A hidden crown jewel – Waterton Lakes National Park, Canada

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Red Chairs
Chief Mountain Border Crossing

A 25-minute wait before entering the last two unexplored Canadian provinces of our adventure

It’s always music to our ears when “Randy” (our Rand McNally GPS) announces we’re crossing a state border, but it’s even more exciting when we cross an international border. So it was as we entered Alberta at the Chief Mountain crossing, just north of Glacier NP.

After answering questions such as “Did you bring firewood?”, “Where do you keep your gun?” and “How much alcohol do you have onboard?” we were good to go.  It can be a bit nerve-wracking, even on the 25th try!

Welcome to Canada

We’re looking forward to an exciting month north of the border

Our first destination in Canada was tucked away in the southwest corner of Alberta – Waterton Lakes National Park.  Its location, adjoining Glacier National Park in Montana along the international boundary, led to linking the two parks together in 1932.  It was the world’s first international peace park, designated Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.  It’s part of what has become known as the “Crown of the Continent,” with spellbinding scenery spanning the corners of Montana, Alberta and British Columbia.

Waterton Lakes NP has bragging rights as the only place on earth endowed with three recognized titles: a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an International Peace Park and a Biosphere Reserve.  How special is that?  There was no question we had to check this place out!

Upper Waterton Lake

Upper Waterton Lake – this place embodies the peace and friendship shared along the world’s longest undefended border, and is the basis for creating the Peace Park

Red Rock Canyon

One of the scenic drives here is Red Rock Parkway.  It meanders through grasslands, rollings hills and mountains, and ends at a vivid red-colored canyon created through water erosion.  The red canyon is further accented by the surrounding lush vegetation and mountain peaks in the background.

Red Rock Canyon

Red Rock Canyon

We followed a short trail around Red Rock Canyon, and continued on for another half mile to view Blakiston Falls.  We got only a peek at the falls, as the overlooks were blocked due to construction work.  But they couldn’t block the view to the highest peak in the park – Mount Blakiston – which towers above them all.

Blakiston falls

Mount Blakiston and a peek at Blakiston Falls

Our knowledgeable camp host mentioned that there were many opportunities to see bears along the parkway.  And sure enough, we saw some “indicators” that they had been on the roads as we drove.  It wasn’t long before we saw a mom and cub playing on a golf course early in the morning:

Bear’s Hump hike

This very popular and strenuous .9-mile trail climbs 738′ to a magnificent view of the area. Despite clouds hovering above, the views of Waterton Valley, the glistening Upper and Middle Waterton lakes and Waterton Townsite below kept our cameras blazing.  Being the first ones there in the morning allowed us to soak in the views and fresh air in solitude.  We enjoyed our breakfast on the rocks in perfect peace.

Waterton Valley

Hey, that’s Montana at the other end of the lake!

Mount Cleveland

Mount Cleveland is the tallest peak in Glacier NP, and several other mountains make up the southern end of Upper Waterton Lake

Waterton Townsite

Looking down at Waterton Townsite, a very cool and quaint little town with lots of good food and shopping.  There’s cold beer with our names on it somewhere down there!

Prince of Wales

Prince of Wales Hotel

Lower Waterton Lake

To the north is the best indication that Waterton is the only place in the Canadian Rockies where the prairies and mountains meet without a transition of foothills

Our excitement was heightened on the way back down.  Steve rounded a corner, and there was a black bear RIGHT THERE on the trail, less than 25′ away.  We had been making noise as we talked, but this guy didn’t seem very concerned about us.

He scampered away as Steve completed his heart attack and grabbed his camera to get a shot.  Funny he went for his camera and not the bear spray – I trained him well!

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International Peace Hike

How often can you hike in two countries on a single day?   This trek was guided by two park rangers and required us to bring our passports.  John and Pam had recommended this excellent guided hike to us, and we’re so glad they did.

