It’s easy to forget Waterton Lakes National Park. It’s several hours away from the other parks in the Canadian Rockies, like Banff and Jasper. But, Waterton Lakes is well worth the effort to visit, with waterfalls, hiking trails, beautiful lakes, and impressive mountains — plus, a nice tourist-friendly town at the center of it all.
Wateron is an amazing place, but it’s even more amazing when you’ve seen it in winter and summer. My first visit to the town and the park was in March, 2012, and the second visit was in June, 2014.
June is definitely the better time to visit.
My visit, and yours, will center around the nice little town of Waterton, which is located on the northern shore of Upper Waterton Lake.
Visit during summer, and you’ll find all the services you’d expect (although gas is expensive — it would be wise to fill up in Pincher Creek or in Montana, before crossing the border).
Visit in winter, and you’ll struggle to find any business that’s open. Almost everyone boards up and moves out for the harsh winter months.
It’s especially nice that the deer in Waterton feature wi-fi.
I drove through town, and stopped at Cameron Creek. This creek starts at Cameron Lake at the far end of Akamina Parkway (more on that later), and spills over Cameron Falls (more on that later, too)…
…then empties into Upper Waterton Lake here. There’s a big campground in this area, providing a more reasonably-priced option for an overnight stay in Waterton.
In winter, you can see a lot less of Cameron Creek, but the town’s most recognizable peak, Mount Crandell, is quite beautiful.
Just upstream a bit, and an easy walk from anywhere in town…
… you’ll find Cameron Falls. It’s especially beautiful in winter. I tried to take a summer version of this picture, but rainy weather made it difficult. Also, in late June, the snow melt greatly increased the water flow over the falls.
Drive out of town, just slightly…
… and you’ll spot the Prince of Wales Hotel. It’s located in the perfect spot, on a hill overlooking the town and the lake. Constructed between 1926 and 1927, this is the only one of Canada’s grand railway hotels built by an American railroad.
Inside, huge windows take advantage of the view looking south, towards the U.S.
Walk around outside the hotel, and you can really appreciate the view.
You can see the entire Waterton townsite from here — including the boat docks, where you can catch a scenic boat tour of Upper Waterton Lake. As of 2014, the 2 1/4 hour scenic cruise cost $43 for adults.
Near the Prince of Wales Hotel, you’ll find the start of the Akamina Parkway:
This is one of two scenic roads that take you away from the town, and into the mountains. Akamina Parkway provides access to the Crandell Lake Trail, and at the end…
… you’ll find Cameron Lake. At this point, you’re practically in the U.S. — those mountains are American. You’re also very close to B.C. – it’s just up the hill to the right.
The park’s other scenic drive…
… is the Red Rock Parkway. It begins, a bit further out of town…
… and takes you to Red Rock Canyon. An easy loop trail encircles the canyon, and longer trails head out to places like Blakiston Falls, Goat Lake, and Twin Lakes. You can read all about Red Rock Parkway here.
The Bottom Line
Waterton Lakes National Park offers a lot to see and do. Be sure you drive Akamina and Red Rock Parkways, see Cameron Falls, and spend some time enjoying the lake.
Waterton Lakes National Park is located in southern Alberta, along the US/Canadian border, and the border with British Columbia to the west. The park centers around Waterton townsite, at the western end of Alberta Route 5.
From Pincher Creek, take Alberta Route 6 south, to the junction with Route 5 at the park entrance. From the USA, take the Chief Mountain Highway across the border.
Check out this time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive from Montana into Canada, and then into Waterton: