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18 Top Things to do in Waterton Lakes National Park

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Waterton Lakes National Park is a place of beauty and wonder. It’s the only park in Canada that borders two countries! The landscape is diverse, with rolling prairies, lush wetlands, towering mountains, and deep canyons – it really is an adventure for all seasons. Here are the top things to do in Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta!

Top Things To Do In Waterton Lakes National Park

Waterton National Park

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Where is Waterton Lakes National Park located?

Waterton Lakes National Park is located in the southwestern part of Alberta in western Canada. It is nestled in one of the narrowest regions of the Canadian Rocky Mountains and shares a border with the United States. Many visit the Waterton Lakes from the USA, extending their trip from the Glacier National Park.

When traveling from Canada, plan to arrive in Calgary (nearest big airport), or Edmonton

  • Calgary to Waterton is 272 km (169 miles). And it will take around 3 hours to drive there, one way. 
  • Edmonton to Waterton is 563 km (350 miles) via AB-2S and it takes about 5 hours and 30 minutes. 

Planning your trip to Waterton National Park Alberta 

Tickets and National Park fees: 

Girl infront of Prince of Wales hotel in Waterton Lakes National Park
Prince of Wales Hotel: Things to see in Waterton Lakes National Park

You can buy daily or annual passes to visit and explore the Waterton Lakes National Park

  • Adult: $10.50 CAD
  • Senior: $9.00 CAD
  • Youth (up to 17 years): Free
  • Family/group (up to 7 people): $21.00 CAD
  • Commercial group (per person): $9.00 CAD

The daily passes expire at 4 pm the following day. If you are a frequent National Parks visitor in Canada, then opt for the Discovery Pass. 

Annual Pass for the Waterton National Park & Parks Canada Discovery Pass

  • 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)

Where to stay in Waterton Townsite

Unlike Banff and Jasper National Parks where you will find a variety of accommodation – luxury Fairmont lodges, mid-budget hotels, lodges, and motels, Waterton has very limited options. 

If you are unable to find an affordable place to stay here, then consider looking at hotels in Pincher Creek, and then drive to Waterton for sightseeing activities. (it is about a 40-minute drive, one way)

Entrance of Prince of Wales hotel
Iconic Prince of Wales Hotel

Here are some Waterton hotel options,

  • Prince of Wales Hotel: This is THE iconic accommodation in Waterton townsite, with roots dating back to the 1930s. Everything is within walking distance from the Prince of Wales hotel. You can enjoy fine dining or a drink at the Windsor Lounge, or a meal in the Royal Stewart Dining Room. Afternoon tea is also served here, overlooking the lakes. Click to view room photo and availability
  • Waterton Glacier Suites Hotel: Surrounded by the mountains of Waterton Lakes National Park, this amazing hotel is conveniently located close to the Waterton Lakes Golf Course, Shoreline Cruises, and the Cameron Falls. The property has spa baths in rooms, with a fireplace and balcony. There is another hotel, The Bayshore Inn, located nearby with an on-site spa, gift shop, and restaurants. Book your stay here
  • Crandell Mountain Lodge: This is an affordable, no-frills property, located in Waterton. There are amenities for guests from a BBQ area, terrace to canoeing, and kayaking rentals nearby. Click to book your stay here

Waterton Townsite Campground 

There are a few campsites in and around Waterton where you can stay in. Our favorite is the Waterton townsite campground – it is within the park boundaries, and you can walk or bike to the lakes and restaurants nearby. 

RV Campground
  • You can call 1-877-RESERVE (1-877-737-3783) in Canada. Lines are open from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm local time
  • If you are from outside of North America, call 519-826-5391

For group campings, you can check out Belly River Campground.

History of Waterton Lakes National Park

Dating back to the 1900s, Waterton was Canada’s 4th national park and is the smallest in the Canadian Rockies 505 sq. km (195 sq. miles). 

Treaty 1925

The park’s name comes from the Waterton Lakes. This chain of lakes was named by Lieutenant Blakiston.

The first settler here was John George ‘Kootenai’ Brown, and then in 1927, the landmark Prince of Wales Hotel was opened. 

In 1932, the International Peace Park was created. In 1979, it became Canada’s second biosphere reserve and the first Canadian national park to take part in this UNESCO program. 

View of Waterton Lakes on a sunny afternoon
View of Waterton Lakes

In the following decades, modern amenities including buses and other transportation services commenced between the US and Canada. 

