The Kenow Fire, which swept through the park last September, has left the western half of Waterton Lakes National Park closed for the 2018 summer season, including most of the park’s hiking trails.
While hiking opportunities in the park will be more limited this year, the closures do offer an excellent excuse to visit some areas you might not normally consider.
With the exception of the popular Crypt Lake trail, the Wishbone, Vimy Peak, and a few short trails in the Waterton Valley, all other trails described in the Canadian Rockies Trail Guide will be off limits while Parks Canada reviews fire damage. That means the entire 2018 hiking season.
Since Crypt Lake is recognized as one of the classic hikes in the Rockies, everyone expects more visitors will be hiking the trail this summer, and Waterton Shoreline Cruise Co. is gearing up for the expected increase.
During high season (June 30 to Sept 3), there are three morning sailings from the Waterton Shoreline Cruise dock in the townsite to Crypt Landing; boats return to Crypt Landing at 4:00 and 5:30 to retrieve hikers at day’s end.
If you are planning a hike to Crypt Lake, you should book at the Waterton Shoreline Cruise Co. office as soon as you arrive in the park (there are no phone or online reservations).
And by the way, the cruise company’s Wanda Robinson says boats are already sailing to Crypt Landing (May 31) and most hikers are making it to Crypt Lake despite snow on the trail past Burnt Rock Falls. (Expect treacherous footing and a lake that is mostly ice and snow-covered. Hiking spikes and poles recommended.)
Akamina-Kishinena Provincial Park
Even though most of Akamina-Kishinena was torched by the Kenow Fire, BC Parks has not closed the park, which includes the popular Forum Lake and Wall Lake trails and Akamina Ridge traverse (see Hazards due to wildfire damage). But it is a mute point, since these trails are almost always accessed from Waterton’s Akamina Parkway, which is closed.
Hiker shuttle bus
The hiker’s shuttle operated by Waterton Outdoor Adventures is facing another summer without the Carthew-Alderson and Tamarack trails. But shuttles will be available by appointment from their downtown office to other less-visited trailheads, including Wishbone-Vimy Peak and the Bellevue Prairie trail (Bison Paddock).
And shuttles will be running again to Chief Mountain Customs on the U.S. border, providing pick-up and drop-off for the Belly River trail.
Belly River is a popular entry or exit point for trips into the remote northeast corner of Montana’s Glacier National Park. There are numerous lakes and campgrounds in this section of Glacier, and even the possibility of a multi-day backpack connecting to the south end of Upper Waterton Lake via Stoney Indian Pass (see International Launch).
If you do plan a trip into this scenic region, you’ll need a USNPS backcountry permit to overnight in Glacier and a Canadian or U.S. passport to cross the border at Chief Mountain Customs. (See Backcountry Camping in Glacier National Park.)
The 129-site Crandell Mountain Campground is closed for the 2018 season. This places more pressure on the 247-site Townsite Campground and 24-site Belly River Campground to take up the slack.
You can reserve sites at the Townsite Campground, but Belly River is first come, first served. If you are planning to camp, I would advise reserving a site in the Townsite Campground well in advance of your trip.
No backcountry camping is available in the park this season since all designated campgrounds are contained within the closed area.
Other options in Waterton this summer
Relax! Ever since my first visits to Waterton when I was 18 years old, I have enjoyed the townsite and the manicured campground contained within its boundaries. After a long day of hiking, it is a pleasure returning to the townsite campground and browsing around this unique village.
Just hanging out on the shore of Upper Waterton Lake and watching tour boats, paddle boarders, and whatever, is something you can’t duplicate in any other mountain park.
Aside from lining up outside the Waterton Shoreline Cruise office to get a spot on the boat to Crypt Landing, there are day-hiking possibilities that people might not consider during a normal summer when the park is fully open.
Though we don’t describe this hike in the Canadian Rockies Trail Guide, this rolling 3.5-km trail running north from the Red Rock Parkway beneath Bellevue Hill is one of the best wildflower hikes in the Canadian Rockies.
While Red Rock Parkway is closed to motor vehicles this summer, the road’s first 3 kms to the Bellevue Prairie trailhead is open to hikers and cyclists. (You can hike out-and-back from the north trailhead at the Bison Paddock, bike from town to the south trailhead on the Red Rock Parkway, or arrange a hike using the shuttle bus service.)
Goat Haunt trails
The International Launch that takes people to the south end of the lake and the U.S. Park Service’s Goat Haunt Ranger Station will likely be busy this summer.
Most of the folks on this historic motor launch are just taking a tour to the end of Upper Waterton Lake and back. But you can also spend the day hiking from Goat Haunt to lakes and viewpoints in Glacier National Park and catch the last boat back to the townsite in the late afternoon or early evening. You might even want to camp on the Waterton River, at Kootenai Lakes or Lake Janet.
If you do plan on hiking into Glacier National Park, you’ll have to check in at Goat Haunt Ranger Station with a valid Canadian or U.S. passport. And backpackers will need a backcountry permit. Again, the Waterton Shoreline Cruise Co. is your point of departure for the International.
The most popular day hikes from Goat Haunt are the Viewpoint Trail (1.6 km), Rainbow Falls (2.6 km), and Kootenai Lakes (4.5 km).
A lot of what happens in Waterton Lakes National Park this summer will depend on whether the park experiences its usual levels of visitation or if visitors avoid the park in the wake of last year’s fire and subsequent closures.
Waterton is a special place. I think it’s worth taking a chance and planning a different itinerary than the usual. I would recommend getting a copy of Gem Trek’s Waterton Lakes National Park map, which provides the best and most current coverage of the park and describes trails from Goat Haunt. This map is available at a number of outlets in the mountain parks and online from Map Town.
Meanwhile, the Baker family, proprietors of Waterton’s venerable outdoor outfitting shop The Tamarack, has come up with list of things to do in the park during this unique summer. Check out What to do in Waterton 2018.