The Wonders of Waterton Lakes
Waterton Lakes National Park is a soaring wonderland. It is a remote corridor of Canadian wilderness where everything untamed comes together, from playful cub bears rolling in the huckleberries; silent mountain lions that watch on from a distance, to deer that press their noses against your bedroom window early in the morning. To explore this wild frontier is to start a conversation between your soul and a living planet on the move.
When it comes to the Canadian Rockies, Banff and Jasper get most of the glory and almost all of the tourists. Waterton tends to be Alberta’s forgotten and less commercialised National Park. Don’t let its size turn you away. Waterton is renowned for its pristine nature, packing in more wilderness per square metre than anywhere else in Canada. This makes it a prime destination for wildlife viewing — especially in August and September when the berries ripen and the bears come out to munch and fatten up for the winter ahead.
The steep mountains and sparkling lakes hug the borders of Montana and the Province of British Columbia. No matter what time of year you visit, I recommend packing your best wind stopper jacket, as the wind sweeps across the plains and through the mountains with considerable gusto yearlong. Don’t let that deter you – I had many calm summer days in my three months spent at Waterton.
If you’re seeking an unobstructed union with nature, lace up your sturdy hiking boots. Waterton offers an exhaustive list of hikes for all ages, tastes and fitness levels, ranging from stroller-worthy walks to multi-day epics. No matter which walk you choose I promise it will not disappoint. From encounters with the easy going wildlife to the picturesque wind-raked trees, sparkling lakes and craggy peaks, Waterton is a hiker’s oasis and photographer’s paradise.
On one hike in the National Park, after five hours of scrambling over big boulders, I was rewarded with the sparkling waters of Crypt Lake, where the water glistens in a rainbow of colours ranging from emerald green to dark blue and indigo. The dramatic backdrop of sheer mountains and the colourful hues of wildflowers, this is the perfect spot for a picnic for one.
Sipping my juice I heard a rustle in the trees and realised I was no longer alone. Instantly thinking the worst, I reached for my pepper spray only to be relieved to see a chubby middle age man ungracefully rolling himself over the tree trunk which was blocking the trail, yelling back to his mate “You betcha, this is it, we’re here”.
Both of them spotted me and gave me a friendly wave. They wiped the sweat from their forehead and greeted me with “Beautiful view eh”. Turns out Russell and Rodney were a pair of friendly Canadian blokes from Edmonton.
Waterton does has a healthy population of grizzly and black bears so bringing along either a bear bell, pepper spray or “talking partner” is also a good idea.
Along with hiking the trails, I spent plenty of time getting my wheels dirty. Mountain biking is a great way to soak up the serenity of pristine wilderness. Whilst out on the trails I saw bald eagles soaring above while in the low line forest sparrows and rosy finches play. Once just two metres away from me, standing on his feet reaching for the berries, was a black bear. He hadn’t seen me yet, my heart started racing and then the soft sound of my breathless pedal caught his attention and we locked eyes. Trying to pedal hard against the wind, I was going nowhere fast, lucky for me the berries where more alluring. He gave me an unbothered look and went back to shoving fistfuls of berries into his mouth.
If hiking or biking aren’t your thing then rent a Kayak at Cameron Lake or spend a lazy day wandering the streets of the quaint and charming township of Waterton.
Many tourists treat themselves to High Tea at the Prince Of Wales Hotel. With tables that look out onto unblemished acres of bear grass, glacier lily and spruce forest, fronting kilometres of beautiful alpine lake, it’s an idyllic spot to turn off your thoughts and soak up the view.
During the summer months, the lake is the number one attraction. Kids on bikes hurtle along grassy tracks, water skiers perfect their glide and families congregate for picnics under big cedar trees.
Many of the lakeside picnic tables are nestled amid acres of flowering wildflowers and scented douglas fir trees, and therefore all are home to multitudes of birds and the odd squirrel.
As evening nears, find a patio, order a beer and watch the mountains fade into an enormous, star-lit sky. Then follow it up with a serving of homemade Saskatoon berry pie.
After a full day sightseeing travellers often say they “sigh themselves to sleep”, only to wake up to a deer looking in the window at them. Yes you heard me right, a deer. Deer roam the streets and graze on the front lawns, in fact they’re so common and comfortable with humans that there are street signs warning tourists not to approach the deer.