My parents are beside themselves with joy. The beauty of this Waterton Lakes National Park landscape in southern Alberta is almost surreal. The locals call it “where the mountains meet the prairies” for good reason. We’re here for my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary. It’s a family affair with both my sisters and our spouses along for the celebration.
We are now on an afternoon Waterton Shoreline Cruise – a two and a half hour round-trip tour that crosses the international border from Canada into the United States. The cerulean blue Upper Waterton Lake is one of the deepest in the Rockies, according to our guide on the flagship M. V. International, a vessel that has been in service since 1927.
You can take this cruise from early May to mid-October. Sit indoors or out – we’re happily feeling the fresh breeze on our faces up top. The prow of the boat makes a gentle splash as we take in the stunning scenery. The mountains along the lakeside seem to rise straight up from the water, with just a whisper of snow on their peaks.
Waterton’s Unique Ecology
I’m amazed by the region’s variety of plant life. Our guide tells us that due to its unique ecology – and over 1,400 plant species – the park is a designated UNESCO biosphere reserve. Waterton is known as the wildflower capital of Canada with 175 species listed as rare in Alberta, 20 of which are found only in Waterton. We hear the annual nine-day Waterton Wildflower Festival held in June is a must-do experience.
Spectacular Wildlife Viewing
Wildlife sightings are plentiful, so we’re glad we brought cameras. We’ve already spotted bighorn sheep, a black bear, a doe and her fawn and a pair of golden eagles. Wildlife is even more prevalent in the fall, when hundreds of elk gather for mating season and flocks of eagles start heading south. With so much more to see and learn, a visit to the three-day Waterton Wildlife Weekend festival in September might be on the horizon, too.
Scenic Hikes for All Levels
My parents are avid hikers, which is part of Waterton’s appeal. There are 255 km (191 mi) of hiking trails in the park. We spent the morning in Red Rock Canyon. I’m still in awe of the brilliant red and green layers of bedrock. As we hiked into the basin and dipped our toes in the creek, we enjoyed the sunny warm weather typical of July and August.
Afternoon Tea at Prince of Wales
We celebrated my parents’ anniversary with afternoon tea at Valerie’s Tea Room in the Prince of Wales hotel. Perched on a grassy knoll overlooking Upper Waterton Lake, the stately yet romantic property is a landmark, built in 1926-27, the last in a chain of luxury hotels built by the Great Northern Railway.
While gazing at the seemingly endless lake view, we sip tea, nibble on scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam – and start making plans for our next visit.
- Boat Cruises