I don’t know about you, but half of the places on my Ultimate Travel List are there because I saw a picture online and said to myself “wow, that’s pretty, I wanna go there.” In fact, I’ve stumbled across a number of incredible on- and off-the-beaten-path destinations thanks to random travel blogs. It’s part of what motivated me to start my own blog.
This particular place was not actually one of them, but hopefully it will be for someone else. Because the beauty of the Canadian Rockies is something that cannot be fully captured with a camera. You have to be there to truly understand the immensity of the mountains and the power of a glacier. You have to be there to look into a lake and see straight to the bottom because the water is perfectly clear. You have to be there to hike back into the mountains and encounter fields of wildflowers and tumbling waterfalls. I was there once, when I was 10 or 11. I didn’t remember much from that trip, except that it was a beautiful place that I wanted to go back to.
And so, in July 2011, three of my friends and I – fresh out of college and still unsure what we wanted to do with our lives – headed off on a three-and-a-half week road trip. We began in Glacier National Park, then headed across the border to the Canadian Rockies, specifically Waterton Lakes, Banff, and Jasper National Parks before heading west to Vancouver, BC, down to Seattle, WA, and finally looping back to Montana. It was the first road trip we ever went on without our families and all of our parents were incessantly worried the entire time. Which I suppose I understand. But aside from an unplanned trip to the hospital in Jasper (which is a story for another time), everything went well and we arrived back home in one piece.
For now, I’m going to omit the time we spent in Glacier National Park in favor of talking about all of my Glacier adventures at a later date. So I’ll begin in Waterton Lakes National Park, which is located across the border from Glacier in Alberta, Canada. The park is much smaller than Glacier, but together they form the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. This was the first International Peace Park in the world and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Plus, getting there required me to use my passport for the first time ever, though I was very disappointed that they didn’t stamp it. I’ve been to Canada 4 times since and my passport is still blank. But I digress.
The main campground in Waterton Lakes is located in the townsite of Waterton on the shore of Upper Waterton Lake. We drove past Lower and Middle Waterton Lakes on our way into the townsite. Canadian National Parks are different from US ones in that there’s usually a town in the middle of the park; for those wishing to stay in a hotel or cabin rather than camp, there are plenty to choose from right there in town. Grocery stores, restaurants, laundry facilities, and anything else you might want are right there as well.
Waterton Lakes holds the distinction of being one of the windiest places I’ve ever been. That first time I was here when I was a kid, the wind actually bent our tent poles. Fortunately for my friends and me, our tent survived the stay, though the canopy we put up over our picnic table ended up tipped over and flapping in the wind the first morning we were there.
After setting up camp, we spent our first day exploring the townsite, including the shores of Middle Waterton Lake and Upper Waterton Lake and the fancy Prince of Wales Hotel, which sits on the hill between the lakes.
We ended our day with dinner and drinks at Zum’s Eatery, followed by a dash through a downpour back to our campsite. Thankfully the clouds cleared just in time for a colorful sunset over Waterton Lake.
All in all, a successful first day in Canada!
The Important Stuff:
- Getting there: located at the junction of AB Highways 5 and 6, approximately 1 hour southwest of Lethbridge, AB
- Fees & passes: $7.80 CAD/person/day or $19.60 CAD/car; Parks Canada Annual Pass accepted
- Camping: Townsite Campground is located on the shore of Upper Waterton Lake – 237 sites, $27-$38 CAD per night (includes free showers), reservations necessary ($13 reservation fee)
- Hiking: There are 100+ miles of hiking trails in Waterton, though I didn’t discuss any specific hikes here
- Other: Be prepared for wind! Because it’s so windy, there are no fire pits at campsites; camp fires are permitted only in communal kitchen shelters
- Also: make sure you have the proper document(s) to cross into Canada!