Lisa’s rationale for avoiding the main parks in the area was twofold. First of all her family were camping at Waterton, but secondly she wanted to take us where Canadians holiday, and to avoid the masses of tourists that continue to beat the well-trodden trails of Jasper and Banff. Located in the southwestern corner of Alberta, Canada it borders Idaho in the United States and serves up a magical offering of spectacular mountains all falling away into a glacial lake. It is the only place on earth to be awarded UNESCO status, International Peace Park and Biosphere Reserve status collectively.
In the centre of the national park is Waterton village, a quintessential, somewhat alpinist collective of bakeries, craft shops and coffee shops all serving up homemade fares from wooden, chic shop fronts. The village itself is small, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in atmosphere. Whether it is a gorgeous cinnamon roll for breakfast, or downing a few local beers in the saloon (whilst beating Lisa at pool), it is almost like the perfect village set amongst perfect scenery and thankfully for us, with perfect company.
The campground where we stayed is easily the most perfectly located campground in Canada. I don’t even need to travel elsewhere to say that. It is located at the lake, at the foot of some mountains and within 3 minutes you are in town. It has free Wi-Fi, hot and cold water, cook houses and a chilled out vibe which resonates around the site. Each evening the park rangers put on performances and in town telescopes are aimed firmly at the night sky. It is, all things considered, amazing.
The first night, the kids and I slept soundly, but typically woke around 5am. We headed out from the campsite and down to the lake side. We were the only ones awake and I sat looking out as the sun rose over spectacular beauty whilst the kids skimmed stones. We strolled along the lakeside and for the first time since leaving it sank in that we were in Canada, that the summer had begun and that ahead of us we had an amazing summer planned. But for now we were caught in the moment of beauty, in a moment of perfection. By around 7am we had grabbed some fruit and were headed back for breakfast where Lisa was already busy planning the days activities: A hike to Bertha Lake via Bertha Falls.
The Hike – Bertha Lake
Starting point: Trail Head at Waterton Campsite
End point: Trail Head at Waterton Campsite
Total distance: Approximately 12km
A relatively easy hike, this is the ‘must do’ hike in Waterton. Partly because of its length (it can be done in just a couple of hours) partly because of its ease, and mainly because of the sheer beauty of the hike. We wore boots, but it can easily be completed in hiking trainers. There are no means for water or food en-route, pack what you need.
The main worry along the hike is both bears and dehydration. In terms of bears, some hikers choose to wear bells, others like us take bear spray, but all should know that if you see a bear you should try and ignore it, if it has a cub with it, you are advised to walk away steadily and give it a wide berth. Personally, we wanted to find a bear but saw none. We did however hear the automated bear whistles up by the lake, where if a bear comes in proximity of one of the sensors a whistle sounds which spooks the bears and helps them change their course of direction.
The hike starts just past the theatre in the campground, and veers off to the left, it is marked as Bertha Lake and sets off steadily through the undergrowth. The hike up to Bertha falls is a very steady gradient, through mostly shade and giving the occasional spectacular vista over Waterton lake. The hike is only around 2km and eventually you will come to a huge waterfall with a wooden bridge crossing the fallout. You absolutely cannot get lost on this trail as the only way it goes is up to the waterfall and beyond. We stopped off at the falls, had a swim and then set off up the 350m ascent over 3km to the lake.
If you are unfit, or have struggled thus far, you might want to consider turning around as from the waterfall onwards the hike is steep, very steep in parts with occasional switch backs. You are now walking with your back to the main lake and will see just undergrowth, meadows and gorgeous fauna. We were hiking with Lisa’s uncle who now works for mountain rescue, but is a keen geologist who would stop every few hundred metres and explain the geology of the environment, combined with Lisa who loves botany, and three kids who were keen to listen to anything directed at them, it was a very educational hike. I found the entire hike to the lake easy, but Jack struggled a little, though I suspect he was just being lazy.
Eventually you come to a part of the trail which goes to a look out over the lake, and then drops down to the lake side. Personally I don’t think there is any point hiking on down the hill. We did it, but were a little let down by the lack of views since we were so low. We quickly hiked back up to the lookout and realized this was definitely the best spot.
Hiking back is exactly the same way you came and is pretty much all downhill. It is worth noting that around midday on our descent the trail got busy and hot.
The remainder of the afternoon we sunbathed and relaxed in the campsite. Trevor, the husband of Lisa’s cousin Kathy adored the kids and they loved him. He ran around the campsite chasing them on bikes (until I found out the bikes cost $3000 each), he taught them how to lasso, took them to the village for catapults and gave them insurmountable amounts of his energy. The day wound down with us roasting marshmallows, and kicking it in town. By around 10pm we were laid on the ground staring at the night sky watching shooting stars and staring in amazement as for the first time in our lives we could see the milky-way spread across the sky. It was special.
The following day, as I drove back north to Calgary I looked at Lisa with her feet up on the dashboard sleeping, the kids in the back were completely consumed by technology and I smiled to myself knowing that the bar for summer was now raised high. Looking out over the prairies as we raced towards Calgary I wondered if we had peaked too soon, little did I know that we had only just started.