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Why You Should Visit Waterton Lakes National Park

by K Gordon Schultz

Waterton Lakes National Park is nestled in the southwest corner of Alberta province and is about a three hour drive from Calgary. In 1932, the first International Peace Park was created from Waterton and neighboring Glacial National Park in Montana. The creation of the park symbolizes the friendly relations between the United States and Canada. Both of the parks are also recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The park is home to a flourishing network of wildlife and breathtaking mountain scenery. Towering mountain peaks, flower-lined prairies and pristine mountain lakes make Waterton an ideal getaway location for all travelers.

Walk through alpine meadows, picnic by beautiful lake shores, take advantage of the wide range of recreational activities and witness Canadian Rockies wildlife in their natural habitat. Waterton Lakes National Park has it all and more.

5 Quick Facts About Waterton Lakes National Park

The park has more than 200 lakes and ponds

There are two main reasons why people visit Waterton Lakes National Parks. First, there are beautiful views of the mountains and valleys. Second, there are lots of activities available for visitors. You can enjoy hiking, fishing, boating, camping, horseback riding, golfing, and much more.

There are over 100 species of birds

Waterton Lakes National Park has over 100 different bird species. It is one of the few places where you can see both the American dipper and the golden eagle. Other common birds include the blue grouse, the Canada goose, the red-winged blackbird, the rufous hummingbird, the yellow warbler, and the white-throated sparrow.

You can see A LOT of wildlife

There are more than 200 different species of mammals living within the park boundaries. These include mule deer, black bears, cougars, coyotes, bobcats, lynx, foxes, raccoons, skunks, porcupines, badgers, weasels, bats, squirrels, chipmunks, opossums, rabbits, and hares.

Keep an eye out, wildlife abounds in Waterton!

There are hiking trails, fishing spots, and scenic overlooks

If you love nature, then you will enjoy visiting Waterton Lakes National Park. It has been named one of the top ten national parks by USA Today. You can hike through the mountains, fish in the lakes, and see wildlife up close.

The beauty of the park

Waterton Lakes National Park is located in Alberta, Canada. It was established as a national park in 1908. It covers 1,200 square miles (3,100 km2) and is home to more than 200 species of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. There are also three glaciers within its boundaries.

Discovering the Waterton Lakes National Park Area

With the magnificent Canadian Rockies rising out of the land, the province of Alberta, Canada is also home to wide open prairies where generations of farmers have stakes their claims. In the southwestern corner of the province lies one of the most distinct ecosystems in the world at Waterton Lakes National Park. The smallest National Park in the Rockies, Waterton has retained its non-commercial allure, as opposed to the busier Banff National Park.


Waterton Lakes National Park is located 167 miles (270 km) south of Calgary. The park borders British Columbia to the west and the state of Montana to the south. As the Canadian half of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, it represents the goodwill and cooperation between Canada and the United States.


Waterton Lakes National Park contains the Rocky Mountains, the Great Plains and the Pacific Northwest region, which contributes to its unique ecosystem and geographic diversity. Designated as a UNESCO biosphere reserve in 1979 and a World Heritage Site in 1995, this is the only park in the world that has three such prestigious accolades (including it’s recognition as an International Peace Park.)

Crypt Lake in Waterton Lakes National Park

The park has been shaped by the forces of nature. Glaciers, strong winds, floods, and fires have created the tall peaks, the steep cliffs, the profound lakes, the flowing rivers, and the rolling hills that make the region so diverse. In addition, Waterton is filled with some of the oldest sedimentary rock in all of North America, as evidenced by the reddish green layers that are especially vivid in Red Rock Canyon.


As befits any Rocky Mountain area, Waterton Lakes National Park has its share of variable and temperamental weather. A warm and sunny morning can turn cold and menacing. Summers are short and cool, followed by mild, snowy winters where temperatures can go from 32F to minus 40. Chinooks (winds that start as cool air at the mountain peaks and descend to the prairies where they warm) can raise the temperature in winter, often creating melting conditions. The Chinooks can last for days at a time, with a speed that can go from the average 19 miles per hour (30 km/hr) to 75 miles per hour (120 km/hr.) January and November are notoriously the windiest months.

Summer temperatures are close to perfect, with the mercury staying at around 72F (22C) in July and August, and occasionally rising to 86F (30C).


Waterton Lakes National Park is accessible only by roadway. The nearest airports to the park are Calgary International Airport and Great Falls International Airport. The park lies in between these two hubs, and you can easily take a motor coach tour to the area. Once you are in Waterton, you can hire a car for greater mobility as are no car rental or taxi services. Two-seater bicycles and scooters can be rented in town, which provide visitors with an easy way to explore the area, but once you are on Waterton’s hiking trails, there are no bikes allowed.

