40+ Awesome Things to Do in Waterton Lakes National Park

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Waterton Lakes National Park is one of the most bucket-list worthy things to do in Alberta, Canada. The park occupies the southwestern corner of Alberta and is often overshadowed by Alberta’s two larger Rocky Mountain national parks to the north, Banff and Jasper.

Waterton offers everything that Jasper and Banff do, but packed into a fraction of the size, 505 km2 (195 miles2). It was the 4th national park created in Canada, with the iconic Prince of Wales Hotel standing as a testament to the park’s historic origins. In 1932, Waterton was connected to adjacent Glacier National Park in the USA to create the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.

Cameron Lake in Waterton National Park, with mountains reflecting on the water
Cameron Lake, Waterton, shot while I was kayaking

Waterton is famous for its stunning lakes, abundant wildlife (especially black and grizzly bears), wild flowers in early summer, water- and land-based outdoors activities, notoriously strong winds, and plethora of hiking trails. A huge area of the park was devastated by the Kenow Fire in 2017, with much evidence of the fire remaining today.

Growing up in Edmonton, the provincial capital of Alberta, I never made it down to Waterton until just recently. In fact, a surprising number of Edmontonians don’t even know Waterton exists or know little about it!

In this article, I’m going to cover everything you may need to know for planning a Waterton trip, including things to do in Waterton, the best places to stay & eat, scenic drives, worthwhile stops on the way there, and more.

I hope this helps you to plan the perfect Waterton itinerary, whether you’re planning to visit for one day or two weeks, as Canada begins opening up again to travel!

Read about Alberta’s other 4 national parks and the best national parks in Canada.

Where to Stay in Waterton

The Waterton townsite is the park’s commercial centre and where almost all of its hotels and restaurants are located. It sits on the western shore of Upper Waterton Lake, a lake which stretches all the way into the US to the south.

At the northern end of the lake, which is dominated by Prince of Wales Hotel, Upper Waterton Lake spills through the Bosporus channel to Middle Waterton Lake, and then Lower Waterton Lake further north.

Best Hotels in Waterton

View of the side exterior of Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton
Iconic Prince of Wales Hotel is the most unique and historic stay in town

The most unique accommodation in Waterton is the Prince of Wales Hotel (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor). It offers amazing lake views, fine dining, and old-time vibes, all in a National Historic Site.

Waterton Lakes Lodge Resort (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor) is a great value choice for families, with pet friendly rooms and a swimming pool. It is right in the centre of town.

Bayshore Inn Resort & Spa (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor) is right on Waterton Ave (the main tourist strip on the waterfront) and one of the few accommodations with lake views right from the rooms.

Northland Lodge (see on Booking / Agoda / TripAdvisor) is a cozy B&B in a quiet, leafy corner of town near Cameron Falls.

Camping in Waterton

Townsite campground in Waterton Lakes National Park
Waterton Townsite Campground, the park’s main campground

Waterton Townsite Campground is the main campground in Waterton Lakes National Park. It is conveniently located right next to town. There are no firepits, but on the plus side, there are clean showers, cooking houses, and the beautiful Waterton Beach encircling it. There is an RV section, small drive-in sites, and walk-in sites. This is where I stayed for my whole visit.

Crandell Mountain Campground on Red Rock Canyon Parkway has remained closed since it was damaged in the Kenow Fire of 2017. Belly River Campground, on Alberta Highway 6 to the United States, is also currently closed.

There are also 10 backcountry campsites in Waterton, which can be reserved by calling 403-859-5133.

There are several private campgrounds a short drive out of Waterton Lakes National Park, including Crooked Creek Campground, Payne Lake Campground, Prairie Peaks Campground, and Sleepy Hollow Campground.

Things to See & Do in Waterton Townsite

The following Waterton attractions are all located in or within short walking distance of the Waterton townsite.

Prince of Wales Hotel

Seating area inside Prince of Wales Hotel Waterton with Waterton lakes view in background
Dine dining with a view at Prince of Wales Hotel

The Prince of Wales Hotel is Waterton’s most important historic landmark. It is the small national park’s answer to the more well-known Banff Springs Hotel in Banff National Park.

The hotels sits atop a hill on the north shore of Upper Waterton Lake and western shore of Middle Waterton Lake, near the Bosporus, the narrow waterway connecting Upper and Middle Waterton Lakes. It has a commanding view of the lakes and townsite across Emerald Bay to the south.

