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The most exhilarating hike on the Canada/US border: Waterton's Crypt Lake Trail

The most exhilarating hike on the Canada/US border: Waterton's Crypt Lake Trail

crypt lake trail waterton hiking boots

Sometimes we like to park our RV and take a walk on the wild side. Voted as one of the World's 20 Most Thrilling Trails by National Geographic, Waterton’s Crypt Lake Trail is just what the doctor ordered.

By the numbers

We’d like to start this post by giving you a numeric sense of exactly what you’re getting yourself into:

  • 17.2 km (10.7 mile) return trek
  • 675 m / 2,214 ft. elevation
  • Six hours round trip

Some things to keep in mind

Before you embark on this trek, you'll want to drop into the Visitor's Centre to check trail conditions.

From Waterton Marina, Waterton Shoreline Cruise Co. will safely bring you to the trailhead in about 15 minutes for CAD $24 round trip. Three things you’ll learn on the boat:

  1. If you miss the last return shuttle at 5:30 p.m. you have a LONG hike back to Waterton village.
  2. The hike is difficult. Physical and heat exhaustion are a real and ever-present danger.
  3. Don’t wear bells; they actually intrigue the bears.

Speaking of bears: remember, you’re in bear country. Although statistically speaking the waterfalls here are more dangerous than are the bears, it’s important to brush up on your bear etiquette and perhaps even carry bear spray if you know how to use it. You’ll likely see bear droppings along the path and from the freshness (gross, we know), you’ll be able to gauge the proximity of the bear.

What to expect

The trail starts off easy enough with some moderate switchbacks through dense forest. Word of advice: don’t forget your bug spray!

crypt lake trail waterton switchbacks

You have the option early on in the trail to make an approximate 45-minute loop to see the lower waterfalls, but we suggest leaving this for the way down when you’ll have a better idea of how much time you have.

A waterfall soon awaits you where you can rest and take in the scenery. You’ll now be leaving the lush forest in favour of exposed, loose rock and another, more difficult set of switchbacks.  

crypt lake trail waterton views

Make sure you’re wearing sunscreen and hydrating - you’ll need both! This is probably the most time-consuming part of the hike for those of us who can’t power through the switchbacks in an Olympic sprint. You will also see another - arguably the most beautiful - waterfall here.  

crypt lake trail waterton waterfall

During the summer months the trail gets very busy, even to the point where there are queues to get past some of the more difficult spots. Going slightly off season in the early spring or late fall will still give you all the breathtaking views without the exorbitant crowds.

crypt lake trail waterton crowds

You’re almost there! All that’s left is a little obstacle course along the edges of a steep cliff.

crypt lake waterton cliff

Image via AlbertaWow

Once you walk across the above ledge, you’ll be met by a steel ladder. Don’t worry, it’s a lot sturdier than it looks.

crypt lake waterton ladder

Image via AlbertaWow

After climbing the ladder prepare to walk (or possibly crawl if you’re tall) through a fairly narrow tunnel that goes right through the mountain and takes you to the other side.

If you have a flashlight handy, use it. The rocks are sharp and there are plenty of places to knock your head.

crypt lake trail waterton tunnel

On the other side of the tunnel, get ready to climb some slippery and loose rocks. This is why hiking shoes are highly recommended on this trail - you’ll need the grip.

From there, you’ll have to hang on to the steel wire attached to the side of the mountain just in case you lose your balance while traversing the next little stretch of the cliff.

crypt lake trail waterton hike

crypt lake trail alberta travel ideas

Image via Alberta Travel Ideas

Finally, after all that slipping, sliding, whining, and maybe even cursing, you’ll get to your destination: Crypt Lake.

And boy is it beautiful.

crypt lake bear country

Image via Trip Advisor

Bring plenty of water, snacks, and enjoy the rest, because you have approximately two to three hours of mostly downhill hiking back to the trailhead.

Where to park your RV

Here are some suggestions of where to park your RV based on campground popularity; however, there are numerous other locations on both the Canada and US side.

On the Canadian side:

On the US side:

Did you pack your leveling gear? Safely hit the top of the stack every time with Lynx Stop ‘N Chocks. They are strong, durable, and easy to use.