18 Top Things to do in Waterton Lakes National Park
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
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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:
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)
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.
- 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).
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: This is one of our favorite spots in Waterton. Stop here to grab a hot dog, add yummy fries, and a drink! You will also find outdoor seating areas here
- The Lakeside Chophouse at the Bayshore Inn: First off their lakeside patio is amazing. Order their pasta, burger or Alberta beef dishes – they are amazing! This restaurant is part of the Bayshore Inn, and they offer a buffet breakfast
- Windflower Corner Coffee: Love this cute coffee shop for a nice break!
- Big Scoop Ice Cream Parlour: Another cute place with a variety of ice cream flavours. Go there in the late afternoon to grab an ice cream and then enjoy a stroll in the area!
- At the Prince of Wales Hotel: Sit down for an afternoon tea here, dine at the Royal Stewart Dining Room, or grab a round of drinks
- Other places include: Waterton Park Cafe, Beaver Tails
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.
- 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!
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
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!
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!
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,
- Canada road trip ideas
- Best small towns in Alberta
- Best hikes in Banff National Park
- Top winter things to do in Jasper National Park