The hotel was completed in 1927 by the American Great Northern Railway Company. Today it is considered one of the Grand Railway Hotels of Canada and is one of the smallest.

Prince of Wales Hotel on the side of Middle Waterton lake in Waterton National park
Classic view of the Prince of Wales Hotel from Driftwood Beach

Some of the best spots from which to admire the hotel include the Waterton Marina on Emerald Bay, the Prince of Wales Hotel loop (a walking trail around the hotel), Driftwood Beach, and Bear’s Hump Trail.

I’d highly recommend stopping in at the Prince of Wales Hotel for afternoon tea (see the Where to Eat in Waterton section at the end), a drink in the Windsor Lounge, or a meal in the Royal Stewart Dining Room. You can also ask at reception about guided tours of the property.

An empty dinner table in Prince of Wales Hotel with a beautiful view of the lake in out the window
Dinner table with a view in Prince of Wales Hotel

Linnet Lake

Mountains and water tower reflecting on Linnet Lake in Waterton Alberta
Pretty Linnet Lake with the Prince of Wales Hotel water tower in view

Linnet Lake is a small, very pretty lake just north of Prince of Wales Hotel, but you won’t see it from the main road when driving into Waterton. When the water is calm, you can photograph the hotel and nearby mountains reflecting on the water. In winter, ice skating is possible on the lake.

To access Linnet Lake, turn into the small parking lot just before the Prince of Wales turnoff when driving into town. It’s labeled “Waterton Lakes Red Chair – Middle Lake Boat Launch” on GoogleMaps, while the sign on the road indicating the turnoff says “Kootenai Brown/Linnet Lake”.

From the parking lot, there are three trails. The one on the far right is the Linnet Lake loop, which goes all the way around the lake shore. The trail in the middle will take you straight to Prince of Wales Hotel, with views of the lake and hotel along the way.

The trail to the left, near the Canada National Park Red Chairs and Boat Launch, follows the shore around the cape that the hotel sits on, but does not have Linnet Lake views.

If you love gorgeous lakes, read my guides to the best lakes in Jasper and best lakes in Banff National Parks.

Emerald Bay

Two kayakers below Prince of Wales Hotel in Emerald Bay, Waterton
Emerald Bay is popular for water sports

Emerald Bay is at the northwestern corner of Upper Warerton Lake, at the base of Prince of Wales Hotel. The bay is sheltered, so the water is usually relatively calm, making it a very popular spot for kayaking, SUP, swimming, and picnics.

In 1918, a steam paddle wheeler was deliberately sunk in the middle of Emerald Bay. The ship still lies there 60 feet below the surface and is popularly visited by scuba divers.

To access the north shore of Emerald Bay, where there are picnic tables and a beach, turn left onto Range Road 13A when driving into town. It’s the second road to the left after the Prince of Wales Hotel (the first one is not accessible to the public). You can also walk to this spot in a few minutes from town.

There’s another small beach on the south shore of Emerald Bay, just west of the town marina.

Waterton International Peace Park

A staircase leading down to a rocky beach in International Peace Park on Upper Waterton Lake
One of several spots to access the lake around International Peace Park

Moving into the Waterton townsite, International Peace Park honors the coming together of Waterton Lakes National Park and Glacier National Park in Montana as the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, the first such park in the world. The international park is a recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The park sits at the north end of town facing Prince of Wales Hotel across Emerald Bay. It is adjacent to the town marina. The park has walking paths along the lake shore, a pair of Red Chairs with a view of the Prince of Wales Hotel, and some scenic staircases down to the water.

Cameron Falls

Cameron Falls in Waterton townsite

One of the must-see attractions in Waterton townsite is roaring Cameron Falls. It is located at the western end of town, and the far western end of Cameron Falls Drive.

There is plenty of space for viewing the falls, or the more energetic can walk up to the viewing platform high above the falls, part of the Carthew Alderson Trail, a long hike all the way to Cameron Lake.

Cameron Falls is a 10-minute walk from the town centre.

Waterton Ave

Some restaurant fronts on Waterton Ave in Waterton town
Fireside Restaurant on Waterton Ave, the main tourist street of Waterton townsite

Waterton Ave is the main tourist street of Waterton townsite. It is pedestrian only (apparently it will only remain so until 2022), and lined with souvenir shops and restaurants.

