Things to do in Waterton in 2019

Two years and two wildfires later and Waterton, the smallest of the Canadian Rocky Mountain National Parks is still so beautiful it makes your heart ache. This tiny park in the southwest corner of Alberta has been through the ringer in the past two years, but the park and the people have survived and are gearing up to welcome visitors this summer. Yes, there are some trail and road closures, but there are still plenty of things to do in Waterton this season. Here’s a little update on what to expect when you visit Waterton.

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Related: Looking for more beautiful destinations in the Canadian Rockies? Check out our post about Grassi Lakes.

An image of two young men standing at the top of the Bear's Hump hike in Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada.
You just can’t beat the view from the top of the Bear’s Hump hike in Waterton Lakes National Park. Photo by Greg Olsen.

Bear’s Hump will be Back!

For many visitors, hiking Bear’s Hump is at the top of the list of things to do in Waterton.  If all goes according to plan the beloved trail will reopen this season sometime between June and September. Construction crews are currently rebuilding the Bear’s Hump trail after it was destroyed by the Kenow Wildfire in 2017. It’s a short, steep hike to the top, but the view is one of the best in the Canadian Rockies.

An image of yellow wildflowers with mountains behind them in Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada.
June is peak wildflower season in Waterton Lakes National Park. Photo by Debbie Olsen.

Waterton Wildflower Festival

Waterton is the self-proclaimed wildflower capital of Canada with good reason. The park is home to more than 1,000 vascular plant species including half of all wildflower species found in Alberta. Of those, 175 species are listed as rare in Alberta and 20 are only found in Waterton. June is wildflower prime time in the park and if you’re looking for truly unique and interesting things to do in Waterton, check out the classes and programs offered at the Waterton Wildlife Festival June 13-18.

An image of a boy swimming in the icy cold waters of Red Rock Canyon in Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada.
Red Rock Canyon should be open later this summer. It’s a wonderful spot to cool off on a hot day. Photo by Greg Olsen.

The Road to Red Rock Canyon

Exploring Red Rock Canyon has always been one of the iconic things to do in Waterton, but last year the canyon was completely closed to visitors. Construction crews are currently working on road improvements and the plan is to open the road completely later this summer. At the moment, it is open as far as Copper Mine Creek for hikers and cyclists. This provides a unique opportunity to cycle the road with no motor vehicles on it. You can rent a bicycle from Pat’s Waterton in the townsite. It will take a couple of hours return to do this cycle trip.  

An image of a woman standing in front of Cameron Falls in Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta Canada - Things to do in Waterton.
It’s fun to feel the mist on your face at Cameron Falls in the townsite. Photo by Kelsey Olsen.

Akamina Parkway

The Akamina Parkway is closed to all motor vehicle traffic this season as construction crews work on repairs and improvements following the wildfires. Bicycles can still access the road and an e-bike rental makes the steep ascent much easier.

An image of a mother deer with twin babies in Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada.
Wildlife watching is still one of the best things to do in Waterton. Photo by Debbie Olsen.

Cameron Lake

Visiting Cameron Lake is a traditional highlight of a trip to Waterton. With the Akamina Parkway closed, it’s almost impossible to visit the lake in 2019. Almost. If Cameron Lake is on your must-do list of things to do in Waterton, you can still get there on foot or by renting an e-bike. Construction crews are working to restore the Carthew-Alderson trail and it is expected to re-open sometime this summer. The hike will be 15-km one-way and a campsite is expected to be available at the midway point. You’ll pass through a lot of burned terrain, but it will be a chance to see the area before most other visitors do.

An image of an adult and two young boys standing on the shores of Upper Waterton Lake in Waterton National Park in Alberta, Canada.
A short ride across Upper Waterton Lake (pictured here) gets you to the Crypt Lake Trailhead. Photo by Debbie Olsen.

Crypt Lake Hike

The iconic Waterton Crypt Lake hike was untouched by either of the recent fires. This trail was ranked one of the “World’s 20 Most Thrilling Trails” (National Geographic, 2014 and 2017). It involves a 15-minute boat ride to the trailhead and an intense 9-km one-way hike. You’ll pass 4 waterfalls, climb a steel ladder, pass through an 18-metre tunnel and maneuver around a cliff while hanging onto a steel cable. The reward – a fantastic view of beautiful Crypt Lake. Note: You should bring bear spray when you’re hiking in Waterton. Hiking poles are also valuable on steep hikes like Crypt Lake. The ones below are similar to the ones I use. They are inexpensive, lightweight and durable.

An image of the  historic M.V. International, which plies Upper Waterton Lake - things to do in Waterton.
Taking a cruise across Upper Waterton Lake is one of the most iconic things to do in Waterton. Photo by Debbie Olsen.

