An Afternoon in Waterton, Alberta

IMG_7342_LUCiDOur second day in Montana we woke up on the eastern side of Glacier National Park, grabbed some coffee and scones from the shop in our hotel, and got ready to set out for Alberta, Canada, so we could see the Canadian portion of Glacier National Park.

As we were about to set out, I realized I needed to write one more discussion post to close out my homework assignments for the week. While I sat in the car frantically trying to type out something reasonably academic on my phone using the hotel WiFi, Brian grabbed my camera and ended up taking some of my favorite photos from the trip.

We really enjoyed staying at the St. Mary Lodge and Resort—it’s right outside the park entrance, has beautiful views of the park, and plenty of amenities, including multiples places to eat.

We had a lovely room on the third floor of the lodge with a balcony overlooking the park, and if we’d had more time I would have loved to have stayed there a few days and made better use of our balcony and view!

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Once my homework was complete we drove north through Babb and cut over on the Chief Mountain International Highway and through the Blood Indian Reserve toward the U.S./Canadian border.

Along the way, we slowed down to take pictures and to accommodate the free-range cattle that seemed to have a particular affinity for both crossing and walking along the road. They were everywhere!

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Our border crossing was uneventful—there was no one in line so we cruised right through. I was bummed to find out from the woman working the border control that the historic Prince of Wales Hotel was already closed for the season—we had hoped to stop in for tea or at least a coffee and dessert. Guess we’ll have to save that experience for next time!

We took our time and pulled into a few overlook areas as we entered the Waterton Glacier International Peace Park, which UNESCO describes as follows:

In 1932 Waterton Lakes National Park (Alberta, Canada) was combined with the Glacier National Park (Montana, United States) to form the world’s first International Peace Park. Situated on the border between the two countries and offering outstanding scenery, the park is exceptionally rich in plant and mammal species as well as prairie, forest, and alpine and glacial features.

The park was beautiful– it seemed as though every time we rounded a bend we were greeted with breathtaking views of the mountains and valleys.

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In researching Waterton, the hotel and national park are frequently referenced as the clear area highlights. However, we quickly learned that the town itself had a lot to offer, even in the off-season.

As we entered the park and received our maps and information from the park ranger, we discovered that much of the area was still closed due to the 2017 wildfires, which had burned almost 48,000 acres around Waterton and 17,000 acres in Glacier. While we were disappointed that we wouldn’t get to explore much of the park–almost all the hiking trails were closed–it did make it easier for us to narrow down the few things we would actually be able to see and do during our time.

We turned down a short drive and wound our way to a small beach park where we could see the hotel, town and marina, and the full scale of the 2017 wildfire impacts. The mountains, which in park pictures are typically covered in giant green trees, were completely barren with their rocky sides fully exposed. Although not the beautiful, lush views you’ll find online, their rugged nature was also beautiful and a reminder of what’s typically hidden from view by the forest.

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We drove through town, noting a few places we could later grab lunch, and parked near the trailhead for Bertha Falls, one of the few hiking trails open to the public. We scaled a nearby hill to join the trail and set off into what remains of the woods.

I’ve never walked through an area devastated by fires—it was a little eerie being surrounded by dead tree trunks but renewal was beginning on the forest floor. The upside to all of the trees being burned is that you could see into the distance in ways that wouldn’t have been possible had all of the trees been alive and lush with leaves and needles.

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Bertha Falls was unlike other waterfalls we’ve seen in that the water has carved the rock into interesting diagonal angles.

We roamed around the bottom of the falls, which turned into a stream that wound through the forest, and we also climbed up alongside the falls to catch some views of it in its entirety.

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We had the falls to ourselves but passed multiple groups of people on their way to the falls as we were heading back. We relocated our car downtown and decided to grab some food at Trappers Mountain Grill and Smokehouse downtown.

We shared some BBQ and Brian had to try the Saskatoon berry pie—neither of us remember having it before!

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Following our meal we popped in a few shops and then decided to head back to the U.S. and the Many Glacier portion of the national park. As we were turning out of the park onto the road back to the border patrol station, we noticed a line of cars to our left and an elk herd running across the road!

Brian drove over to get in line and we sat there watching as hundreds of elk tore across the road and into the brush. It was like waiting on a train—they just kept coming, huge males with gigantic racks, tons of females, and even a good number of calves. It was really incredible, and as soon as they had passed the traffic continued and they were nowhere to be seen.

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It was an incredible way to end our time in Waterton. If you’re headed to Glacier National Park and have some extra time in your itinerary, I highly recommend crossing the border into the northern part of the park. The town is beautiful, despite all of the wildfires, and the stretch of country between Babb and Waterton is incredible.

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