Welcome to Waterton Lakes National Park
Here flat prairies collide dramatically with the Rockies, with a sparkling lake and a hilltop castle that may make you wonder if you've fallen into a fairy tale. However, Waterton Lakes National Park is rarely known to outside visitors, remaining a pocket of sublime tranquillity. Visitor numbers took a hit after the 2017 Kenow Wildfire which burned over 19,000 hectares of the park, destroying infrastructure and damaging 80% of the trail network.
Established in 1895 and now part of a Unesco World Heritage site, Unesco Biosphere Reserve and International Peace Park (with the USA's Glacier National Park), this 525-sq-km reserve lies in Alberta's southwestern corner. 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 low-key alpine village with a winter population of about 40, provides a marked contrast to larger, flashier Banff. Its 1920s-era Prince of Wales Hotel stands regally above town on the lakefront.
Small and obscure, at least compared to its neighbors to the north and south, Waterton is unrivaled in North America for offering almost instant access to rugged stretches of high alpine terrain well above the tree line. The equal of any of the parks in terms of flora and fauna, Waterton is a sanctuary for numerous iconic animals – including grizzlies, elk and cougar – along with 800-odd wildflower species. The park is slowly recovering from the devastating 2017 Kenow wildfire which destroyed 80% of the trail network.Inaugurated in 1895 and part of a Unesco World Heritage site, Unesco Biosphere Reserve and International Peace Park, 505-sq-km (195-sq-mile) Waterton is geographically almost identical to Glacier, with which it shares a unique frontier border. The eponymous town, compact and quaint with modern TV-sporting hotels, sits prettily on the west side of Upper Waterton Lake, which is essentially the centerpiece of the park, with boat tours and shuttles to distant shoreline trailheads.