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Discover Winter in Waterton National Park, Canada - A Jewel of the Alberta Parks

By touring - Posted on 10 March 2010

Waterton in the Winter - Weird & Spooky

I consider Waterton National Park to be one of the most beautiful areas in all of the mountain parks in Alberta. But Waterton in the winter can be a spooky place!

My wife & I didn't know what to expect in Waterton in November so we were surprised to find that the animals in town outnumbered the people by at least 100 to 1.

In the summer, the population of this small, southwestern town explodes to a few thousand tourists who come to experience the hiking, boating and scenic beauty of the area.

In the winter, the town shrinks to about 100 people, most of them park staff. Deer and elk take over Waterton in the winter.

Upon our arrival to Waterton National Park, the gates were wide open and the attendant booths were empty as if we were about to enter a ghost town.

As we approached, we noticed that most businesses were shut for the season. The shops were boarded up and the streets were empty. The entire town was as if in a winter slumber.

We only saw two other tourists there, walking hand-in-hand down a distant street. Few cars were clear of snow & ice. It felt like this entire corner of province was in hibernation.

As we drove across town to Cameron Falls, we couldn't help but notice the hundreds of deer and elk grazing on the last of the autumn foliage in the front yards of the homes. The two peacocks we saw didn't fit with the scenery of naked trees and snow-covered mountains.

Deer would stare at us drive by; elk would stop on the sidewalk and watch our movement. We felt like we were intruders in their Rocky Mountian paradise.

Feeling a bit out of place amongst the herds, we finally inched our way to Cameron Falls. We stayed in the car so as to not disturb the new residents. Even from inside of the car, the quiet roar of the falls could be heard. It was beautiful.

We continued our driving tour of the town and realized that these animals were taking advantage of the yet-to-be-frozen vegetation in the valley bottom. Snow had already accumulated at the higher elevations but the grass was still green in the valley bottom.

Upon further investigation, we learned that this migration had been taking place for ages and the animals still descend from their higher feeding grounds in the surrounding mountains, oblivious to the humans that remained in town.

Things to do in Waterton in the Winter

  • Skating is available on the frozen Upper Waterton Lake.
  • Take a day trip to Waterton Lakes National Park to enjoy the quiet beauty of this mountain park.
  • Walk the paved paths around town and enjoy getting close to wildlife. But not too close!
  • Hiking in Waterton Lakes National Park would not be complete without trudging up the Bears Hump Hike.
  • Ice-climb some of the frozen waterfalls in the park. Check at the Warden's office for locations and conditions.
  • Winter camping is free at the Pass Creek picnic site. I'm sure there are some people who would enjoy this, but not us!
  • There are two cross-country ski trails in the park. The Dipper ski trail (6.5 kilometers) and the Cameron ski trail (5 kilometers). These trails are mainly for beginners & intermediate skiers.
  • The road to Red Rock Canyon is closed to vehicles from late-October to May. This makes for a 16 kilometer corss-country ski trail.
  • Snowshoeing is also available next to these ski trails.
  • The Akamina Parkway is closed after about 10 kilometers but you can still tour the historical monument to the first oil well in Alberta.

Before You Go

  • Please note that dogs are not permitted on some trails. In other areas, they should be leashed at all other times.
  • There are only a few hotels & restaurants open in the winter. Come prepared for a day-trip.
  • Check the road conditions before you leave.
  • This is an alternate day trip from Calgary (Highway 40 through Kananaskis is closed from December 1 to June 15). A day trip to Waterton is scenic but makes for a long day.

For More Information

Contact Waterton Lakes National Park at 1-403-859-2224 or visit their website.

Driving directions to Waterton, Alberta.

It takes about 3 hours one way (270 kilometers) to get from Calgary to Waterton National Park. Drive south on Highway 2 to Fort McLeod, turn west on Highway 3 to Pincher Creek and then take Highway 6 south.

Other Hikes & Things to Do in Waterton

Visiting Waterton in the winter is one of the most beautiful, weird and wonder experiences in the Alberta parks.

Check out other things to do in Alberta.

Waterton National Park in the Winter

Get more insider tips on Canadian Adventures at Scenic Travel Canada.

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