Overlooking Waterton Lakes (photo: Michael Matt)

Unforgettable Experiences in Waterton Lakes National Park

By AMA Staff

A getaway to the mountains is the perfect way to spend a summer weekend. While Banff and Jasper are tried-and-true destinations, it’s worth travelling a bit farther afield—to idyllic Waterton Lakes National Park in southern Alberta. Once you arrive, follow our checklist of the very best things to see and do for the full Waterton experience.

Rent a bicycle from local gas station Pat’s of Waterton (their fleet includes tandem bikes) and head out on the Kootenai Brown Trail. The paved multi-use pathway, named for John George Kootenai Brown, the park’s first superintendent, links the Waterton townsite to the park gates seven kilometres away—where you’ll get a stunning view of Waterton Lakes and nearby mountains. The trail is separated from automobile traffic, making it perfect for riders of all ages and abilities.

A UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, the smallest of Alberta’s national parks is nonetheless bursting with diverse wildlife. About 40 percent of Waterton’s total area was severely damaged by last year’s Kenow wildfire, but the eastern portion of the park remains open for exploration—as does the Bison Paddock overlook, off Highway 6, from which you can typically see the grazing herd from the safety of your vehicle.

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Traversing the Crypt Lake Trail (photo: Leigh McAdam)

National Geographic has called Waterton’s Crypt Lake Trail one of the world’s most thrilling hikes. We’re inclined to agree that having to crawl through a tunnel and balance on a narrow ledge does get the heart pumping! Take the morning boat to Crypt Landing and pick up the trailhead—which leads you to several spectacular waterfalls, gently flowing creeks and eventually to the lake itself.

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Several park trails remain closed because of last year’s fire, but there are still plenty of natural sights that are easily accessible. One of these is the cascading Cameron Falls on the southwestern edge of town. It’s about a 20-minute walk to reach the falls; the stones under your feet are said to be among the oldest in the Canadian Rockies. Count yourself lucky if you can visit the falls after heavy rain—when the typically clear water turns pink with argillite sediment.

Four sets of Parks Canada Adirondack chairs are scattered throughout the park—great for a photo op and a few minutes’ rest. The bright red chairs can be found at Birder’s pull-out near the park gate, the boat launch at Middle Lake, Lakeshore Trail (near the community kitchen) and a second location on the trail near Cameron Creek.

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Hop aboard the MV International for a 2.5-hour cruise from Lower Waterton to Goat Haunt in Montana’s Glacier National Park. Among other things, the boat ride offers many opportunities to spot wildlife—like bald eagles, mountain goats and deer. If you have the necessary ID (including a valid passport), there’s an option to disembark at Goat Haunt and hike to nearby Kootenai Lakes.

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The view from the Prince of Wales’ dining room (photo: Sabrina Hill/Travel Alberta)

It was the Americans who built the Prince of Wales Hotel in the 1920s, as a way get around Prohibition laws south of the border. Wealthy statesiders would cross into Canada to sip boozy cocktails at the hotel. The “dry” era in the U.S. has long since ended, but the Prince of Wales’ Windsor Lounge still offers good, old-fashioned glamour and a number of classic tipples. The setting, with polished wood paneling and Art Deco touches, is as rich as you’ll find in Waterton.

Wheel deal: Need a vehicle to get down to Waterton Lakes? AMA members who book in advance with Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Alamo Rent A Car and National Car Rental are entitled to exclusive discounts on the cost of rental vehicles worldwide.

Get a room: AMA members save up to 30% on already great hotel prices by booking with AMA Travel—plus you’ll receive our Best Price Guarantee on rooms throughout North America.