Our guides were Elizabeth, an American park ranger from Glacier NP and Sierra, a Canadian Waterton Lakes NP interpreter.  They led us along the lakeshore for a moderate 8.5 mile hike that began in Waterton NP and ended in the U.S. at the Goat Haunt Ranger Station.  After presenting our passports to the officers we boarded a boat for a narrated tour back to Waterton.  That counts as two more border crossings, folks!

Lakeshore Trail

Sierra talking about the cultural history of the area

Glacier National park

Elizabeth presented the mountain peaks of both countries

Our guides were both passionate and knowledgeable, taking turns showing us what the two parks shared – an ecosystem with over 1,200 species of plants, over 60 species of wildlife and the various ways both countries work together for peace and friendship.

On the Canadian section of the trail, they talked about natural, cultural and historical aspects, while on the U.S. side each hiker was introduced to a plant specie and then encouraged to explain it to the rest of the group as we moved along the trail.  It was an excellent way for each person to learn about at least a few of the plants in the area.

International Border

That cut through the trees is the border that extends East to West all the way across the continent

International Peace Hike

Peace and friendship handshake between two nations at the int’l border

The pace of the hike was to Steve’s liking – no photo stops!  Except for the short breaks and a pause when we encountered a mama bear and her cub on the trail, we moved along at a good clip.

International Peace Hike

This guy was hauling supplies to the border – cool!

We thoroughly enjoyed this hike and learned a few interesting obscure facts.  One was that the trees and vegetation on the international border are cut alternately by U.S. and Canadian organizations every ten years to maintain the visual border.

Goat Haunt

From Goat Haunt, Glacier NP, USA – viewing the peaks at Waterton, Canada

Scenes around town

Watertown Village is a cute colorful townsite in the heart of Waterton Lakes NP.  It was founded in 1904 by the Western Coal and Oil Company based out of Vancouver, BC. According to the 2011 census, Waterton Park Township has 88 permanent residents in 31 of its 181 dwellings.

Waterton Village

Many of the shops were adorned with colorful flowers

Buck around town

Mule Deer are iconic residents of the village, looks like this one’s on his way to breakfast!

waterton village

I just couldn’t pass up a yummy pistachio ice cream after our long hike

Trappers Mountain Grill

Tall and short beers after another hike.  Steve told me to hurry up and just take the damn picture!

Cameron Falls

Cameron Falls can be viewed at the southern end of town

Red Chairs

I finally got my chance to sit in one of the strategically placed red chairs at the best lookout in Waterton, they are very popular here

Bear's Hump

Bear’s Hump (or Mt. Crandall) viewed from the marina

Prince of Wales Hotel

A view across Waterton Lake at the Prince of Wales Hotel, built in 1927

Prince of Wales Hotel

Prince of Wales Hotel up close

Prince of Wales Hotel

Inside the lobby at Prince of Wales Hotel, a little rich for our blood!

Bear sightings were a daily occurrence, be it on the trail, at the lake or on the golf course. They’re all over up here, and we haven’t seen this many since our trek through Alaska.

Cinnamon Bear

Just move along, unless you’d like to be my breakfast!

At 195 square miles, Waterton NP is the smallest of the Rocky Mountain parks in Canada, and it can be visited in a day.  And since it’s adjacent to Glacier NP it could easily be added to your itinerary – just don’t forget your passport.  But we’re glad we spent several days so we could enjoy the town and get in some excellent hiking.

If you’re planning on coming to Canada next year, you should know that entrance to all national parks in 2017 will be FREE to celebrate the centennial of their park system.  That’s good news if you want to save money on park passes, but we’re guessing the most popular national parks will be very busy.

 

Next up:  A brief run into another province – Saskatchewan!



 

30 thoughts on “A hidden crown jewel – Waterton Lakes National Park, Canada

  1. We really want to do the International Peace Park hike—how cool that the rangers use the “each one teach one” philosophy. That’s what we do with our Jr. Rangers here on Lopez. 🙂 All of your hikes look wonderful—and your photos are beautiful. So funny that Steve reached for his camera first when he came across that black bear! You do have him trained well. :-))
    We’re so excited about exploring Canada—but I’m thinking we’ll wait another year, because I really don’t want to be part of the herd during the 2017 centennial. Now I wish we had gone there this year…..

