Wild about Waterton

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 More than 30 seminars are held throughout the Waterton Wildlife Weekend, where you'll learn about the flora and fauna of the national park.
Photo courtesy, Waterton National Park

Fall’s the best time to see the park in all its glory

JOANNE ELVES

WATERTON, AB. - Way back in 1895 a colourful character named Kootenai Brown and local ranchers urged the government to name Waterton a Forest Park. By 1910 the adjacent land in Montana was designated Glacier National Park. In 1932 the two became the first International Peace Park. Since then both parks have been designated Biosphere Reserves by UNESCO as part of the Crown of the Continent.

I have been going to Waterton National Park all my life and all those labels didn’t mean a thing to me. My days were spent riding the neighbour’s horses along the beach, splashing through all the creeks or finding the park interpreters to learn about the animals. It was laidback, remote and beautiful. And you know what – nothing has changed.

The village is still small. Main street takes 20 minutes to stroll because you stopped for 15 minutes to watch a herd of deer go by.

It’s probably all those designations by world-class organizations that keeps the village quaint. The lack of commercialization of Waterton is refreshing. No chain coffee shops, no fast food, no big-box food, clothing or electronics. All you find are independent restaurants, small shops to buy sweaters, trinkets and mugs and well, that’s about it. And if you go in the off-season, expect to find most of those shops shut down for winter. Only places like the Crandell Mountain Lodge, one of the Charming Inns of Alberta, stay open year round welcoming guests who like to step back from the high-speed pavement of life.

Summer time sees the most visitors but by fall – the park is in its glory.

Foliage at its finest in the fall

With the prairies meeting the mountains over nine hundred different species of plants grow in Waterton National Park. With the onset of fall, that means there will be a plethora of greens and yellows to admire. The fall is also the best time to see wildlife. More than 60 species of mammals, 250 species of birds, 10 species of reptiles and amphibians make the park their home and if you want to poke your head in the glacial cool water there are 24 species of fish.

Waterton Wildlife Weekend Sept. 27-29

During the weekend you can participate in approximately 30 different hikes, talks or workshops to learn about the wildlife in the park. Take a hike to learn about the bears in Waterton with the best guide of all time, Charlie Russell. Or bring your camera to learn to take stunning wildlife photos. Maybe you aspire to carve ducks from wood; that course is offered too. I love this hike; “Poop, Paw and Pathways.” Book early or miss out.

Cameron Falls

Cameron Falls are located right in the town of Waterton and are spectacular any season of the year. A short trail will take you to the upper falls but most people stop in the fresh mist at the bottom for the classic “I was here” photo. Take a look around though – you won’t be the oldest thing in the photo. Due to the slow crunch and crash of mountain building, the uplifted sedimentary rocks at the waterfall are Pre-Cambrian and 1.5 billion years old - yes older than grandma.

If it’s a hot day or you want something away from town, take the drive to the source of Cameron Falls. Cameron Lake is a great place to paddle and hike. As a matter of fact, if you paddle or hike the shoreline trail to the south end of the lake and hike up to the saddle between Mt. Cleveland and Mt. Chapman you are at a triple border of Alberta, B.C. and Montana.

“Yoo-hoo. . .oh Prince of Wales”

Could you imagine having a hotel named after you just to entice you to stay there? That’s exactly how the Prince of Wales Hotel got its name. Completed in 1927 after two excessively strong Chinook winds ripped it from its foundations during construction the hotel was named after the Price of Wales to attempt to lure him during his Canadian tour. The plan didn’t work but the name fits the rustic green roofed lodge overlooking both lakes. Stop in for lunch and you will see what the prince and future king missed.

Hike to see scenery at its ultimate

The hiking trails have attracted many people and still do. From many of the 255 kilometres of trails the view of the mountains rising from the plains is awe-inspiring. Other trails offer splendid backcountry hikes with campsites.

My all-time favourite hike is to Crypt Lake. It’s an excursion involving crossing the lake using passage on the Shoreline Tour boat then hiking narrow valleys, crawling through a cave, climbing steep rock faces, searching for the source of a 200 metre-high waterfall and crossing unguarded international borders along the shore of a crystal clear lake and back again. All before the boat comes back! It’s a six-hour hike with a 675-metre elevation gain and not for those afraid of heights. If you decide to do this hike it’s best to call for reservations for the boat ride and to stay overnight in Waterton to catch that first sailing.

Other favourite hikes include walking up to Bears Hump for an aerial view of the town. It’s a bit of a slog with a 240-metre gain in just a kilometre but worth the 18 switchback. (Who’s counting?) Or a really easy kilometre loop is up at Red Rock Canyon where the rock splashed by the creek is – you guessed it – red.

Take a cruise to the U.S.

The easiest way to see Waterton National Park is to sit back and relax on the M.V. International. This boat was built on Waterton Lake in 1927 and has been taking guests to Goat Haunt ever since. Step on for the two-hour hosted cruise which includes a 30-minute stop at Goat Haunt. If you decide to stay longer to hike around, you will need to carry your passport to clear customs. (You can catch the afternoon trip back)

Story links

To sign up for the Waterton Wildlife Weekend go to www.watertonwildlife.com

Crandell Mountain Lodge from its webpage www.crandellmountainlodge.com

Crandell Mountain Lodge is a member of the Charming Inns of Alberta. A collection of 12 independent boutique hotels offering unique experiences beyond the bed and breakfast and more personable than a hotel.

Visit our stories page to read about other Charming Inns of Alberta

Crandell Mountain Lodge in Waterton is one of the Charming Inns of Alberta.
Photo courtesy of Charming Inns of Alberta