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. Sadly, Waterton Lakes National Park is rarely known to outside visitors and is slowly recovering from a devastating wildfire in 2017 which damaged large swaths of the park (many hikes were accessible by hiking or cycling to the trailheads in the summer of 2019). While Banff and Jasper, its siblings to the north, hemorrhage with tourists and weekend warriors, Waterton is a pocket of sublime tranquility.
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.
There is a lifetime's worth of outdoor adventure to discover here, including cruises on serene Waterton Lake. The immediacy of the high-alpine hiking terrain means you can be up above the tree line in less than one hour from leaving the park's main town (also called Waterton).