Of the lakeside establishments on the road, only Lakeside Chophouse has a patio with lake views. Try Thirsty Bear for the best craft beer in Waterton, Trapper’s for smoked meats, and Big Scoop for the best ice cream in town.

From the north end of the street you can access the marina, while from either end you can access the lake and Waterton Townsite Loop, a walking trail around the town which follows the beach here.

There are more shops and amenities on Windflower Ave, the next block over to the west. 

Waterton Beach

A single beach on a rocky beach in Waterton Lakes National Park
Trees offer shade at various spots on Waterton Beach beside the town and campground

A gorgeous gray pebble beach lines the eastern and southern shore of Waterton Townsite, all the way down to the large Waterton Campground at the southern end of town.

You can swim in the chilly waters of Upper Waterton Lake anywhere along this beach, or find a shady spot under one of the many trees and simply admire the incredible views of Vimy Peak and other towering giants across the lake.

The views are particularly impressive at golden hour (the hours leading up to sunset), when the peaks are bathed in golden rays.

In terms of parking, you can park at the large marina parking lot and walk to the beach via International Peace Park. For a more secluded spot facing Cameron Bay at the far south end of town, drive down to the parking lot at the southern end of Evergreen Ave, next to the campground and the spot where Cameron Creek spills into Upper Waterton Lake.

The Waterton Townsite Loop follows the entire length of the beach before circling around the western side of town.

Parks Canada Red Chairs

Two bright red Parks Canada chairs facing the lake and mountains in Waterton National Park
A pair of red chairs at the southern end of Waterton town

There are several pairs of the iconic Parks Canada Red Chairs in Waterton townsite. These include the ones at International Peace Park, beside Cameron Creek where it meets Upper Waterton Lake, and on the shore of Middle Waterton Lake.

See here for a full list of the Red Chair locations in Waterton.

Driftwood Beach

Piles of logs on the beach at Driftwood Beach in Waterton

Just north of Waterton town on the north shore of Middle Waterton Lake, Driftwood Beach is a must-stop for the classic postcard view of Prince of Wales Hotel standing above the lake and backed by mountain peaks. It’s where I shot the cover photo of this article.

As the name suggests, the beach here is covered in pieces of driftwood blown over by Waterton’s infamously strong winds.

For the best lighting on Prince of Wales hotel, come in the morning.  

Waterton Lakes National Park Visitor Centre

The new Waterton Tourism Information Centre that is almost finished being built

The Waterton Lakes National Park visitor centre is located at the western end of town on Fountain Ave, a few blocks from Cameron Falls. Pop in for any questions you may have.

Heads up that at the time of my visit, no paper maps were available. You can download a detailed park map and townsite map here.

During my visit, I noticed that a new, much larger and more beautiful visitor’s centre is nearing completion (pictured above). It is located on Cameron Falls Drive and Windflowe Ave, across the street from The Taco Bar and Welch’s Chocolate Shop.

Wateron Lakes Movie Theater

Waterton’s cute historic theatre

Fancy a movie while in town? The super cute Waterton Lakes Movie Theatre is a historic theatre in town with daily showings and occasional opera and concert performances.

The theatre is right next to the Rocky Mountain General Store on Windflower Ave.

Pat’s Waterton Gas & Cycle Rental

Surreys, SUPs, and bicycles outside of Pat's Waterton Gas & Cycle
Rentals galore at Pat’s

Pat’s is a Waterton institution, offering all types of rentals (though they no longer have kayaks). Come here for SUP, bicycles, surreys (family bikes), and more. It’s also a convenience store and the only gas station in town.

Blakiston & Company

For even more rentals, including kayaks, canoes, and ebikes, head to Blakiston & Company at the north end of town beside Emerald Bay.

In the high season, you can book your rental online before you arrive.

Scenic Drives in Waterton

Besides the many things to do in Waterton townsite, the best of Waterton Lakes National Park lies beyond town.

The best way to explore the park is to drive the Red Rock Canyon Parkway to Red Rock Canyon and Akamina Parkway to Cameron Lake. For those with a little more time, there are a few other drives listed below.

Red Rock Canyon Parkway

A section of road on Red Rock Canyon Parkway, surrounded by trees blacked from the fire
Evidence of the Kenow Fire on Red Rock Canyon Parkway

Red Rock Canyon Parkway is a winding, 9-km (5.6-mile) roadway that leads to Red Rock Canyon, one of Waterton’s most unique and popular attractions.

The highway veers off to the west from Highway 5 as you are driving south into Waterton, between Lower and Middle Waterton Lakes.

