Hike across wildflowered hills or drive to Red Rock Canyon and be alert for bears.
Waterton Lakes National Park is the only protected corridor for Rocky Mountain wildlife moving between Canada and the United States. It is the Canadian focal point of the transnational Crown of the Continent geographical region. Waterton is united with Glacier National Park in the U.S. to form Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park--a United Nations World Heritage Site.
Waterton's small size and network of roads to nowhere keep it off the too-beaten track of larger, more famous national parks of North America.
Waterton Lakes National Parks is easily reached in less than a day from anywhere in the Crown. The park is an easy drive from several points along the Crowsnest Pass's main artery, Alberta Provincial Highway 3.
Visitors starting from Montana can access the park via Chief Mountain International Highway 17, which branches from Montana Highway 89 north of St. Mary. This border crossing is open from May 15 to September 30. Other times of year, access is via the Carway/Peigan border crossing south of Cardston, Alberta, where Montana Highway 89 expires and Alberta Provincial Highway 2 begins.
Waterton is where the transition from prairie to mountains is at its most abrupt. It is one of the most likely places to spot bears, black or grizzly, from the safety of a car or a canoe.
The Carthew-Alderson trail from Cameron Lake to Waterton townsite deserves recognition in the International Day Hike Hall of Fame, if such a thing exists. Other excellent trails trace the prairie-mountain interface, lead across the Continental Divide into British Columbia's Flathead Valley, or follow Waterton Lake across the 49th Parallel to Goat Haunt Ranger Station in Glacier.
Waterton Lakes was set aside from settlement and resource exploitation in the era of the grand and rustic wilderness hotel, notably Banff Springs in Banff National Park, and Ahwahnee in Yosemite National Park. Waterton's contribution is the Prince of Wales, which maintains its distinctly Canadian faux-Scottish decor, from the sheen of its dour, old woodwork to the tartan of its bright, young staff. Tea in the lobby.
Afternoon tea in the lobby is a Prince of Wales tradition, but the other-worldly view of Waterton Lake rimmed by imposing crags is equally pleasant with a glass of beer or wine.
Mid-May to the end of September offers the best weather and driving conditions. June is the best month to avoid crowds and to enjoy the unique mix of prairie and mountain wildflowers whose native habitats merge in Waterton. But some prefer the isolation and beauty of winter, where visitors can enjoy an intimate cross-country ski weekend based out of the Kilmorey Lodge.
From Calgary follow Provincial Highway 2 south to Fort Macleod, then west on Provincial Highway 3 to Pincher Creek, then south again on Provincial Highway 6. A more scenic and enjoyable route from Calgary is south on Provincial Highway 22, the Cowboy Trail, then west on Provincial Highway 3 to Pincher Creek, and finally south on Provincial Highway 6 to the park.
From Lethbridge, drive south to Cardston on Provincial Highway 2, then west to the park on Provincial Highway 5.
From British Columbia, travel east on Highway 3 to Pincher Creek and then south on Highway 6.
From Glacier National Park, Montana, take the Chief Mountain International Highway in summer or go north through Cardston on Montana Highway 89 to Alberta Highway 2 then west on Highway 5 any time of year.