A three hour drive south of Calgary, lying on the Canada-US border, is one of the most beautiful destinations in the Canadian Rockies. Waterton National Park is a biosphere reserve, and along with Glacier National Park in Montana, forms the world’s first international peace park, designated a world heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1995. Waterton-Glacier also holds the designation of international dark sky park, recognized by the International Dark Sky Association (IDA) in 2017. This is the only IDA designation to cross an international border.
The park is home to another amazing wonder as well, and the dream-hike known as Crypt Lake Trail. National Geographic twice has included this trail on a list of the twenty most thrilling hikes in the world. It is not for the feint of heart with an elevation gain of nearly 2300 feet, including a cave to climb through, steep cliffs, narrow precipices and nearly 20 km of hiking to plan for, including the Hell Roaring Falls extension.
There is the option of walking to the trailhead and back via Wishbone Trail, but that is going to add 30 km to your journey. Another option is canoeing or kayaking to the trailhead and a local shop like Blakiston and Company might be willing to make arrangements to rent out the equipment for the day if you contact them. The only issue there is that it sometimes can get very windy in the park, so some experience is recommended. Most commonly hikers book a ticket with the Waterton Shoreline Cruise Co., and take a 15 minute ferry ride across the lake. Luckily, in our case, they reopened the day before a group of five of us set out to conquer the Crypt Lake Trail on July 19, 2020, following closure due to COVID-19 regulations in the park. This also meant a few less people on the trail than you would regularly expect on that particular day.
Crypt Lake Trail will put your legs and stamina to the test. Make sure you stay hydrated, but with the use of the LifeStraw technology for precautions, you can enjoy several freshwater sources along your route, instead of being weighed down too much. Throughout your day you pass four amazing waterfalls, with opportunities for all types of wildlife sightings. A bear was spotted on the trail the day before our adventure began, and spray is recommended for hikers. If you are afraid of heights, you may not be able to reach Crypt Lake beyond its most intriguing challenge, including a cliffside walk on a ledge a couple feet wide, climb up a rickety ladder into a cave and a push through a natural low-ceiling tunnel about 60 feet. That all may be the easy part, as you come out the other side of the cave, and then use a steel cable (careful it is sharp in spots) for support to climb an increasingly narrow precipice, complete with wind gusts and what seems like a 1000 foot drop, if you dare to look down. The reward for all your hard work though, beyond the bragging rights, is the chance to spend time at a pristine alpine lake that sits in both the United States of America and Canada. There are zero better spots for a picnic lunch, that is for sure.
Check out some highlights from the hike in the gallery below: