20 BEST Things To Do In Waterton National Park In Alberta

There are so many things to do in Waterton Lakes National Park you’ll likely need to visit a few times before you truly feel you’ve gotten the most out of the park. From places to eat, hotels to stay in, and hikes to enjoy, you will not get bored.

After a few years of living in Alberta, we finally had the time to check out Waterton Lakes National Park in Southern Alberta. All I can say is WOW, I don’t know why it took us so long to visit. This part of the Canadian Rockies really blew us away, and we can’t wait to return.

Whether your interests are hiking, enjoying the cute downtown area, or sipping tea at the Prince of Wales iconic Hotel there is something for everyone. Here is all you need to know about visiting Waterton National Park.

A Brief History of Waterton National Park

best things to do in waterton national park

In 1895, a 54-square-mile area was protected by the federal government. It was known as Dominion Forest Park, which is now known as Waterton Lakes National Park. Waterton was the 4th established national park in Canada. The park’s name derives directly from Waterton Lakes, which are impossible to miss.

Aerial View Over Waterton Lakes

In 1927, the famous Prince of Wales Hotel was opened, and service to Glacier National Park in the USA commenced. Then, a ship was built to travel between Glacier and Waterton; the “M.V. International” can still be experienced today.

In 1921, the townsite had developed, and a bustling working town was created. In 1932, the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park was created to commemorate goodwill between the USA and Canada. This peace park is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Waterton Lakes National Park is on Treaty 7 territory and is the traditional territory of the Nakoda, Niitsitapi, and Tsuut’ina indigenous people.

Best Things to Do in Waterton Lakes National Park

Hike Bears Hump

Natasha hiking Bears Hump HIke.
Bears Hump for sunset

Bear’s Hump is a must-do short Alberta hike in Waterton National Park. It’s a great Canadian Rockies hike as almost anyone can make it up to Bear’s Hump and get incredible views over the park. On a clear day, you can easily see Montana from here.

Located right in town, it’s easily doable in under an hour – meaning you can complete your days in Waterton with plenty of other things to do. Here’s how to hike Bear’s Hump in Waterton National Park! Overall it’s a beautiful, short, and easy hike that any visitor to Waterton should do.

Hike the Crypt Lake Trail

Crypt Lake Trail
Hiking the Crypt Lake Trail in August

The Crypt Lake Trail has been named one of the world’s most thrilling hikes and one of Canada’s best trails. Hikers reach the trailhead via boat from the Waterton Township for a full day on the trail. The trail climbs 900 meters over 10 kilometers (one way) through the 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. Ultimately, hikers are rewarded with a turquoise blue lake perfect for a chilly dip on a hot day.

Waterton International Peace Park

Waterton International Peace Park

The International Peace Park is located near the marina and honors the unity of Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta and Glacier National Park in Montana. Together, they are the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, the first of its kind in the world. The park has nice walking paths and the famous Parks Canada red Adirondack chairs.

Have High Tea at the Prince of Wales Hotel

Afternoon Tea Treats At The Prince Of Wales Hotel

After hiking, one of the best things to do in Waterton National Park is to enjoy High Tea at the beautiful Prince of Wales Hotel. Seriously, there aren’t many better places to have high tea than here.

The views are incredible, and the Prince of Wales is an iconic hotel in the park (more on that later). Hotel guests and nonguests alike can enjoy having sandwich squares and pastries every day from 12-4pm.

Listen to Ghost Stories at the Prince of Wales Hotel

The Prince Of Wales Hotel At Dusk

If you’re wondering what to do in Waterton in the evening, consider listening to a few old stories! The Great Northern Railway built the Prince of Wales in 1927, and stepping in truly feels like stepping back in time.

From the furniture, rooms, and elevator to the cocktails coming in, it is a different experience. Every evening at 8pm, the staff at the Prince of Wales also share stories from Waterton and even a few ghost stories from the hotel, so it’s best to come with company if you are spooked easily. This experience is open to both guests and non-guests.

Bike the Red Rock Canyon Parkway

The Red Rock Canyon Parkway In Waterton National Park - The Best Things To Do

One of the most famous Waterton attractions is the Red Rock Canyon Parkway! The Red Rock Canyon Parkway is one of the most beautiful drives in Alberta. It’s 9 km of rolling hills, mountains, and grassland prairie with plenty of pull-off points. You can drive it, bring your bike, or rent one from Pat’s downtown and cycle the whole way!

