Waterton Lakes National Park is in southern Alberta, Canada, bordering Montana’s Glacier National Park. It’s known for its chain of lakes, including the large Upper and Middle Waterton lakes, flanked by the Rocky Mountains. Waterton was Canada’s fourth national park, formed in 1895 and named after Waterton Lake.
I have always wanted to visit Waterton Lakes, mainly to see the stunning Prince of Wales hotel but also because it’s a mere 4 hours drive from Banff.
During the Summer of 2017, the same time as the Verdant Creek fire raged in BC, close to Banff, the Kenow forest fire developed from a lightning strike in Southern BC about 10km from the Park boundary. In all, 19,303 hectares of the park burned and it’s a miracle the town survived.The town of Waterton is very small and unlike Banff, is not overly busy in the Winter, it basically shuts down apart from one resort and restaurant that caters for snowshoe and cross-country skiing enthusiasts. The Summer season starts properly in June so it was very quiet when we arrived.
The drive is pretty cruisy, its mostly long straight roads through the Southern Albertan prairies. After leaving the Park we headed towards Calgary on the Trans Canada and turned South at the Cochrane turnoff and onto the Cowboy Trail. We passed through the towns of Redwood Meadows and Bragg Creek which were heavily wooded areas, the road lined with grand entrances to the various ranches we passed along the way, real Cowboy country!After heading East for a few kilometres, we turned South again at Priddis past green fields full of cows and patches of snow still melting after the long Winter.At Turner Valley we took a wrong turn (I should say, didn’t take the turn-off) and ended up on a wooded area on the edge of town. As we went to turn around I looked to the side and saw a large brown figure in the woods. On closer inspection I saw it was a Moose! We stopped the car and jumped out to try and get a better look. There was a wire fence between the road and the large Male Moose, but we kept our distance all the same. What a treat! Moose are few and far between and I’ve only seen 3 since I arrived in Canada nearly 2 years ago.Most of the towns were small, flat farming towns that were littered with farming machinery businesses with ranches and farms on the outskirts. Black Diamond is very pretty with all its storefronts decked out in Western Style. Heading away from some of the towns we passed through were large housing estates full of beautiful new houses on large plots of land. Although I personally prefer living in the mountains, I can understand why you would want to buy land out here. The prairies are stunning, and the land is vast and the views over to the Rockies stretching North and South as far as the eye can see is quite an amazing sight as well. I’d certainly appreciate that view from my kitchen window!From Black Diamond to Pincher Creek, the last major town before Waterton Lakes, the highway is a long, mainly straight, 152 kilometre stretch heading South. The land down here is barren flatlands and rolling hills, the colour changes to a light, sun scorched shade of brown that rolls away into the distance meeting the grey and white peaks of the Rockies to the West.
At Pincher creek we stopped for gas, food and took photos of a very funny message we saw out side a church. “Blah, blah, blah, Just come to Church”We continued down Alberta highway 6 another 44 kms to Waterton National Park Gate. Past the Bison Loop (just outside the park, which was unfortunately closed) the road passed through the marchlands and swamps beside Maskinonge Lake and then Lower Waterton Lake, The Golf Course (closed), Red Rock Canyon (closed) and finally to the magnificent Upper Waterton Lake. We passed the historic Prince of Wales hotel on the left and headed down into the townsite.There was a lot of roadworks in town, so we had to circle around our hotel before finding a way into the car park. I went to the reception of Waterton Lakes Lodge Resort only to find the front desk closed, luckily a staff member pointed out my keys in an envelope stuck to the wall outside reception. We found our Lodge named Red Rock House just out the back of the main reception and we were pleasantly surprised we had been upgraded to a suite with a full kitchen.We unpacked and settled in with a beer or 2 and searched the internet for a place to eat. We had arrived just after 8pm so after showering we headed into town to find somewhere to have dinner. Unfortunately, even after checking online and seeing places were open, the whole town was dark apart from one restaurant that we managed to get into 30 minutes before they closed. The Lakeside Chophouse is one of Waterton’s premier dining establishments and a bit pricier than we were looking for, but it was a wonderful experience. Fergus and I ordered the Southern Fried Chicken Sandwich and Kurt and Zeke got the Prime Rib Mountain Burger. The Chicken Burger was HUGE! 3 big pieces of mouth-watering fried Chicken smothered in cheese, honey cayenne mayo and rocket, YUM! It was probably the best (definitely the biggest) Chicken burger I have ever eaten. On full tummies we wandered back to the resort and settled in for the night.
The manager of the resort was on the reception desk when I wandered over in the morning, he was a charming man with lots of stories to tell from his time in the Navy and working at other bars and hotels. He told me a bit about the fires and the National Park and gave me a few ideas of what was open in the area.I went to the only shop open in town that happened to also be a gas station and bought eggs, bread and milk for breakfast. Cooked the boys eggs on toast and made a pot of coffee everyone hated, luckily a trusty Starbucks was open in town, why am I not surprised?
