Northwest Roadtrip: a day in Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta

As part of a road trip through the northwest several years ago, we stopped for a night in Canada’s Waterton Lakes National Park, which is just across the border from Montana’s Glacier National Park. Both of these are some of our favorite parks, and well worth a visit. Glacier is beautiful, though much larger and sometimes crowded (though definitely not Yosemite crowded). Waterton comparatively feels less crowded, more compact, more intimate, and quite beautiful.

Getting There

Waterton Lakes National Park is quite remote, so it is unlikely you would be just “driving by.” We had spent the previous 2 nights at Banff National Park, which is about a 3.75 hour drive. If you are flying into Canada, Calgary is a great choice, and is only a 2.5 hour drive.

On the other hand, if you are coming from the Glacier National Park in the United States, it is only a 35 minute drive (plus border crossing time, which we found minimal) from the St. Mary entrance. If you will be visiting Glacier Park as well as Waterton Park, Kalispell, Montana is the most convenient choice of airport. If you’re willing to drive somewhat further, Spokane, WA or Great Falls, MT might also be options.

Of course, if you are taking a grand road trip, there are many other options and many other National Parks that you might want to include in your trip.

Where To Stay

Waterton Park has quite a few options for staying both within and outside the park. Note that many of the hotels were not listed on websites like Expedia, so it is definitely worth using the information on the government website to help find accommodations.

As a child, I visited this park many times with my parents and we usually camped inside the park. As an adult, Jeremy and I visited this park 4 years in a row and usually stayed in a hotel inside the park. On this particular trip, we stayed at Aspen Village Inn. If you want a real splurge, try the historic Prince of Wales Hotel, although we never actually stayed there.

What to Do

With small children and limited time in the park, we decided to avoid most of the harder trails and focus on the paths near the Waterton Townsite.

While we did have a hiking child carrier backpack, sometimes it is nice to see nature with a stroller. If you have a stroller that can handle gravel, there are a lot of nice paths by the water that will make it easy for you to feel like you are in nature without the struggle of carrying your kids on your back.

One caveat when planning: weather can change quite quickly in mountain areas, and rain can come in any time. Just keep that in mind and roll with it, if you’re from a fair weather area.

While it was a little chilly for swimming, our kids loved the abundance of stones on the beaches and they spent a lot of time enjoying the sounds of the rocks splashing into the water.

And there are almost always animal sightings. When one of our kids saw this sign, he became very concerned and said, “Deer no push me over.” That said, the deer can be quite aggressive. I still remember when I visited this park as a child, a deer walked over to our picnic table, picked up the cheese for our sandwiches, and walked off with it!

In the background of this picture below, you can see the delightful Prince of Wales hotel. I have fond memories of coming here for tea and crumpets as a child. But on one of our trips, we were walking with our kids on a path near this hotel and saw something in the distance that looked a bit like a dog. On further inspection, we realized it was a wolf that appeared to be lying in wait for a tasty snack. This would have been a more interesting observation without toddlers in tow.

We ended up just quietly turning around, our kids oblivious, and everything was fine. That said, we did point out the sighting to a forest ranger in town. We now tell our kids, years later, about our encounter with the “big bad wolf.”

With Glacier National Park so close, Waterton Lakes National Park is often overlooked, but it really shouldn’t be. If you want to get in tune with nature in an intimate setting, really consider coming to this delightful part of the world.

We had an amazing time, and we hope that you will too!

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