Twirls and Travels » a blog about exploring with kids

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Let’s be Explorers at Waterton Lakes National Park

Waterton Lakes National Park has long been a family favourite of the Nielson Family. My grandparent’s ranch  was a only stone’s throw from the park gates and my family frequented the park in my younger years. Unfortunately,  I haven’t carried on the tradition with my own little family.  But, lucky for us, this year gave us two opportunities to visit the stunning park.  There is a ton to do in Waterton and while this blog post isn’t near inclusive,  I do have a few ideas of things to try while on a family vacation to the far southwest corner of Alberta.

The drive from Edmonton is just over 5 hours, so while it is a bit of road trip to make it down there, it is definitely doable in a weekend. Waterton has retained its rustic charm and doesn’t see the volume of people like the always popular (and busy) Banff. It’s even more laid back, less commercialized than Jasper National Park. The townsite is small and there are few hotels, which only adds to it’s charm.  The activities offered in Waterton are mostly outdoor adventures including  endless hiking, boating, and exploring.

Some of our favourite to do with our children in Waterton include-

A hike up Bear’s Hump. This is a must do for explorers to Waterton. It’s not an easy walk, but it’s short (my girls made it up in 45 minutes with lots of breaks, by comparison my teenage nephews made it in under 30 minutes) and easily accomplished with kids. Wear good shoes as it is all uphill and there are steep sections. Make sure you bring water. Park your car at the Visitor’s Information booth which is across from the entrance to the hotel perched on top of the hill, The Prince of Wales Hotel. The views from the top are unbeatable. Bear in mind that it can be quite windy on top of Bear’s Hump.

An afternoon at Red Rock Canyon.  Even the drive down Red Rock Parkway to the Canyon is incredible. Our family can easily spend a day here playing in the creek and exploring the bends and curves of the canyon. It is truly beautiful and not to be missed. Violet enjoyed “natural slides” and climbing up and down the rocks edge. Maeve enjoyed playing in shallow pools. The higher you go up the mountain the more narrow the canyon becomes, which makes it more fun  and challenging for older kids. Red Rock Canyon can be very busy on long weekends or hot days, but once you explore past the main canyon entrance there’s lots of space for everyone.

A boat ride to the  United States. Yes, you read that right. There is a boat tour that will take your family across the border for the afternoon. Waterton Lakes National Park and the American Glacier National Park border each other and  make up the world’s first International Peace Park. It’s a beautiful afternoon on the Lake and worth the (steeper) admission price.  When I was a child I loved telling everyone that we went on “holidays” to United States and left out the part that it was only for a few hours 😉 Bonus- the boats are really cute.

Renting a 4 (we squeezed on 5!) man bike  (or two man or one man bike….) from the iconic Pat’s Waterton. This was a childhood favourite of mine that I loved sharing with my girls.

A visit to the Historic Prince of Wales Hotel. The view is incredible , the hotel architecture is awesome and I’ve heard tea time is divine.

Stand-up paddle boarding renting on Upper Waterton Lake with rentals available right at the townsite. I saw lots of kids Violet’s age out on the lake having a great time. Only thing to consider is the high winds that occur often in Waterton and the surround area.

Enjoying the peaceful Cameron Lake. Canoes, rowboats and paddle boats can be rented at the lake, and there are no power operated boats allowed at Cameron, making it a quiet destination.

Places to Stay-

Camping is a bit tricky in Waterton. The Townsite campsite isn’t overly private and a little like camping in a parking lot. However it is bookable on the National Parks Website and right on the lake. The best place to camp is Crandell Mountain. I have yet to actaully stay here, but we drove through it on our last visit and it could be one of the prettiest campsites I have visited. The mountains views are incredible because the sites are in the bottom of a valley surrounded by mountains.  The river runs along the side of the campground and you really can’t ask for more for a location. However, these sites are all first come, first serve and are about 20 minutes from the townsite. They also offer bookable Tipi sites. There is also private-owned campsites right before the entrance to the park- Crooked Creek and Waterton Springs.

Hotels- There are a handful of hotels located right in Town,  try Expedia or other online booking sites to find one that suits your family. You could also stay at the Historic Prince of Wales, or if the Park is Completely booked up (and it happens on weekends) try looking up hotels in the nearby  town of Cardston, or one of the many Bed and Breakfast’s on the drive between Cardston to Waterton. On our last stay to the park we stayed at a VBRO rental outside the park gates and loved having a home base, even though it was not right in the park.

A great list of places to stay is available on this site.

Things to Eat-

It’s necessary that you get a ice cream at The Big Scoop, indulge  for lunch at Weiner’s of Waterton, and try out the treats and  yummies at  Waffleton in order to make your visit complete.

More things to do-

Walk around town and check out the local art, chocolate shops, gift shops and the unique restaurants (no chains here!).

Check out Blakiston Falls, just minutes from downtown. It’s an easy walk or a quick drive.

Swim at Emerald Bay (warning- the lake is cold! )

Check out Driftwood Beach, on the northern side of Upper Waterton Lake, which really lives up to it’s name.

Throw rocks in the lake. I have video footage of me, not much older then Maeve, throwing rocks into Waterton lake for what seems like endless hours. I brought my girls back to the same location (a quiet picnic area at the furthest southern part of the townsite,  going past the waterfall to the lake front) to enjoy the same activity.  I don’t know why they love it so much, but I’m so glad they do too.

The Parks Canada Website has a list of the top ten activities to do in each season, most of which I haven’t even mentioned  right here on their website.

Play a round of golf at the family friendly Golf course located near the Red Rock Parkway. Tim found a lot of the golfers were children, and he made a note that you couldn’t beat the french fries at the clubhouse (or the views on the course).

Wildlife viewing is supposedly best in the Fall, but we saw multiple bears on our visits this summer, so you’ll most likely see wild animals on a trip any time of year.

Check out the Parks Website for the regular interpretive programming that happens throughout the summer months. There were also posters around town for the nightly (free) family programming.

Insider Tip- a perfect road trip stop on your down is the Town of Nanton. We are making it a tradition when heading south to stop at Nanton. We like to choose a small treat at the candy store, check out the aviation museum or have lunch at one of the cute cafes. It’s the perfect place to stretch your legs. There’s also a miniature train museum and a playground right on the side of the highway.


A regular to Waterton? Please share your favourite activities in the comments!

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  • August 25, 2015 - 8:33 pm

    lisa - This is such a great wrap up, Kelsey. We loved our first trip with the kids this summer and are already planning our trip back next year. And I totally agree about the Crandell Mountain Campsite. It was pretty much perfect. 🙂ReplyCancel

  • August 28, 2015 - 4:33 am

    Melanie - I just love this blog, Kelsy! Super informative. Makes me excited for when Dahlia stops hating the car and we can go on road trips again!ReplyCancel

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