It happens so rarely, that even the locals get giddy: The creation of a new park in the Canadians Rockies in Alberta. And when two new parks are created? Double the giddy.
That’s what happened in 2017, when Castle Provincial Park and Castle Wildland Provincial Park were created in a beautiful but little-known area of southwest Alberta. The parks adds some amazing recreational opportunities to a region that is beloved by Albertans, but less known beyond.
There are now three major areas to explore within the region – Waterton Lakes National Park, Castle Provincial Park and the Crowsnest Pass area, all within easy driving distance of each other. Scenic boat rides, superlative hiking, and exceptional camping are readily available, and plenty of other things too.
From Calgary it takes under three hours to reach any of the three areas in southern Alberta. For a scenic alternative to Highway 2, drive south on Highway 22, the Cowboy Trail. With its rolling foothills abutting the Rockies, the drive is the destination for many travelers. You might even spot a real-life working cowboy on horseback.
Waterton Lakes National Park is open for business in 2018 after wildfires hit the park in the summer of 2017. While some trails and scenic drives remain inaccessible, perennial favourites like the summer boat tour on Waterton Lake and the hike to Crypt Lake are open. Check out the Parks Canada website for a complete list of what’s open before you travel.
The town of Waterton, a charming little mountain town, is also wide open, including the iconic views of the historic Prince of Wales Hotel. If you plan to stay in the park you have three accommodation options; camping at the townsite campground, a choice of seven hotels or one B&B. All can and should be reserved in advance.
While campers can stock up on food, beverages and ice in nearby Pincher Creek, all visitors will be spoiled for choice in Waterton with more than a dozen restaurants, as well as bars and ice cream shops. The must-have favourite? A gourmet hot-dog from Wieners of Waterton.
As the first new park in Alberta to open in a generation, Castle Provincial Park protects more than 1,000 square kilometres of foothills and mountains west of Pincher Creek. It’s one of Canada’s most biologically diverse areas with over 55 species of mammals, masses of bird species and many interesting and rare plants.
Visitors have the choice of camping at one of four front-country campsites (Beaver Mines Lake, Lynx Creek, Castle Falls and Castle River Bridge) and a limitless number of backcountry sites providing you pitch your tent a kilometre or more from services. Because the park is a virtual unknown, it remains easy to score a campsite, even without a reservation. New this fall will be the construction of three backcountry huts run by the Alpine Club of Canada.
Enjoy outstanding scenery that includes everything from rolling hills and grasslands to forests and rugged mountains. There are lots of hiking trails but come prepared for a wilderness experience with good maps and backcountry gear. Table Mountain is the must-do hike in the park with Barnaby Ridge a close second.
Other activities to enjoy in the park include swimming, paddling, fishing, birding and wildlife watching.