The famous Crypt Lake Trail is synonymous with Waterton. Any conversation you get into with someone who has visited the park will inevitably lead to tales of this formidable hike. It was also a bucket list item for my wife and I; something we talked about doing ever since we honeymooned in Waterton back in 2010.
The time has come.
Hiking anywhere in Waterton will offer up amazing views - especially during the wildflower season. People may have wondered about the recovery of the park since the massive forest fire that plagued the area in 2017 (which came incredibly close to the town). Certainly, the evidence of the devastating blaze is apparent, but the renewal of the park is there also. I expected charred remains to scar the terrain, but instead a lush undergrowth has already staked its claim.
Now one thing this place does exceedingly well is charm. We decided to stay at the Bear Mountain Motel, a quaint, well-situated place in the heart of Waterton. Upon arrival, we were greeted with a pile of candies, teddy bear made from folded tea towels and a birthday card for my lovely wife! What a sweet gesture! While this was a no-frills room, it was tidy and served us well.
Waterton also offers free town-wide internet access through the Waterton Community Broadband Network, which was quite useful during our stay,
Now. Onto the hike.
To access the trail head, you need to take the ferry, which leaves various times through the morning. We took the earliest one possible (8:30am - missed the earlier one at 8:15am as we decided to grab a quick coffee and snack for the trip!). Make sure you are there to buy a ticket on the ferry early. We got there at about 7:45a.m. and were second in line. Within a minute, the dock filled up with people. Saturdays are the most popular day, but it pays to be early. Also, you have the option of choosing the 4pm or 5:30pm pick up at the end of the hike. We chose the 5:30pm, with intention of boating the earlier one. Usually, if there is room on the 4pm boat, you can catch a ride - with 4pm ticket holders having seating priority of course!
One could be forgiven if you think the Crypt Lake Trail is all narrow paths on rocky cliffs that only a mountain goat could navigate. That's about 0.000001% of the actual hike.
That being said, it's not an easy trek! It's nearly 19km round trip of beauty, challenge, adventure and exhaustion....maybe not quite in that order.
The first half or so of the trail is actually treed, which provided excellent shade for the morning. The trail start uphill right away, and is a challenge even with the cooler temperatures. Lots of wildflowers and plant life here!
After awhile, you emerge from the trees into eh wide open. We were fortunate enough that the clouds came in over the mountains and shielded us from the heat for the majority of this portion. The climb remains steep with more switchbacks and gravel on the trail. You really need to watch where you put your feet during this whole climb!
We had the good fortune to hike the majority of Crypt Lake with a well-seasoned hiker. Gary is an energetic octogenarian who estimates navigating Crypt Lake at least 50 times, about twice a year since he took up hiking. We learned a lot from Gary, who out-paced climbers more than half his age! He seemed to know every nook and cranny like the back of his hand, and showed us some places tourists often bypass - like where Crypt Lake actually drains out and a wonderful view of the waterfall from the top.
We're grateful for you putting up with us, Gary, and for all the insight you shared! It was a marvellous experience tagging along with you, and learning about the Waterton area!
About this spooky part everyone seems focussed on - yes, it's high. Yes, you need to climb a ladder. Yes, you need to go through a cave. And, yes, you need to hold onto a guide wire while staring down a sheer cliff and trying not to slip.
The good news: it's really no big deal!
One climber got to the point in the above picture and turned back, saying to me, "not today!" I thought, "are you freaking kidding?!?!?! We spent how many hours to get here, and this is the point where you're going to turn tail?!?!?!"
This is an exciting part of the trail, but it really is not a huge, insurmountable point. Mind over matter will get you through, and you will be graciously rewarded for the 10 minutes of unease.
The water of Crypt Lake is cold and refreshing! Great place to refill your water supply and have lunch. We spent four hours to get from dock to lake, but most people can do it in three. Plus, you shave off half an hour from your time in the descent.
Even though our pace was more relaxed, we did spend about an hour at the lake before returning to the trail.
There is an additional path around Crypt Lake if you're really feeling spry, and we did see some mountain goats navigating the snowy peaks. However, resting for a bit is highly recommended!
The way back wasn't as challenging as the initial climb, but it still took lots of energy. The sun had broke through the clouds by this time, and we were in 30C heat. Oh, those trees felt so good to hike in!
Regardless, we had a good night's sleep after this adventure!
Five Crypt Lake Tips
- Wear your sunscreen and bug spray! You'll need them.
- I hiked in Carhart pants to avoid getting my legs scratched up. Big mistake - they were hot! You can certainly get along with shorts for summer hiking.
- Travel in groups - this is good to relieve boredom, and scare away bears (oh, and don't waste money on those goofy bear bells. It's more like a dinner bell to bears!).
- Prepare for the hike - I'm not in prime physical condition, but also not out of shape, However, a few weeks of conditioning will help you greatly with enduring this hike!
- Be like Gary - I observed our hiking companion closely. He wore a light shirt, shorts, good hiking boots, used two hiking poles and had a utility belt that would make McGyver blush. I noticed he carried a small First Aid kit, water, compass, and a small lunch kit. His items were few, necessary, and light. I had a backpack full fo stuff we never used that weighed me down (and made me sweat even more!).
Some Places We Like in Waterton
Pearl's Cafe gave us the caffeine and baked goods boost we needed for our hike, and Windflower Ave. Corner Coffee gave us a great boost for the ride home (love that they serve Kicking Horse Coffee!).
I already mentioned our lovely lodgings, and we enjoyed dinner at the Bayshore Inn as always.
Big shout out to the Waterton Shoreline Cruise Company for getting us safely to and from the trail head. Some awesome, friendly folks that operate those boats!
There are several more places to see in Waterton, and you really can't go wrong with service and quality, these were just a few we visited during our brief stay.