Flora and Fauna

Waterton Lakes National Park takes up 203 miles (525 sq. km) and includes an enormous diversity of plant and animal life. Alberta in its entirety is 41,272 square miles (661, 848 sq. km) and yet half of its plant species can be found in the park. With 970 plant species, 264 bird species, 24 fish species, and 10 herptile species along with grizzlies, black bears, cougars, wolves, bison, moose, elk, and deer, no wonder the park is a haven for those who wish to get closer to big nature.

Historical Sites

Visit the Prince of Wales Hotel National Historic Site that commemorates the completion of this grand hotel in 1927. This was also the year that a bus service was created to connect Waterton with Glacier National Park, allowing more tourists to enter the area. The hotel became a well-known stop over for Americans during the days of Prohibition, providing them with a watering hole as well as comfortable lodgings. The hotel was named after Great Britain’s Prince Edward and is still a major focal point in the area with its exquisite architecture, its astounding vistas, and its English traditions. The hotel sits on a bluff on Upper Waterton Lake where it embraces views of both the lake and the Waterton townsite. As one of the most photographed hotels the world over, the Prince of Wales Hotel is famed for its angled roof, its enormous picture windows, and the sheer majesty of its design. The Royal Stewart dining room and tea room are just some of the pleasures to be discovered within the hotel’s walls, along with the kilt-clad valet who will greet you upon arrival.

View of Waterton Lakes with Prince of Wales hotel

1927 was a good year in Alberta, as it was then that the tour boat, M.V. International, was completed. Taking people from Goat Haunt in Montana across the Canadian border, the boat became a Waterton landmark and is still in operation today. The cruise takes its passengers through the Rocky Mountains as guides inform and entertain with pertinent commentary. The tour is a little over two hours long and is an idea vacation destination point for spotting wildlife around the lake, such as black bears and grizzlies.

Other Highlights

The Waterton Lakes Chain takes over two-thirds of the park’s water surface area and is a great attraction for wildlife viewing. With its clear waters and its easy distance from the Waterton townsite, Cameron Lake is ideal for renting a canoe and spending a day with your binoculars and camera, observing the wildlife all around. Animal sightings are abundant on the drive to the lake as well, so keep your eyes open right from the start!

Head over to the Buffalo Paddock, near the park’s boundary. The road takes you right up close and personal with these grand beasts, so here again, take your camera and be prepared.

Waterton Lakes National Park Activities at a Glance

Containing one of the most impressive ecosystems in the world, Waterton is home to Waterton Lakes National Park. Here you will find a wide diversity of flora and fauna, some of the most majestic peaks and valleys in the Canadian Rockies, lakes and waterfalls that defy the imagination, as well as shopping, dining, and world-class accommodations for every taste.


There is a wide opportunity to enjoy solitude and serenity when in Waterton Lakes National Park. With its over 120 miles (200 km) of hiking trails for all levels of expertise, tours, and abundant wildlife, the park is an ideal nature preserve that begs exploration. And when the spirit calls for a bit of the quotidian, the town offers plenty of good shopping at local boutiques, excellent dining, and top notch accommodations.

If you are a trained hiker in good condition, take the M.V. International from Waterton townsite to Crypt Lake Trail where you can trek for 10.7 miles (17.2 km) round trip. On this trail, you will climb up to 2300 feet (700 m), encountering a 600 foot (183 m) waterfall, steep cliffs, and natural tunnels. There will be points where you will need cables and steel ladders to scale ledges and cliffs, with the end result being a stop at the magnificent Crypt Lake, a turquoise wonder set amid the trees.

Take in the view from several hiking vantage points.

An easier hike is the Carthew-Anderson Trail that begins at Cameron Lake and takes you 11 miles (18 km) through the Rockies to Cameron Falls, located in the Waterton townsite. From the Carthew Summit, you will see the vast prairies below the spectral mountaintops. On this trail you will walk through the oldest forest in the park as well as enjoy several waterfalls, lakes, and streams.

If you are new to the park, take Bear’s Hump Trail that begins at the Waterton Lakes Visitor Centre. A twisting trail that lasts a mile (0.6 km), you will arrive at a summit where you have a breathtaking view of the park.

Waterton Lakes National Park is open year round, however many of the facilities and services close. May through October are the best months to enjoy all that Waterton offers, with the winter months also popular for cross-country skiing and ice climbing.

