Next on this 1,500 mile trip to Glacier and back to Seattle through Canada, I’m visiting the incredible Waterton Lakes National Park.
With 2017 being the 150th Anniversary of Parks Canada, they’ve provided a free national parks pass to anyone that requests one. Naturally, I was all over it; and in fact this sweet little deal even swayed my decision to go to Glacier/Waterton for this year’s big moto trip.
With park pass in
hand tank bag, let’s hit the road!
The Montana portion of the journey between Glacier National Park and Waterton Lakes National Park is all on open range, especially evident once you leave the Many Glacier area. That means big dumb cattle standing in the road.
The first thing you’ll notice is excrement in the roadway, then you’ll start to notice movement in the trees and ditches. Only then will you back off your throttle when you realize those are huge cows! Imagine what slamming into one of these hunks of beef would do to you as a motorcyclist. Ouch!
Once you cross the Canadian border, the roads are a dream. Perfect blacktop, zero potholes; no shit! No, literally, there was no longer shit in the road since it is no longer open range.
Being mid-week, I was the only person on the road for quite some time. I never once caught any traffic going northbound and only saw a few southbound vehicles. I was the only one at the border crossing at the moment. The Mountie promised me earlier in the day they were “busy.” I don’t think she had ever been to the I-5 border crossing at the Peace Arch to know what “busy” really looks like!
Once through the border, you’ve got to get that National Park sign photo for the scrapbook… or blog.
Only about a kilometer away from the entrance sign (I’m in Canada now, folks) is the first good look at Waterton Lakes National Park. Upper Waterton Lake stretches all the way from Montana into Alberta crossing over the international border. This stop gives a great panorama of “where the mountains meet the prairie.”
Because of that border connection, these parks became the very first international peace park in 1932.
John George “Kootenai” Brown, Waterton’s first park official, and American ranger Henry “Death on the Trail” Reynolds were the first to propose the idea of creating an International Peace Park. As the parks shared the same geology, climate, wildlife and ecology, both Brown and Reynolds felt strongly that the lake and valley should not be divided. Local Rotary Clubs held a meeting at the Prince of Wales hotel in 1931 and in 1932 the parks officially came together as the first International Peace Park.
The parks were jointly recognized by UNESCO in 1995 as a World Heritage Site.
The first look into the Waterton townsite (aka Waterton Village) is a picturesque view of the Prince of Wales Hotel from the road leading into Waterton.
Directly across the entrance to the hotel was the Waterton Lakes National Park Visitor Centre. Just a week after my visit, it was burned to the ground by wildfire. A temporary Visitor Centre has been set up at the Lion’s Hall in Waterton until they build a new one.
Nestled between the beautiful peaks of Mount Crandell (below) and Vimy Peak (pictured later), Waterton itself is so quaint.
Naturally the town thrives on tourism, so there are plenty of places to eat and drink. I opted for the crazy tasty “Wieners of Waterton.” Once the smell of a perfectly grilled sausage enters your nose, there’s no choosing anything else. Maybe that’s just me.
Plenty of budget and higher-end accommodation to choose from and a large campsite just at the edge of town. The campsite is almost as large as the town itself.
I was taken by Pat’s, one of the oldest buildings in town. Pat’s is an old Park Service building turned old timey gas station turned general store that has everything a traveler could need.
The path along Upper Wateron Lake opposite Vimy Peak is a beautiful stroll. How impressive is this mountain? It reminds me of Mt. Rundle in Banff for it’s postcard quality prominence. I probably stopped to look around a dozen times and probably took 100 photos. I’ll spare you the minutia and show only a few of my favorites.
What’s in a name? In 1917, four divisions of the Canadian Army captured the best-defended German position on the western front in WWI. “Vimy Ridge” is a defining moment in Canadian history. 3,598 Canadians lost their lives at Vimy and another 7,000 were wounded. Across the Atlantic, Waterton’s Sheep and Goat Mountains were combined and renamed to Vimy Peak to honor all those who made the ultimate sacrifice in that historic battle.
Not only is it the 150th anniversary of Parks Canada, but it’s also the 100th anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge.
Parks Canada placed five sets of these bright red Adirondack chairs in scenic locations throughout the park. They’re a great place to comfortably take in the amazing views and sink into all little place of peace. If you find a set, be sure to #sharethechair on various social networks.
Notice the wildfire haze in this photo. Just one week later, access to the town would’ve been impossible. Residents were evacuated and they feared the Kenow fire that had grown to the size of 38,000 hectares would destroy their little town.
Luckily, that didn’t happen and Waterton will be back in business for 2018 and beyond.
How scary are these photos taken just a week after my visit? (From Parks Canada)
Cameron Lake is the other big lake at Waterton Lakes National Park, and like Upper Waterton Lake, it also crosses the United States / Canada border.
The trip out to Cameron Lake on Akamina Parkway is a fantastic mix of cambered left and right turns that snake their way along Cameron Creek. The drivers were very nice, all of them moved over so I could blast the canyon. Canadians are so polite!
Far in the distance is Mount Custer of Glacier National Park – in Montana.
The lake is beautiful, but my short time in Waterton Lakes has ended. It’s time to head out to Ainsworth Hot Springs in British Columbia (with a cool little ferry crossing along the way). Thank you Waterton!
I’ve barely scratched the surface for what Waterton has in store for you. I wish I could’ve stayed a whole week. When I return I’ll be sure to take a boat cruise across the border, hike at least to Bear’s Hump, and rent a kayak at Cameron Lake. Like Glacier, access to Waterton Lakes National Park is limited by season.
After seeing the power of wildfire, I am especially appreciative of the park, park staff and firefighters.
Check the official website for to plan your trip.