Waterton Lakes - Alberta is Awesome!

Waterton Lakes National Park Travel Blog

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Bailey, tired out after a hike.

Every year my wife, my dog, and I go somewhere and camp. Most years we spend 2-3 weeks on the road trying our hardest to be the biggest dirtbag campers we can be. This year however we have far too many other things going on to extend our camping trip that long. So with the lack of time (5 days) we decided to go somewhere relatively close. We decided Waterton Lakes National Park was that place. We've been going to Jasper and Banff a dozen times a year and decided to try something different - well slightly different.

The morning of the big trip we finished prepping our gear, loaded our coolers with ice, did a double check of what we had and tried our hardest to make that inevitable item we forget not be something we couldn't live without.

Bailey wondering if we are there yet.
Then we hit the road for the 600km drive down to Waterton via Calgary

As we passed through Calgary my wife had the great idea to stop at a little restaurant we seen on TV called "Fat City Franks" where we tried one of their many quality hot dogs. I went with the Mexican Chili while my wife went with the Ukranian - both were awesome. Back on the road we got south of Calgary and that is when we got to see the real amazing grassland area's of Alberta. Rolling grassy hills as far as the eye can see. Massive multi-million dollar mansions were the only occasional break in the rolling green. Eventually we made it to an area I would classify as the true Alberta. It was another wind farm that seemed to go on for miles and miles.

Wind farm of Southern Alberta
We stopped on one of the gravel roads to have a stretch and take some photo's. We weren't in a rush afterall.

Finally, we arrived at Waterton and stopped at the entrance gates. The campsite we decided to stay in was first come, first served, so no reservations. Once it was our turn at the gate we noticed that the sign said ALL CAMPSITES FULL. Great, 6 hours of driving and nowhere to sleep. Needless to say, we were a little ticked but quickly realized there is no point being upset at things out of our control.

The guy at the gate mentioned a private campground towards Pincher Creek. I know Pincher Creek is more than an hour away - "what an absolute piss off" I was thinking.

Wind farm of Southern Alberta
It turns out the campground he was referring to was literally 5 minutes drive from the gate. We arrived and found out that camping was half the price, it would have been in the park, at $20/night. We asked the lady what site was good before taking a drive to see for ourself. Site 132 was her recommendation and sure enough it was our favorite. 

We pulled into our site and not a person was around. We were only 20 seconds walk to the bathrooms which were well maintained for a large campground like this. We quickly setup, after years of tenting we have a routine that is unbeatable. Our tent was up, our air mattress was blown up, the bed was made, the fire was started, and our dog was fed all within maybe 30 minutes of arriving. We cracked that first beer hoping to get a few down before the weatherman predicted rain and thunderstorm arrived.

The beginning of Lineham Trail.
That rain never did arrive that night. So we stayed up drinking our beers and talking about our upcoming trip to Brazil while staring at the fire. This is my definition of paradise. 

The next morning after a great sleep we woke up to the usual sweltering tent. We should have replaced our tent a few years ago for one that has better air flow but we have been delaying it every year under the impression that we are getting a travel trailer. So by 9am the heat in the tent was too unbearable for us to continue sleeping. We got up and did our morning thing, my wife made some tomato sandwiches and I had a shower under our small water jug full of icy water. Hangover was nowhere to be seen and energy was at a high point so we decided to make the most of the early wake-up and go on a great hike.

Lineham Trail

We entered the park and made a quick stop in town to buy more ice, then we made our way up the Akamina Parkway where we stopped at Lineham trail. The review in the guide said a gradual incline of 350m over 4.2km (oneway) to a 400 foot waterfall. Awesome we thought. 350m didn't seem like a lot we thought. 3 hours return, perfect.

We loaded our bag up with water, we put our bear bell on our crazy dog, and we hit the trail. It started out with a nice forested and slight incline for the first few hundred meters, than once we got just above the tree line the trail went crazy. The incline was about 30% and we were walking in a narrow single track with a steep hill up to our right and a sharp drop to our left. The temperature was around 32 celcius and we were in direct sun with no chance of shade.

