creek if booked in advance.
Fees and permits
There is no fee to enter the park if you are just driving through along Highway 6. However, if you want to do any activities, visit the townsite or stay overnight, a daily fee will apply. The fee is paid at the gatehouse on Highway 5, on the road to Waterton townsite, just after its junction with Highway 6.
If staying for a week or more, the annual park pass is a good value, though it can only be used in Waterton. An annual Discovery Pass can also be purchased for a higher fee and be used in Waterton and at the nearby Banff National Park, Jasper National Park, and many other national parks and historic sites.
Daily fees summer/shoulder season (2018):
- Adult $ 7.80/$ 5.80
- Senior $ 6.80/$ 4.90
- Children and youth under 18 free
- Family/group $ 15.70/$ 11.75
- Adult $ 39.20
- Senior $ 34.30
- Children and youth under 18 free
- Family/group $ 78.50
Fishing permit (2018):
- Daily $ 9.80
- Annual $ 34.30
The townsite is small and can be easily travelled on foot. However, if you want to see some of the lakes, hikes and other features of the park, a car or bike will be necessary. There is a shuttle bus service.
Temporary Visitor Centreaddress: 209 Fountain Ave, Waterton Park, AB T0K 2M0The main tourism information building for the park (itself a heritage site) was destroyed by fire in 2017, and work on the replacement is not yet complete (2019). In the meantime, visitor services are being offered from the Lions Club hall.
Waterton LakeLong lake that stretches across the Candian/US border, set below spectacular mountain scene. There is a pleasant stroll along the shoreline in the town.
Buffalo Paddockaddress: Highway 6The Buffalo Paddock is a fenced-off area of prairie grassland that is home to the park's buffalo herd. The single road loops through the enclosure and offers a good opportunity to see these animals in their natural environment.
Red Rock Canyonaddress: Red Rock ParkwayA pretty spot, which, true to its name, features a canyon and river bed with a striking shade of red. There is a short trail (15-30 minutes) that follows both sides of the canyon. Very popular in warm weather with people paddling in the cold rocky stream that flows through the canyon.
Bear's humpA short but very steep walk up to a ridge above the town provides a spectacular view of the whole valley.
Cameron LakeBeautiful glacial lake, with opportunity for canoe rentals
phone: +1 403 859-2362address: Waterton MarinaA two-hour scenic cruise on Upper Waterton Lake that provides fantastic views of the lake and mountains on a sunny day and good opportunities to see eagles, moose, deer and other wildlife. The boat itself is interesting as it was built in the 1920s, in conjunction with the Prince of Wales Hotel, to wine and dine the rich visitors to the park of the time.
Fantastic Four of Waterton Glacier: the Peace Park ChallengeAn international challenge for hikers, featuring 2 of Waterton's most beloved trails, Crypt Lake (9 km) and Carthew-Alderson (16 km), in addition to 2 of Glacier National Park's favourites Siyeh Pass (16.5 km)and the Garden Wall (18.5 km). You must bring your passport. (60 km total)
The Triple Crown of WatertonA challenge for hikers, three local favourite trails: Crypt Lake (9 km), Carthew-Alderson (16 km) and Akamina Pass (20 km). (45 km total)
Summit LakeHike of about one hour uphill from Cameron Lake car park to a small lake in a mountain pass. In some years, the path is clear by June, and in others it can be under snow in July.
address: 114 Waterton AveSells a variety of sheepskin and leather clothing. The mitts, hats and slippers are their own brand, manufactured locally in Alberta.
Pearl'saddress: 305 Windflower AveSpacious coffee shop with a good selection of breakfast and lunch wraps and baked goods. Awards a t-shirt to hikers on completion of the Triple Crown of Waterton (three hikes) or Fantastic Four of Waterton Glacier (four hikes). A public computer is free to use with purchase of food or drink and two hours of wi-fi is available for clients (ask at the counter for the access code).
Trappers Mountain Grilladdress: 106A Waterton AveFamily-run restaurant with a lumberjack/rustic décor. It has a number of dishes with local ingredients like buffalo and Saskatoon berries. Good quality food but a little expensive.