Today, the park has about 100 residents. It has two National Historic Sites located within its boundaries: the First Oil Well in Western Canada NHS (designated in 1968) and the Prince of Wales Hotel NHS (designated in 1995). 

Check out the landmark spot – Waterton Glacier International Peace Park

Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park is the first one of its kind. This international peace park was created in 1932 to commemorate the peace, goodwill, and cooperation between Canada and the U.S.A. 

Waterton Glacier International Peace Park
International Peace Park with views of Prince of Wales Hotel at the back

Both the parks are declared Biosphere Reserves by UNESCO and their union as a World Heritage Site.

With hundreds of square miles of mountains and prairies, waterfalls, and lakes, Waterton National Park showcases endless opportunities for adventure. Whether you want to go hiking on one of the many trails, go camping, or take a scenic drive through the park, there is something for everybody!

Bears Hump Hike

Bears Hump 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. 

View from the top of the Bears Hump Hike

Bears Hump hike welcomes you to a postcard-worthy image of the Waterton lakes, Prince of Wales Hotel, and the town-site. 

The trailhead is easily accessible from the Visitor Centre, and there is a small parking area at the base of the mountain. From the trailhead, you can climb on the wooden stairs to get to the top. Along the way, you will find mule deer and views of the Waterton Lakes peeking at you!

View of Prince of Wales Hotel from the hike

Note that this trail is heavily trafficked especially in the summer months from May to October. So you can expect crowds and a ton of activity options. In the wintertime, the trail is covered in snow and can be unsafe for a hike. It is also windy as you reach the top. 

Crypt Lake Hike

The Crypt Lake Hike is one of the most exciting hikes you can do in the WatertonLakes National Park. It has made it to the National Geographic’s list of “World’s 20 Most Thrilling Trails” and you must get ready to enjoy the views.

Crypt Lake Trail is a 20.4 km (12.7 miles) heavily trafficked loop trail, with an elevation gain of 700 m (2,297 ft). It is a difficult trail and it takes about 3+ hours to get up there. You need to be in good physical fitness to complete the hike. 

To access the trailhead at Crypt Landing, you have to hop on a 15-minute boat ride across Upper Waterton Lake. Along the trail, you can check off 4 spectacular waterfalls: Hell Roaring Falls (at 1 km), Twin Falls (at 3.5 km), Burnt Rock Falls (at 5.6 km), and Crypt Falls (at 8 km). 

The final view is that of the gorgeous Crypt Lake, with the towering cliffs surrounding it on all sides. 

Other hiking trails in Waterton Lakes National Park

Some of the other popular hikes in Waterton Park include, 

  • Bertha Lake Trail: The hike to Bertha Falls offers a beautiful, easy journey that is perfect for beginners. The 10 km (6.2 miles) round trip includes some steep climbing but also gives you an opportunity in Waterton’s stunning scenery without long trails or mountainside traverses – making it one of our favorite things to do when visiting this area!
  • Lower Bertha Falls: Lower Bertha Falls is a scenic hike with views to die for! The 5.3 kilometers (3.2 miles) out and back trail leads you through the woods before ending at the Lower Bertha Falls. It’s rated as moderate so if your dog will be tagging along make sure they’re on a leash. The trailhead is accessible from the Waterton village campground. 
  • The Carthew-Alderson Trail: The Carthew-Alderson Trail is a point-to-point hike that features both high points of interest, such as Carthew Summit and Alderson Lakes. The 20 km (12.4 miles) long trekking route has an elevation gain of 650 meters along its length!
  • Kootenai Brown Trail: Kootenai Brown Trail is a 14.6 km (9.1 mile) out and back trail in Waterton. The trail is good for all skill levels, and is best used from April to October. It offers a ton of activities including lake views!

Visit the Red Rock Canyon Waterton 

Visit the Red Rock Canyon in Waterton Park. The colors of this canyon are a delight for visitors. They are created due to water erosion. 

Girl at the Red Rock Canyon Park in Waterton
Red Rock Canyon Park

The bright red and green rocks contrast beautifully with the lush greenery, wildflowers growing around them as well as mountain peaks in the background creating an amazing view that will keep you coming back again!

Red Rock Canyon Trail 

The Red Rock Canyon Trail offers an easy 1 km (.62 mile) loop, but the best way to enjoy this natural wonderland isn’t during peak hours when there are lots of other people around–go early! 

