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A Weekend in Waterton Lakes National Park

By Raj Patel

Last Updated: 25 Aug 2021

National Parks are a great way to spend a weekend and living in Canada makes it that much more inviting. Having lived in Alberta for over a decade, it has been one of the easiest breaks to plan...actually not much planning is needed. Access to these gorgeous pockets of nature is rather effortless. It is one of those impromptu trips that I do once in a while with friends and family. One of our favorite parks is the Waterton Lakes National Park. Located in the south of Alberta, it is one of the most beautiful spots in all of Alberta. This park sees visitors all year round but summer is undoubtedly the best time to visit. It is one of the places I take all my guests to and am showered with tons of appreciation for treating them to this unique experience.

The weekend was approaching and my wife and I decided to take a break from the city and our hectic schedules to spend some quality time together in the lap of nature. Our obvious choice was Waterton Lakes National Park which is about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from where we live. A 250-kilometer drive through the countryside landed us in this stunning park. The majestic mountain peaks at the entrance of the park set the stage for a fabulous weekend getaway.

A couple enjoys Waterton Lakes National Park, where the Alberta grasslands meet the Rocky Mountains.

Spending some quality time with my wife at Waterton Lakes National Park

Waterton Lakes National Park is special for many reasons. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Alberta and one of the most beautiful and unique national parks in the world. Nestled among the stunning mountain peaks in southwestern Alberta, Waterton is a hidden gem. Another interesting thing about this park is that it makes up half of the Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park, which was the first of its kind when it was established in 1932. The park's distinct ecosystem was designated a Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations and holds the title of an International Peace Park because it is home to the largest unguarded border in the world! The history of Waterton Canada goes back 10,000 years when alpine glaciers melted and carved out valleys creating pathways for human residents. Waterton was home to many nomadic tribes, proof of which was found after the Kenow Waterton fire of 2017. The indigenous artifacts tell fascinating stories of its earliest inhabitants.

Waterton Lakes National Park is one of the Unesco World Heritage Sites.

The incredible beauty of this UNESCO World Heritage Site is indescribable!

All national parks in Canada have an entry fee of $20 (Canadian Dollars). Of note here is that the entry fee is per vehicle, per day, irrespective of the number of people in it. Another interesting option is the Discovery/Season Pass. This pass gives visitors unlimited admission for a full year to over 80 national parks that exist in Canada. At a nominal fee of $150 a year, it is a great way to visit national parks all year round. Once we gained entry into the park we wandered around for a while absorbing the stunning vistas and then headed to our accommodation for the weekend, the iconic Prince of Wales Hotel. The hotel perched on the bluff above Waterton offers unparalleled views of Upper Waterton Lake and the surrounding mountains. The hotel was built by the Great Northern Railway in 1927 as an extension of the Glacier Park Lodges. Today, it still stands, true to its roots. From the architecture and craftsmanship of the building to its furniture and decor, the hotel exudes rich history and classic inspiration. The soaring roofs, gables and balconies create a traditional British ambience. Every room in the hotel falls under "a room with a view" category. Every aspect of your experience in this exquisite hotel is unique and memorable. The hotel is seasonal, functioning between May and September only.

The stately Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton

The stately Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton; one of the most photographed hotels in the world

There are many activities that one can indulge in Waterton Lakes National Park depending on your interests. Hiking, horse riding, camping, fishing, paddleboarding, wildlife sighting and much more is on offer for those who are seeking adventure and adrenaline rush. There are boats that take you around for water activities. A ride on the boat around the lake offers the most striking vistas and makes for a refreshing activity. The adventurous can hop off these boats to explore the waters.

Boats dock on Waterton Lake for a ride around the lake.

Hop on one of these boats and take a ride around the beautiful lake

For those looking to just relax and unwind, sitting at one of the five sets of Parks Canada red chairs placed throughout scenic spots in the park and stargazing works just fine. The chairs make for perfect selfie spots and photo ops. A stroll on the streets of the town enjoying the local charm and finishing the day with a scrumptious meal is perfect.