Zums Eateryaddress: 116B Waterton AveFamily diner-style restaurant, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Interesting décor of vehicle license plates, good service, food is of medium quality.
address: 101 Clematis Ave.Casual fine dining with Rocky Mountain cuisine at its finest. Unique wine selections. Two patios with mountain views. Dining room menu available from 5PM-10PM. Big screen TVs playing sports and cushy leather lounge chairs to view from. Good quality food but not cheap.
address: Bayshore InnCasual bar with a dance floor, DJ and pool tables.
Waterton Bagel & Coffee Co.address: 309 WindflowerA real town favourite, noted by several prominent guide books as having the best coffee in Waterton. Featuring small batch roasted Cuppers Coffee, with a dizzying variety of hot and cold drinks. Offers delicious bagels prepared with imagination, and local baked goods.
address: 101 Clematis AveA relaxing lounge to enjoy a drink next to a fireplace. Big screen TVs that have sports. 2 patios with great mountain views.Casual fine dining also available.
address: 111 Waterton AveA mix of rooms and suites on the lakefront with TV, internet and an on-site spa. Open May through early October.
address: 102 Mountview RdOne- and two-bed rooms with a country-style look and feel. Kitchen and Deluxe rooms cost a bit more but come with gas fireplaces.
address: Highway 5An old railway hotel built in 1927 to attract tourists to the region. It's not your best value for money since the beds are small (doubles or twins in standard rooms), the hotel's age shows in a few spots and the rooms don't come with many extra amenities (no TV, no minibar, not all rooms have full bathtubs). It does have heaps of character and history though, and the views the hotel is built on a hill overlooking the lake and town -- are outstanding.
address: 101 Clematis AveMix of chalet-style accommodation and suites of good quality. Different sizes of rooms available.
address: 11 Windflower AveBig variety of accommodation. Choose from kitchenettes, suites and cottage style rooms. Rooms are available with fireplaces and jetted tubs.
Bear Mountain MotelClassic 1960s motel. Basic rooms with comfortable beds. Good wifi connection for guests. Grill available in car park. Probably best value in town if you are not looking for luxury.
There are three drive-in campgrounds available in the park. Some sites have fire pits, a fire permit is an additional $8.80 (2018).
Townsite Campgroundaddress: at the end of Windflower RdA fairly open, grassy campground with serviced and unserviced sites. Showers and flush toilets available. Reservations are recommended if staying over a weekend or if you want a serviced site. Open mid-April to mid-Oct.
Crandell Mountainaddress: Red Rock ParkwayUnserviced sites set in the forest with flush toilets but no showers. Sites are available on a first come, first served basis. Open mid-May to Labour Day.
Belly Riveraddress: Highway 6Unserviced sites with dry toilets. Sites are available on a first come, first served basis. Open mid-May to mid-Sept.
Backcountry camping is available in a number of spots. The fee is $9.80/night (2018). If staying for a week or more, a season pass is a good value at $68.70. A reservation costs $11.70.
Beware of the very strong winds at times in the main town site area.
Hikers should be aware that although it is possible to cross the geographical border (49th parallel) into the USA there are further on ranger control points that you cannot pass unless you have a US passport. Non-US citizens must use the main road crossing, where identification checks can be made.
This is bear and cougar country, when hiking make plenty of noise and take the usual precautions for bears.
- Waterton Lakes is joined with Glacier National Park across the border in Montana. It can be accessed by heading south on Highway 6 (The Chief Mountain Highway). The border crossing on the highway is only open between May and October.
- The Remington-Alberta Carriage Centre in Cardston is half an hour east on Highway 5. It has many interesting stories on the horse and carriage era and how the collection was built.
- Head Smashed-in Buffalo Jump, a UNESCO World Heritage Site outside of Fort Macleod is a 1½-hour drive north-east.
- Bar U Ranch near Longview.
- Crowsnest Pass is an hour north-west on Highway 6 and has several attractions on its coal-mining past and the Frank Slide. It is also the gateway to British Columbia.
- If you're looking for more mountains and alpine lakes, Banff National Park is 4-5 hours north. A scenic way to get there is the Cowboy Trail (Highways 6 and 22) which traverses the foothills while keeping the mountains in sight.