The parkway travels up Blakiston Valley, an area that was heavily damaged by the Kenow Wildfire. There are several pullovers and scenic lookout spots.

The parkway passes the once popular Crandell Mountain Campground, which remains closed due to damage from the Kenow Fire.

2.5 kilometers before reaching Red Rock Canyon, look out for Lost Horse, a miniature version of Red Rock Canyon that you can also swim in. There’s a small parking lot on the right side of the highway.

Red rocks and a creek in Red Rock Canyon Waterton
Stunning Red Rock Canyon is perfect for a swim

Red Rock Canyon itself is extremely popular (I had to be tactical to get the above photo with no people in it), so try to avoid peak times (summer weekends, especially 10 am to 3 pm) if you can. Parking Lot 1 provides access to the bottom of the 20 minute walking loop up and down either side of the canyon (with three bridges connecting the two sides) and the start of a slightly longer trail to beautiful Blakiston Falls

The trail to Blakiston Falls is through a burnt forest. Dogs are allowed on leash, but heads up that the waterfall viewing platforms are made of textured metal and not suitable for dog paws.

A person standing on a viewing platform looking at Blakiston Falls in Waterton.
Blakiston Falls is a worthwhile side trip from Red Rock Canyon

Parking Lot 2 will take you to roughly the middle of Red Rock Canyon, and the most popular spot for going in the water. From there you can easily walk down to the trailhead for Blakiston Falls. There are restrooms and maps at both parking lots.

There are numerous hiking trails that begin along Red Rock Canyon Parkway, including Crandell Lake Trail (which can also be reached on a shorter trail from Akamina Parkway), Snowshoe Cabin, Goat Lake, Avion Ridge, and Twin Lakes.

In winter, snowshoeing and cross country skiing opportunities abound.

There is also a scenic picnic spot beside the creek at the start of Red Rock Canyon Parkway, with a turnoff from Highway 5 about 100 meters south of the entrance to Red Rock Parkway, just after you cross over the bridge. It is called Pass Creek.

Budget 25 minutes to drive to Red Rock Canyon from Waterton town (not counting stops).

Riding an e-bike to Red Rock Parkway is also a popular option, with a dedicated trail (Kootenai Brown Trail) running along Highway 5 until the turnoff for the parkway.

Akamina Parkway to Cameron Lake

More evidence of the fire on Akamina Parkway

The second unmissable drive in Waterton Lakes National Park is Akamina Parkway, which leads to stunning Cameron Lake on the far southwestern corner of the park (and Alberta). The southern shore of the lake is in America!

Akamina Parkway begins just before reaching Waterton townsite, opposite Emerald Bay. The 16-kilometer, winding road ascends quickly from town. It passes numerous scenic pullovers, waterfalls, and picnic spots beside streams.

A valley along Akamina Parkway with lots of burnt trees
Impressive scenery along Akamina Parkway

Roughly halfway in, you’ll pass the First Oil Well in Western Canada. The parkway also provides access to various hiking trails, including Crandell Lake Trail, Lineham Falls, Rowe Lakes and Akamina Pass.

Jaw-dropping Cameron Lake reflecting on the water

Cameron Lake is one of the gems of Waterton Lakes National Park, sometimes called the Lake Louise of Waterton. If you’re lucky like I was, the lake water will be calm, reflecting the huge mountains and glaciers on the southern shore. Try coming in the early morning.

A kayak on Cameron Lake with the mountains and trees reflecting on the water
Kayaking around Cameron Lake early in the morning

Rent a canoe or kayak at Cameron Lake Boat Rentals; I can’t recommend this enough. Kayaking on Cameron Lake was my favorite experience at Waterton Lakes National Park. I arrived at opening time 9 am on a weekday in summer, and I had the entire lake nearly to myself.

Budget 1.5-2 hours to canoe or kayak around the lake.

The Cameron Lake Trail follows the western shore of the lake. Another short and easy trail leads from Cameron Lake to tiny Akamina Lake, or there’s an even shorter trail to it from a small pullover on the parkway a few minutes up the Parkway.

Don’t make the same mistake I did by parking at the parking lot called “Akamina” to reach Akamina Lake. That parking lot is for the harder Akamina Pass Trail. The pullover for Akamina Lake trail is closer to Cameron Lake.

Heads up that bears are frequently spotted around Cameraon Lake, Akamina Lake, and Crandell Lake.

