Dave and I enjoy the Rocky Mountains – we try to get out at least once a year. We’d never been to Waterton, though, and as an International Biosphere Reserve and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, we were excited to visit.
The drive from Edmonton to Jasper is pleasant, but the densely treed terrain gives the feeling that the mountains come out of nowhere. We drove highway 22, known as the Cowboy Trail, down to Waterton, which was full of fantastic views.
It’s also a pretty easy drive – the road winds here and there but the highway itself is comfortably flat. The road is dotted with little towns, including Bragg Creek (which we were fortunate enough to visit before the 2013 flood with a friend who grew up there), Turner Valley, and Longview. The last of these is the Hamlet of Twin Butte, about 10 minutes north of the park boundary, and we saw a sign for Mexican food off Highway 6. Mexican cuisine seems out of the ordinary in Alberta, however there are many farm labourers from Mexico. The food was fresh and delicious! Stumbling upon local gems is such a treat.
We planned our arrival in Waterton Village to start with a scenic cruise of Upper Waterton Lake. The International leaves Waterton Marina at the northern end of the lake, crossing the US-Canadian border and dropping us off at Goat Haunt in Montana’s Glacier National Park. Goat Haunt is only accessible on foot or by boat, and we got to enter the United States without a passport! There is a ranger station and customs registration (with standard entry requirements) for any hikers or backpackers looking to stay longer than the cruise’s short stopover. The cruise was also informative – we learned that the US-Canada border is marked all 6,400 km of its length, encountered fascinating evidence of plate tectonics, and got some helpful local recommendations.
Our hotel, Northland Lodge, was on the edge of the village, however it’s no more than a 20 minute walk to the lake. Cameron Falls is at the end of the block – how amazing is a waterfall right in town? We were far enough from the falls for very quiet nights. After a great night’s sleep we had fresh-baked muffins with Saskatoon jam every morning!
There are so many scenic places to visit around Waterton – we bought souvenirs at the Prince of Wales Hotel gift shop, hiked around Red Rock Canyon, Blakiston Falls, Cameron Lake (which also ends in Montana), Crandell Lake, and a stepped waterfall on the Akamina Parkway. We didn’t see many larger wild animals –there is a herd of tame deer we first witnessed trying to share a meal at Wieners of Waterton! It’s illegal to feed the animals or harass them in a national park, but sometimes you don’t have a choice…
Wieners of Waterton was a highlight of our trip in itself. I must confess to being skeptical of a hot dog place, but their smokies are custom-made, the buns freshly baked, and gourmet toppings such as sauerkraut, ginger carrots, pickles, and banana peppers are all free! We also ordered fried pickle spears and sweet potato fries with rosemary parmesan, curry ketchup, and chipotle mayo. Just the thought makes me salivate! Later, we enjoyed a sunset walk down the beach and along Cameron Creek.
Waterton is also great for its small-town feel. Everyone was friendly (how could you not be in such a beautiful place?), and we enjoyed breakfasts with fellow travelers – we met a woman planning on backpacking in Australia next year and we gave her some tips from our trip in 2013.
We hit a rainy patch on our way back up Cowboy Trail – as the saying goes, if you don’t like the weather in Alberta, wait 5 minutes! Sure enough, the skies cleared to produce a huge double rainbow. It was the pot of gold at the end of our trip!
We also spent a day in Montana – watch for part 3 on our adventures in America!