Heading to Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta and wondering what is the fastest and easiest way to get there? You have to read our detailed guide on Calgary to Waterton road trip itinerary, with sightseeing ideas, stops, and transportation options to make an informed decision!
Calgary to Waterton: Road Trip and Transportation Options
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Waterton Lakes National Park is one of Canada’s most scenic parks, located in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The park boasts a variety of natural attractions, from glacial lakes to towering mountains and lush valleys.
You can visit the historic Prince of Wales Hotel, and enjoy a lovely afternoon tea, and hiking and bike trails in the vicinity.
The town of Waterton has cute cafes, lodges, and souvenir shops where you can hang out. Plus a boat ride across Waterton Lakes is just breathtaking and perfect for a weekend getaway.
Getting To Waterton Lakes National Park
Waterton Lakes National Park is located in the Canadian Province of Alberta. The park shares a border with the USA and is adjacent to the north of Glacier National Park in Montana.
From Canada, the closest international airport to Waterton is in Calgary, a 272 km (169 miles) drive away.
Here are the best ways to get to Waterton from Calgary (keep in mind whichever route you choose, National Park fees apply at the gate of the national park. More on that below) :
Calgary To Waterton Lakes National Park – By Rental Car: Quickest Way
The fastest way to get to Waterton Lakes from Calgary is by driving. If you are arriving at the international airport you can pick up a car rental and then drive to Waterton.
It will be a minimum of 2 hours and 30 minutes of travel time to get there (fastest), without stopping along the way.
There are 3 routes available to get to Waterton Lakes National Park. They are listed below,
- Option 1: Driving from Calgary to Waterton Via Hwy 2 S (fastest at 2 hours and 30 minutes). The driving distance is 272 km (169 miles)
- Option 2: Driving from Calgary to Waterton Via Cowboy Trail. Driving Distance is 278 km (178 miles)
- Option 3: Driving from Calgary to Waterton Via AB-23 S (3 hours and 30 minutes). The driving distance is 332 km (206 miles)
We recommend reserving a vehicle via Discover Cars online and picking it up from the Calgary airport.
Option 1: Driving from Calgary to Waterton Via Hwy 2 S
From Calgary, you will travel south on Highway 2 and cross the Old Man River (Fort Macleod) and merge onto Highway 3 (towards Pincher Creek).
You’ll drive on Highway 3 for about 30 minutes, and then turn onto Highway 6 towards Pincher Creek.
Continue on Highway 6 to get to Waterton.
Option 2: Driving from Calgary to Waterton Via Cowboy Trail
Another slightly longer but scenic drive to Waterton starts on Highway 2 (extra 30 minutes to complete the trip).
Take Highway 2A into Okotoks and then turn onto Highway 7 West.
Highway 7 will take you through Black Diamond, and then on the Cowboy Trail via Highway 22. Stay here for one hour and 30 minutes, and then turn left and head east on Highway 3 towards Pincher Creek.
Drive on Highway 3 for half an hour, and then on to Highway 6 for the entrance of the National Park.
Calgary To Waterton Lakes National Park – By Bus
There are no direct bus routes or shuttle rides available between Calgary and Waterton town. You can travel to Waterton with a stop in Lethbridge.
Waterton Shuttle Service operates shuttles from Calgary to Lethbridge and then to Waterton. You can confirm the bus schedule by calling 403-431-1696 or 403-627-9451.
Set aside 6+ hours to complete the journey.
Alternatively, you can take a bus from Calgary to Pincher Creek, one of the towns located nearest to Waterton.
Bus rides will take about 3 hours and 40 minutes.
You can check out schedules here.
The bus frequency is not great. They are available only once a week – so we recommend planning for the trip in advance.
From Pincher Creek, you will have to catch a taxi to get to Waterton. It is a 45-minute taxi ride, so it can get expensive ($100+ CAD).
