The Crypt Lake Trail is one of the best things to do in Waterton and has been named one of the most thrilling hikes in the world and one of the best trails in Canada.
Hikers reach the trailhead via boat from the Waterton Township for a full day on the trail. The Crypt Lake Hike climbs 900 meters over 10 kilometers making its way through the stunning Canadian Rockies.
The path requires hikers to cling to cliffsides, climb an exposed ladder, and squeeze through a natural tunnel. Along the way, there is no shortage of views with lakes, waterfalls, and towering mountains overhead. At the end of the hike, hikers are rewarded with a turquoise blue lake perfect for a chilly dip on a hot day.
A Crypt Lake Hike Guide
Crypt Lake Trail Key Stats
4 – 8 hrs
Crypt Lake Trail Return Boat Ticket Price
To reach the Crypt Lake trailhead, it’s best to board a boat in the Waterton Marina. The cruise run by the Shoreline Cruise company is a short 15-minute boat ride and costs $30 round trip. This is the best way to reach the trailhead, though it’s also possible to paddle yourself in on a kayak or canoe if you are a strong paddlist.
The first cruise departs at 8:30 am and the last cruise back leaves at 5:30pm.
GPX File For The Crypt Lake Trail
Crypt Lake Hike Route Description
To start the Crypt Lake Trail, you’ll need to head to the Shoreline Cruise company’s booth at the Waterton Marina. The ticket booth opens at 8:00, and the first boat departs at 9:00, or 8:30 on the weekends. It is common to find lines at the booth, leaving plenty of time for the ticket purchase.
They’ll run several ferries until all hikers have reached the shoreline, to a certain point at least. The boat ride to the Crypt Landing on the east side of the lake affords plenty of time to enjoy the views of the lake and the historic Prince of Wales Hotel.
If you’re a fast hiker, or prefer solitude on the trail, make sure to catch the first ferry, and stay at the back of the ferry so that you are one of the first people off to start the hike.
If you are one of the last hikers off the ferry, you’ll be at the back of the line. Almost the entire path is narrow, and you’ll spend most of your day trapped behind slower hikers or repeating the phrase “excuse me.” As we are pretty fast hikers who love to trail run a bit, this is what happened to us. If I had known better we would have been on the first cruise and been some of the first people on the trailhead.
From the Crypt Landing, you’ll find the trailhead, and the journey begins straight uphill. A series of switchbacks through the forest leads uphill for the first 2km and 200 meters of elevation gain.
It’s an easy grade that can feel laborious, if not a little boring at times. Along the way, hikers can catch some glimpses of Waterton Lake down below before heading deep into the valley. This section of the trail is known for its long line of hikers as everyone falls into their own pace and separates.
After the first section of elevation gain, the trail levels off and stays flat for the next 3 km. As it moves deeper into the valley, the forest begins to open up, and hikers get amazing views of the surrounding mountains and waterfalls below. At around the 5km mark, the journey up to Crypt Lake begins with several switchbacks and winding terrain that continues deeper into the mountains.
This section of the trail can be hot with no sun protection, so ensure sun protection and be prepared for the workout.
This is the most physically demanding section of the Crypt Lake trail as it gains 400 meters over 2.5 km. In the end, the path levels off and arrives at the “hair raising” section of the trail, but we honestly didn’t find it bad at all. Here the trail crosses a small ledge around a meter wide that is situated over a cliff.
We expected a bit more but found it casual enough to stroll up the ladder without a second thought. The ladder is located in a small chimney that is semi-exposed and leads to the most unique feature of the trail — a narrow cave that cuts through the rock and is about 1.5 meters high at its smallest.
Upon exiting the narrow cave, hikers will find themselves on another narrow ledge that leads around the headwall to Crypt Lake. Nervous hikers should not worry as a fixed cable provides a reliable handhold as they move across the shelf.
We were able to walk along the ledge without the need for the line, so if you’re nervous, just relax a little before starting. It’s far less scary than it appears. However, the views are wild as the trail sits hundreds of meters from the canyon floor. It is understandable why the track intimidates many!
Once past the cave and ledges, it’s only a couple hundred meters left until the rewarding Crypt Lake! It’s the perfect spot to cool off and enjoy lunch.
There is a great rock around the right side of the lake for diving and jumping if you’re brave enough. If you make good time up to Crypt Lake, you can chill out and enjoy the day.
We were able to take a nap and sit for a few hours, as we wanted to give newer hikers time to navigate the nerve-wracking ledges before returning. As there is most certainly a traffic jam on the narrow trail if you time it wrong.
One thing I forgot while on the Crypt Lake hike was a bathing suit. On a hot summer day, you will definitely want to jump into the lake, so pack a swimsuit in your bag and find a secluded space for changing. We ended up jumping in in our underwear.
The journey down the Crypt Lake trail follows the same route unless you plan to make the detour to Hell-Roaring Canyon. We took the detour but honestly did not find the detour worth our time, but everyone has a different opinion on Hell Roaring Canyon.
When you leave the lake, plan for enough time to catch the last boat out at 5:30 p.m. Generally, a reasonable estimate for the return time is to shave thirty minutes off your approach, as it’s easier to walk downhill.
Gear We Recommend for the Canadian Rockies
The vast majority of hikes and easy scrambles in the Rockies, you’ll find us in our trusty Salomon Speedcross.
Arc’teryx Cerium is our pick for the best down jacket. It’s incredibly light, and we bring it on almost every hike in the Rockies.
This nifty clip from Peak Design secures a camera to my backpack strap for easy reach. No more digging in the backpack!
A pair of durable and lightweight hiking poles are a great asset on the hiking trail.
20L feels like the ideal size for quick hikes and scrambles. We love the Nano from Gregory with a hydration reservoir.
