Waterton in Alberta is a good point to start a tour to the Canadian Rockies. Waterton Lakes National Park and Glacier National Park in Montana jointly form The Water-Glacier International Peace Park. This park created in 1932 is an important symbol of peace between the United States and Canada. The park is also a UNESCO designated World Heritage Site. Almost half a million people visit Waterton Lakes National Park each year.
Waterton itself is little – with a permanent year round population estimated at about 100. In summer the population swells to around 2000 and Waterton becomes a very busy little town. The town sits at an elevation of 4200 feet with a ring of mountains around it. Mt. Blakiston standing 9,645 feet is the highest peak in this Park.
The road into Waterton is up a hill which levels off to open out to a flat meadow. Located on the side of this meadow stands the Prince of Wales Hotel. The hotel dominates the view of Waterton Lake and the town below. Tour buses make it a point to stop at the hotel and allow their passengers take in the spectacular view of the lake and the mountains stretching out before them. The view is breathtaking. The hotel was built in 1927 by The Great Northern Railway an American company. It was hoped the hotel would help draw American tourists to the park.
About the time of its completion, the Prince of Wales was scheduled to visit the area and it was the expected he would select the hotel for his stay and hence the hotel was named after him. The Prince however, stayed elsewhere but the name stayed. The hotel has been designated a national historic site by the Canadian Government. In spite of the striking history and magnificent Alpine Chalet design, the hotel seems to be going through a difficult phase. The hotel needs to be preserved both for its architectural beauty and the magnificent view it commands. It is certainly worth a visit to view the hotel’s former splendor.
Waterton’s main street, Waterton Avenue, runs parallel to the lake shore. The street is lined with shops and restaurants on both sides. The food is good and varied catering to diverse tastes and budgets. The shops and galleries with their enticing displays invite the visitor to step in. There is every opportunity to pick up a memento to remember a visit to the Rockies. Another delightful feature of Waterton is that every place is within easy walking distance.
Between main street and the lake, a small trail runs along the lake’s shore. Tree lined and well shaded, the trail is good for walking or biking. If it has a drawback it is the wind. It gusts and blows most of the time. And it can be cold! The view as you walk south from the hotel is strikingly beautiful. The lake scene is a palette of colors – the blue of the lake stretches out to meet the green of the distant slopes. Then rising to blend with shades of grey of the mountains only to give way to the sparkling white of the winter snow still on the peaks and clinging to the slopes – the scene seems to challenge you to take a bad picture!
Waterton has an excellent marina on the lake around which leisure activity is centered. Sailing, boating, and boat tours sailing to Glacier Park in Montana are popular. Fishing is another big attraction and there is excellent fishing on the lake. For the hiker, the surrounding hills offer trails of varying difficulty over some of the most delightful scenery in the Canadian Rockies.
Deer are another attraction in Waterton. They seem to have free run of the place and add to its natural beauty and small-town charm. They come and go at will and their easy confidence gives the impression they own the place and just share it with everyone else.