One of the best things to do in Waterton is to enjoy the views along the scenic parkway. Even if you’re from elsewhere in Alberta, I promise you you haven’t seen colors in the mountains like this before.

Red Rock Canyon

Red Rock Canyon On A Weekend - Things To Do In Waterton National Park

The famous Red Rock Canyon Canyon is at the end of the Red Rock Canyon Parkway. An awesome feature in Waterton National Park and one that you can do an easy hike around as well. This is a popular spot, especially on weekends, so get here early!

Enjoy an Ice Cream Downtown

best things to do in waterton national park

While Downtown Waterton is small, there are some great things to do here, plus great restaurants to enjoy along Lake Waterton. Our favorite bites are Wieners of Waterton, The Taco Bar, and the Thirsty Bear. We also couldn’t resist having ice cream on a hot summer day at the Big Scoop Ice Cream Parlor.

best things to do in waterton national park

Get Out on Lake Waterton

Paddlers On Waterton Lake - Things To Do In Waterton National Park

Whether by kayak, canoe, or stand-up paddleboard, it’s important to ensure you get out on Lake Waterton while there. Seriously it’s one of the best things to do in Waterton, especially on a hot day. If you don’t have your own, rent paddleboards and kayaks at Pat’s Waterton for $25/hr.

**2024 Update: To prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species, all non-motorized watercraft from outside of the park are prohibited from entering water bodies in Waterton.

Sunbathe on Waterton Beach

The Beach On Waterton Lake - Things To Do In Waterton National Park

On the shores of Waterton Townsite is a lovely pebble beach from the townsite to the Waterton Campground near the Prince of Wales Hotel. You can set up some towels and chairs in the sun or choose a shaded spot under the trees and admire Vimy Peak across the lake.

Bring a kayak or stand-up paddleboard and get out on the water. Or if you dare take a swim in the chilly Upper Waterton Lake. Even during peak August, the water will take your breath away. There’s a nice footpath to walk around when you want to stretch your legs.

Explore Cameron Falls

Cameron Falls.- Things To Do In Waterton National Park

Cameron Falls is one of the best Alberta waterfalls to see. It’s easily accessible from downtown and incredibly beautiful. This impressive waterfall is well worth visiting to feel the fresh mountain water on your face from its mist.

There is a great viewing bridge to take in the falls. Visiting Cameron Falls is great for all ages as you don’t have to trek far to see the beauty. Just a short stop from the car, you’ll be able to experience Waterton’s wonders.

Hike to Lower Bertha Falls + Bertha Lake

Lower Bertha Falls - Things To Do In Waterton National Park

The Lower Bertha Falls hike is similar to Bears Hump in terms of difficulty, but you are rewarded with waterfall sprays instead of views of another country. This is a great kid-friendly hike with easy terrain and minimal elevation gain.

Along the way to the falls, you’ll get plenty of views of Waterton Lake. Once you reach the falls, you can turn this into a longer hike and continue to Bertha Lake, another 3 km, 400 meters, and 21 switchbacks away. The reward is a brilliant green-blue lake!

Take a Boat Tour Around Waterton Lakes

The Boat Ferry For Hikers In Waterton National Park - Things To Do

Shoreline Cruise at the Waterton Marina runs boat tours daily around Waterton Lake. They run multiple cruises daily starting at $61 per adult. It’s a great way to get out on the water. You’ll also cross the border between Canada and the United States, with a quick pit stop in Goat Haunt in Glacier National Park in Montana. The cruise runs all summer, and the friendly staff will educate you about the details and history of Waterton National Park along the way.

Paahtómahksikimi Cultural Centre

Paahtómahksikimi Cultural Centre

The Paahtómahksikimi Cultural Centre is one of the best indigenous experiences in Alberta and helps visitors connect with the true Spirit of Waterton. It’s here you can visit and learn about the history of Paahtómahksikimi – meaning the inner sacred lake.

Golf in Waterton

A Golfer In Waterton National Park

The Waterton Lakes Golf Course is one of the oldest golf courses in Canada. This is an 18-hole course that golf enthusiasts will love. The course was inspired by Stanley Thompson’s design and constructed between 1929 and 1939. It is absolutely incredible, thanks to the mountain vistas. The golf course is open seven days a week during the summer!

