Roadtrip 2014 – Alberta – Waterton Lakes National Park

I’m continuing my series of posts from our Summer Roadtrip in 2014, you can see some of the past & present posts on this helpful map on Pinterest, or just click on the Roadtrip 2014 tag to peek at some of our past summer adventures sightseeing and eating delicious vegan food across Canada and the USA.

After we left Head-Smashed-in Buffalo heritage site and Vulcan nerdville, we drove on the hour or so south to Waterton Lakes National Park. It was cloudy and blustery in the afternoon when we left Calgary, countering the very hot day we’d had the day before, and the wind was escalating as we moved southward – it turned out that the day we were there was the windiest day of the entire year. I get a bit nervous in National Parks during storm conditions, but mostly we were trying to get there before sundown (which shouldn’t have been hard since it was still one of the longer days – sunset was nearly 10pm officially) but the clouds made it less obvious.

I spent a nonzero amount of time during the trip checking out sunrise and sundown levels, especially when we were planning on setting up camp through our travels. Conveniently, google has a feature that lets you just type in sunset or sunrise and it will give you that information for whatever location you’re in.

As we entered Waterton Lakes National Park, and checked in at the ranger station and got our site pass, it started to rain heavily. Like angry storm heavy, so we tried to find a place to hide out for a while in town.

One thing you’ll notice with most National Parks in Canada, is that there is typically a central townsite in every one of them. They usually feature restaurants and cafes, supply stores, a gas station, some kind of indoor accommodation options, and equipment rental spaces. As we were driving around Pizza of Waterton caught our eye, not for any particular reason, but probably in part because they had a sign that said “Free WiFi.”

It was busy, I think we weren’t the only ones hiding out from the storm, but it didn’t take very long to get seated, and the service was friendly and nice. They had soymilk for coffee, so I got a latte trying to warm up, JC had a terrible glacier fresh BC beer. We ordered the nachos without any cheese or sour cream, so we got this plate of tortilla chips with some salsa on the side.

Nachos ala Pizza of Waterton

And while I wished there were more veggies on it (because when don’t I?), it was decent, with layers of multicoloured tortilla chips and tomatoes, olives, & jalapenos. Most of all, it was just nice to have a hiding place with wifi for an hour or two to wait out the storm.

Eventually – it was time to get moving again. The sun was just going down, and the rain was slowing down, so we followed the map out of town provided to us by a park ranger and up to our campground on Crandell Mountain, and in that moment, circling around a corner, that we noticed a rainbow over one of the mountains and had to pull over to take a quick picture. It’s probably one of my favourite photos to look at – because in the midst of some pretty stressful feelings there was a beautiful mountain with a rainbow to pause and enjoy.

Waterton Lakes National Park

That morning I had called Waterton lakes and booked one of the Crandell Mountain tipi’s overlooking the Red Rock Parkway in the beautiful Blakiston Valley. It was a unique and lovely experience, and not something I’ve ever done before. There has been a First Nations presence on these lands for over 12,000 years, and it was interesting to reflect on that as we lay in a structure that was trying to mimic the traditional tipi’s that might have been in the same place at one time. (Treaty 7). These are built in a traditional fashion but have an exterior of canvas instead of animal skin, and contain a few creature comforts like an inflatable mattress.

Crandel Mountain Tipi - Sunset

But I’d feel remiss if I didn’t at least think somewhat critically about the appropriativeness of two white people sleeping there, in a tipi built by Parks Canada and the Government of Canada, groups that have not had the most positive history with First Nations communities. I didn’t really think about it when I placed the order, because I was in a hurry to lock down somewhere to sleep that night, but since then I’ve spent more time looking at the history of the area and the Nations that live and lived there.

Sleeping in a tipi was interesting, because it was windy and raining, but the top flap protected us from getting wet. There was a lining along the bottom edge to protect against the wind, and while it felt like it got fairly cold at night, we were cozy in our sleeping bag (we’d zippered together two sleeping bags to make one so we could cuddle.) it was comfortable inside, and lighting up the lantern lit up the space quite well. We had a nice little room all to ourselves while still hearing the sounds of nature around us.

In the morning, this is what we saw going outside:

Crandel Mountain

All signs of the storm had disappeared, just the fresh post-rain smell. Natures beauty surrounded us, and it was hard not to be awestruck. The strange thing about being in beautiful places, is that at times it’s hard to parse that they are reality. That we’re not just looking at a pretty picture from some far off place, or that it’s not just a wonderful painting someone has created from their imagination, but we are there, feeling the light breeze on our skin and the sun shining on us. There would be many moments like that on our trip, and many had preceded it.

Breakfast was leftovers from our Calgary car burritos the day before, we wanted to finish most of the fresh food we had before hitting the border. I had found some Helen’s soyrizo at the Safeway, which led to a pretty decent taco salad that morning. JC had crappy burritos, but didn’t seem to mind 🙂

Quick dinner of leftovers while camping

We didn’t have a tonne of time to explore Waterton Lake National Park, because I had booked a site in Yellowstone National Park for a few days later (in advance of our departure from Toronto,) but it seemed like a good amount of time to keep us on track – and at times kept us from doing things that might be fun. We were planning on spending more time in Glacier National Park, the other half of the Waterton Lakes-Glacier International Peace Park which I’ll talk about more in my next post.

One thing I regret not doing while in both Waterton Lakes or Glacier National Parks is the Waterton Lakes-Glacier International Peace Park Hike.  You can find more information about it here from Parks Canada. The tour starts in Canada, and you go to the USA, and then back by boat to Canada.

For over thirty years, visitors have hiked across the Canada/U.S. boundary on foot, accompanied by both a Glacier National Park ranger and a Waterton Lakes National Park interpreter.

The hike ends in the U.S. at the Goat Haunt ranger station where you will board a boat to return to the community of Waterton.

You have to pre-register, either in person or by phoning the Waterton visitor centre (403-859-5133), or the St. Mary information center (406-732-7750).

Cost: Free with park entry, but you need to get a boat ticket for the ride back.

Identification: Passport

So hopefully we can do that someday in the future, because just the idea of it seems wonderful to me.

Rocky MountainsThis would be the last time we’d be in Canada for several weeks – in a few hours we’d be heading though Chief Mountain Border Crossing, and onto the longest part of our journey – through the USA.  Welcome to the United States of America - Chief Mountain Until next time!