You’ll be able to admire the stunning red rocks and wonderful views of the canyons, and greenery around you! 

Do wear waterproof pants to enjoy the trail. 

Hike to the Blakiston Falls

The Blakiston Falls Trail is 2.4 kilometers (1.5 miles) out and back trail in Waterton Lakes National Park. This is one of the easiest hikes and perfect for all skill levels, especially families! You can go on this hike with your dog too – just make sure they are kept on a leash. 

Girl at Blakiston Falls Trail
View of the Blakiston Falls

The hike is worth it for the amazing view of Blakiston Falls. 

Go biking: Red Rock Canyon via Red Rock Parkway

Red Rock Canyon via Red Rock Parkway is a stunning ride that will leave you with great memories. You can begin in Waterton, which makes for an easy day trip and gives access to some essential services on your way back if necessary! 

The views are worth every effort during this 9 km (5.5 miles) journey as flowers dot the landscape when they’re at their peak season– especially since photography opportunities like these don’t come around often enough!

Ride along the Akamina Parkway 

The Akamina Parkway is a scenic, 16-kilometer highway that begins in Waterton and runs through the Cameron Valley. Along this route, you will find many historical sites such as First Oil Well – Western Canada’s National Historic Site. 

Biking routes inside Waterton Park
Biking routes in Waterton Park

Other points of interest along the way include Lineham Falls, Carthew-Alderson (Summit) Lake, Rowe Lakes, Akamina Pass, Cameron Lakeshore, and of course, Cameron Lake. 

Enjoy Afternoon Tea at the Prince of Wales Hotel Waterton

There’s so much to explore at Waterton Lakes National Park, but if you don’t have weeks to explore, we recommend starting with one of the most popular attractions in town – the Prince of Wales Hotel.

Stop here for an afternoon tea and enjoy the royal ambiance at the iconic property!

Stay at the Prince of Wales Hotel, and take in the views from the lawn

The Prince of Wales Hotel is an awesome accommodation option at Waterton Lakes.

The hotel is named after Edward, Prince of Wales who later became King Edward VIII. 

Prince of Wales hotel views from the lawn
Prince of Wales complex: Views from the lawn

This historic hotel has been welcoming visitors since 1927 and offers stunning views over Upper Waterton Lake from its rooms or restaurant. 

It is centrally located, and there are walking trails and a generous lawn from where you can soak in the views of the lakes and mountains!

Go scuba diving 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. 

Waterton Lakes
Waterton Lakes

The Waterton Lakes have an old shipwreck that’s been moored at the bottom of Emerald Bay for nearly 100 years.

One main attraction remains ‘Gertrude,’ her namesake; she was a sternwheeler steamboat and became famous when it ran aground on rocks near these lakes back in 1912 (and although no one knows exactly what happened to its crew after they abandoned ship due to rising waters).

Boating on the Waterton Lakes

Key features of Waterton park include a string of pristine mountain lakes, which offer great opportunities for exploration by both water lovers and landlubbers alike. You can choose from sightseeing cruises to boating and diving!

Cruises and boating in Waterton Lakes National Park

In town, Upper and Middle Waterton Lake provide popular spots with steady breezes making it the perfect destination among windsurfers or sailors on their own boats. 

Motorized and non-motorized watercraft are allowed. You can use canoes, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards (SUPs), paddle boats, drift boats, and sailboats. For non-motorized ones, they have to be inspected by Parks Canada staff before entering park waters.

Go on a sightseeing cruise with Waterton Shoreline Cruise Co.

Want to enjoy something cool and amazing? Go on a sightseeing cruise with Waterton Shoreline Cruise Co. They have scenic tours as well as photography and wildlife-focused ones. Take a look at their schedules here.

View of Prince of Wales hotel from the water
View of Prince of Wales hotel from the water

Cruises are an hour and a half, and the same company organizes rides and shuttle services for hikes such as the Vimy Peak and the Crypt Lake hike.  

Enjoy a scenic stroll along the shores of the Waterton Lakes 

One of the easy things to do in Waterton Park is to enjoy a lovely stroll along the shores of the lakes. You will find picnic tables, cruise boats lining up, restaurants, and uninterrupted views of the mountains and the lake.

Girl at the Waterton lakes Alberta
Waterton Lakes shore

The shoreline also showcases the Prince of Wales Hotel in a gorgeous view!