Highway 6 to the US Border

If you’re driving up to Waterton National Park from the United States, you will take Chief Mountain Highway, which turns into Highway 6 on the Canada side after you cross the border.

You will soon pass Belly River Campground, which was closed at the time of writing, but could be expected to open again after the Canada-US border reopens.

Scenic lookout that is the first stop for most visitors driving in from America

Around GPS 49°03’57.7″N 113°47’25.7″W, stop for a scenic lookout and some placards introducing the park (pictured above).

Look carefully and you’ll be able to spot the Prince of Wales Hotel on the shore of Middle Waterton Lake. Coming from Waterton Town, you can drive to this lookout in 20 minutes. Come in the morning otherwise you’ll be looking into glare from the sun.

Maskinonge Lake Overlook in Waterton
Maskinonge Overlook near the entrance to Waterton Lakes National Park

Just before Highway 6 from the US border connects to Highway 5 for the final leg down into Waterton, Wishbone Trail leads to Lower and Middle Waterton Lakes. One minute after you turn left onto Highway 5, stop at Maskinonge Lake Overlook. This overlook is also a quick and easy stop for anyone driving into Waterton from the north, and it’s only a 10 minute drive from Waterton Town.

Just past Maskinonge Overlook (and just before a bridge over the river), there’s another turnoff that leads down to a small loop with several picnic spots on the lake. This is a popular spot for kayaking.

Be sure to follow the reduced speed limits here; I saw several cars being pulled over.

Bison Paddock

Bison Paddock drive with mountains in background
A 10-minute drive through Bison Paddock near the entrance to Waterton National Park

When driving into Waterton Lakes National Park from the north, Bison Paddock is a short scenic loop just inside the national park boundary (but before you’ll reach the entrance gate where you’ll need to show or buy a Canada Parks Pass).

The bison paddock houses a small herd of bison that were brought in from Elk Island National Park near Edmonton. You can drive right into the paddock and follow a short loop that takes about 10 minutes to drive.

Bisons inside the paddock

If you’re lucky like I was, the bison will be hanging out right at the entrance. Even if you don’t care too much about seeing the bison, it’s a short and scenic drive.

Best Hikes in Waterton

The following are some of the best hiking trails in Waterton National Park that I can personally recommend. They range from easy, flat strolls to challenging summit ascents.

Bear’s Hump

View of Waterton townsite from Bear's Hump Trail
Looking down on Waterton townsite from Bear’ Hump

Bear’s Hump Trail is a short (2.4km) but steep hike to a rocky overlook with a commanding view looking down on Prince of Wales Hotel, the entire Waterton Townsite, and Waterton Lakes.

It takes less than an hour return, but it’s all switchbacks. Preparing for some serious huffing and puffing! I recommend going about three hours before official sunset time for the best lighting, including on Prince of Wales Hotel and the peaks across the lake.

There’s a small parking lot at the trailhead, which is opposite the turnoff for Prince of Wales Hotel. You could easily walk to the trailhead from town as well.

Even though the hike is short and highly trafficked, always carry bear spray.

Crypt Lake

Hiker walking on a narrow trail with a vertical cliff on the way to Crypt Lake
The famous section of the Crypt Lake Trail

The 20.4-kilometer trail to Crypt Lake was catapulted to fame when National Geographic named it as one of the world’s most thrilling hikes in 2014 and 2017.

The trail ascends a valley between Vimy Peak and Mt. Boswell across Upper Waterton Lake from the townsite. It reaches alpine Crypt Lake, which sits right on the US border, and still has snow around it in summer.

The most famous (and “thrilling”) section of the trail includes a narrow path across a rockfall, a vertical ladder, a tunnel through the mountain, and a narrow ridge with a chain rope. There are also three gorgeous waterfalls (Twin Falls, Burnt Rock Falls, and Crypt Falls) along the way.

Tunnel on Crypt Lake Trail in Waterton National Park
Looking out from the tunnel on the way to Crypt Lake

To do the hike, you have to cross Upper Waterton Lake. Boats operated by Waterton Shoreline Cruise Co., with entertaining yet highly informative announcements along the way, depart and return twice per day (going at 8:30 and 9:00 a.m., and coming back at 3:30 and 5:30 p.m.; times may vary).

Tickets are $30 return and you can buy them at the marina on the morning of or one day in advance.

Alternatively, you can find your own way across the lake, or hike in to the trailhead on the Wishbone Trail (but this would make for an extremely long day).

