Introducing Waterton Lakes National Park
Who? What? Where? The name Waterton Lakes National Park is usually prefixed with a vexed question rather than a contented sigh of recognition. While its siblings to the north – Canmore, Banff and Jasper – hemorrhage with tourists and weekend warriors, Waterton is a pocket of tranquility. Sublime. Established in 1895 and now part of a Unesco World Heritage site, Unesco Biosphere Reserve and International Peace Park (with Glacier National Park in the US), 525-sq-km Waterton Lakes lies in Alberta's southwestern corner. Here the prairies meet the mountains and the relief from the flat land is nothing short of uplifting. The park is a sanctuary for numerous iconic animals – grizzlies, elk, deer and cougar – along with 800-odd wildflower species.
The town of Waterton, a charming alpine village with a winter population of about 40, provides a marked contrast to larger, tackier Banff and, to a lesser extent, Jasper. There is a lifetime's worth of outdoor adventure to discover here. Highlights include serene Waterton Lake, the regal 1920s-era Prince of Wales Hotel, and the immediacy of the high-alpine hiking terrain; you can be up above the tree line less than one hour from the townsite.
Sitting right on the US border and next to the immense Glacier National Park, this is a good spot to forge neighborly relations with the people to the south. You can even flash your passport and do a poly-country backcountry adventure. Together the two parks comprise Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. Although the name evokes images of binational harmony, in reality each park is operated separately, and entry to one does not entitle you to entry to the other.
For more information on Glacier National Park, see the excellent US National Park Service website at www.nps.gov/glac.
Need to know
Waterton Lakes National Park destination guides
High Trails of the Canadian Rockies
Spectacular trekking in Waterton, Banff, Yoho and Jasper National Parks including heli-hike
Parks & Mountains of Western Canada
Explore western Canada's best national parks on foot