We love Glacier National Park, but had never visited its Canadian side, known as Waterton Lakes National Park. We arrived at Waterton to find it had gotten snow too, just not as much as Banff and Jasper. Our first stop in the park was the Prince of Wales hotel. It resembles a massive Swiss chalet, built on a hill overlooking Upper Waterton Lake. Thick clouds added to the hilltop panorama.
Upper Waterton Lake
Next we headed to the visitor center, where we asked a ranger about the best wildlife viewing spots. They said someone had spotted elk by Hay Barn Road that morning. We headed down that dirt road. The elk had moved on, but we did find this grouse munching on bright red berries.
Looking out into a grassy meadow, we spotted a coyote! Awesome! We watched until it trotted off.
We headed towards Red Rock Canyon next. On the way, we noticed a car with binoculars pointed up towards the hillside. We stopped and asked what they saw. A black bear! The bear ate constantly as it plodded along the snowy hillside. Mid-September in Waterton meant winter was closing in. The bear must have been filling its tummy before hibernating.
After a chilly night in camp, we headed into the town of Jasper seeking a hot breakfast. The forecast showed heavy cloud cover all day so we opted for a relaxed day in town. We rented a room in somebody’s house (Canadians call this a Home Stay). It worked out great. Internet and showers were a real perk. From the Home Stay we could easily stroll into the heart of Jasper. The town is cute and walkable with many unique shops. We did some grocery shopping to get food for tomorrow’s three day backpacking trip to Berg Lake. And we had two food firsts: we ate Tim Hortons donuts and a vegetarian version of poutine. Both were yum.
We had heard that star gazing at Maligne Lake was incredible, so we set out in the evening despite the continued clouds over head. You never know what will happen.
Our first surprise was seeing this herd of bighorn sheep walking down the road!
Then we saw a fascinating waterbody. It was a wide shallow lake with a brilliant turquoise river branching through it. It was really beautiful.
We learned that this lake was named Medicine Lake by aboriginal people because of its seemingly magical powers. The lake behaves unusually due to its unique drainage system — the water exits through sinkholes in the bottom, rather than a visible outlet. In the warm summer months, glaciers melt more quickly, increasing the flow of the Maligne River. The river fills the lake faster than water can leave the sinkholes. This gives Medicine Lake the appearance of a traditional alpine lake. In the colder months, incoming melt water slows and the lake begins to disappear through the sinkholes. The lake then becomes a mudflat with scattered pools. We were happy to witness Medicine Lake’s in-between stage.
We continued driving and reached an almost completely deserted Maligne Lake. Though the clouds remained and no stars could be seen, it was a lovely spot. We walked around the lake’s edge until it started raining harder.
The Icefields Parkway winds through the Canadian Rockies, connecting Banff and Jasper National Parks. We stopped at many viewpoints and did several short hikes off this scenic road when we visited in September.
At Bow Summit we hiked up a trail about 15 minutes to get an excellent view of Peyto Lake.
Looking in the opposite direction from that same viewpoint, Peyto Creek beautifully squiggled across an alluvial fan before reaching the lake.
Peyto Lake inlet
A group from a tour bus arrived at the Peyto Lake viewpoint shortly after us. They wasted no time taking hundreds of selfies. Five minutes later they were gone. It was pretty comical actually.
Our next short hike took us to Mistaya Canyon. Here the Mistaya River transitions from flowing through a valley into a deep gorge.