Drive across the US border and visit the first International Peace Park. Learn the very best things to do in Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada.
Set within the iconic Rocky Mountains along a beautiful chain of lakes, this park is a must visit on your next trip to Canada. Boat across vibrant blue lakes, hike challenging mountainous trails, or bike a scenic parkway. You will be in complete awe 😮😮.
I recently went to this park and it blew me away 🤯! I hadn’t heard much about this park before my visit. Instead, I have always been told about the beauty of Banff and Jasper. Well, let me tell you this park is super underrated!
I have created a list of the best activities in Waterton Lakes to make the most out of your visit. In addition, I’ve shared the most important information about exploring this park. Find out all of the wonderful treasures in Waterton on your next trip here!
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Table of Contents
Waterton Lakes Information
What is Waterton Lakes?
Waterton Lakes National Park is a stunning park set in the Canadian Rockies. Waterton Lakes is a string of lakes that are the central part of this area. In addition to these resplendent lakes, this park is home to austere mountains, roaming wildlife 🐏, and a bustling town.
Bordering Glacier National Park in Montana, this park was established as the first International Peace Park along with Glacier.
Hike through the continental divide or take the scenic Chief Mountain Parkway from Montana into Canada. There’s so much beauty to enjoy in this lovely area!
Quick Park Facts
💵 Waterton Lakes is $10 entry per day for adults and free for children. However, you can also use a Canadian Parks Pass to enter this park and all of the other national parks.
☀️ Weather changes quickly in the mountains. Make sure that you stay updated and that you take the proper precautions. If there are signs of bad weather, then stay in the lower elevations.
⛺️ There is a campground within Waterton as well as a few lodging options. Camping during the summer is very busy. You can make reservations in advance here.
🏨 You can also stay in one of the numerous lodges within the Waterton townsite for a convenient stay. Find hotel and lodging bookings here.
🐻 The Canadian Rockies are bear country, so stay bear aware and make plenty of noise while hiking through the mountains. Use the rule of thumb when viewing wildlife, so that you stay the correct distance away.
🦮 Pets are allowed in the park, but they must stay leashed at all times. Remember there’s lots of wildlife in the Rockies so always watch your pets.
⚠️ Red Rock Parkway is open for pedestrian access year round, but closes to vehicles in winter. It’s open to cars from early May-October.
🍃 Remember to follow the Leave No Trace Principles. As always, you want to leave nature looking better than you found it.
Things to Do in Waterton Lakes National Park
1. Go on a Hike
As part of the Canadian Rockies, it’s clear that Waterton Lakes has great hiking trails. Explore these mountains and see bright blue lakes, gushing waterfalls, and stunning panoramic views.
There are 120 miles of hiking in the park, but they range from easy strolls to tough multi-day climbs. Waterton Lakes is actually very family friendly when it comes to hiking trails, because many of the best hikes 🥾 are well groomed and on the shorter side.
Best Waterton Lakes Hikes
- Bears Hump (1.5 miles, 750 feet)- This hike is steep, short and rewards you with panoramic views over the park. It’s very popular, so it may be crowded during the summer.
- Bertha Falls to Bertha Lake (7 miles, 1900 feet) – Stop at Bertha Falls (3 miles round trip) and continue on to a bright blue lake in the mountains.
- Waterton Town Loop (2 miles, 150 feet) – Go for a casual stroll around the scenic town. It’s a great way to stroll through nature and is an easy walk.
- Blackiston Falls (1.5 miles, 280 feet)- Looking to chase more waterfalls? This is another wonderful easy hike to a lovely waterfall
- Crypt Lake (11.7 miles, 2900 feet) – Great hike to a stunning lake in the mountains. This one is more difficult so prepare with the proper gear.
- Crandell Lake (3 miles, 550 feet)- Walk from the Akamina Parkway to the lovely Crandell Lake. Once you get there, you can take a boat out on the water! Is there a better way to end a hike?
2. Experience High Tea
One of the most unique things you can do in Waterton is get high tea at the Prince of Wales Hotel. This beautiful hotel sits on top of a bluff with stellar views 🤩 over Upper Waterton Lakes.
You’ll notice the beautiful architecture as soon as you drive into the park. It really stands out!
This hotel was built in 1927 when the railways were building lodging in the the parks. Now, you can stay in this hotel, have a drink by the large windows overlooking the lake, or get high tea ☕️.
High tea is every day from 12 pm-4 pm during the peak season. It’s $49 CAD a person, but it comes with high quality tea, delicious pastries, and incredible views. We thought that it was definitely a worthwhile experience! You can book it online ahead of time.
3. Get Out on the Water
Waterton Lakes is named after the Upper, Middle, and Lower Waterton Lakes that sit within its bounds. But, there are also numerous other stunning lakes in the park to get out and enjoy plentiful water activities. The summertime is perfect for a boat ride 🚤.
There are multiple ways to get out on the water: you can bring your own kayak or SUP, go on a boat tour, or simply go for a swim.
If you want to bring your own canoe, kayak, or SUP then you must go through a mandatory inspection in the park. This helps prevent the spread of invasive aquatic species!
Upper and Middle Waterton Lakes are popular spots for sailboating and windsurfing because of the gentle wind that often courses through this area. Swimmers often to go Emerald Bay for the calm conditions there.
Boat Rentals & Tours:
- Waterton Shoreline Cruise Co – Take a ride on the oldest passenger ship in Canada that is still running. This boat sales through the lakes and over towards the border of the US.
- Cameron Lake Boat Rentals – Head to Cameron Lake to get out on the serene waters. Cameron Lake Boat Rentals offers kayaks, row boats, SUPs, canoes, and pedal boats. Rentals are first-come, first-served.