20 Alberta Golf Courses to Tee Off At

Go for a Mountain Horseback Ride

horseback riding banff

The Canadian Rockies are among the top places in the world to go horseback riding. Alpine Stables is a family-run establishment well-known and respected in the community. They have been running tours since 1969 and continue to take visitors on the 200+ km of trails in Waterton Lakes National Park.

Cycle Around Waterton

Cameron Lake

Bring a road bike, mountain bike, or e-bike to Waterton National Park to enjoy some of the best trails in the summer. The Red Rock Canyon trail (mentioned above) is 36 km from town and the best trail to cycle.

Another great trail to consider is biking to Cameron Lake via Akamina Parkway. You can even stop at the First Oil Well in Western Canada. The trails to Crandell Lake, Lineham Falls, Rowe Lakes, Akamina Pass, Cameron Lakeshore, and Carthew-Alderson are along the road.

The other is the Kootenai Brown Trail, a multi-use trail that offers views of Middle Waterton Lake and the Prince of Wales Hotel. You can rent bikes at Pat’s Waterton and Blakiston & Co. Adventure Rentals.

Things To Do In Waterton In The Winter

Waterton National Park After A Fresh Snowfall

Most restaurants and hotels in Waterton shut down during the winter. Unlike the Town of Banff, tourism in Waterton is very low in the winter months. The only open hotels in the winter are Waterton Glacier Suites, Kilmorey Lodge, and Crandell Mountain Lodge.

Nevertheless, if you don’t mind not having the full Waterton experience, you’ll love visiting Waterton National Park in the winter. It’s a quiet time filled with endless beauty. Winter season begins in November and usually stretches into April.

  • Snowshoeing in Waterton: There is great snowshoeing around Cameron Lakes. Belleview trail, Wishbone trail (to Vimy junction), Townsite Loop trail, and Prince of Wales Hill are great places to snowshoe to avoid avalanche terrain.
  • Cross Country Skiing: Parks Canada sets skiing tracks on the Akamina Parkway between Little Prairie Day Use Area and Cameron Lake.
  • Fat Biking: Red Rock Parkway is closed to motor vehicle access in the winter and is a great fat bike ride.
  • Wildlife Viewing: Winter can be a fantastic time for wildlife viewing in Waterton. Look out for elk and, if you’re lucky, a cougar or lynx – or, at the very least, their tracks.
  • Ice Climbing: Prepared climbers can take to some of the popular ice climbs in the area. Popular climbs include the Compound Gullies, Quick and Dirty, Experts Choice, Lineham Falls, and Sullivan Falls.
  • Ice Skating: Linnet Lake near the Prince of Wales Hotel can be a great time to ice skate if the conditions are right.

How to Get to Waterton National Park

Natasha Along The Lakeshore Waterton National Park

As you may have gathered, Waterton Lakes National Park is on the US and Canada border. It’s only a 2.5 to 3 hour drive from Calgary, making it an easy day trip for Calgarians. If you’re coming from the States, there are few border crossings from Montana.

  • Calgary to Waterton (270 km): An easy 2 hr 50 min via AB-2 S will get you from the city to Waterton in no time.
  • Banff to Waterton (400km): This drive will take roughly four hours via Trans-Canada Hwy/AB-1 E and AB-2 S.
  • Lethbridge to Waterton (132 km): If coming from Lethbridge, you’re lucky, as it’s only a 1.5-hour drive to Waterton along AB-5 W.
  • Whitefish, Montana to Waterton (188 miles/300 km): If you’re busy exploring the US side of this park and want to venture across the border, it’s only a 3.5-hour drive via the Carway border crossing.

Purchase a Parks Pass for Waterton National Park

natasha and cameron along the red rock canyon parkway

You can purchase a Parks Canada pass at any park gate. Or you can buy them in advance online. A Parks Canada Discovery Pass, which gets you entrance to all Parks Canada destinations for the year, is only $151.25 for a family. Day passes are $11.00 per person, so depending on how many days you are staying and if you have plans to go to Banff, you may want to consider the Discovery Pass.

Parks Canada Day Pass Rates
Pass TypeRate
Youth (up to 17)Free
Family/Group (7 Persons)$22.00
Day passes expire at 4 pm the following day.