Calgary To Waterton Lakes National Park – By Taxi
It is possible to get to Waterton Lakes from Calgary by taxi at about the same time as you are driving, but it will be expensive. Taxi rides will cost $460 to $500 CAD one way.
Although not a cost-effective or cheapest way to get there, you can surely use this as a last resort.
When you reach Waterton, you can rent a bike, hike or walk to various sightseeing attractions.
Calgary To Waterton Lakes National Park – By Tour
One of the easy ways to get to Waterton from Calgary, and also explore the national park is by embarking on a day tour.
This is the next best thing to do if you are not driving there by yourself.
✅ Here is a full-day tour to book: 1-Day Waterton Lakes National Park Tour
The day tour includes round-trip transportation, national park fees, and a sightseeing guide. The stops on this excursion include the following,
- Your first stop is the Prince Wales Hotel in the National Park
- After you visit the Prince Wales Hotel, you’ll head to Waterton Town. Waterton Town is a quaint, but vibrant town offering scenic views of the lake. You can enjoy a stroll, grab a bite to eat, buy souvenirs, and more
- Next, you will visit Cameron Falls. Cameron Falls is a true highlight of the Waterton visit, with its clear cascading mountain water rushing over the Cambrian rock
- The tour also takes you to Red Rock Canyon, known for its layers of red and green colored rock formations and stunning views (and waterfalls that you can visit after a short hike)
- Your last stop on this day tour is at Okotoks Big Rock, before returning to Calgary in the evening
✅ Click to book: 1-Day Waterton Lakes National Park Tour
Where to stop from Calgary to Waterton: Road Trip Stops
If you are planning a Southern Alberta road trip, you can cover the highlights of Calgary, small towns, and of course the landscape and trails of Waterton Lakes National Park on a short weekend or a week long vacation.
Here is what we recommend stopping at,
When in Calgary we recommend spending at least 2 days exploring the city highlights. Don’t miss the downtown area and cover the following
Calgary Tower is one of Canada’s most popular landmarks in the city. It is about 190.0 metres high and was constructed in 1967.
Originally named Husky Tower, it was renamed the Calgary Tower to represent the city’s unique spirit.
At the tower, you can soak in amazing views of downtown Calgary, and the surrounding Rocky Mountains from its observation deck. Additionally, you can also reserve a table for lunch and dinner at the rotating restaurant, Sky 360.
The Calgary Tower is a must-see for visitors to Alberta’s largest city.
Stephen Avenue Walk:
Stephen Avenue Walk is a colorful pedestrian-only lane in downtown Calgary. The thoroughfare is lined with the city’s iconic buildings and landmarks including many public artworks that celebrate the city’s history and culture.
During the summer months, there are outdoor performances as well as food trucks open where you can enjoy the city’s warm weather!
Fort Calgary is a Canadian National Historic Site that was originally established by the North West Company. It was later repurposed for use as a hospital and a prison.
Today, the fort welcomes guests to learn about the history of the city and the Hudson Bay Company in their Interpretive Centre with displays and exhibits in the area.
You can also explore its original buildings and grounds, which include a blacksmith shop, carpentry workshop, and weaver’s house.
The Glenbow Museum, in downtown Calgary, showcases over 33,0000 artifacts, photographs, documents, and artworks depicting the history of Alberta from mid -the 1800s to the present day.
Glenbow is also home to items that represent Indigenous cultures and traditions from across Canada.
The Peace Bridge in Calgary is a beautiful pedestrian bridge that spans the Bow River. It was constructed in 2010 and opened in 2012, as a testimony – a symbol of peace and unity between Calgary’s diverse communities.
The bridge was designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.
Heritage Park Historical Village is one of the most popular attractions in Calgary. This historical village celebrates Alberta’s rich heritage by immortalizing life in the early 20th century.
Inside the park, you can ride a train, and learn from costumed staff as they demonstrate how people lived in the early 1900s, showcasing everything from horse-drawn carriages to vintage automobiles.
