First Look at the Canadian Rockies: Waterton Lakes National Park


Getting from Missoula, Montana to Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada entailed a trip through Glacier National Park via the Going to the Sun Road, which is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful drives in the U.S. Good thing we were just passing through, however, because on this busy peak season Monday, there were few if any parking spots available at the various scenic stops along the road, including the Visitor Center at Logan Pass. Nonetheless, the views were spectacular, and it was a treat to spend a couple of hours in Glacier.

We crossed the border into Canada at Chief Mountain. In the photo below, you can see the U.S.-Canada demarcation line on the hillside behind the granite boundary marker, thanks to the efforts of the International Boundary Commission to comply with laws that require a 10-foot wide clearing on both sides of the line.

Together, Glacier National Park in the U.S. and Waterton Lakes National Park across the border in Canada comprise the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, a partnership that dates back to 1932. More than just a “feel good” relationship, the two parks cooperate to protect, preserve and enhance their shared ecosystem. However, you still need a passport to travel between the two, even if you’re hiking.

Waterton was our first experience with the Canada parks system, and so far, so good. We purchased Discovery passes for a total of $95, which allows unlimited visits to Canadian national parks for the next 12 months. Also, our northern neighbors encourage municipal infrastructure inside their protected areas, which helps to make it easy for travelers like us to visit.

With a population of around 100 full time residents, Waterton Village offers a variety of lodging options, restaurants, a small grocery store, tourist information, and other important amenities, such as gas. We learned our way around in about 15 minutes and made ourselves at home.

At 195 square miles, Waterton Park is much smaller than Glacier (1,583 square miles) to begin with, then the intense Kenow wildfire in September, 2017 burned through 38% of the Park. Two years later, the recovery has been remarkable, but many popular roads and hiking trails are still closed.

A boat cruise on Upper Waterton Lake is a “must do” activity. We opted for the spectacular 2-hour sunset cruise. The trip takes you into Glacier National Park to Goat Haunt Ranger Station at the southern end of the lake. In previous years, the boat would make a brief stop at Goat Haunt before returning to Waterton Village. In fact, a popular itinerary was for passengers to disembark at Goat Haunt and walk back via an 8-mile hiking trail.

This summer, however, there was neither a stop nor a hiking option at Goat Haunt. Apparently, the U.S. National Park Service did not fill the ranger position for Goat Haunt, so the boat was not allowed to stop. For any reason. We saw a few backpackers along the shore, however, who must now obtain permission to continue their trek across the border using an app on their mobile phones.

The sunset cruise was terrific and gets two thumbs up from us. Not only because of the beauty of the lake and the mountains, but also for the educational and engaging narrative by the crew along the way. Highly recommended!

Our other major activity in Waterton Park was a hike to Bertha Lake – around seven miles round trip with a healthy elevation gain of 1,700 feet. We had tired legs by the time we made it back to town, but it was worth the effort. Waterfalls, excellent views, an abundance of wildflowers, and an alpine lake – quintessential Rocky Mountains!

Partially due to the 2017 wildfire, the wildflowers had a banner year in Waterton Park. I took way too many pictures trying to capture the display of all the colors, but it just didn’t work. So here are a few of the individual specimens we encountered on our hike to Bertha Lake:

And that wraps up the first leg of our visit to the Canadian Rockies. Coming soon – Banff and Yoho national parks.

Categories: Canada, Montana

1 comment

  1. Cannot wait, cannot wait, cannot wait!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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