In August 2016 we hitched up our trailer and made the journey down to Southern Alberta to spend some time camping and enjoying beautiful Waterton National Park. We had attempted this trip years earlier and were disappointed when we were unable to find a camping spot due to it being a busy long weekend. We learned our lesson, and this time we arrived right after the long weekend, and camped during the weekdays when it tends to be less crowded.
Staying at Crandall Mountain Campground
We decided to stay at the Crandell Mountain Campground, along the Red Rock Parkway. Tucked up in the mountains, this quiet treed campground offers 100 unserviced sites with fire rings, kitchen shelters, bathroom facilities, and a dump station. There are clean bathrooms with flush toilets and sinks, but one major drawback of camping at Crandell is that you have to go to the Town Campsite to access shower facilities.
Sites cannot be reserved and are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.
The other campground option in Waterton National Park is to camp right in town, lakeside. It would be lovely to be right in town and on the lake, but the idea of the open field with little to no privacy really didn’t appeal to us. It meant a bit more driving back and forth to get to access the sites and amenities in town, but the peace and privacy was well worth it.
Bears are also a definite concern in the park and each campsite offered up a secured metal bear-proof bin to store food and cooking equipment in. We did see a few bears from the car while driving throughout the park, and even had one guy come right up to the trailer as we were driving out of the park on our way home. Just one more reason for me to be happy we made the upgrade from a tent to a trailer!
What to See and Do in Waterton
We had no problems filling the time during week long trip to Waterton. Despite some rainy weather that caused us to rearrange and adapt our schedule, we were still able to spend a lot of time outdoors and see all the major sites.
Here are our 10 favorite can’t miss activities from our trip:
1. Visit the Red Rock Canyon
The Red Rock Canyon is a very popular tourist spot, so we made sure to set out early in the day to make the short drive up the Red Rock Parkway from our campground. Instead of heading straight for the red hued canyon right off the parking lot, we decided to head in the opposite direction and start our day with a short 1KM hike to Blakiston Falls.
Unfortunately the viewing platform for the falls was under construction when we went, so we weren’t able to get a closer look. The platform should be ready and open for those enjoying the park this upcoming summer. It was an easy hike and nicely treed along the way for those hot, sunny days.
After a quick lunch at the picnic tables near the parking lot, the kids and dogs were chomping at the bit to venture down into the Canyon. We saw many people in swimsuits, but the creek is definitely not deep enough to do any type of swimming in. As expected, it was quite busy with families climbing and exploring the rocks, as well as people lounging out in the sunshine.
Since the kids seemed to really enjoy climbing and exploring, we also decided to stop and check out Lost Horse just down the road from the Red Rock Canyon. I was very happy to see it was far less crowded and the kids and dogs were able to more freely wade through the creek and climb on the rocks. There was also the distinctive red hue in the rocks as we ventured further up, making this more hidden spot a great alternative to Red Rock Canyon!
2. Hike Up the Bear’s Hump
We had a few rainy spells during the trip that put a damper on our plans for the day and forced us to be a little more flexible. On the day my husband had wanted to hike the Bear’s Hump mountain, it was pouring heavily and we ended up visiting the Remington Carriage Museum in Cardston to stay out of the rain and keep the kids entertained. We got back to our campsite with plenty of time still left in the day, so we decided to attempt the hike that evening after dinner when the clouds had cleared. We were happy to see the parking lot was also far less busy then when we had driven past during the day and the cool evening temperature was perfect for the hike.
With the steep incline, this was one of the tougher hikes we did all summer. I thought it would be more of a struggle for our 8 year old dog, but she was a trooper and kept a slow, but steady pace the whole way up. Both dogs even seemed excited to check out the view!
It was windy at the top and despite some complaining (mainly from me), it was well worth the effort for the spectacular view of the townsite and landscape below. Plus the kids were happy to make claim to the fact that they hiked up an entire mountain!
3. Visit the Prince of Wale’s Hotel
This historic hotel is was built in 1927 by the Great Northern Railway as part of a series of resort hotels. Built on the hill, this historic landmark sits across the lake overlooking the small town of Watertown.
Even if you are not staying at the hotel, it is worth a visit to look at the rustic timber framed architecture that has been inspired by an alpine chalet.
If you have the time, this would be a lovely place to stop and enjoy a light lunch or take in their afternoon tea. The kids were just happy to explore and take a quick browse through the gift shop.
4. Take a Boat Cruise over the Canadian/US Border
When I was a child many of our vacations were spent in Southern Alberta. I can recall time spent in Waterton National Park and one of my fondest memories was taking the Waterton Shoreline Cruise over to the United States.
The fleet of boats offer open air seating above deck and the option of a closed cabin below deck. The hosts offer up great commentary throughout the cruise and, if you are lucky, they will even help point out wildlife that might be out and about on the shorelines. It was a relaxing ride and one of my favorite parts was crossing into the United States and seeing the line of trees clearcut on either side of the lake as a visual of the actual Canada/US border.