Where to Eat in Waterton National Park

best things to do in waterton national park
  • Wieners of Waterton: This small shop serves amazing sweet potato fries and gourmet hot dogs with homemade sauces.
  • The Taco Bar: Inexpensive and basic taco shop. Great for a quick bite!
  • The Thirsty Bear: A hip bar with live music and happy hour specials.
  • Lakeside Chophouse: Fancy restaurant with lakeside seating. Perhaps the most expensive in Waterton, but great for a special occasion.
  • Royal Stewart Dining Room at the Prince of Wales Hotel: Step back into history at the Prince of Wales Hotel. This is another place to have a memorable dinner on a special occasion.

Where to Stay in Waterton National Park

Prince Of Wales Hotel - Things To Do In Waterton National Park

The best place to stay in Waterton is the Prince of Wales Hotel, which sits perfectly over Upper Waterton Lake. Stepping into the Prince of Wales will take you back in time to 1927, when this historic hotel first opened its doors.

The hotel was built for the Great Nothern Railway Company and is considered one of the best railway hotels. The whole building was deemed a National Historic Site of Canada in 1922 and remains true to its roots to this day. The historic hotel has seven floors, with most of the rooms overlooking Upper Waterton Lake.

This is the only Canadian Railway hotel built by an American company. After hearing stories, we learned that the hotel was built in an attempt to lure American tourists to Canada during the prohibition era when drinking alcohol was prohibited in the United States.

All Americans had to do was cross the border from Montana. The hotel was named after the Prince of Wales, although the prince had never actually stayed there.

It’s a timeless place to stay in Waterton, with comfortable and spacious rooms. I would highly consider having a meal here whether you are a guest or not and definitely try the Afternoon Tea mentioned above.

How Long Should You Spend in Waterton National Park?

waterton lakes

We spent two nights and three days in Waterton National Park, which was the perfect amount of time. I could have used more time to relax, hike some of the surrounding peaks, and enjoy more things to do in Waterton. Two nights gave me a good taste of what Waterton had to offer, but I really can’t wait to return. Ideally, I recommend visitors spend at least two full days in the park.

When is the Best Time to Visit Waterton National Park?

best things to do in waterton national park

The best time to visit Waterton National Park for great weather is between June and September, though even visiting in May and October will still provide you with some nice sunny days. We visited in August and had nothing but sunshine and warmth at Waterton Lakes – and a lot of wind (Waterton Lakes is one of the windiest places in Canada).

That said, winter is still an awesome time to visit Waterton Lakes National Park, though many services shut down. During the winter, you stand a good chance of seeing some awesome wildlife – perfect for photography. It’s also possible to go cross-country skiing, see the Northern Lights, or take a hike up Bears Hump.

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About Natasha

Natasha calls Canmore, Alberta home. After traveling across seven continents and 90 countries with Cameron, she settled down in the stunning Canadian Rockies. She loves to help others travel and make their planning easier. She is a winter enthusiast and loves to snowboard, ice skate, and snowshoe and enjoy all the fantastic summer opportunities in Banff like hiking, scrambling, and biking. You can find her in the mountains or enjoying a coffee by the river. Learn more on the about us page!

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8 thoughts on “20 BEST Things To Do In Waterton National Park In Alberta”

  1. Thanks for sharing these tips! My mum and I are planning to visit Waterton after visiting family in Calgary. Although, after reading and watching some youtube videos on the Crypt Lake Trail, I sadly don’t think my mum could do it at 62 years old. Might be a tricky one and I’ll save for a future trip with friends.

    • That’s probably a could call. It’s pretty rough terrain and uneven if you’re not sure-footed. Not to fret there are still plenty of other great views and hikes in Waterton. You’ll have a great time.

  2. What a fantastic blog! I’m visiting Waterton in June and found this blog to be my only needed resource for planning. Coming from Calgary Airport, is there any particular route you would recommend for scenery? Or even a recommended stop in route to Waterton? Thanks in advance for any advice and for all that you have provided already.

    • Hi Roy,

      You could take a short detour to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump World Heritage Site, which might be of interest to you. The small mountain town of Fernie is two hours away from Waterton, and might be of interest. It is a great place for more hiking and biking.

  3. Great post!! How busy is Waterton? Canmore has gotten much more popular in recent years. I’m hoping to be in the mountains, but with a little more solitude.

  4. I was wondering if the Wolf Dog Sanctuary was well worth it or not? It is on the maybe list for us. We will be coming the end of August into September. Any other ideas as well would be helpful as we have never been there.


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