We had only one full day in Waterton, and our plan was to take the boat across Upper Waterton Lake to the Crypt Lake trailhead and attempt to survive the strenuous hike to Crypt Lake. The hike is 5.5 miles (8.9 km) in each direction with 2,300 feet (700 m) of elevation gain, and involves a lot of switchbacks, a ladder, a tunnel, and a very narrow section of trail with chains drilled into the mountainside.
And also incredible views, waterfalls, and Crypt Lake, located way up in the mountains on the border of Alberta and Montana. Sounds like an amazing hike, right? It’s been rated as one of Canada’s best, and we were really excited.
But it was not to be. We’d gone to purchase our boat tickets the previous afternoon only to be told that though the trail was technically open, the previous week a woman had slipped on the ice and fallen and was still in the ICU. So we had to put that particular dream on hold. (I have since completed the Crypt Lake hike and it’s every bit as amazing as it’s cracked up to be; but more on that later.)
The Red Rock Parkway was closed due to recent bear activity, leaving that portion of the park inaccessible to us as well. So that left us with heading up the Akamina Parkway for the day, which turned out to be a pretty good third choice. We even saw a bear along the side of the highway!
The Akamina Parkway dead-ends at the beautiful Cameron Lake, where we could also access the trail to the equally quaint and pretty Summit Lake. Summit Lake is a very small lake situated in a bowl between Mount Custer and Mount Carthew. To get to Summit Lake, we took the small trail off to the left of Cameron Lake. It started out relatively flat before ascending through a series of switchbacks up to the top of a plateau and then descending slightly to Summit Lake.
About halfway up the switchbacks, we encountered an older man who was on his way back down the trail. He was very chatty, and when we said hello he began to tell us about an unnamed waterfall that was just up ahead. Apparently, at the next switchback instead of staying on the trail we should continue straight ahead through the trees for a few yards and there would be the waterfall. We were skeptical but figured we could spare a few minutes, so we followed his instructions. And lo and behold, a minute or so off the trail was a really pretty waterfall!
After bushwhacking back to the trail, we continued up to Summit Lake. The lake was very pretty, very cold, and still surrounded by snow. It was noticeably cooler up on top of the plateau.
This concluded our time in Waterton Lakes for this trip. Between snow and bears, we weren’t able to see most of the park, but it really is a pretty place. I think Waterton is often forgotten about in the shadow of Glacier, Banff, and Jasper, but in my opinion it rivals all three parks in terms of scenery and hiking options. Definitely a place I plan to spend more time visiting.
Next stop: Banff National Park.
The Important Stuff:
- Getting there: located at the junction of AB Highways 5 and 6, approximately 1 hour southwest of Lethbridge, AB; to get to Cameron and Summit Lakes, follow the Akamina Parkway all the way to the end
- 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 CAD reservation fee)
- Hiking: Cameron Lake is visible from the parking lot and Summit Lake can be visited by hiking the 2.5 mile (4 km) round-trip trail that departs just to the left of Cameron Lake
- Other: we did this hike in mid-July and there was still quite a bit of snow up high, so wear waterproof shoes and be prepared for cooler weather
- Also: make sure you have the proper document(s) to cross into Canada!