By Alina Seagal
Next time you want to hit an Alberta national park, think outside Banff or Jasper. Discover Waterton Lakes National Park, a four-hour drive through Kananaskis Country and wide-open prairies south of Calgary.
Sharing a border with the U.S. and Montana’s Glacier National Park, this smaller park doesn’t get the hordes of tourists that crowd that famous park, but its quieter demeanor is is part of its charm.
Why You Should Go Now
Glaciers, waterfalls and mountain valleys stretching all the way to the horizon take your breath away instantly. Together with its American neighbour, Waterton-Glacier is the first international peace park in the world. Though both parks have the same ecosystem and habitat, north of the border, trails are less hiked (meaning easier-to-spot wildlife), campsites easier to book and the central Waterton Village has a dash of small-town sweetness.
Throughout the park are countless opportunities to be completely surrounded by natural spaces and capture that once-in-a-lifetime photo. (If you haven’t seen the famous “tomato-soup red” waterfall photo snapped at Waterton’s Cameron Falls, you should!)
What To Do and See
Hike up the Bear’s Hump to see the stunning view of the park from above and to encounter the most daring chipmunks (they’ll try to climb up your legs). The day-long Crypt Lake hike is a must for those who like a challenge: it involves a ferry ride, a mountainside hike and a tunnel path will lead you to a calm turquoise alpine lake. Expect to spot some wildlife on the way! Just inside the entrance to the park, see buffalo milling around the Buffalo Paddock.
The tiny, four-blocks-square village is where to go when you need a dose of human interaction: grab a bite to eat (anything from a latte and bagel to a multi-course dinner of bison carpaccio, elk rib-eye and Saskatoon-berry pie), watch deer graze in locals’ front lawns and walk along the waterfront with an ice-cream cone the size of your head. You can also go fishing or golfing, or ride a quad-cycle, or, just north of town, wander inside the historic Prince of Wales Hotel.
Pack your passport so you can also experience the busier and much larger Glacier National Park in the U.S. You can do a sliver of the park on a day trip, or, for a more leisurely pace, spend at least one night stateside. The Highline Trail leading to a quaint little chalet is absolutely gorgeous and it’s not unusual to bump into a mountain goat along the way. Tip: Take the free Going-to-the-Sun Road shuttle to avoid driving in the bumper-to-bumper traffic and navigating winding cliff-side roads.
Where to Stay
Sleeping options range from remote campsites with pit toilets to a luxurious suite in the aforementioned Prince of Wales Hotel. The main in-town campground is a spruced-up affair with hot-water showers. You can also opt for a lodge room in town, or even sleep in a teepee out along the Red Rock road (a bear-sighting hot spot).