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Hiking Waterton National Park

by K Gordon Schultz

Great Trails in Waterton National Park

Crypt Lake Trail, Waterton Park
Distance: 17.2 km / 10.7 minutes (return)
Time: 6 – 8 hours (plan a full day)
Elevation Gain: 700 m / 2297′
For a map of the area

Waterton National Park is proud home to some of the Rockies’ great treks. For an awe-inspiring full day hike, take a boat taxi across Waterton Lake and climb a gradual slope of over 2300 feet. Experience a 600 foot cascading waterfall, natural tunnel and cliff traverse. For all your efforts, you will be rewarded by the turquoise waters of sparkling Crypt Lake, and maybe even catch a glimpse of an elusive white mountain goat, or perhaps less fortunately a snoozing grizzly bear.


If you consider yourself a fairly fit hiker, Crypt Lake Trail in Waterton Park is an absolute must. At about 18km return, you do have to have a bit of strength about you. The trail has some moderately steep switchbacks and some talus slopes that can be tricky if you are not very mobile or even wearing the right footwear.

Although you may have read some reviews that called this “terrifying”, it is certainly not that. Around 150 people do this hike daily in peak season and to the best of my knowledge there have been no serious falls yet. Having said that, there were two people who I met half way who were turning back because of nerves. Yes, there are parts that are not suitable for children but a Stephen King book, it is not.


The talus slope up to the cave tunnel is about 3 feet wide across and is not too difficult to walk on. The cave tunnel is smaller but it only takes a minute or so to get across it. Most of the sections that are considered scary have metal chains to hold onto for double safety anyway.

The $15 ferry to the trail ahead is itself very enjoyable and a lovely way to get the day going and the sights while climbing are beyond words. Through mixed and coniferous forests, along mountain streams, past several spectacular waterfalls, across exposed rocks, and finally into the “bowl” that contains Crypt Lake, you will see some of the most spectacular landscapes in the Rocky Mountains. Despite the relative strenuousness of the hike, the rewards are completely and utterly worth it.

And for more information about accommodations in Waterton National Park, see here.

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