Located on the border of Alberta, Canada and Montana, Waterton Lakes National Park is mainly a summer destination, boasting beautiful mountains, sparkling lakes and an abundance of wildlife. There are quaint hotels and lodges, restaurants and enough hiking trails to keep you busy for days. In the wintertime though, most of the hotels close down, the restaurants close their doors, all the shops shut down and this national park becomes a ghost town. With only two hotels and two restaurants remaining open, I was a little hesitant to visit in the winter. But I was after a winter wonderland, one that promised fresh powder to snowshoe and frankly I wanted to avoid the masses of people that take over this park in the Summer. So off to Waterton we went.
It’s only supposed to be a 2.5hr drive from Calgary to reach this National Park, but turns out it can be a lot longer when a snowstorm is in action. A whopping 5 hours later, we finally reached the “Welcome to Waterton Lakes National Park” sign, after hours of white knuckle driving and trying my best to stay on the road and not in the ditch. Checking into one of the two hotels that are open through the winter, The Waterton Glacier Suites, we learned that up until the day before there was actually no snow on the ground. Standing knee deep in fresh snow, it seems suspect that all of this snow has just fallen. The town is quiet, sleepy and we learn we are only two of four people staying in the town that night and we have a quiet dinner in the pub and head off to sleep, anticipating an early morning.
The clouds parted and the sun was peeking out as we woke up and geared up for our day of winter fun. The plows had been hard at work while we had been sleeping so navigating the roads were easy as we made our way through town and to the visitors centre. Although the visitors centre isn’t open in the winter, it’s where our first trailhead was. Bear’s Hump is rated as a short but steep hike in the summer that offers breathtaking panorama views of the lakes and mountains, as well as the townsite. In the winter, it’s a snowshoe trek that offers the same views. Being the only visitors in the town, we broke the trail up, with a few short breaks to catch our breath in the cold brisk air (temperatures were around -15 C). The views were as promised, and the untouched snow provided us a winter playground to jump around, make snow angels and take some stunning photos.
There are over 200km of trails to explore in Waterton on snowshoes and choosing which one to explore next proves troublesome as the choices are endless. Bertha Lakes seems to be one of the most popular in the summer so we decide it must be great in the winter too. The trail head leaves right from the edge of town and passes by the beautiful, frozen Cameron Falls while offering stunning views of Upper Waterton Lake and the surrounding mountains. A more strenuous and tough trail, there are plenty of breaks to be had along the way.
The quietness of the town brings the wildlife out and along the trails and in the prairies we spot numerous elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, mountain goats, big horn sheep and even an elusive moose hiding in the trees.
We find the famous red chairs that Parks Canada puts out in the best viewing spots, we snowshoe up to the beautiful Prince of Wales Hotel and we take plenty of selfies, because there isn’t another soul to be found.
Wintertime in Waterton I learn is magical, teeming with both snowshoe and cross country skiing opportunities as well as wildlife. Compared to summertime, where the town is literally taken over by the thousands of people, it is a ghost town. With plenty of warm gear, some groceries picked up along the way, a full gas tank and a sense of adventure, visitors here can have one incredible winter experience.