Waterton Cruise

Taking a cruise with Waterton Shoreline Cruise Co. across Upper Waterton Lake to the international border at Goat Haunt, Montana is one of the most unique things to do in Waterton. The cruise gives wonderful views of the lake, but the boat is not stopping at Goat Haunt this season due to under-staffing at the border crossing. If you want to hike the trails inside Glacier National Park, you will have to hike to Goat Haunt, tent overnight and hike the trails the next day. Be sure to register online when you are crossing the US boarder.   

An image of a Steller's Jay in Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada.
Be sure to keep an eye out for birds. We saw this Steller’s Jay on a recent visit to Waterton. Photo by Greg Olsen.

Stargazing

Waterton Lakes National Park and its sister park, Glacier National Park in the United States are now recognized by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) as a provisional International Dark Sky Park. Parks Canada has created a list of the top stargazing sites in the park. Dark Sky Guides offers guided stargazing tours – one of the newest things to do in Waterton.  

An image of two women horseback riding in Waterton Lakes National Park - Things to do in Waterton.
Horseback riding is a fun way to explore Waterton.

Horseback Riding

In September 2017, the Kenow wildfire destroyed the barns and facilities at Alpine Stables, a family-run business that has been part of Waterton for 50 years. Fortunately none of the horses or people were injured. The Watson family is rebuilding in 2019, but they are still offering daily guided interpretive trail rides – one of the truly adventurous things to do in Waterton. Visit their website to book your riding adventure.    

An image of the caprese salad at Red Rock Trattoria in Waterton Lakes National Park - things to do in Waterton.
The caprese salad at Red Rock Trattoria is delicious. Everything we tasted was wonderful. Photo by Debbie Olsen.

Where to Eat in Waterton

In 2018, a new Italian restaurant opened in the Waterton Glacier Suites hotel. Red Rock Trattoria is in a small space, but the food was fantastic when we visited. It’s currently ranked the number one restaurant on TripAdvisor. To satisfy your gourmet hot dog craving, visit Weiners of Waterton – it’s not your average hot dog place. For a great steak with a wonderful view, try the Lakeside Chophouse. And for a taste of British culture, you can’t beat the experience of high tea in the grand lobby of the Prince of Wales Hotel.

Mule deer still wander through the townsite. You can see the burnt hills in the background. Photo by Debbie Olsen.
An image of bighorn sheep walking through the Townsite Campground in Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada.
Bighorn sheep walk through the Waterton Townsite campground regularly. Photo by Debbie Olsen.

Where to Stay in Waterton

Some of the campgrounds inside the park were damaged by the wildfires, but the Townsite Campground is open this season. It has lake views, flush toilets, showers, unserviced and serviced sites and free Wi-Fi. There are also several great hotels. The Prince of Wales Hotel is the Grand Dame hotel, perched on a hill with the best view in the park. In the townsite, Waterton Glacier Suites is a personal favourite, because it has fireplaces, mini-fridges, microwaves and rooms that can accommodate families.

An image of a dad and his two daughters riding a surry bike in downtown Waterton
Riding a surry bike is a fun way to explore the Waterton townsite. Photo by Debbie Olsen.

More Info

For more information on what’s open this season, visit the Parks Canada website.

4 thoughts on “Things to do in Waterton in 2019

  1. Lori Wood Reply

    Loved this article! Maybe it’s because I have always loved Waterton and consider it my home provincial park, even though I live so many miles away in Southern California. Loved the wonderful photos, specifically Debbie in front of Cameron Falls and the Steller’s Jay taken by Greg Olsen. Lots of information and really makes me want to travel back as soon as possible!! Thanks for the reminder of what I’m missing!!

    1. wanderwoman Reply

      Thanks so much, Lori! I’ve always had a special love for Waterton too. The wildfires just about broke my heart, but it’s still a great place to visit and there’s a lot to do. I keep reminding myself that fire will ultimately lead to rejuvenation. I’ll pass your compliments on to Greg and Kelsey who took those photos.

  2. Haley Reply

    Going in middle August so hoping bear hump is open, would love to take my boyfriend whose never been to Waterton. Staying in the townsite campground and super excited to be back after 2 years. Will be missing Cameron Lake for sure.

    1. wanderwoman Reply

      Hi Haley. Have a fun time in Waterton! There’s definitely a chance Bear’s Hump will be open by then. I spoke to someone at the Parks Canada Visitor Centre in June and she thought it would be, so fingers crossed the reconstruction goes well! Red Rock Canyon is now open. The Crypt Lake hike was not affected at all by the fire, so it would be a good one to do. It’s a difficult trail but it is pretty amazing. Here’s a link from Parks Canada that shows which trails are open: https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/ab/waterton/activ/experiences/randonee-hiking. I hope you have a great time and thanks so much for the comment.

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