Heritage Park also features an amusement park with family-friendly rides like a vintage carousel and a miniature train.
WinSport / Canada Olympic Park:
WinSport / Canada Olympic Park in Calgary is a premier destination for skiing, snowboarding, and other winter sports.
The recreational park was home to the 1988 Olympics Games, and today it boasts over 100 hectares of skiable areas and terrain parks as well as world-class amenities including a ski school.
WinSport has amazing activities and events all year round, beyond the winter months.
Note: With a base in Calgary you can also enjoy day trips to places like Drumheller, Sheep River Provincial Park, Dinosaur Provincial Park, Cochrane, Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary; and of course Banff National Park and Canmore. Many prefer to visit Dinosaur Provincial Park, and then drive to Pincher Creek or Crowsnest Pass before proceeding to Waterton.
Nanton to Waterton is one hour and 55 minutes (about 180 km or 112 miles).
Nanton is known for its farming and ranching areas. For a quick stop (or longer), you can explore any of the following attractions:
Historic Main Street and Antique & Art Walk of Alberta
Here you can grab a meal or a bite to eat.
Main Street is also home to boutique stores, art, and antiques galleries, and more.
Not into shopping? You can enjoy a stroll through the authentic downtown core as you move from one spot to another.
Bomber Command Museum & Visitor Information Centre
Visit the World War II Lancaster Bomber, one of the few left in the world. Inside the museum, you will find the Lanc, along with other WWII aircraft, and vehicles.
Canadian Grain Elevator Discovery Centre
Visit the Grain Elevator Discovery Centre and join a guided tour. Very soon, Alberta will be elevator free, so check it out before it is all gone.
You will learn about the elevator systems, railways, and pioneers who took great leaps in making these structures work. There are also historic artifacts on display at the discovery centre.
Claresholm to Waterton is one hour and 30 minutes (about 139 km or 86 miles).
Claresholm is a small town and is notable for its efforts during the Second World War when the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan was operated here. You will find small remnants of the WWII connections here
Harvard Memorial, Centennial Park:
As you walk or drive through Claresholm, you will come across Centennial Park.
Located here is a plane that was set up in 1998 to honor the pilots who trained in the community during the Second World War and the 1950s, and the personnel who were stationed in the community during these training programs.
There are several murals in Claresholm narrating its history.
The Water Tower:
Don’t want to stop in Claresholm? No problem! You will see a water tower when you drive by the town. The tower dates back to 1910. It was used to pump water from nearby Willow Creek to supply the residents of the town.
By the 1980s, a new water system was installed, and the tower became obsolete but it was not torn down. And you can still see it as you drive by the town.
4. Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump World Heritage Site
Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo Site to Waterton is one hour and 20 minutes (about 102 km or 63 miles).
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump World Heritage Site is an archaeological and cultural complex located near Fort Macleod, Alberta.
It is considered one of the most significant sites in North America and a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site that preserves and interprets over 6,000 years of Plains Buffalo culture.
You can explore a variety of interactive exhibits, including the Buffalo Jump Interpretive Centre which offers a detailed look at First Nations hunting techniques and the natural ecology of the area.
5. Pincher Creek
Located about 45 minutes to an hour’s drive away from Waterton town is Pincher Creek, a charming town sprinkled with windmills, wonderful green landscapes, and beyond.
In this spot truly the Rocky Mountains meet the Prairies, and welcome you to Waterton.
Pincher Creek is a good place for accommodation as well, in case Waterton Lakes hotels are expensive for you, or unavailable. There are restaurants and markets here.
When in town do visit the Lundbreck Falls Provincial Recreation Area in Pincher Creek.
6. Waterton Lakes National Park
To explore Waterton Lakes you will have to pay for National Park fees. You can pay for a day pass (per person – adult, senior, or child, and/or vehicle access). The passes are valid until 04:00 pm the following day.
Adult (18 to 64 years) fee is $10.50 CAD for one day (valid until 04:00 pm the next day).
