Sightseeing in Waterton Lakes

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Written by Administrator posted on Monday, February 2nd, 2009

Red Rock Canyon | Cameron Falls | Cameron Lake | Waterton Lake Boat Tour

Scenic Drives

Waterton’s Scenic Parkways

The Entrance Road runs from the entrance gate to the townsite. The road provides scenic views overlooking the Waterton Valley. It starts out on the prairie and follows the Waterton Lakes chain past the Prince of Wales Hotel before ending at the townsite. It is also one of the best roads in the park for viewing wildlife.

The Chief Mountain Highway

The Chief Mountain Highway is the primary route between Waterton Lakes and Glacier National Parks. The highway climbs from the grasslands near Maskinonge Lake to the Three Flags Viewpoint, which offers a magnificent view of the Waterton and Blakiston valleys. En route to the international border crossing, the highway passes through wetlands and the site of the Sofa Mountain fire. Travellers can continue across the international border past Chief Mountain to the community of St. Mary, on the boundary of Glacier National Park.

Red Rock Parkway

Red Rock Canyon (16 km or 25 minutes from the Visitor Centre).

spectacular prairie and mountain scenery.

excellent wildlife viewing.

native history display.

The Red Rock Parkway travels 15 km up the Blakiston Valley through rolling grasslands and ends at Red Rock Canyon. It is the best place to experience Waterton’s classic prairie meeting mountain landscape. At the end of the parkway, a short, self-guided trail loops around the canyon. In June, the wildflowers are spectacular along this road. It is also a great place for wildlife viewing. The parkway is narrow and is not suitable for larger motorhomes.

Akamina Parkway

  • Cameron Lake (16 km or 25 minutes from the Visitor Centre).
  • in the subalpine zone with an elevation gain of 400 metres (1300 ft.) from the town of Waterton to the lake.
  • Discovery Well (site of the first producing oil well in western Canada) 6 km up the parkway.
  • Oil City display.

The Akamina Parkway is a winding mountain road which runs 16 km along the Cameron Valley and ends at Cameron Lake. Cameron Lake has an interpretive exhibit and a boat rental concession. A pleasant trail follows the western shore of the lake for 1.6 kilometres.

Wildlife note: Bring binoculars and scan the far shore for wandering grizly bears…

Chief Mountain Highway #6
to Chief Mountain Customs and the U.S. border, 30 km (30 minutes) from the Visitor Centre.

Chief Mountain overlook.

Town of Cardston

The Town of Cardston is nestled in the rolling foothills of Southwest Alberta, just 30 minutes from the majesty of Waterton/Glacier International Peace Park. Here in the shadows of the mountains, Cardston was established in 1887 by Mormon Pioneers from Utah who travelled to Alberta in one of the century’s last covered wagon migrations. Today, Cardston is returning to its roots in the era of the “horse and buggy” at the new Remington – Alberta Carriage Centre. visit our web site to see other attractions

Scuba Diving

Most scuba divers choose to dive in the Emerald Bay portion of Upper Waterton Lake. Cameron Bay is another good spot for divers.

An old paddle wheeler, the “Gertrude”, built in the early 1900’s, lies on the bottom of Emerald Bay at a depth of 20 metres. The best visibility is often in early spring or during the fall. Please do not use the Gertrude as a rest spot and remember it is illegal to remove anything you may find on your dive.

The Emerald Bay picnic area is a popular and often crowded place. For safety reasons, and as a courtesy to other users of this site, scuba divers are requested not to use generators and air compressors at the picnic site but to refill tanks at the upper parking lot of the Parks Canada compound.

It’s easy to get out and explore this park “Where the Mountains Meet the Prairie”. Grasslands sweep up wide valleys and lower mountain sides, allowing for excellent wildlife viewing.

This meeting of prairie and mountain underlies Waterton’s unusually rich variety of plants. Over 970 plant species are found here, and many are rare. Prairie plants mix with mountain and coastal species (which thrive here because our climate is largely influenced by weather from the Pacific northwest). Wildflowers paint the prairie in spring. Step out of your car from any roadside pullout and within a short wander you can easily count twenty or thirty different types of wildflowers.

The landscape and variety of life you see in Waterton was shaped by natural processes like fire and flood, and continues to depend on them for its health. Evidence of these processes is easily experienced as you drive or walk in the park. A spring trip along a road crossing the Blakiston Fan will allow you to experience first hand the influences of water and floods in the creation of this important wildlife habitat. It’s no coincidence that this is also an excellent place to see deer, elk, moose, and a variety of birds.

