It’s fitting that our last stop in Canada, where we’ve met so many kind people, was at Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. Waterton Lakes National Park was established in 1895 and Glacier National Park was established in 1910. The parks shared the International Boundary between Canada and the United States and in 1932 the two governments linked them as an International Peace Park, the world’s first.
I wasn’t aware of the concept of International Peace Parks. Their concept of shared management includes protecting the water, plants and animals in the parks, supporting each other in emergency responses such as wildfire suppression and search and rescue, and cooperating on research.
Waterton Lakes National Park is also known as “where the mountains meet the prairies” and it offers a combination of terrain that is found in no other national park in Canada. We realized just how different this park was as we left the mountains behind at Jasper and Banff National Parks and found ourselves driving through beautiful open fields that reached the mountains again at Waterton Lakes.
Still, when compared to Banff and Jasper, Waterton Lakes is a small park and much less known. But it’s also known for more wildlife sightings. Possibly because of the quiet nature of the place.
Waterton Village is compact but lovely and has quite a few nice restaurants and shops. On one side of town, overlooking Waterton Lake, sits the picturesque Prince of Wales Hotel. The hotel was built in 1927 in the style of a Swiss chalet. The beautiful Cameron Falls frames the other side of town.
We didn’t attend the classic car show, but enjoyed seeing a lot of the antique beauties, including a gorgeous classic car towing a matching antique trailer.
Ours was a short visit and our first evening was rainy so we went for a short drive. And immediately spotted a black bear with two cubs by the river on the side of the road. They climbed over a hill and we drove over to the other side of the hill and found them again. They were quite adorable and clearly on a mission heading somewhere very specific.
Because of the weather forecast, we planned a flexible combination of short driving, hiking and kayaking outings, hoping to get around the rain. But we did reserve a boat tour on the one day forecast to be sunny.
The next day we visited the Bison Paddock Loop Road, a protected part of the prairie where a small herd of buffalo roams. The road is open to the public at no charge and goes through open fields. It’s a pleasant drive as not many people go there, and we drove through twice. We had some quality time by the herd when they were quite close to the road. It’s sad to think that there were once millions of these majestic animals here and they are now endangered.
The driving outings were easy, as there are only two very short roads that run across the park, the Red Rock Parkway and the Akamina Parkway. But both have lots to see along the way: waterfalls, cascades, canyons, mountains, meadows and lakes.
On our second evening, we spotted another black bear, this time really close by. This one seemed to be searching for something as he stood up several times to look around. And he/she was quite handsome.
At the end of the Akamina Parkway we discovered Cameron Lake, another beautiful glacial lake. There is a trail around the lake and canoes for rent. It is located in grizzly bear habitat, and the mountain meadow at the other end of the lake is known for grizzly sightings.
This lake looked like a perfect place to paddle, and there was easy access to put in the kayaks. So on a cool and cloudy, but not rainy, afternoon, we kayaked on Cameron Lake. As we set out, the last canoe was returning from the other end of the lake as the canoe rental outfit was about to close.
I usually don’t go kayaking in this type of weather so I was pretty bundled up (yes, I am a wimp). There were a few people on the shore and, to my dismay, Hector asked a woman on the dock holding a baby to take a photo of us. And she put the baby down on the dock and took one. I almost had a heart attack – this is glacial water! But she took a nice photo.
A drive on the other road, Red Canyon Parkway led to the Red Canyon Loop, a 20-minute walk on a paved walkway around the top of a canyon. An afternoon outing with Angel included the loop. The rocks in the canyon have an incredibly red color, like nothing I have ever seen in nature, VERY bright red. And they beautifully contrast with the blue of the water.
A couple of paths lead down to the river for close-up views. The loop is normally quite crowded, but on this cloudy afternoon, it was pretty quiet and we took our time looking at all the different features of the canyon.
Then it was time for our boat tour. The boat, the M. V. International, built in 1927, leaves from Upper Waterton Lake, the deepest lake in the Canadian Rockies, and sails across the Canadian border to Goat Haunt, Montana. Behind us was another spectacular view of the Prince of Wales Hotel sitting on a bluff.
We were on the first boat of the day, and so the U.S. customs agents were on the boat with us. Hector was joking about the fact that these guys got such a cushy assignment. They go out on a beautiful boat cruise in the morning, hang out by the lake shore and return on another beautiful boat cruise. Somebody has to do it.
There was some intense scenery along the way; cliffs, waterfalls, and mountain streams, although no wildlife. Crossing the border on the lake was very cool. On one side there were two prominent stone markers, one had “International Boundary” etched on it, the other had “Treaty of 1808”.
The treaty states that the boundary needs to be visible, hence the obelisks, and, on the opposite side, a single stone marker and as far as the eye can see a 20-foot wide swath of cleared vegetation. There are stone obelisks set on top of each ridge line as well.
We reached Goat Haunt, a place you can only get to on this boat or by hiking. A small but fascinating interpretive center provides information about international peace parks and the wildlife in the area. And a huge fireplace area, is apparently an “amenity” for the few staff that live out here in summer, as well as visitors. But this is a really remote place.
We planned a five-mile hike to Kootenai Lakes that we read was a good area to encounter moose.
So we went to the little customs area “shack” to hand our passports to those poor souls who have this assignment. Hector was teasing the younger guy about their cushy assignment asking if they had to be extra good to have it.
Easiest border crossing ever – you hand over your passport and write your name, passport number, and one other thing (I forgot what) on a notebook. The agent made a comment about one of us being from Cuba and the other from Puerto Rico as in how did we get together. And Hector said “Miami, the capital of Latin America”.
Then we hiked on yet another trail in grizzly bear habitat without bear spray. And not long after we started we spotted a big pile of bear poop on the trail. Ugh. I was having a very loud conversation with Hector along the way in order not to surprise any bears.
We crossed some backpackers that were returning from the lake who hadn’t seen the bear but mentioned they’d seen a moose on the previous night. Yes!
And the trail ended at a lovely lake, where we had our picnic lunch. No moose though, but no bear either. The only wildlife we saw on the lake was one swan. And we had to turn around pretty quickly to catch the 2:45 boat back to Waterton.
On our return trip, we met a couple who hiked from Waterton Townsite (a seven mile hike) and were attacked by a mountain lion. They’d come around a corner and startled the lion who then chased them. Somehow between their yelling and shaking their walking sticks at him, he left. But they were pretty shaken up. Time to buy bear spray.
The U.S. wanted to have the boat registered in the U.S. and in order to do so it had to be built here. But Goat Haunt being such a remote place, they had to ship boat parts from Waterton and build it by hand. And today, they still use the original boathouse in Goat Haunt to store it for the winter.
This area in general and Upper Waterton Lake in particular is known for high winds. Apparently while the Prince of Wales Hotel was being built it was blown off its foundation by the extremely high winds. It was put back and straightened only to be blown off its foundation a second time.
When we returned, I decided I wanted to have afternoon tea at the Prince of Wales Hotel. Many hotels in these Canadian National Parks offer afternoon tea, and I’d been wanting to go to one. Hector, however, doesn’t like tea. But he went along, good guy that he is.
Afternoon tea was lovely with lots of yummy mini sandwiches, scones, shortbread cookies, tarts, jam, butter and clotted cream and a fabulous view of the lake. Hector was pleasantly surprised.
Sitting at the Prince of Wales Hotel looking out at the beautiful lake and breathtaking scenery was the perfect last day of our awesome summer in Canada.