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A holiday guide to Waterton Lakes National Park

A holiday guide to Waterton Lakes National Park

Iconic BanffExternal Link Title gets its fair share of press, with people around the world having heard about Canada's bustling mountain town near Fairmont's iconic castle-hotel. But what about serene Waterton Lakes National ParkExternal Link Title?


Waterton is pure magic. A lone, peaked-roof chalet perched atop a bluff, the stately Prince of Wales HotelExternal Link Title overlooks Waterton Lakes ringed with snowy glaciers like a fairytale kingdom. It's a real-life postcard waiting for you to step into the scene. It's also the kind of place that if you visit as a kid, the memory lingers for life. You'll want to pull up a chair and reflect on the grandeur; but you'll also want to uncover everything this national treasure has to offer.


A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Waterton Lakes National Park is unique in that it shares Waterton Glacier International Peace Park with Montana. In southwest Alberta bordering the U.S.'s Glacier National Park, it's small, quiet and uncrowded. Here's a little guide on how to enjoy it while on holiday.

Stay at the Prince of Wales Hotel

Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton Lakes National Park
Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton Lakes National Park Credit: Stevin Tuchiwsky @stevint

You can lodge in the village, but a night or three in the landmark 1927 grand hotelExternal Link Title is something special. Take in jaw-dropping views from the stately dining room's floor-to-ceiling windows with your afternoon tea.

Find flora and fauna

Photographing wildflowers during Waterton Wildflower Festival
Photographing wildflowers during Waterton Wildflower Festival. Credit: Travel Alberta / Celestine Aerden

Because it's one of the narrowest spots in the Canadian Rockies, Waterton's ecology is one of the most biodiverseExternal Link Title: it's home to prairie, evergreen forest, tall glaciers, and deep-cut lakes, all creating a World Biosphere ReserveExternal Link Title habitat for a range of flora and fauna. In fact, you'll find half of Alberta's plant varieties in the park -- many rare. Pick up a Parks Canada handbook, camera, and picnic, then head out on foot to see what you can find. The wildflowers in June, during the Wildflower FestivalExternal Link Title, are particularly spectacular.

Hike into the wilderness

Walking through Waterton Lakes, Alberta
Walking through Waterton Lakes, Alberta. Credit: Travel Alberta / Mike Seehagel

The best way to experience rugged Waterton is from the trail, and the park has 200 kilometres of them. Take a guided hikeExternal Link Title, join the cross-border, 14-kilometre Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park Hike with return by boat, or strike out on your own. Top hiking External Link Titlechoices include the full-day Carthew Anderson TrailExternal Link Title for sweeping summit vistas and the Crypt Lake TrailExternal Link Title, considered one of the top 10 hikes in Canada, with a boat ride, falls, cliff scale, and tunnel crawl. Cross that one off of the bucket list!

Track bison

Bison grazing in the Waterton region of Alberta
Bison grazing in the Waterton region of Alberta. Credit: Travel Alberta

Large, lumbering bison historically populated this area in huge numbers. Watch descendants of the original Great Plains herd grazing in their natural grasslands in spring, summer, or fall at Bison PaddockExternal Link Title, off Highway 6 just inside the park.

Get outside

Biking through Waterton Lakes National Park
Biking through Waterton Lakes National Park. Credit: Travel Alberta / Celestine Aerden

See the park from the outside-in at your pace. Mountain bike or cycleExternal Link Title some of the 200 kilometres of trails or go horseback ridingExternal Link Title, a traditional method of sightseeing. Paddle, take a boat cruiseExternal Link Title, golfExternal Link Title, or tour in an RV. In winter, snow shoe, cross-country ski, or ice climbExternal Link Title. Choose your favourite and go.

See wildlife

Deer in Waterton Lakes National Park
Deer in Waterton Lakes National Park. Credit: Travel Alberta / Katie Goldie

Seeing animalsExternal Link Title? That's a given. The only question is, which ones? Bighorn sheep, bald eagles, moose, marmots, or mountain goats? Join a guided walk or evening educational talk at September's annual Waterton Wildlife WeekendExternal Link Title to learn more about the bugling elk, migratory Sandhill Cranes, and bears bulking up in autumn for the winter. Bird watchingExternal Link Title is rewarding any time of year, and wildlife photography is especially prime in the winter months, when roads are plowed, the frozen scenery sparkles, and elk, sheep, and deer are out foraging for food. Bring your best lens.

Celebrate with the locals

View of Waterton Lakes National Park
View of Waterton Lakes National Park. Credit: Alex Strohl @alexstrohl

With restaurants, hotels, shops, and galleries, quaint lakeside Waterton Village hosts lots of community events. Summer photo contest? Canada Day celebration? You might catch a concert, play, food festival, the colourful Blackfoot Arts and Heritage Festival and pow wowExternal Link Title, or attend one of the popular annual events. Check the calendar External Link Titleto see what's on during your visit.


No matter what you see or do, allow time to really explore WatertonExternal Link Title. Truly, it's one of those captivating places you won't be able to forget any time soon.