Two hikers with snow behind them on the shore of Crypt Lake in Waterton
Snow at Crypt lake on the US border

Because the hike is very popular and a boatful of hikers get dropped off all at once, you can expect to be hiking with many others on this one. Bear sightings are common.

As an intermediate hiker who wasn’t in great shape, I finished the hike in 7 hours, catching the first boat there and the first one back, and that included lots of photo stops. There’s an optional 45-minute detour to Hell Roaring Falls on the way down which I didn’t do but many other hikers did and still made it back for the first boat.

The hike is rated as medium to difficult; even the “thrilling” section isn’t too hard, but people with vertigo may find it scary. The hike is long, though, and you don’t want to miss the last boat back!

Bertha Falls & Lake

Lower Bertha Falls
Lower Bertha Falls

Another hike I’d highly recommend is the short (5.3 kilometer) trail to Lower Bertha Falls. The trail begins right beside Waterton Campground, following the lake and then veering up a valley to the beautiful waterfall.

The trail can be walked in two hours return and only features gentle uphill. You’ll be walking through a forest burned in the Kenow Fire and enjoy views of the townsite, Upper Waterton Lake, and Prince of Wales Hotel.

For a more difficult climb, you can continue on to Upper Bertha Falls then a series of steep switchbacks to Bertha Lake, for a total of 12.4 km return.

There is a walk-in campsite at Bertha Lake. Bears are common in the area.

Boundary Bay

Shore of Upper Waterton Lake on the Boundary Bay Trail
The trail to Boundary Bay and the US-Canada border follows Upper Waterton Lake’s shore

If you are determined to step on the US-Canada border, try the Boundary Bay Trail. To access it, take the Lower Bertha Falls trail. When the latter veers inland up a valley, continue straight, following the lake shore.

It’s a rather long trail with lots of up and down, lake views, and a few spots where you can access the lake along the way.

Under normal times, hikers can cross into the US all the way to Goat Haunt at the southern end of Upper Waterton Lake. Make sure to bring any necessary ID and paperwork for crossing the border.

Easy Walks in Waterton

Waterton Townsite Loop

Some of the flattest and easiest walking trails in Waterton Lakes National Park include the Waterton Townsite Loop, Prince of Wales Hotel Loop, Linnet Lake Loop, Red Rock Canyon Trail, and Akamina Lake Trail.

Walking path with Prince of Wales Hotel in background
Prince of Wales Loop Trail

Also quite easy but slightly longer are Blakiston Falls Trail, Cameron Lake Trail, Crandell Lake Trail, Wishbone Train, and Lower Bertha Falls Trail.

Black trees on Blakiston Falls Trail
Blakiston Falls Trail

Difficult Hiking Trails in Waterton

Crypt Falls on Crypt Lake Trail

More serious hikers will be spoiled for choices in Waterton Lakes National Park. Some of the better longer hikes include Rowe Lakes, Lineham Falls, Vimy Peak, Alderson Lakes, and more.

The Waterton Triple Crown Challenge includes Crypt Lake, Akamina Ridge, and Carthew-Alderson Trail.

Other Outdoor Activities in Waterton

Waterton Lakes National Park is a paradise for outdoor activity lovers. These include both water and land-based activities. For visitors to Waterton with kids, there are activities for all ages, but parents of older kids and teenagers will find there are more options.

Kayaking & Canoeing

Kayaks on the shore of Upper Waterton Lake
Kayaks on Upper Waterton Lake

Waterton Lakes are highly suitable for kayaking and canoeing, but watch out for super windy days. Some of the best kayaking spots include Emerald Bay on Upper Waterton Lake, Cameron Bay at the south end of town near the campground, Maskinonge Lake, and Cameron Lake (the latter I highly recommend!)

You can rent a kayak or canoe at Blakiston & Company in Waterton town or Cameron Lake Boat Rentals. Life jackets are included.

SUP (stand-up paddleboarding)

SUP on Emerald bay

SUP is the latest craze everywhere, and Waterton Lakes are perfect for it. You can rent SUPs at Blakiston & Company or Pat’s Waterton Gas & Cycle Rental in Waterton town, or at Cameron Lake Boat Rentals.

Cycling & E-Biking

What better way to appreciate the beauty of Waterton Lakes that cycling through it in an environmentally friendly way?