Erosion caused by moving water has also created two of Waterton’s most popular features – Cameron Falls in the townsite, and the gorge exposing the colourful sedimentary rocks of Red Rock Canyon.

The benefits of fire for plants and wildlife are easily seen during a drive along the Chief Mountain Highway. Portions of this road pass beside and through the site of the 1998 Sofa Mountain Fire. Experience this renewed landscape first hand, and take your camera. It’s a photographers paradise.

The park’s variety of plant communities provide homes for many animals, including over 60 species of mammals, over 250 species of birds, 24 fish and 10 reptiles and amphibians. The grasslands provide important range for elk, mule deer and white-tailed deer. Bighorn sheep and deer are commonly seen in the townsite, and a small display herd of bison is located near the Pincher Creek entrance to the park. Wildlife are often visible in the park, and can be watched from your vehicle or a boat safely and with a minimum of disturbance to their lives.

Late summer and fall are particularly good viewing times, especially for black bears, elk and deer. The grasslands covering the lower mountain sides provide important food sources which attract wildlife; as well as open views which make them more visible. Black bears are often seen feeding in berry patches in the lower valleys at this time of year.

Ungulates such as deer, elk and bighorn sheep mate in the fall, so they are looking their best at this time; with antlers at peak growth and thick, shiny coats. This is the time of year when you can experience bugling elk and their large harems, or head-butting tests of strength by bighorn sheep.

A small herd of plains bison are maintained near the north entrance to the park off Highway 6. The bison can be seen from the narrow road which winds through the paddock. Please do not leave your car. The bison are unpredictable and aggressive. This road is not suitable for trailers. A short walk from a nearby pullout leads to an overlook of the paddock and the rolling prairie surrounding it.

Wildlife tend to be more active early or late in the day, so these are the best times to look for them. Your sightseeing is also enhanced by varying your means of access. While much of the park is readily viewed and enjoyed while driving the scenic parkways, take some time to park in a pull-out and go for a short walk on the prairie, along a short trail, or to one of the interpretive exhibits found along the way.

The “Native History” exhibit on the Red Rock Parkway provides a short stroll, information about native use of the valley, plus a spectacular view of the Blakiston valley. A short stop at the “First Oil Well In Western Canada” National Historic Site marker introduces you to some park history, and a short exploration along the creek side may even reveal a first hand experience with oil seepages which still remain.

Waterton’s most recognized landmark – the Prince of Wales Hotel – is also a national historic site. It is well worth a stop to wander through the lobby and take in the classic view of Upper Waterton Lake which symbolizes the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.

Waterton’s two national historic sites are part of a much larger system of sites found across Canada. You can visit many more of these sites while you are in southern Alberta, including the Bar U Ranch, Stirling Agricultural Village and Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump.

Another excellent way to experience the International Peace Park is by taking the Waterton Inter-Nation Shoreline Cruise down the Upper Waterton Lake and across the International Boundary to Goat Haunt Ranger Station in Glacier National Park (USA). This 2-hour boat tour starts from the marina in town. In addition to exceptional sightseeing, the trip includes a commentary by excellent guides.

What’s the best sightseeing if you only have….

…a couple of hours – We recommend you visit the Prince of Wales Hotel for the spectacular view of the Upper Waterton valley, then drive up the Red Rock Parkway to the canyon. If you have time, stretch your legs on the short loop around the upper canyon.

…half a day – We recommend you drive up the Red Rock Parkway to the canyon. On your way back towards the townsite, visit the Prince of Wales Hotel for the spectacular view of the Upper Waterton valley. Then take the 20 minute drive up the Akamina Parkway to Cameron Lake, where you can browse the interpretive exhibit and stroll around the lakeshore. This is a wonderful place for a picnic. If you don’t bring food, you can stop in at the townsite for lunch before departing.

…a day – You can easily drive all the scenic parkways, but we recommend travelling the Red Rock Parkway early or late in the day. You will have ample time to walk one of the short trails at Cameron Lake and Red Rock Canyon. There is also an excellent vista of most of the park from the Three Flags Viewpoint on the Chief Mountain Highway. You should be able to do all this, plus take in the worthwhile 2-hour boat cruise on Upper Waterton Lake.

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