We headed up to the Prince of Wales hotel for a look in the morning. The Prince of Wales is a historic railroad hotel located on a bluff overlooking Upper Waterton Lake, it was constructed between 1926 and 1927 in a Swiss-chalet style by the Great Northern Railway of the U.S. This stately hotel offers 86 guest rooms and a traditional British atmosphere complete with Afternoon Tea, the Royal Stewart Dining Room, Windsor Lounge, and the Princess Gift Shop.The hotel had not yet opened for the season, so we were unable to go inside but the outside was spectacular. Swiss chalet motifs, including steeply pitched gabled roofs, intersecting gables, two-storey dormers, tiers of continuous balconies supported on large brackets, a lantern cupola, and the use of contrasting finish colours of green, red and yellow make it really stand out against the surrounding mountains.The wind up on the ridge was unbelievable, why the 4 Big Horned Sheep we saw sitting up there thought it was a lovely place to have a sit down I don’t know, but the views were amazing. From the hotel you can see all the way down Upper Waterton Lake, over the township and back in the other direction toward Linnet lake and the prairies. The location couldn’t be better for a hotel.We then decided to go up to Red Rock Canyon. The guy at the hotel had told us the access road was open but when we arrived there was a barrier across the road. It was about 14km to the actual canyon, so we decided to walk a little way up the road to see what we could find. We entered the trail that ran parallel to the road and the river and after climbing a small hill we came out onto a grassy area where we could see quite clearly over to the opposite side of the river to the golf course. Fergus was the first one to spot what liked like a Black Bear walking along a snowbank on the course and we all quickly rallied around to spot it as it walked along the snow. It looked quite large, so we were happy it was on the other side of the river which had steep cliffs on either side. After that Bear disappeared behind some trees we carried on up the pat a bit before spotting another 2 bears, one tan and the other a very deep brown, foraging on a grassy mound. These 2 were closer (still on the opposite side) and looked like big cubs. Seeing 3 bears in the space of 10 minutes was a bit much for us so we turned around and headed back to the car, we certainly didn’t want to meet any on our side of the river!We carried on back out of the park to the Bison Loop to see if we could see any Bison from the start of the road. The view was cool but there was not a single Bison in sight! Boo! We went to the Bison Paddock twice to see if we could spot any but I later read all the Bison had been relocated before the fire. We decided to get mover provisions (booze) so headed back to Pincher Creek, a 30 minutes drive away. Bought some Palm bay and beer and Fergus bought a jar of Moonshine (When in Rome I suppose…) and we headed back to Waterton.Went for a few drinks at Vimy’s, the bar and restaurant in the resort. We sat at the bar and had a few pints while watching sport and chatting to the friendly new barmaid from Ontario. Exchanged travel stories and enjoyed the sun on our backs through the sunroof.
In the late afternoon we went for a walk to Cameron falls which is right in town. The crystal-clear cascading mountain water rushes steadily over 1.5 billion year-old Cambrian rock, throwing off a mist that dusts your skin as you pass by. We walked up the easy paved pathway to the right of the falls to get a better view and take a few photos.That night we decided to eat at Vimy’s so after an early evening nap we headed over at around 9:30pm. We were met with the waitress (not the one from earlier) telling us the kitchen closes in 20 minutes! Charming. So we just ordered poutine and a pint each. The poutine wasn’t great and had too much gravy and not enough chips or curds. When we got the bill, we had been changed for jugs and not pints, so we had to get her to redo it. Not the best service from a restaurant that is the only one open all year round!
After a breakfast of bacon and eggs we headed down to the lakeside for a wander. I had originally wanted to camp at the town campground right beside the lake but was a week or so too early. I’m glad that was the case as it was so windy down there, there were still big snowbanks scattered around, some as tall as me and it was pretty cold. But I bet its a fantastic place to stay in Summer when the weather is warm and the lakes calm.
Walked along to some Red Chairs and got a photo before meandering with our thoughts back to the car.The drive home was long and uneventful. It also seemed shorter as we knew where we were going.
The only stop we made was at the Longview Jerky Shop. We had bought Jerky from a garage in town on the way to Waterton and then passed the Jerky Shop a bit further up the road so said we would stop there on our way home. I haven’t been to many Jerky shops, I haven’t really had a lot of jerky but what I have had I’ve loved. This place had all kinds of flavours and different kinds of meats. From Chicken, Elk, Turkey, Pork and Bison jerky to flavoured Beef jerky such as mandarin/ginger, honey/garlic, teriyaki, maple beef and dill pickle. They had everything and for $6 a packed it wasn’t too bad. I picked up some Chicken and Teriyaki Beef to chew on on the way home.Overall Waterton is a lovely place to visit but as I said above, I do regret not visiting in the previous Summer before the fires. But who’s to know what nature is going to bring?