Families can try surreys, but you need to stick to the townsite. For cyclists, try the Kootenai Brown Trail, which runs along Highway 5 from town to the park entrance. Red Rock Parkway and Akamina Parkway are longer bike rides with some up and down, making them a more popular choice for e-bikes.

Surreys, bikes, and e-bikes can be rented at Pat’s Waterton Gas & Cycle, while Blakiston & Co. also has e-bikes.

Stargazing

Waterton Lakes National Park, along with Glacier National Park in the US, are an official dark sky preserve.

Dark Sky Guides offer guided nighttime stargazing tours to the best spots and with all the equipment needed.

Hit the Beach

Beach next to Waterton Townsite Campground

After a long day of physical activities, nothing is better than kicking back in the shade under a tree on the beach in Waterton.

This was my favorite spot three days in a row, facing Cameron Bay

Winter Activities: Ice Skating, Snowshoeing, Cross Country Skiing

If you visit Waterton Lakes National Park in winter, ice skating is available on Linnet Lake beside Prince of Wales Hotel. See here for information on the best snowshoeing and cross country skiing trails in Waterton.

Also read about visiting Banff in winter, Jasper in winter, and winter activities in Canmore!

Lake Cruises and US Crossing

Waterton Shoreline Cruise Co boats at Waterton marina
Cruise boats at Waterton Marina

Besides offering transportation to Crypt Lake Trail, Waterton Shoreline Cruise Co. also offers scenic cruises from the marina in Waterton Town to Goat Haunt in Montana, USA at the southern end of Upper Waterton Lake.

The scenic cruise takes 1 hour 15 minutes and costs $60 ($50 for local Albertans), with around five cruises per day (when I visited, at 10:00, 12:00, 2:00, 4:00, and 6:00). Currently, the scenic boat rides only depart from Waterton town on the Canada side and don’t stop at Goat Haunt or the US. Try the early morning for best light, or the last one of the day for higher chance of spotting wildlife.

In normal times when the border is open, passengers can travel from Goat Haunt in the US to Waterton in Canada and vice versa, with the necessary paperwork for crossing the border.

Fishing

Waterton Boat Launch, just north of Prince of Wales Hotel and Linnet Lake

Fishing is allowed in Waterton Lakes National Park but a national parks fishing pass is required. Make sure to be familiar with the rules and regulations.

Motorized boats are not allowed on Waterton Lakes, and non-motorized ones must undergo inspection upon entry to the park. This is to prevent the spread of invasive mussels.

Flower Viewing

Pink flowers in Waterton National Park

Waterton Lakes National Park is known for its abundance of wildflowers in late spring and early summer. Mid-June to mid-July are best, with flowers at higher elevations well into August.

There are more than 400 species of wild flowers in the park. Do any hiking trail and you’ll see them. Try the Kootenai Brown Trail, Blakiston Falls Trail, or Lower Bertha Falls Trail.

See more details here.

Wildlife Viewing

A black bear on top of a cliff in Waterton
Black bear I saw right beside Upper Waterton Lake

Waterton Lakes National Park is also known for its high concentration of wildlife. Spend any amount of time driving or hiking in the park and you are (almost) guaranteed to see a bear.

There are always deer hanging out around the Waterton campground, while ground squirrels are constantly making calls. Other common animals to watch for include bighorn sheep, elk, moose, and various birds.

Read more about the park’s wildlife here, and remember to always carry bear spray.

Horseback Riding

Some people riding horses in Waterton Lakes National Park

Alpine Stables provides guided horseback rides in Waterton Lakes National Park. The trails are limited to areas that weren’t burned in the Kenow Fire and a few others.

Golfing

The scenic, 18-hole Waterton Golf Course has been welcoming golfers since 1922. You can see one section of it when driving along the Red Rock Canyon Parkway.

Where to Eat & Drink in Waterton

Before dining out in Waterton, keep in mind that this small national park is fairly isolated. Most businesses are family-run and earn income from just a few busy months per year. Prices are thus higher than what you would pay for the same items in major cities in Canada.

Prince of Wales Hotel

Afternoon tea set at Prince of Wales Hotel
Afternoon tea at Prince of Wales Hotel

Put on your fancy shoes at head to Waterton’s most iconic hotel for afternoon tea, a cocktail in the Windsor Lounge, or a meal in the Royal Stewart Dining Room. Amazing lake views included, and prices are reasonable.