Security has gotten much tighter since I was young, but we came with passports in hand and the friendly American border agents made it easy to gain access at the Goat’s Haunt ranger station to enjoy a nice little hike into Glacier National Park.
The actual lake cruise is approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes, with a half hour stop at the end. Several boats run throughout the day so you are not limited to the half hour stop. We took the boat early in the day and were able to catch a later boat back after our hike to Rainbow Falls and stop for a picnic lunch.
5. Drive the Going to the Sun Road
If you have the time, I highly recommend taking a day and driving across the border into Glacier National Park. The Going to the Sun Road is a mountain roadway that takes you across the park, crossing the Continental Divide through Logan Pass. At its highest point the road reaches an elevation of 6,646 feet.
The scenic two lane road is quite narrow and winding with some hairpin turns along the way. Although it can be a fairly slow and somewhat nerve racking drive, you really can’t beat the spectacular mountain views. Luckily there are also several rest areas along the way to give the driver a rest, stretch your legs and take in the breathtaking scenery.
If you are apprehensive to drive the narrow roadway, you can also take advantage of the free hop on, hop off red bus shuttle service (pictured below) that operates between the two visitor centers on either end of the road.
And, for those with dogs, please take note that they are not permitted on most of the trails and paths throughout Glacier National Park. We were disappointed that the American parks were not as dog friendly as we were used to in our Canadian National Parks, but aside from dealing with some sad puppy faces each time we left the vehicle, we were able to make it work.
6. See the Bison Up Close
The Bison Paddock located just outside Waterton Park is a great way to get up close and personal with these great beasts. A road through the fenced-in area allows you to slowly drive right into the Bison enclosure and witness the animals in their natural setting.
It was just a short drive through the gates to find the herd and we were able to stop and watch them as they made their way closer towards the road where we were parked. I was surprised how close they walked near the vehicles and the kids were delighted to point out all the differences between the mix of young and old in the herd.
7. Rent a Pedal Cart and see Cameron Falls
As you drive around the town of Waterton, you are sure to notice many of these pedal carts cruising down the street or parked on the side of the road. These are available to rent through Pat’s of Waterton and are a great way to get around the small town if you are up for a little exercise.
We had originally planned to rent a cart for half the day, but decided to just start with an hour to see how things went. Once we got in the cart and started pedalling, I can’t tell you how happy we were with that decision. Don’t let the looks deceive you, they are much harder to pedal then the leisurely cruise around town we expected!
Luckily the Cameron Falls are right on the edge of town so they were easy to get to on our (hard to) pedal cart. There are also all kinds of great little shops, cafe’s and restaurants to discover as you pedal through the streets of Waterton. It is a fun experience and the kids got quite a kick out of mom and dad having to put so much effort into pedaling as they sat back and enjoyed the ride.
8. Have Some Fun at the Playground and Splash Park
Waterton also has a great playground and splash pad that makes for a fun stop on your pedal cart journey around town. It was much larger then I expected, with play areas and equipment for kids of all ages. I also appreciated that most of the park was fenced in to keep the little ones away from the nearby road.
The park is also just a short walk from the town Campsite if you chose to stay there.
9. Check out the Parks Canada Activities and Theater Shows
One of the best parts about being in a National Park is the free programming offered by Parks Canada. The park hosts are always very welcoming and happy to share their enthusiasm and knowledge of the parks.
Ask at the front gate or visitor center for a full schedule of events. There were fun shows at the campground theater in the evenings and crafts and activities throughout the day including kite building or this cute beaded Native America headdress craft we participated in.
10. Help the Kids Earn a Dog Tag
Another great kid-friendly initiative of Parks Canada is their kids Xplorers program. At the beginning of our visit we stopped by the Waterton visitors center (near the base of The Bear’s Hump) to get our free activity booklets. We worked on completing the different kid friendly activities as we visited different sites throughout our stay. Once we had seen and done enough to complete our activity books, we were able to bring them back into the visitor center to get our free souvenir dog tags that the kids proudly wore for the day.
To learn more about the dog tags, please visit my more detailed post about the Parks Canada Xplorers program.
If you are crossing into Glacier National Park, the America National Parks runs a similar program where our kids were able to complete an activity book and earn a Junior Rangers badge/pin on our day trip mentioned above.
Enjoy some Waffles!
After our hike up the Bear’s Hump, I suggested we go back into town for waffles and ice cream at Waffleton. I had come across the store in my research before our trip, and their tasty liege waffles did not disappoint.
We all shared the strawberry and cream waffle with a healthy scoop of pineapple frozen yogurt, and a nutella and banana waffle topped with butter pecan ice cream. Both were amazing flavor combinations atop the fluffy waffle, and it ended up being a fight to see who would get the last bite!
We loved our stay in Waterton. There was plenty to see and discover during the week and we had no problem keeping all members of our family entertained and happy. Hopefully you have enjoyed our pictures and I have given you some good ideas of what to see and do if you are ever in the area.