The drive into Waterton Lakes National Park could be an opening scene for The Land Before Time or Jurassic Park. The rolling grassy hills lead to some of the oldest sedimentary rock formations found in the Canadian Rockies. These contrast the steep and jagged slopes found near Banff and Jasper.
Although you won’t see dinosaurs here now, you can see another unique creature. Just north of the entrance, you can drive through a paddock and watch bison in their natural habitat.
There are many other reasons one might visit Waterton Lakes National Park—golfing, camping, water activities and the historic 1927 Prince of Wales Hotel—but my adventurous soul had come specifically for Waterton’s famed Crypt Lake hike. In 2014 and 2017, National Geographic named it one of the world’s most thrilling trails. I needed to come to this small corner of Alberta and check it out for myself.
The day of the trek started at 9 a.m. with an exciting 20-minute boat ride (cost: $25) to Crypt Landing. (Note: Book a spot in advance to avoid disappointment as the trailhead is only reachable by boat.) With 20 kilometers ahead of me that day, I was relieved that it began with a casual incline through the forest. Slowly, the trail became more exposed and steeper, as my friends and I left the forest and began the climb up switchbacks. I would have missed the shade the forest provided if I wasn’t completely consumed by the awe-inspiring views of the cascading waterfalls, mountains and valley laid out before me.
The true adventure started when we made it to the ledge, the tunnel and the cables. There is enough space to walk comfortably along the ledge, unless you are very terrified of heights, as the right side tapers off to a steep drop. The narrow rock ledge has a cable handrail if you need it. It leads directly to a metal ladder firmly bolted to the rock. This took us up into a 60-foot long tunnel through the mountainside. I ducked and bent my body and pack to maneuver myself through the tight tunnel, mostly effortlessly, but sometimes requiring an extra push or squeeze. The exit from the tunnel is a short scramble down to another rock ledge with a steep drop off, followed by a short cable-assisted walk along the remainder of the rocky mountainside and back to the safety of a forested trail. The easy walk through the remainder of the trek gave me time to catch my breath and slow my heart rate before arriving to our destination, Crypt Lake.
We found a quiet spot along the emerald-blue alpine shoreline to have our picnic lunch and give our bodies some rest before the journey back down. With a few hours to kill, I read my book. The boys tried their luck fishing. On the way out, we couldn’t miss out on the opportunity to be in two countries in one day by taking a lap around the shoreline of Crypt Lake. This route takes you through a small section of Glacier National Park, Montana. The descent is much the same, though trickier going down. We arrived back at Crypt Landing with 15 minutes to spare before our pick up at 5:30 p.m. From there, the shuttle took us back to Waterton Village, where we found ice-cold beer and pizza. A well-earned reward.
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