Lineham Trail
The trail literally went on like that for another 2km. It got so tough that even our dog was finding creative ways to get out of the sun. Finally, we made it to another tree'd area where we got a break from the sun. By this point I was a sweaty mess, my shirt looked like I was wearing it when I went for a swim - but I never. 

Finally after 4.2km and realizing that 350m is apparently a lot we made it to the end. There it was, a beautiful 400 foot waterfall and we were surrounded by massive mountains in every direction. It took me about 10 minutes to catch my breath and cool down before I could actually enjoy it, but I did finally get to that point and was in awe at the sheer size of the mountains and the amazing multitude of colors from the wild flowers.

Lineham Trail
I sat on a rock conserving my energy for a walk I was not looking forward to while my wife snapped photo's and my dog hid in some deep grass to avoid the sun. 

We began our walk back and were out in no time. We estimated it was probably a 2.5 hour in and 0.5 hour out hike - since it was all downhill on the way out of course. We got back to our truck in time to go have a late lunch in Emerald Bay on the edge of Waterton Village. Our lunch consisted of some amazing homemade chicken salad, a boiled egg, chocolate chip cookies, and some beers. We sat their relaxing after a very difficult but rewarding hike. My legs were still feeling like Jello, but I made it and that was enough to make me forget how my legs felt. We spent the next hour playing fetch with our dog in the lake.

Lineham Trail
Being a lab she can't stay out of the water, but even she was showing some very obvious signs of fatigue after that earlier hike. Her normal carefree hopping sprint into the water to chase a stick was replaced with a slow gentle waveless submersion followed by a slow swim. Normally her water exit was quick and she would run a lap of us before giving up the stick - this time she dropped the stick almost before exiting the water and then laid at our feet. We figured she had had enough.

We returned to our campsite, turned on some music and began cooking some steaks and baked potatoes over the fire. Our firepit meals have yet to be anything short of spectacular. Our tenderloin steaks are so tender you could eat them with a spoon, the seasoning is perfect, and the doneness is nothing less than perfect.

Lineham Trail
Potatoes as well, 45 minutes over a fire and simply perfection. Also on the side, we had ceasar salad but forget the dressing so my wife threw on some sour cream and squeezed a lemon wedge over it. I have to admit it actually tasted better than ceasar dressing and knowing the calories of both I think it will be a regular addition to our meals. We ended this night like we ended the previous - beers around the fire. The only difference is this was the night we were too tired to stay up late. By midnight our dog was the first to go sit at the tent entrance and wait for us to join her. We weren't arguing because she was right. 

Fortunately for us, this was also the night the previous nights rainstorm decided to meet us. Not more than minutes after going to bed and falling asleep immediately, the loudest most frightening thunder clap went off.

Lineham Trail
Being deep in the mountains the sound just echoed for minutes. Then just like that it went from no rain to a very heavy downpour. Normally I love the rain when I am in a tent. The noise is so relaxing. Even the thunder is a welcome noise. However, on this night I was kind of worried because this tent we have been stubbornly hanging onto had several holes I was hoping would not leak. Fortunately our crewd duct tape patch job held and we remained dry as a bone. The storm lasted for a couple of hours, stopping just long enough for me to run outside and take that long waited middle of the night beer pee without getting soaked.

The next morning we were still sore and decided to take it easy. We cooked up some bacon, eggs, and hashbrowns from the left over potatoes the night before.

Lineham Trail
After eating and cleaning up we took a slow drive into town snapping photo's along the way. We again got ice, our coolers don't seem to be that great. Then we made our way through the Akamina parkway to Cameron Lake where we hiked the edge of the lake. A nice simple and flat 3.2km each way. Our dog was a lot more energetic than the day before and was back to her usual ways of running as hard as she could into the water to fetch a stick. I still think she does it on purpose, but she always shakes twice when she gets out of the water - once beside my wife and then once beside me. It doesn't matter how far or close my wife and I are, she makes sure to get as close as possible before shaking. At least it is refreshing in the 30+ celcius weather we have been having. 