4. Bike Through the Park
Cycling enthusiasts will love to take their bikes 🚲 out through this magnificent park. There are wonderful mountain biking trails as well as areas to do street biking.
Red Rock Parkway is closed to vehicles from November-May, which means it’s a wonderful time to go out for a bike ride. Cyclists love to visit the park and cruise down this scenic road. If you choose to bike the roads when they’re open to vehicles, be very cautious because there are no shoulders.
Mountain Biking Trails:
- Snowshoe Trail: 5 miles one way
- Kootenai Brown Trail: 4.2 miles one way
- Akamina Pass Trail: 1 mile one way and 9 miles on the Akamina Parkway
- Wishbone Trail: 4.3 miles one way
- Crandell Loop: 12.8 miles for the entire loop from Red Rock Parkway to Akamina Parkway
5. Go on a Scenic Drive
Waterton is home to multiple scenic drives that allow you to take in the surroundings and stop along the way to take photos. If you want to see the park, but you don’t have a lot of time or want something family friendly, consider going on a drive 🚗 through the wonderful park roads.
Remember to slow down if you see wildlife along the way and give them plenty of space!
Scenic Drives in Waterton:
- Entrance Parkway (5 miles): This drive goes from the Entrance gate to the Waterton townsite, so you will have to take this to enter the park. It’s a wonderful area to see wildlife and stop to view the historic Prince Wales Hotel.
- Red Rock Parkway (9.5 miles): Drive this road along the prairie and up into the mountains to Red Rock Canyon. Along the way you will get wonderful vistas of Mt Blakiston, the tallest peak in the park. This road is closed to vehicles from November-April.
- Chief Mountain Highway: This road connects Glacier National Park to Waterton Lakes climbing through the scenic mountains. The border crossing is only open from Mid-May-October.
- Bison Paddock Loop Road: Take this short drive to see herds of bison roaming through the park. It’s not open in the winter, but visitors are welcome all other times of year.
6. View Wildlife
These mountains are home to many forms of wildlife. On your trip, you can see animals ranging from large bears to tiny red squirrels 🐿. Keep your eyes peeled as you drive, hike, and explore this park.
Remember that Waterton is the animals home, so keep your distance and be respectful. Always give the animals their space, move over to the side of the road to view them, and never follow them. Remember that a fed bear is a dead bear as they say.
Best Places to See Wildlife:
- Akamina Parkway: Common sightings include moose, mule deer, and snowshoe hares. River otters can be seen playing at Cameron Lake
- Between Lower & Middle Lakes: Elk are often seen grazing here and river otters swim in the water.
- Waterton Town: Bighorn Sheep and deer love to wander about town and can be seen near the mountains or campground.
Waterton Lakes Visiting Guide
Best Time to Visit Waterton Lakes
Waterton Lakes is stunning throughout the year, but it really comes alive in the summertime ☀️☀️. The town starts to open up, the weather is warm, and the trails are dry.
Because Waterton is in the mountains, summer starts late in the year towards mid-June. Snow melts off the mountains, the lakes start shining, and the wildlife comes out of hibernation.
During the summer, you can take full advantage of the park’s opportunities by going hiking through the mountains 🏔, taking a boat on the lakes, or camping in town. It’s one of the most beautiful summer destinations.
Summer is so popular that visitors from June through August accounts for half of Waterton’s annual visits.
That being said, if you want to avoid the crowds or take park in off-season adventures then you can visit from the Fall-Spring. In the Fall & Spring, you may get milder temperatures with fewer crowds. However, some trails or shops in town may be closed. Winter is a quiet time of year, but also stunning. Get to see the park when it’s covered in a beautiful blanket of snow ❄️❄️!
Border Information for Waterton Lakes
There are two border crossings near Waterton Lakes: Carway, Alberta/Piegan Montana crossing or the Chief Mountain Border Crossing.
The Chief Mountain Border crossing is a gateway between Glacier National Park and Waterton Lakes National Park. It actually travels through the scenic Rocky mountains and is a stunning entry into Canada.
If you’re coming from Glacier, then this is the fastest and easiest way to get to Waterton Lakes. However, it is only open during the summer from late May through September, which means it is not always an option.
So, if you go any other time of year, you will have to drive to the Carway/Piegan crossing. Luckily, this is a very quiet border crossing and there is often no line to get through. This border crossing will take an extra hour of travel time from Glacier to Waterton.
Border Opening Times:
Chief Mountain Border: May 15-May 31: 9 am-6 pm
June 1-September 4: 7 am-10 pm
September 5-September 30: 9 am- 6 pm
Carway/Piegan Border: Daily from 8 am-6 pm
Things You Need to Cross the Border
In order to cross the border from the US into Canada, you will need your passport. It is important that you have that ready to show to the Customs Agent 🛂 at the border.
Canada is also fairly strict when it comes to alcohol and food that you bring in with you. When in doubt, make sure to declare everything that you have. We simply told the Border agent what we had in our van and they did not inspect it. But, they can if they want.
Also, if you are bringing a boat or a watercraft into the country then you need to get it inspected. There is a line to pull in after you cross the border where you can get your vessel inspected. It is quick and they are typically very friendly. They are just making sure that you aren’t bringing in any invasive species.
Waterton Lakes is one of the most underrated National Parks in the Canadian Rockies. The mountains are majestic, the lakes are captivating, and the wildlife is plentiful. You will fall in love 💕💕 with this park so make sure to add it to your bucket list!
Let me know if you enjoyed this National Park guide in the comments!
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