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    • Yup, put his route in your plans and you are right next year might not be a good time with the FREE passes.

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  2. Amazing pics MonaLiza! Glad I got to see those photos of the International Peace Park hike. We will definitely try to do that again when we return to Canada. Looking forward to seeing your future posts!

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  3. Amazing bear photos! What wonderful views, Mona Liza. I love pistachio ice cream, and after that hike, I canwell imagine Steve’s impatience to down some of his beer.

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  4. Very cool! We almost went to Waterton and wanted to do that hike but it was too long to leave the dog in the camper. Thanks for sharing!

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  5. Beautiful photos MonaLiza…Joe and I will probabally never get there. I enjoyed reading all about Waterton. Love the bears…

    Looking forward to the next post!

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  6. BEAUTIFUL! I’ve never been to Waterton and don’t know if I’ll get there so it is really neat to be able to see it through your eyes.

    All the bear sightings are so cool…and your photo of Steve taking a photo of the bear is priceless! Yes, you did train him well 😉

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  7. Glad you enjoyed the Peace hike:) We were worried about going with a group and were glad they didn’t mess around. You certainly hit the bear jackpot…how cool!

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  8. Gorgeous shots! When we originally planned out Canada itinerary early this year, this place was on the list but we couldn’t get any bookings even the day after bookings opened (back in Feb sometime). Where did you stay?

    Nina

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    • Hi Nina and Paul,
      Been enjoying following your travels through MI, we really liked that area.

      We couldn’t get a spot at Waterton Townsite either, even far in advance. Ended up at Crooked Creek Campground, about 9 miles east of town. Terrible road noise there, but we weren’t around much during the day anyway. Take care, and give Polly a pat for us!
      ~Steve

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  9. Oh my gosh, I can’t believe how many bears you guys saw! I didn’t get around to hiking Bear’s Hump when I was there and the hike back to the US/boat ride sounds like a lot of fun! Guess I gotta go back someday…

    Also, if you ever make it back, I highly recommend the Crypt Lake hike. It’s insane but amazing and takes you to a lake on the Montana/Alberta border.

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  10. I sure hope you guys get enough time to go a little farther north and check out Banff National park, as well as Lake Louise, These places are World renowned, so well worth the drive, also stop in and check out our hometown of Canmore Alberta, lots to see around there too, and if you have time Give my son ( Adam) a call at Canmore Cave tours ( canmorecavetours.com) if you would like to do a real neat cave tour, enjoy your trip in Canada.
    Dennis

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  11. Your picture of upper Waterton Lake looks like something from a fantasy novel about a Shangri-La. Really gorgeous. Your colors in the red rock pictures are fantastic. Not brash but soft and strong. Boy that might be a shock to find bears at the 5th T. The Montana side of the lake you are looking at looks about like the view from Canada of the US Side of Niagara Falls as compared with the Canadian Side at your feet . Bet the rooms at the Prince of Wales Hotel are seriously Pricey Princely. Very cool shot of the black bear and Steve. They really don’t require bear spray in my experience. Now that grizzly is another story. Really neat hike requiring passports. So nice to have friends to recommend such great things. Love the Goat Haunt bench. Actually I need to cut this comment short or it will be as long as your post which it’s pretty clear I really enjoyed. Wish we could have been with you.

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    • Sherry, it was really gorgeous there, and my photos can’t really do justice. And the bears were just icing on the cake.
      I do hope you can make it to this part of the world.

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  12. What a gorgeous hike! Love the bears, hope you were further away than it looks in the pictures! The town is so cute and what a view from up on top. The colors of the area are stunning!

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    • I love reading about your travel and seeing your beautiful photos! My husband and I will be retiring in 1 year and want to buy a travel van for part-time travel and see some of the places you guys have been. Enjoy your travels.

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