Cameron Lake is a nice lake surrounded by mountains and is split almost in half by the Canada/USA border.

Lineham Trail
The lake is only feet from a parking lot and has boat rentals so it tends to be very busy, but it is so nice otherwise that I think it should be that busy even if it was a difficult hike to get to. We followed that hike up with another short hike to Akamina Lake which was just a short 500m each way. This lake was more rugged so it was completely empty. We played a little more fetch in the crystal clear water before making our way back to the truck. Once at the truck we had a small tailgate snack.

We decided this would be a perfect opportunity to check out the town and have a late lunch. We went to the Trapper Pub and managed to get a patio table where our dog could lay under our chair. The beer was icy cold and the food was okay. We were nicely shaded and our well behaved dog sitting under our chairs was getting so much attention that we almost had to hide her in order to finish our beers before it got warm.

Emerald Bay, Waterton
We are lucky to have such a laid back lab who is capable of sitting on a restaurant patio without trying to steal food or bother anyone. The people next to us were dog owners and explained their dogs would have knocked over about a dozen tables by that point. So it goes to show that training and obedience school actually does work.

After dinner we took a short walk around town. My wife went ahead with the dog and us usual she was confronted by another dog lover who wanted to pet her and share her life stories with dogs. I love the attention she gets us, but sometimes too much is too much. The lady was very nice though, so no harm done.

After the brief walk around town we made our way to Bear's Hump. A 1.2km 250m trail that overlooks the village. This gives you beautiful panorama's of all three waterton lakes, the village, and even the stunning Prince of Wales hotel.

Cameron Lake
This was the point I realized that incline was tougher than distance. This trail was steep and for the asthmatics like me it was slightly difficult. Fortunately it was short enough not to be a real problem. We got to the top, we sat there and just enjoyed the view for a good hour. We snapped as many photo's as we could bother taking and enjoyed probably the best hike viewpoint we've ever seen. To be there at dusk was great because the shadows were behind us and the mountains across the lakes were glowing a nice golden hue. 

After that hike we went back to our campsite for another campfire meal consisting of chicken with our own blend of 7 herbs and spices that puts the Colonels to shame. We had pre-made some Caprese Salad, Broccoli Salad, and Potato salad before going on our trip.

Cameron Lake
Another perfect meal over the fire and we celebrated another great day by going back to drinking beers around the fire. 

The next morning we woke up early and had a quick breakfast of a muffin and a boiled egg before setting off on our drive across the border into the USA to check out the "Going To The Sun" highway. After a very nice couple hour drive we arrived in St.Mary where the road begins. We went through the gates and began our drive. We were here a few years prior in early May before the campsites were open. We managed to convince one of the park staff to let us stay in the campsite, but the going to the sun highway was closed for obvious reasons. So this was our chance to try it in warm weather. 

We were probably less than 3 miles into the drive and our close call accidents were already well into the double digits.

Cameron Lake
Not that the roads are dangerous, but the drivers who do not seem to understand that that bright yellow line in the middle of the road is for and why you should stay on your side of it going around blind corners. Too many close calls for my liking, so we switched because I would rather enjoy my day than be angry at bad drivers. My wife tends to deal with those situations much better than me sometimes. 

We carried on the drive, stopping at each stopping point and checking out the amazing scenery the lines this road (rated #2 drive in the USA behind the California coast highway). We finally got to a beautiful trail that walked along a decent inclined stream that seemed more like mini waterfalls than a steady stream. We were 10 feet into the trail when park rangers stopped us, we apparently missed the "no dog" sign.

Akimina Lake
After talking to them for a few minutes they explained that dogs are not allowed anywhere in the park except for in your vehicle. Now being a dog owner, this would have been very important to know prior to paying and getting half-way into the park (40km later). There were absolutely no signs at the gate and the lady we paid as we entered never mentioned it. Oh well, we'll figure something out.

