Waterton had always been a place that I overlooked. I had gone there a few times with my family when I was younger, but every time there was a friends camping trip, we would overlook it and choose Jasper or Banff. The first time we fell in love with Waterton was during a difficult time in our friendship. We had barely been hanging out and were fighting more than we ever had. I had a boyfriend at the time and Tessa was always hanging out with our other friends. We decided that we needed to have a best friend camping trip and randomly decided on Waterton. Luckily, we were able to get a camping spot at the Waterton Springs Campsite 2 days before we wanted to go (again, last minute is such a theme). I had to write a final for a summer class I was taking and it was finished at around 8:30pm. We had both taken the next day off of work so that we would be able to have a long weekend and make the 6 hours drive down. We ended up leaving right after I was finished my final. We got to Waterton at 3am, slept for 2 hours on a random side street in my car, and proceeded to hike Bear’s hump for sunrise. By the time noon rolled around we had already accomplished so much and ended up having to take a nap in the Cameron Lake parking lot because we were so exhausted. That trip solidified our love for the park and helped our friendship out as well.
Where to stay
We have only ever camped while we were in Waterton. There are two main campgrounds that we’ve stayed at and both have different reasons as to why they are great.
Townsite Campground: This campground (as the name implies) is located directly in the townsite.
- The campground is located directly in town.
- You don’t have to worry about finding parking in the park since you can walk to everything from the campground
- The campground is right on the lake and some of the spots are within a minute walk to the lake front.
- You can walk to the outfitters shop and the boat docks to grab the shuttles to two of the triple crown hikes
- The campground is pretty open and you don’t get much privacy
- There are no fire pits. You can only have fires if they are gas or propane fuelled
- They are pretty strict on the noise curfew
- You have to book when reservations open in January other wise good luck getting a spot.
Waterton Springs Campground: This campground is located just outside of the park gates.
- The campground has plenty of trees so each spot is private
- You are allowed fires which can make cooking and staying warm easier
- The campground is a little ways out of the town so you can’t just walk everywhere and when you go into the town, you have to try and find parking.
All in all, we prefer to stay at the townsite campground. We like to wander around the town aimlessly and also enjoy checking out some of the pubs around town and meeting other campers and locals. It makes it easier when you don’t have to worry about transportation. We usually also just blow up our paddle boards at the campsite and bring them and our hammocks across the road to set them up at the lake.
Waterton has some of the best hiking trails that we have ever done. The park has tons of hikes wherever you look and also has the world class triples crown hikes. These are three hikes that you can do as a challenge all in one summer.
Alderson Carthrew Hike (20 KMs and Elevation gain of 2153 ft): This hike is one part of the triple crown. There are a few different options that you can choose when you do this hike. If you only have one vehicle, we recommend signing up for the shuttle bus and taking it up to the trail head at Cameron Lake. The first time we did this hike that’s the route that we choose. You pay around $15.00 and meet at the outfitters shop in town at 8 am. The bus drops you off at the trail head and you hike all the way back into town. The only downside of this is that the trail starts out fairly busy from everyone on the bus. The second time that we did this hike, we had other friends camping with us so we had two vehicles. We left one at the campground and drove one up to Cameron Lake to start the hike. We started the hike after the shuttle bus had left (around 10 am). This was great because the trail was pretty quiet until we started catching up to others near the ridge. On this hike, you see all types of vegetation. You start off completely surrounded by forest and make your way to a small lake. You can choose to take a break here and hang out or proceed up to the ridge. There is a sign here that shows you where to go up to the ridge. The trail starts to get pretty steep here as you are really starting the ascent. You start to lose the trees and the trail gets more rocky and sparse. You will be able to see the ridge that you walk across and the people walking on it. We usually stop at the ridge and eat our lunch and take a bit of a break before our descent. On the way down, you pass some small waterfalls and walk pass at least 4 or five lakes. You can see three of them from the ridge and the other two are closer to the bottom of the trail. A lot of people choose to start the hike form the townsite and just hike up and camp at one of the lower lakes. When you get to the lower lakes, keep your eyes peels for wild huckleberry bushes. Once you pass the two lower lakes the hike gets pretty boring as you are just heading downhill (which always kills my knees) and you are completely surrounded by trees. You’ll know that you’re almost back when you start to see the river and a more pronounced and fenced in path. You will come out at Cameron Falls in town and will just have a short little walk back to the campsite.
Mount Galwey (Elevation 2,377 ft): This was one of the most difficult hikes that we did all summer. To tell you the truth, we didn’t even completely make it to the summit. To get to this hike, you head out on the red rock canyon highway. Keep your eyes open for the coppermine day use area as that’s where you will start your hike. You will see a few paths leading up from the parking lot and it doesn’t really matter which one you choose and they will all take you up to the top. This is classified as “the easiest difficult scramble” and let us tell you, it’s quite difficult. We did this hike at the beginning of the season and we were not in good shape at all. BUT we managed to complete most of it. The only part that we didn’t finish was taking the scree path up the rest of the mountain to the peak and the window at the top. Both of our bodies felt like they were going to give out the scree path looked dangerous from where we were. Next summer we are for sure going to make it up to the window though! Considering it was so early in the season and so difficult we were stoked about it non the less.
We wouldn’t recommend this hike unless you have a certain level of physical fitness. We like to believe that we are usually pretty fit and I don’t think we would have been able to do it unless we had been working out.
