Waterton Lakes National Park is probably the nicest, most relaxing full-featured park in the Canadian Rockies, but it might as well be invisible!
Part of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, formed in 1932 and designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, Waterton Lakes National Park is located in southern Alberta, Canada, along the border with Montana, USA. There are no roaring freeways leading to Waterton Lakes, nor is there train service to this remote area. You must drive or bike along simple country roads to gain access. You won’t regret it.
Chris and I visit Waterton Lakes National Park almost every year. Heck, even when we lived in Jasper National Park, we took our vacations in Waterton! This year (2012) we went in late May, and experienced Mother Nature to the fullest: howling winds, frequent rain, and a snowstorm, but also sunny periods, plenty of wildlife, and gazillions of wildflowers. They say that half of the flowers in Alberta grow here (the other half are dandelions, and they grow in my front and back yards).
We were traveling with our relatives from the Isle of Skye, Scotland, who seemed not to notice anything unusual about the weather. I spent most of my time in our “penthouse” suite at the Bear Mountain Motel, enjoying the ever-changing view from our gigantic picture windows!
Usually, we take our small motorhome to Waterton Lakes National Park in August and make use of the spacious RV park there. At that time of year the weather is quite warm but not really hot, and there is usually a light breeze. It is a great time of year to walk around the townsite and along the lakeshore, go for a mountain hike, or bicycle off in search of adventure!
Deer are abundant at Waterton and will quietly graze alongside your RV in the campsite, without posing a danger to children. In fact, this campground seems made for kids! Younger children ride their bicycles (or trikes) almost constantly, while slightly older brothers and sisters explore the lakeshore and creeks. There are also child-friendly talks presented by Parks Canada staff, although adults are also allowed to attend.
The best view of Waterton Lakes is from the top of Bear’s Hump mountain. This is listed as a short, family hike. Some hope! The trail is like a steep staircase that seems to go on forever, and you cannot take a stroller (we have seen people trying). The viewpoint is unspoiled, that is, there are no railings, fences or walls to keep you from falling off the cliffs. Maybe you should leave smaller children back at your campsite or motel while you go on this hike.
It’s a short drive from the Waterton townsite to Cameron Lake, where you can go boating or hiking. Not in May, of course, because the lake was still frozen and the snowdrifts were still over eight feet high! In August it is beautiful and peaceful, and the level trail along the lake is suitable for all family members that are old enough to walk. Look closely and you might see a wild mink (or was it a martin?).
Red Rock Canyon is another nearby attraction within the park, and is unique within the Canadian Rockies due to the amazing colors. Children of all ages scamper along the edges of the shallow creek.
The Bison Paddock is located just outside the park entrance. You will be able to see a small bison herd in natural habitat, providing they aren’t hiding somewhere (don’t ask me where – I just know that we don’t always find them).
Every great national park has its own signature landmark, and for Waterton Lakes National Park that honor goes to the Prince of Wales Hotel. Some people hate it, others love it, but regardless it is one of the most-photographed hotels in North America! I like it, but I freely admit that it looks like a cartoon version of a European half-timbered hotel.
If you and your family need a little (or a lot) of peace and quiet (and yummy ice cream), make Waterton Lakes National Park your next holiday destination!
P.S. You should also bring along some homemade chocolate-chip cookies in case you are camped next to a senior couple with a small motorhome…