We made it to Logan's pass and stopped on the side of the highway to watch the mountain goats climb a cliff. Unfortunately we parked directly under the route they took and small shale was flying down and hitting my wife and my truck. Fortunately it was so light it didn't hurt either. We continued our drive through the narrow roads with waterfalls that were hitting us as we drove by them.

Akimina Lake
This road resembled the death road of Bolivia except this road was well maintained. The similarities were the thousand foot drop on one side and the thousand foot cliffs on the other. We winded our way down the mountain and could not find a single stop that wasn't a post card photo. Once at the bottom of the pass there was a nice river. We decided to take our dog for a swim despite the no dog rule. It seems we started something because it wasn't more than 15 minutes later and there were a dozen dogs running around in the river.

The road continued on to a small town called Apgar. This is your typical small mountain village that is situated lake-side. We ordered some food from the only restaurant in town and walked over to the lake and ate. I got the burger and my wife went with a wrap.

Cameron Falls
This burger was definitely in my top 5 all time burgers. Home made and thick but still juicy. The fries were also home made and also some of the best I've had. Perfect mid-afternoon snack. We decided to go back a few miles and sit on the shore of Lake MacDonald to relax before making the drive back. 

Sitting lake side my wife decided to go for a swim but had no bathing suit. So she improved the view for me and my dog. Possibly even more than us since the vehicles that were in the lot when we arrived were gone.. Ahh well, nature is great. 

After some time relaxing in the sun we began the long drive back through the going to the sun highway. This time we stopped for all of the amazing views we missed on the way out. This truly is a road that must be experienced in both directions.

Waterton
We gassed up in the USA where gas prices are a fraction of what we pay in Canada and we purchased some fine American beer before heading back to Canada. The border crossing both directions was surprisingly very simple. 

Another relaxing night fire side for our last night. 

The next morning we began our long drive home early with another stop in Calgary for Modern Jelly Donuts where we got Maple Bacon donuts. Un-Fucking-Believable!!!

Sadly we arrived home and our trip was done. Now a few days later and our gear is still scattered throughout our kitchen. Maybe we will get around to putting it away this weekend - I guess we are hanging on to that trip as long as possible in some hopes we will get a chance to return before putting it all away.

View from Bears Hump over Waterton.
While this was just another trip to the mountains it was much different and a very nice park to change up scenery from the usual Jasper and Banff, which themselves are also amazing.

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Bailey, tired out after a hike.
Bailey, tired out after a hike.
Bailey wondering if we are there y…
Bailey wondering if we are there …
Wind farm of Southern Alberta
Wind farm of Southern Alberta
Wind farm of Southern Alberta
Wind farm of Southern Alberta
The beginning of Lineham Trail.
The beginning of Lineham Trail.
Lineham Trail
Lineham Trail
Lineham Trail
Lineham Trail
Lineham Trail
Lineham Trail
Lineham Trail
Lineham Trail
Lineham Trail
Lineham Trail
Lineham Trail
Lineham Trail
Lineham Trail
Lineham Trail
Lineham Trail
Lineham Trail
Emerald Bay, Waterton
Emerald Bay, Waterton
Cameron Lake
Cameron Lake
Cameron Lake
Cameron Lake
Cameron Lake
Cameron Lake
Akimina Lake
Akimina Lake
Akimina Lake
Akimina Lake
Cameron Falls
Cameron Falls
Waterton
Waterton
View from Bears Hump over Waterton.
View from Bears Hump over Waterton.
View from Bears Hump over Waterton.
View from Bears Hump over Waterton.
View from Bears Hump over Waterton.
View from Bears Hump over Waterton.
View from Bears Hump over Waterton.
View from Bears Hump over Waterton.
6,766 km (4,204 miles) traveled
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Waterton Lakes National Park
photo by: mrgishi