Bears Hump (1KM and 787 ft): This is one of the most popular hikes in the park. The trailhead is located at the visitor center (or what used to be the visitor center before the fire). This hike can get extremely busy so we recommend doing it as early as you can. Not only will you get up the mountain before all of the crowds, but you will probably see one of the most amazing sunrises of your life up there as well.
Crypt Lake (18KMs and Elevation Gain of 2,300 ft): The only way that you can get to this trail head is by boat. There is a company that runs boats to the trail head at 8 am, 9 am, and 10 am during peak season and returns twice between 4 and 5. When we did this hike we chose the earliest departure and the latest return because we didn’t know how long it would actually take us to do it before we left. We made it back way before the 4 pm departure back and luckily we were able to hop on the boat instead of waiting another hour at the trail head. This hike can unfortunately get pretty busy and it gets hard to get out of the crowds of people. The things that you see on the hike are worth it though! There’s a waterfall near the trail head, one in the middle, and another one that you can see in the distance as you make the ascent up to the top. The lake at the top is amazing and that’s where we took our break and ate our lunch. The best part of the hike is right before you make it to the lake. You have to climb a steel ladder, go through a tunnel in the mountain, and at the other side of the tunnel you have to hold on to a steel cable bolted in to get around to the other side. It’s definitely an adrenaline rush and not for the faint of heart. Tickets to get on the boat have gone up in price since we did the hike and they’re around $20.00 roundtrip now. The price is a little outrageous for a short shuttle to the trail head but the hike is totally worth it to do… even the switchbacks of death. We even saw a bear on our way back down the mountain!
Red Rock Canyon: This is another place that can get really busy. There’s an upper and a lower parking lot and a lot of the time you can’t even find parking. We’ve lucked out each time we’ve gone and have managed to find parking easily (granted we usually go earlier in the season). These isn’t a straining hike at all… not even sure that I would call the main area a hike at all even. The best part about coming out here is going all the way down into the canyon. During the summer months it’s quite refreshing to dip your cankles. Just be aware, the rocks get extremely slippery and people tend to take tumbles.
Hikes that we still need to try: Bertha Falls, Lineham Ridge, Goat Lake, Akamina Ridge
Extra Things to Do:
Prince of Wales Hotel: This hotel is so iconic and totally worth the visit up to it. You can walk around the grounds and get a pretty decent view of the lake and townsite. If you go into the actual hotel, it’s like going back in time. We’ve done afternoon tea here twice and it’s almost turned into a tradition now that we have to do it at least once a year. The front of the hotel has massive windows so you get a great view the whole time you are pretending to be fancy. It’s around $35.00 per person but we’ve found that it’s worth it for the experience alone.
Nightlife: The nightlife used to be better and is better at the beginning of the season as well. The first time we went we started off at a chill little wine bar in one of the hotels that had live music. From there, we moved onto the Thirsty Bear which had a more club like vibe except everyone in there was super chill. They’ve since re-done the Thirsty Bear and it’s just not the same anymore. They removed the dance floor (people still clear out some tables to dance) and leave the lights on super bright all night long. We read a few things on Facebook and the owners had said that they wanted it to be a Public House now and not a club. I’m not sure what bar they’re trying to model this after but it’s definitely not one that we’ve ever been to.
Cameron Lake: Cameron Lake is also where the Alderson Carthrew trail head is located, but along with hiking it’s also a gorgeous lake up there. There’s a shack where you are able to rent paddle boards, kayaks, and canoes as well. The lake is usually calmer than the main lakes in town since the surrounding mountains block the wind a bit. This lake is perfect for beginners as it was the first lake the we had every kayak’d on.
Paddleboarding/Canoeing: We are lucky enough to have purchased our own paddle boards this summer and literally brought them everywhere with us this summer. Even if you don’t have your own, there are a few different places around the main townsite that rents them for a decent price. The wind in Waterton is notorious so if you actually get to be there on a calm day definitely take advantage of the water sports. We went up three different times and the only time that we could actually make it out onto the lake was on the very last weekend. We were lucky enough that it was 30 degrees and we had no wind. We got onto the lake in the morning and didn’t get off of it until almost sunset. Aside from the hikes that we did, it was one of our favourite days in the park all summer.
Renting Bicycles: There’s gas station in the town that rents normal bikes and also bikes called “Surrey Bikes”. We’ve only rented these once but they were super fun! You just have to watch out for other people riding the bikes. Some people can’t control them properly and are literally all over the road on them. The town is pretty small and you can’t take them off the main paths or roads so we would suggest just getting them for an hours. This gives you enough time to ride around the town and even hit up the campground to launch yourself off of the speed bumps (we may have done this way to many times to count).
Cameron Falls: These are the waterfalls that are located in the townsite. You can walk up trails beside the lake to get views from up higher as well as from the river before it flows down. These can get pretty busy so we recommend going early in the morning.
Waterton has a charm that is really hard to describe unless you’ve experience. It’s less busy than Banff and Jasper and has some of the best hikes in the world. Unfortunately, it was hit by a pretty devastating wildfire so some of the things that we’ve described may be different or may be completely gone as well. We hope that the fire doesn’t deter away visitors since there’s still so much to experience in the wonderful park. Waterton is also known for it’s wildlife. We’ve seen bears on hiking trails and wandering around the townsite campground so just use extra caution and make sure that you carry bear spray with you the entire time (NOT BEAR BELLS). We hope that if this inspires you to go that you end up loving it just as much as we do!