The famous "red chairs" in Waterton Park

The famous "red chairs" in Waterton Park offer a place to slow down, relax and enjoy the stunning views the park has to offer

A hike to Bear's Hump is something most visitors indulge in. It is one of the popular trails and offers a spectacular view of the Waterton Valley. This short, steep hike is about 2.8 kilometers and takes about 1 hour to scale. It starts from the Prince of Wales turn off all the way up a rocky trail to an outcropping on Crandell Mountain. The Blackfoot Indigenous peoples named it Bear Mountain owing to its appearance that's similar to the outline of a grizzly bear from a distance. There are benches placed along the trail for those who need a break. The final set of steps takes you up to the flat top of the "hump". The view from this vantage point of the mountain peaks down the valley and views of the prairies to the north is spellbinding. This landscape is what makes Waterton so unique.

View of Waterton Valley and the lake from Bear's Hump walk.

The scenic views from the "hump" makes a hike to Bear's Hump worth every minute

Red Rock Canyon is one of the most unique and breathtaking treasures of Waterton Park. The 16-kilometer drive is bordered by splendid roadside flowers. The trail offers the most spectacular views featuring red and green bedrock called argillite, alpine vegetation, and soaring peaks. We were gobsmacked by the beauty of the place but also curious about why the rocks are red, Red Color. Sharing some wisdom gained because of our curiosity...The red is due to the presence of iron oxide or hematite on the outcrops of the Aztec Sandstone. Exposure to the forces of nature cause iron minerals to oxidize or "rust," resulting in red, orange, and brown-colored rocks. Incredible, right? Red Rock Canyon is a stunning place that has a clear river flowing through carved red rock and makes for a perfect spot to enjoy a picnic with family.

Waterton Park's Red Rock Canyon

Unique and intriguing geological striations at Red Rock Canyon

One of the most remarkable visuals in Waterton Lakes National Park is that of Cameron Falls. Located in the corner of the townsite, this waterfall is a MUST SEE landmark when visiting the park. The fresh mountain water cascading down ancient rock into the deep basin below is a striking sight. The layers of billion-year-old Precambrian rock reveals Waterton's geological uniqueness. What's more, this crystal clear water turns to the pink of cotton candy after a heavy rainfall. How does that happen, you think? Well, the waters upriver from the falls get stirred up with a red mudstone called argillite and as this water flows towards the falls, it turns to a bright pink. It is not easy to witness this exotic pink cascade, but if the timing is right you could be lucky to witness this unique experience.

Cameron Falls is one of Waterton's most well-known and photographed attractions.

One of Waterton's most famous and most photographed spots, the Cameron Falls

Refreshed with the cool mist of the Cameron falls on our faces, we checked out of our royal accommodation at the Prince of Wales Hotel and hopped into our car to drive back home. It was a truly refreshing and satisfying weekend at the Waterton Lakes National Park. Every once in a while, a getaway with your loved one is needed and me and my wife decided that this is something we will continue to do. I highly recommend it and where better than in the lap of nature.

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Things To Consider

July and August are the most popular times to visit. The fall, winter and spring seasons offer unique natural charms minus the regular crowds. These shoulder seasons are the perfect time to unwind in a mountain setting.
With a history going back more than 10,000 years; there is rich history at Waterton Lakes National Park. Besides being the first International Peace Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, nomadic tribes have left behind a fascinating historic legacy.
There is nothing specific in terms of local cuisine. There are many options from fine dining to pathway cafes to satiate the foodie in you. A high tea at the Prince of Wales is an experience one might want to indulge in to get a taste of royalty.
Waterton National Park is a very safe place to visit. A word of caution though is to be aware of the presence of wildlife. Besides, it is good to exercise caution while traveling to avoid any untoward incidents.
While Waterton National Park is a well-known destination, there are many hikes and trails that one can indulge in that are offbeat. Water sports are also fun and thrilling for the adventurous.
National parks in general entail a lot of walking, so make sure you have a comfortable pair of shoes. Besides that, comfortable clothes, sunscreen and sunglasses should be adequate.

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