Admire the Cameron Falls Waterton 

Waterton’s famous and beautiful (and easy) landmark is Cameron Falls. It is located on the corner of Watertown’s town center, with plenty of parking available for visitors nearby. 

Cameron Falls Waterton Alberta
Cameron Falls Waterton

The falls are best seen from behind an explanatory display that tells how it was formed by billion-year-old Precambrian rock layers showing off its uniqueness. When you are close to the bridge you can stand while feeling the cool mist on your face.

Although you don’t have to hike to enjoy these falls, it is easily visible from the parking lot across the road. But you can go on a nice hike to view the falls from above. 

Hang out and eat your heart out at Waterton town 

There are plenty of great restaurants in the area, so you’ll have no trouble finding something to your taste – from pizzas, burgers, to seafood. The town itself is lively with visitors all day (and night) long. 

Best places to eat

There are outdoor cafes, afternoon tea in a historic restaurant to grab and go coffee, and snack places! Oh and lots of ice cream and amazing shakes to choose from!

We’ve put together this list of the best places to eat in Waterton Lakes National Park below,

Best Waterton Restaurants

Wieners of Waterton
Wieners of Waterton
Beaver Tail Waterton
Beaver Tail Waterton

Waterton Map for Sightseeing 

Things to do in Waterton Alberta in the winter

When visiting in the winter, there are a ton of things to do in Waterton from ice skating, snowshoeing, to cross country skiing. 

Winter Activities:

  • Ski skating: You can go ice skating on Linnet Lake beside the Prince of Wales Hotel
  • Snowshoeing: Belleview trail, Wishbone trail (to Vimy junction), Townsite Loop trail, Prince of Wales hill and Cameron Lake area are good places to go snowshoeing
  • Cross-country skiing: There are quite a few options for cross-country skiing to enjoy Waterton Lakes National Park in winter. Best places include Akamina Parkway, and Cameron Ski Trail (5 km from Little Prairie to Cameron Lake). Red Rock Parkway is another option
  • Winter walks and hikes:For winter walks and easy hikes, head to Belleview trail, Wishbone trail (to Vimy junction), Townsite Loop trail and Prince of Wales hill
  • Ice climbing: Ice climbing spots include the Compound Gullies, Quick and Dirty, Experts Choice, Lineham Falls and Sullivan Falls
  • Winter camping: Pass Creek Day Use Area

Other than the above-listed winter activities you can go fat biking, wildlife viewing, photo self-tours, and more.

Keep in mind that winters are severe in this area, and avalanches are common – so dress warmly, get the right training and equipment for climbing, hiking, etc!

Tourists sitting at the dockside at Waterton National Park

And of course, there are plenty of activities to enjoy year-round too – hiking, biking, fishing, and more!

Additional travel tips for Waterton Lakes National Park

Is Waterton Lakes National Park worth visiting?

Yes. Waterton Lakes National Park is worth visiting! Due to its location, you can drive to Waterton from Calgary Canada, as well as from the USA (Montana). This park is unique as it truly offers a nice blend of the Rockies and the Prairies, and yet it is not over saturated with tourists like Banff or Yoho National Parks of the Canadian Rockies!

How many days do you need at Waterton National Park?

You do need 3 full days to enjoy activities at the Waterton National Park from half-day-long hikes, easy walks by the lake shores, sightseeing cruises, picnics to enjoying afternoon tea at the iconic Prince of Wales Hotel! There are lots to see, do and relax here!

Can you swim in Waterton Lake?

In the summer month, you can swim in Upper Waterton Lake. The most popular spot for swimming is Emerald Bay. There’s also a beach near the Townsite campground that gets windy but can be used when it isn’t too hot outside or else you’ll find yourself with sore muscles from all those laps! 

Alongside the Marquis Hole picnic site along the river, there are plenty more places to cool off and get your mind off things.

So there you have it!

There’s so much to explore at Waterton Lakes National Park – you could spend months exploring every corner of this incredible place! 

Don’t miss the most popular attraction – the Prince of Wales Hotel. This historic hotel has been welcoming visitors since 1927 and offers stunning views over Upper Waterton Lake from its rooms or restaurant. 

Many of the stunning sights are located near the hotel, and that makes it easy to check out various areas within the Waterton Lakes National Park!

So what you waiting for?

Traveling in Alberta or Canada, read these guides,

18+ Top Things to do in Waterton Alberta today!

Waterton Park

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