After Glacier National Park, it was time to explore the Canadian side of the International Peace Park in Waterton Lakes National Park.
Now, I have to admit that I hadn’t heard of Waterton Lakes National Park until it was recommended to me earlier in the year. Jam packed with scenery and adventure, it is a wonder how Waterton has remained a secret avoiding the mass crowds that fill other National Parks such as Banff and Jasper. While the town is small, it offers plenty of accommodations and restaurants to satisfy visitors. Best yet, it offers numerous world-class hiking trails and other activities such as golfing, fishing, and windsurfing with a backdrop that can best be described as breathtaking.
I booked us into the Waterton Townsite Campground for our first couple of days. Not only is it the only one in Waterton that accepts reservations in advance, it is located on the lake and is only a 10 minute walk into town. The campground is popular, however, so reservations need to be made FAR in advance. Even booking in May for August, I was only able to secure three nights in a row.
There are three famous, world-class hiking trails in Waterton Lakes National Park: Crypt Lake, Akamina Ridge and Carthew-Alderson Trail. Together they make up the “Triple Crown Challenge.” Those daring enough to complete all three trails are rewarded with their names on the “Glory Board” in Waterton.
Each one of the Triple Crown hikes has something incredible to offer. The Crypt Lake Trail (17.2 km; 10.7 miles) made the Top 20 Most Thrilling Trails in the World by National Geographic for its 100-foot, hands-and-knees crawl through a natural tunnel, narrow ledges, and scurrying ferrata style up a metal ladder. The Akamina Ridge (20.0 km; 12.4 miles) is also a scramble with a 1300m elevation gain onto an exposed trail following the BC-AB boundary. Finally, the Carthew-Alderson Trail (18.0 km; 11.1 miles) is considered one of the most beautiful hikes in Canada with varied and outstanding scenery including mountains, glaciers and high alpine lakes.
While I loved the idea of conquering all three, we decided to start with one and go from there. We were only going to be in Waterton for four days and planning three 20 km hikes in row didn’t seem quite feasible. Kevin, maybe. Me? Not so much….
We decided on the Carthew-Alderson Trail for its promise of picturesque scenery. Not to mention, it seemed like the best choice for me compared to the other two. As I was still recovering from Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, the idea of crawling on my hands in knees through a tunnel onto a narrow ledge sounded terrifying. The Akimina Ridge sounded like a bit of a struggle too…
To get to the trailhead, we reserved a ride on the Akamina Hiker Shuttle (akaminahikershuttle.com). While reservations are required in advance, the shuttle is free and has three locations for pickup in town. Lucky for us, there was a pickup right outside the campsite. Even luckier for us, the trail ended at Cameron Falls which was also next to the campsite.
Can’t get much more convenient than that.
After a short ride on the shuttle, we unloaded our bags and set off excited for one of Canada’s most beautiful trails!
Beginning with a spectacular view at Cameron Lake, the trail quickly turned steep with a series of switchbacks up the mountain. For the next 4km (2.5 miles), we climbed steadily through thick, wooded forest motivated by the sights to come.
To be honest, I did not see this much work coming so fast. I generally like to ease into my hikes slowly with a gentle incline at the beginning…
At least this must mean we are going to get high above the trees in no time!
After the switchbacks, we found ourselves at Summit Lake. While tired from the climb, we decided to keep going with the momentum we had generated.
While the switchbacks had ended, the steep incline had not. Slowly, we pierced our poles into the ground and pulled ourselves up the mountain.
Seriously, I was not expecting it to be this steep. Why am I never prepared for it to be steep?
But the higher we climbed, the more the trees opened up, and eventually we were able to peak at what was to come.
Mother Nature, you know exactly when to send a little motivation my way…
Before we knew it, we had pulled ourselves above the tree line, into the alpine, and were rewarded with spectacular views of the region. Like Glacier National Park, the mountains stood tall and were dusted with hundreds of glaciers.
Kevin and I stared in awe and tried to capture with our camera what we were seeing with our eyes. Photo after photo, each one seemed to disappoint.
You really need to see this place in person!
As we looked further up the trail, the landscape began to change. We quickly left the trees behind and found ourselves moving along red scree to the Carthew Summit.
Once we made it to the ridge, we felt like we were on top of another world!
I have these moments while traveling where I am slapped with the reality of my life. How one choice changed everything. How if I chose to stay living the life I had, I would never have seen this. Worst yet, I probably wouldn’t have known that this landscape existed. Even if I had, I never would have appreciated it.
Now, I not only appreciate it, I welcome the struggle to conquer it.
Well, Kevin might disagree with me welcoming the struggle… But like I tell him… I’m going for “most improved!”
We spent sometime walking along the ridge and soaking in the 360 degree views. I couldn’t get over it. Better yet, I couldn’t get over that I was seeing this in CANADA.
Eventually, we began our descent to Carthew Lake crossing snow packs and streams that flowed from them.
After a quick stop for lunch, we continued to hike through the valley taking in new spectacular views of a continually changing landscape. This trail had it all!
Before I knew it, we had headed back into the forest and, eventually, back onto the switchbacks.
I must admit, I did not welcome the struggle at this point… The only thing I welcomed was the idea of having a beer when I was finished, and perhaps, knee surgery.
Eventually, we arrived back to the Townsite at Cameron Falls. While I love the feeling of being on the mountain, I was reminded of how much I love the feeling of completing a 20km day.
For the next couple of days, we enjoyed the town visiting the Prince of Wales hotel and Red Rock Canyon.
For our last night in Waterton, we headed outside of town into the mountains to Crandell Campground. While offering less amenities, this first-come-first-serve campground offered nicely shaded, private sites with virtually no wind!
Did I mention the town of Waterton has to be the windiest place on Earth?
Once the tent was setup, Kevin began to move logs around the tent. Now, I had seen him do this in the Townsite Campground and learned that this was to help divert the wind from blowing under the tent.
Kevin must have caught me analyzing his moves when he asked me if I knew what he was doing.
Score. For once I had been paying attention and was ready with my explanation! When I finished, however, Kevin started to laugh.
“Well, that was true at the other campsite… But this… this is a TTCD!”
Excuse me?! “What the heck is a TTCD?”
“A Tori-Traffic-Control-Device! This is to ensure that you don’t hurt yourself or the tent when walking in its vicinity. It’s here to divert you safely around the tent.”
My jaw dropped. I would never trip on the tent, I always watch where I am going! Well, most times anyway….
Suddenly, I stubbed my toe on the log walking around the tent to get in. Quickly steadying myself, I turned to see Kevin shaking his head.
Next stop, Banff National Park!