If you’re going to do one hike in Waterton Lakes, make it the Crypt Lake Trail. It’s a full-day trek past towering waterfalls and through a skinny natural tunnel to one of the prettiest alpine lakes imaginable.
For the past four summers, Kristopher Orr has been a bartender at the Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton Lakes National Park. He's also a professional photographer. Kristopher grew up in the Waterton area. Last summer, his mom joined him for a hike on the classic Crypt Lake Trail, which has been voted Canada's best hike.
Usually, hikers get to the trailhead via a 15-minute boat ride across Upper Waterton Lake. It's a full-day hike that covers 17.2 km return. Expect it to take 6 to 8 hours. Full trailhead details are below.
Here, Kristopher shares some photos from the hike:
Approaching Crypt Landing. "My mom brought some kayaks so we wouldn't have to wait for the boat to pick us up. It seemed like we were the only ones on the trail!"
The trail passes four spectacular waterfalls including Hell Roaring Falls. "The views and the waterfalls on this trail are amazing!"
Beargrass is common in the Waterton area thanks to prevailing Pacific winds. "Hiking in beargrass is always magical for me. The blooms are like fireworks in flight or flares shooting up with streaming sparkles. Finding this little patch on Crypt was a stroke of luck."
At a higher elevation, the forest opens to wide panoramic views like this one. "Last summer I'd been doing a ton of hiking and had been pretty excited about getting out there. Crypt is the most hyped hike in the park for a reason."
A 60-foot long, 4-foot wide natural tunnel goes through the mountain. "Crypt trail is an advanced hike, but one I would say that the whole family can do. It is a little long, and there is one section where you are fairly exposed with a seemingly steep drop."
The trail includes a steel ladder and 60-foot tunnel through the mountain, and then a cable for added security as hikers make their way around a cliff. "For those who are afraid of heights, this part can be a little disconcerting. But exposure equals fantastic views!"
Crypt Lake is nestled in a high alpine bowl. Watch for mountain goats on the ledges around the lake. "This trail has the most beautiful lake at the end. I definitely jumped in to sooth my aching legs. It was freezing, but oh so refreshing!"
Returning to the Prince of Wales Hotel at the end of the adventure. "Crypt Lake really is one of the prettiest hikes in the park. It is with renewed enthusiasm (and now with photos) that I encourage guests to get out there and do it!"
About the Hike
Time: 6-8 Hours
Distance: 17.2 km (10.7 miles) round-trip.
Elevation: 675 meters (2,214 ft)
Access: Trailhead is at Crypt Landing on the east side of Upper Waterton Lake. Most hikers take a 15-minute boat ride across Upper Waterton Lake to access the trailhead. Boats depart starting at 8:30 AM in the summer and the pickup at Crypt Landing is at 4 PM and 5:30 PM. Hikers should book their tickets ahead of time to ensure availability.