There is not much cell service in the Canadian Rockies. In case of emergencies, we carry an emergency beacon with GPS.
Tips For Hiking the Crypt Lake Trail
- If you’re a fast hiker, make sure to get on the first boat. We had the intention of running a fair amount of the trail but found ourselves on the last boat of the day, and were some of the last people off the boat unaware of how narrow the trail would be and how many people would be hiking it. While we were able to arrive first to the lake, it involved us passing around 200 people (no joke). A lot of “pardon mes” were said. We still managed to make it to Crypt Lake in an hour and a half.
- Just like fast hikers, if you’re a little slower than average, try to hop on the first boat. That way, you’ll have more time to complete the trail.
- Relax and take your time on the ledges. It’s okay to feel nervous, but everyone is capable of making their way across if they take their time and watch their footing.
- If you’re more confident about the challenging terrain, it’s best to time the crowds as it’s easy for bottlenecks to form on the ledges and cave.
- Skip Hell Roaring Canyon if it’s a hot day. The trail down to Hell Roaring Canyon is dusty and offers little shade as it drops into lower elevation. We found it hot and mostly overgrown compared to the main trail. We would have preferred sitting on the dock near the water, while we waiting for the boat back.
- There is no drinking water along the trail or on the boat. Come prepared with enough water for the day and/or bring a filter so you can refill at Crypt Lake.
- The trail is kid-friendly if they’re comfortable walking for a long distance uphill. We saw several families with kids from eight years and up on the trail. Of course, it all depends on the child. Parents should know best.
- Photographers will be disappointed by the light. The hike with the boat times means you’re hiking in the middle of the day with a terrible light. We typically walk away with better photos from a day in the mountains as we’ll try to get out in the early morning or evening, but with the boat times it made it impossible. Of course if you have your own transport (kayak, etc) you can time the day how you please.
Crypt Lake Hike Duration
The average time for the journey up to Crypt Lake is three hours plus or minus a half hour. We were able to complete the trail around Crypt Lake and back down to Hell-Roaring Canyon in around three hours — however, we ran many sections up and downhill. Most should plan for at least 6-7 hours of hiking if they plan to add Hell Roaring Canyon.
The length of the Crypt Lake hikes does not leave many leeways as you are limited by the boat times. The first boats arrive around 9:00 a.m., and the last boat out is around 5:30 p.m. They counted passenger numbers when we hiked the trail, but I’d hate to be the hiker who requires the company to call SARS.
How Hard is the Crypt Lake Trail
The Crypt Lake Trail is 20 km in length with over 900 meters of elevation gain. It’s a big day out with a lot of ground to cover. For this reason alone we would say it’s more on the upper-moderate to difficult scale. However there aren’t many technical sections and the scrambling bits are assisted by chains, ladder, and cable, making for a comfortable hike. If you have some Canadian Rockies hikes under your belt you won’t find the Crypt Lake trail too difficult.
How Busy is the Crypt Lake Trail?
The Crypt Lake Trail is the most popular hike in Waterton and many people travel from around Alberta with it on their bucket list, making it a very popular trail.
Because of the boat times everyone essentially has to start the hike at the same time, and hike back around the same time. This means that there are some crowding issues especially at the beginning of the hike and the tunnel, ladder, and chain section.
Once at Crypt Lake there is plenty of space to spread out and enjoy the nature.
When Can You Hike the Crypt Lake Trail?
Shoreline Cruises typically operates from mid June to Early October, so this period will be the best time to complete the Crypt Lake hike.
Advice on Hikes in the Canadian Rockies
- If this is your first time hiking in the Rockies take a conservative approach. Pick an adequate hike for your fitness, plan for plenty of time, pack water and food, and don’t be afraid to turn around. If you want to learn more about what to wear hiking we have a great post. We also have an excellent post on tips for new hikers.
- For long hikes, set a turn around time at the departure. Any time we set out for an objective I determine a time at which we need to turn around in order to arrive at the parking lot or campsite by dark. I would recommend not hiking in the dark as it’s easy to get lost and it’s not fun in bear country.
- Always carry bear spray if you plan to hike in the park. We carry ours in our own neighborhood and bears have been known to stroll through town and busy parking lots. Always practice wildlife awareness when you’re on a trail, and please give animals space.
- A GPS tracker could save your life – it’s one of those backpacking essentials I like to have on me just in case I need to hit SOS. There is no cell service on the Crypt Lake trail.
- Alltrails is our favorite app to have on a hike. It shows the correct trail way, elevation, and other hiker reviews. We paid the subscription fee so that we could download all the data we need to our phones. Best $2.50 (per month) ever spent! Although, the Crypt Lake Hike is a very well worn trail and there is almost no way you can get lost on it.
What to Wear On a Hike?
The most basic principle of what to wear hiking is layering. Anyone that has spent time in the wilderness or mountains can speak to the fact your temperature can fluctuate a lot on a hike. You can easily start off cool at the mountain base and get hot as soon as you begin moving.
Hopefully, this helped you plan your Crypt Lake hike day. It’s one of the most spectacular Alberta hikes so enjoy it!
If you have any other questions leave a comment or see our Canadian Rockies travel guide for more articles about photography spots, lakes, hikes, and everything else.
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Plan Your Trip to the Canadian Rockies
- Travel Insurance: We don’t recommend traveling without travel insurance. We recommend checking out Safetywing or HeyMondo offers competitive rates for all travelers.
- Hotels in the Rockies: There are many places to stay, from luxury hotels to wilderness cabins. See all our favorites here.
- Pack for the Rockies: See our complete Alberta packing list here.
- Get Around: We suggest either renting a car to get around, you can search for rental cars on Rentalcars.com. Or embark on an epic campervan trip with companies like Outdoorsy.