Canada’s Waterton Lakes National Park is one of those wonderful surprises you find in life when you least expect it. My wife and I visited the park sandwiched between a trip to perhaps more recognizable destinations Glacier National Park in Montana and Banff National Park in Alberta. To get to Waterton from Glacier, you either have to hike, which isn’t practical for most people, or you have a two hour drive with a border crossing. It is considerably longer to get to Waterton from the Banff/Calgary area, about four hours from the town of Banff. So most people never make it here and that’s too bad for them but it’s great for those who are looking for a less crowded park to experience.
So aside from being less crowded, why visit this hard to reach park? For one, the small townsite of Waterton Village has a great vibe. There is really only one main street, Wind Flower Avenue, in the town and it has a handful of restaurants to support the summer ‘crowds’. It has an an ice cream shop, the Mountain Top Yogurt Shop, that served a Saskatoon Berry Pie that I had not even heard of until visiting the area. Saskatoon berries are kind of a cross between blueberries and huckleberries and are very good! The town is a little bit touristy but not over the top like shall we say…Banff. There is also a nice walking path in town that follows the lakeshore and walking it on a summer evening, which in our case was 10:30 with still plenty of light left, is a good way to walk off that Saskatoon berry pie.
One of the more popular activities to do on the lake is to take a boat ride on the M.V. International from the town of Waterton to Goat Haunt on the American side of the lake. It is a great way to relax and see the sights of the lake. You get to see the USA-Canadian border from the boat and I must admit it seemed a little weird. It was almost like what you see in a Bugs Bunny cartoon where you can see the lines of the states when they’re in a plane getting ready to parachute out. Only here, the trees are removed from what looked to me to be about 30 yards wide worth of border to make a very clear, distinctMaybe there will be a wall there someday. 😉 When you get dropped off at the Goat Haunt ranger station, you’re now in Glacier National Park and the United States of America, making it one of the most unique border crossings either country. To make it even more memorable, I got pranked by the US Border Patrol. More about that in a future story.
If you’re lucky enough during the short summer nights, you may have a chance to see the northern lights. There are several factors at play in order to see them: for one, the night must be clear or clouds, second you really need a good vantage point, and finally, there needs to be solar activity. So while at Waterton, I had two of the three with only the solar part needed. So I did what any trained woodsman would do, I used an aurora borealis app on my phone. The app predicts, with great accuracy I would later find out, the appearance of the lights in the area you’re in. Technology like this is both amazing and a little bit sad but if you’ve got it, you may as well use it. The app was predicting a very active night for the aurora so I went down to the lake and waited for a what turned out to be a couple of hours. I watched as the predicted time for the northern lights to appear and within about five minutes of when it predicted the solar storm would start, I could see a green blob moving towards me from the northeast. At first I thought it was just light pollution from Calgary, to the north, but that seemed unlikely since this blob looked like it was moving. Even still with what was obviously a green blob of aurora borealis heading my way, I still couldn’t quite believe my eyes. I’d never seen anything like it before or since. It was incredible! The color that night wasn’t as bright as you see in some of the great photos but it was still green and danced across the sky at speeds that were mind boggling.
The following day, we decided to take a lake cruise onboard the M.V. International from Waterton Village to Goat Haunt on the American side of the lake in Glacier National Park, Montana. The ride takes about 45 minutes on what has to be one of the prettiest lakes in the Rockies. The boat stops at Goat Haunt for about 1/2 hour but you can hang around longer if you like and hike if you make arrangements with the tour company, and if you have your passport ready for what might be one of the most unique border crossings anywhere. We decided to stay and hike but going through a hike-in border crossing with real gun toting agents was definitely something that I’ve never done before.
So our accommodations on this trip were exclusively in our pop up camper and we enjoyed it immensely but for one night, we treated ourselves to a stay at the Prince of Wales Hotel, an incredibly beautiful hotel with one of the most amazing views a hotel could ever have. The hotel is situated on a hill of the town and lake looking south towards the United States. As we pulled into the parking lot, my wife spotted a black bear (her first) eating Saskatoon berries in the field. It was a great way to be introduced to this fine hotel. We watched and photographed the bear for about an hour before heading inside. While inside, we heard that someone got too close to the bear and it charged him. Anyway, the hotel has a sort of Scottish hunting lodge feel to it even including the hotel staff wearing kilts. It was a unique and enjoyable place to spend our last night at what turned out to be a great Canadian National Park.
I can tell you with a straight face that we enjoyed Waterton Lakes National Park even more than we did Banff National Park, and that is saying a lot.