The Prince of Wales Hotel at Waterton Lakes National Park (photo: Prince of Wales Hotel by Pursuit)

How to Spend an Epic Long Weekend in Waterton

By Sandra Sperounes

If Banff and Jasper are the A-list celebrities of Alberta’s national parks, Waterton Lakes is the scrappy but charming up ‘n’ comer. Less than one-tenth the size of its sister sites, it’s a seductive, secluded slice of heaven where the prairies meet the mountains.

Surrounded by the Rockies, the compact Waterton townsite is a convenient base for summer adventures—with a lake, water-falls, wildlife, restaurants and 200 kilometres of hiking trails mere minutes from your hotel or campground. (While the park is accessible year-round, much of the town is open from May to October only.)

You can easily park your car or RV for the weekend and get around on foot, bike or boat. But be warned: There’s so much to discover that you’ll want to plan a longer return trip.

Some activities and businesses may be restricted or closed due to COVID-19. Check ahead before your trip.

Start your Waterton experience with a quick but steep hike up Bear’s Hump Trail for one of the park’s most photogenic vistas. Looking south, you can frame a classic shot of the town, mountains and Upper Waterton Lake, which stretches past the horizon and into Montana’s Glacier National Park. Grab a local smokie, sweet potato fries and peanut butter cookie milkshake at Wieners of Waterton. Then stop by the nearby marina where you can recline in one of Parks Canada’s famous red chairs and take in the view of the Prince of Wales Hotel and Emerald Bay. By night, marvel at the Milky Way on an easy Dark Sky Guides hike in Red Rock Canyon. With minimal light pollution, Waterton Lakes National Park is ideal for stargazing.

old-fashioned white boat in Waterton lake with mountain in background
A classic Waterton shoreline cruise (photo: Keith Robinson)

Savour the morning sun on the patio at Windflower Corner Café. Fuel up with a latte or horchata frappuccino (made with Kicking Horse coffee) and a breakfast sandwich on a bagel, pretzel bun or croissant.

Hop aboard a Waterton Shoreline Cruise of Upper Waterton Lake, which straddles the Canada-U.S. border. You’ll get a unique look at the damage done by the 2017 Kenow Fire—the mountains on the west side of the lake are filled with charred lodgepole pines and birches. Plus, you’ll float into Montana for a few minutes.

Back on land, Lower Bertha Falls is one of Waterton’s easier hiking trails—a 5.2-km roundtrip jaunt with a few short inclines and a lovely bridal veil waterfall. More challenging is Crypt Lake Trail, a world-renowned 17-km roundtrip hike with a ladder and cave to navigate. Note, however, that you’ll need to book a boat trip to get there and back.

Celebrate your steps with a locally raised bison rib-eye at Lakeside Chophouse. Eat al fresco if you can: Backing onto Upper Waterton Lake, the restaurant boasts the best patio in town.

Stroll around the Waterton townsite: Pick up a T-shirt at Akamina Gifts; visit Cameron Falls; spot mule deer in the Townsite Campground; dip your toes in Cameron Creek. You can do it all in less than an hour. Or rent an e-bike from Pat’s Waterton and take the multi-use Kootenai Brown Trail to Red Rock Canyon (about 19 km from town) and its dazzling red and green argillite rocks and glacier-fed waterfalls.

Cap your visit with afternoon tea at the Prince of Wales Hotel, a 1927 landmark perched on a hill just north of town. Savour scones, sandwiches and another one of Waterton’s panoramic views from the hotel’s cozy wood-panelled lobby.

Two-storey wood building in Waterton with mountain behind
Waterton Lakes Lodge Resort (photo: Parks Canada)

• The Prince of Wales Hotel offers retro mountain-lodge luxury with kilt-clad bellmen, an antique elevator and bighorn sheep sightings.
• Watch the sunrise from your bed at the Bayshore Inn & Spa, located next to the lake and marina.
• Relax in its sauna, steam room and hot tub at Waterton Lakes Lodge Resort. Open year-round.
• Book a DIY stay at the Townsite Campgrounds—or one of several backcountry campsites in the park.

AMA members get exclusive deals and AMA’s Best Price Guarantee on Rockies hotels.

Get unlimited access to Canada’s national parks with a Parks Canada Discovery Pass: AMA members save $10 on family passes.