Thirsty Bear

Insanely big fish tacos and local craft beer at Thirsty Bear

For the undisputed best craft beer in town, make your way directly to Thirsty Bear on Waterton Ave. The wooden interior of the town’s only bar is slick, or grab a spot on the patio and enjoy the rock tunes.

Thirsty Bear includes craft beers from across Alberta and BC, including hyper-local brews from nearby Oldman River Brewing in nearby Lundreck (famous for its waterfall) and Stronghold in Fort Macleod.

The Thirsty Bear also has the best (and by far largest) fish tacos I’ve ever had. This is a meal for two!

Trappers Mountain Grill

Enormous “Trappers Size” ice cold beer

Trappers serves proper smoked meats and trout in a rustic setting. On top of that, they claim to have the coldest (thanks to chilled mugs) and most definitely largest beers in town – the immense, 34-ounce “Trappers Size” beer.

The smoked trout appetizer, served cold, was excellent, and was a full meal for me. Don’t be surprised by the whole fish on your plate; the waitress told me some customers complain. What did you expect a fish to look like?

Wieners of Waterton

One of the best takeaway spots in Waterton is Wieners of Waterton, serving dogs with creative sauces, poutine, and falafel for vegetarians.

The Taco Bar

For a quick and tasty lunch, try the Taco Bar, right across from the soon-to-be new tourist information centre.

Pizza of Waterton

Pizza of Waterton serves up the best pizza in Waterton, with a lovely, dog-friendly patio. They’re also open for breakfast.

Big Scoop

Ice cream best enjoyed on the beach

The best and most popular ice cream to be had in town is at Big Scoop. Choices abound, the waffle cones are extremely good, and the ice cream is best enjoyed on the beach, just a one-minute walk away.

Lakeside Chophouse

If it’s an open-air restaurant patio overlooking the lake that you seek, Lakeside Chophouse is surprisingly the only one.

Pearls Café

For the best (and, at times, quirkiest) breakfast in town, try Pearls Café on Wind Flower Ave.

Windflower Corner Café

The Windflower Corner Café serves the best cup of coffee in town: Kicking Horse from BC, which is organic is certified organic and fair trade. It is located conveniently right across from the entrance to Waterton Campground, so campers can forget about their instant Nescafe.

Things to See on the Way to Waterton National Park

Depending on where you’re driving in from, you may want to make one or more stops on the way to Waterton. Here are the approximate driving times from different cities in Alberta:

Twin Butte Mexican Place

Mexican food and local craft beer at Twin Butte Mexican restaurant near Waterton National Park
Enchiladas and local craft beer at Twin Butte Mexican Place

Just 20 minutes before reaching Waterton Lakes National Park, the excellent Twin Butte Mexican restaurant is an unexpected surprise. There’s also a general store attached, including local craft beers.

Cowboy Trail

Yellow canola fields backed by the Rocky Mountains on the Cowboy Trail

Coming down from cities to the north, Highway 2 is surely fastest, but if you aren’t super rushed, opt instead for Highway 22, also known as the Cowboy Trail. This is Alberta ranchland, but with views of the gorgeous Rockies the whole way down.

Bar U Ranch

Bar U Ranch in southern Alberta
A National Historic Site ranch

One of the most popular stops along the Cowboy Trail is Bar U Ranch, a National Historic Site. Budget a solid hour to explore the historic farmhouses on site. Entrance is free with a Parks Canada Discovery Pass. it is 1 hour and 45 minutes from Waterton.

Lundbreck Falls

Lundbreck Falls in southern Alberta on the way to Waterton

One of the largest and most well-known waterfalls in southern Alberta, Lundbreck is a must-do stop at the southern end of the Cowboy Trail. It is only one hour from Waterton.

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

Bison kill site at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo jump, southern Alberta
Ancient bison kill site

This ancient buffalo jump site is where local indigenous people once drove bison off a cliff as a hunting method. An excellent museum is built right into the hill, and from the top a short trail leads to the kill site. it is 1 hour and 15 minutes from Waterton.

Nanton Candy Store & Grain Elevators

Colorful grain elevators in Nanton, Alberta

If you take Highway 2, don’t miss the candy store in Nanton, which will induce nostalgia among older visitors with its incredible selection of traditional candies, from licorice and coke bottles to jawbreakers and flavored taffy.

There’s also a beautiful collection of grain elevators in town with a small museum.

Well, that brings us to the end of this Waterton lakes National Park guide. I hope you’ve found more than enough information for planning your Waterton trip. Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below!

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