Wildlife Sightings

The Waterton Lakes Chain consists of clear mountain water easily accessible from the town of Waterton. Rent a canoe and see all that the area has to offer in the way of wildlife and vegetation. Buffalo Paddock is another site where viewing wildlife is easy to do. Bring your camera so the folks at home don’t think the story of the grizzly grazing by the lake wasn’t just one of your tall stories!

Bear spotting in Waterton

Winter Sports

Waterton Lakes National Park is open all year long and is ideal for enjoying some of the best cross-country skiing and ice climbing in the Canadian Rockies.

Waterton Lakes National Park Accommodations

Many accommodations in the Waterton area fill up quickly for the summer holidays. If you are planning on visiting the Canadian Rockies do not wait to find a place to stay – the Bow Valley receives over five million visitors a year. Most visit in the warmer months of June through September, followed by a second wave for the ski season. Many accommodations in the area also offer ski packages, cater to families or have special suites for your wedding or romantic getaway.

Waterton Lakes Resort 

The Waterton Lakes Resort is an 80-suite environmentally friendly resort. The newest property in the park, this all–service facility on four acres of land is situated in the center of the mountain village of Waterton Park. Eleven separate buildings feature chalet style guest rooms and suites with spectacular mountain and valley views; it’s a destination resort with an array of amenities. Our guest rooms are designed to compliment the natural surroundings of southern Alberta and showcase a variety of art created by local artists as well as unique wood carved fixtures in a comfortable and contemporary setting.

Waterton is one of the nicest National Parks in Canada. It is quiet, uncrowded and the perfect place to view the spectacular scenery, wildlife and many activities that the Canadian Rockies offer. Aside from the awe inspiring peaks, the lakes of Waterton National Park, carved out of the rock by ancient glaciers are stunning…if a little cold! So, where to stay when you arrive in this paradise? There are many hotels and lodges to choose from but the Waterton Lakes Lodge Resort has a great reputation and rightly so.

The Waterton Lakes Lodge Resort is an 80 suite resort. It is the newest property in the park located on 4 acres of beautiful land right in the centre of the mountain village of Waterton Park. Nearly all the rooms boast views to die for. Whether it is mountain or valley views, it is an absolute pleasure to wake to. Many of the chalets have fireplaces, jetted tubs and kitchenettes making it perfect for families and larger groups. On the warmer nights, you can lie out on your balcony and gaze at the unobstructed view of the stars.

Waterton, in general is a very romantic place to visit. It is ideal for a wedding, honeymoon or even a corporate retreat if you want to take your staff as far away from the hustle and bustle of the rat race as possible. Most of the accommodations in the area are built around the natural surrounds that make this such a gorgeous place. There are few places in the world you can wake up and feel as peaceful as you do in Waterton. Waterton borders Glacier National Park in Montana to the south so it really is extremely close to the United States.

Waterton Glacier Suites 

Located un the heart of the village, Waterton Glacier Suites is the park’s newest property and the only all-suite hotel. Each room offers private balconies, gas fireplaces and Jacuzzi bathtubs. The hotel is just steps away from restaurants, shopping, lounges, golf, horseback riding and boat crusies.

Bayshore Inn Alberta 

The lakefront resort is located on the shore of Waterton Lake in the heart of the village. The hotel boasts a lakefront dining room,coffee shop, bar, lounge, gift shop and lakefront convention facilities. The Bayshore Inn is a short stroll from shopping, restaurants, golfing,-horseback riding and some of Canada’s best hiking. We are located right in front of the marina where you can take a boat tour down the lake into Glacier National Park.

Crandell Mountain Lodge 

Welcome to Crandell Mountain Lodge. A cozy country lodge ideal for travelers looking for a quaint experience. Rooms with fireplaces, country decor and lots of character. Relax on our peaceful patio hat’s perfect for savoring the incredible mountain views and fresh air. Alberta Service Best Smiles and the Standards ff Excellence Awarded with Alberta Housekeeping Awards, the Crandell Mountain Lodge is a jewel within itself.

Aspen Village Inn 

In the heart of Waterton, the Aspen Village Inn provides he largest variety of sparkling clean accommodations in the park. Spacious, well-appointed rooms ranging from deluxe suites to cottages with full kitchens and fireplaces provide the highest quality in comfort and convenience. Centrally located, the Aspen Village Inn is only steps away from all the amenities of the village. Spectacular mountain views, whirlpool, playground, in-room coffee, BBQ and picnic area and other amenities are all included at the memorable Aspen Village Inn.

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