You can also get an annual pass. Annual Pass for the Waterton National Park and Discovery Pass are as follows:
- Adult: $52.25 CAD (Annual) | $72.25 (Discovery Pass)
- Senior: $44.50 CAD (Annual) | $61.75 CAD (Discovery Pass)
- Youth (up to 17 years): Free
- Family/group (up to 7 people): $104.50 CAD (Annual) | $145.25 CAD (Discovery Pass)
We recommend at least 3 days in Waterton to explore the following attractions:
Red Rock Canyon Park:
Red Rock Canyon Park features a stunning landscape of deep red sandstone formations. It is located about 25 minutes away from Waterton townsite.
The park has plenty to offer visitors of all ages, including hiking trails, picnic areas, lookout points, and more.
You can also explore the area by bike or on horseback, taking in the stunning views of the city and surrounding countryside.
Enjoy Afternoon Tea at the Prince of Wales Hotel Waterton:
There’s so much to explore at Waterton Lakes National Park, but this is one thing you must do.
Stop at the Prince of Wales Hotel for an afternoon tea and enjoy the royal ambiance at the iconic property!
Waterton Glacier International Peace Park:
Waterton Glacier International Peace Park was created in 1932 to commemorate the peace, goodwill, and cooperation between Canada and the U.S.A.
Both parks are declared Biosphere Reserves by UNESCO and their union as a World Heritage Site.
Activities at the Waterton Lakes:
Scuba diving is one of the popular Waterton attractions. Although the waters are super cold, scuba divers enjoy their time here.
Not into diving? Enjoy boating and sightseeing cruises on the lakes. The Upper and Middle Waterton Lakes provide popular spots with steady breezes making it the perfect destination for windsurfers or sailors on their own boats.
Or just enjoy a lovely stroll along the shores of the Waterton Lakes.
Hikes in and around Waterton Lakes National Park:
Some of the popular hikes in Waterton Park include,
- Bears Hump Hike: This is a moderately easy hike and is one of the popular trails in Waterton Lakes National Park. It is an out-and-back hike of 2.8 km (1.8 miles) and takes approximately an hour to complete. Bears Hump hike welcomes you to uninterrupted views of the Waterton lakes, Prince of Wales Hotel, and the town site below.
- Crypt Lake Hike: The Crypt Lake Hike is one of the most exciting hikes you can do in the Waterton Lakes National Park. It is a 20.4 km (12.7 miles) heavily trafficked loop trail and is rated as difficult. To access the trailhead you have to hop on a 15-minute boat ride and then start the hike.
- Bertha Lake Trail: Bertha Falls hike is an easy trail, perfect for beginners and families. The 10 km (6.2 miles) round trip includes some steep climbing but it gives you an opportunity in Waterton’s stunning scenery.
- Lower Bertha Falls: Lower Bertha Falls is a scenic hike of 5.3 kilometers (3.2 miles). It is an out-and-back trail that leads you through the woods before ending at the Lower Bertha Falls.
Waterton vacation means biking! You can enjoy a lot of the trails in and around the National Park.
Red Rock Parkway is a 36 km (22.3 miles) route and is dotted with lovely landscapes, flowers, amazing views, and more!
The Akamina Parkway is another scenic route that begins in Waterton and runs through the Cameron Valley.
Other points of interest on this pathway include Lineham Falls, Carthew-Alderson (Summit) Lake, Rowe Lakes, Akamina Pass, Cameron Lakeshore, and ends at Cameron Lake.
So there you have it! A road trip from Calgary to Waterton Lakes National Park is worth it.
You can stop by small towns, and UNESCO World Heritage sites, and then explore the wonders of Waterton – go hiking, and biking, enjoy the afternoon, and eat your heart out!
If you’re looking for an amazing outdoor experience, Waterton Lakes National Park is the perfect destination. With its scenery and diverse wildlife, this national park offers something for everyone, from nature lovers to those seeking a relaxed vacation!
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