Perfect 1 to 3 days in Waterton Itinerary
Waterton Lakes National Park is located in southern Alberta, a Canadian province. This beautiful park spans over 505 square kilometers and is home to some of the most breathtaking mountain scenery in North America. From soaking in views of crystal clear lakes to soaring peaks and lush forests, here are the perfect 1 to 3 days in Waterton itinerary for your bucket list.
This Waterton Lakes National Park itinerary offers a unique combination of natural beauty and outdoor adventure.
Explore the stunning landscapes of this park with guided tours, enjoy afternoon tea, hike to alpine meadows and waterfalls, or take in the night sky from one of the many campgrounds.
1 to 3 days in Waterton Itinerary: Things to do in Waterton Lakes National Park Canada
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you click one of them, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.
Waterton Lakes National Park offers an array of outdoor activities for you to enjoy. We have highlighted both soft adventure and hiking/biking opportunities in our itinerary below. Here is a quick snapshot,
1 to 3 day Waterton Lakes National Park itinerary
- Day 1 of 3 days in Waterton Itinerary: Watertown town, Prince of Wales hotel, afternoon tea, walk/hike hotel site, Cameron falls, eat out
- Day 2 of 3 days in Waterton Itinerary: Bears hump hike, walk the Lakeside, UNESCO site, cruise or scuba diving
- Day 3 of 3 days in Waterton Itinerary: Red Rock Canyon Park, biking, drives
- (Optional) Day 3 of 3 days in Waterton Itinerary: Full day hike: Crypt Lake
Planning a trip to Waterton Lakes National Park Alberta
Getting to Waterton Lakes National Park
Situated in Alberta, Waterton Lakes National Park shares territory with Glacier National Park in Montana USA.
The nearest international airport to Waterton is located in Calgary, the largest city in Alberta.
By car: From Calgary, it is a 3 hour drive to the town of Waterton. Along the way, there are smaller towns and heritage sites that you will cross which are perfect for stops and sightseeing as well.
Stops include places like Nanton which is one hour from Calgary, followed by Claresholm (in 1.50 hours), and finally Pincher Creek (in 2.25 hours).
The roads are well maintained and the views are amazing as you near Pincher Creek and Twin Butte with lush greenery and windmills.
The landscape here is very different from what you see in the Canadian Rockies – like in Banff and Jasper National Parks, plus the weather is warmer too.
By Bus: Without a car, you can get to Waterton by bus or shuttle, called the Waterton Shuttle Service, they operate from Calgary and Lethbridge to Waterton.
You might also find buses from Calgary to Pincher Creek, and then take a taxi to Waterton (which could be expensive).
By Tour: Calgary to Waterton tour, here is a one day guided excursion to the town and natural sites in the national park. You can find more details about the day tour here
Waterton Lakes National Park entrance fees
Being a Canadian national park, there are entry fees to access the site. Both daily and annual passes are available to visit and explore Waterton Lakes.
Family/group (up to 7 people) charges are $21.00 CAD for a day pass. Day passes expire at 4:00 pm the following day.
If you are a frequent National Parks visitor in Canada, consider getting the Parks Canada Discovery Pass that allows unlimited entry to over 80 sites, managed by the organization.
Where to stay in and around Waterton National Park
Waterton is a full service mountain town. You will find a heritage hotel, and lodges and motels for your stay here.
We do recommend making reservations ahead of time, when planning a trip to Waterton Lakes National Park, especially in the summer months.
There were times when hotel prices inside the Park were either super expensive or all booked out.
If you are unable to find an affordable place to stay in Waterton town, we recommend booking a place in Pincher Creek (a 40-minute drive).
Anyway, these are our top recommendations for Waterton town,
- Prince of Wales Hotel: This is the heritage hotel in the heart of Waterton. The Prince of Wales hotel is gorgeous, and everything inside looks royal and vintage. The property dates back to the 1930s, so you can expect history. And the location of the property is envious – overlooking the lakes and surrounded by mountains. This is the iconic accommodation in Waterton townsite. Book your stay here
- Waterton Lakes Lodge Resort: The Waterton Lakes Lodge is just a five-minute stroll away from gorgeous Waterton Lake. The property features charming chalet-style guest rooms with modern amenities such as bar fridges, microwaves, and coffee makers. There are wonderful hiking trails within walking distance to explore during the warmer months. Check availability here
- Waterton Glacier Suites Hotel: Enveloped within the picturesque mountains of Waterton Lakes National Park, this awe-inspiring accommodation is ideally situated near the celebrated Waterton Lakes Golf Course, Shoreline Cruises, and Cameron Falls. Unwind in luxurious spa baths with a cozying fireplace as you take delight from your private balcony! Book your stay here
Now, let’s go over the day-by-day itinerary,
Day 1 of 3 days in Waterton Itinerary: Watertown town, Prince of Wales hotel, afternoon tea, walk/hike hotel site, Cameron falls, eat out
Set aside time for a drive to Waterton town on day one of this itinerary. When starting from Calgary, you will arrive at the national park in 3+ hours.
Plan to get to the townsite by 10:00 am in the morning to explore.
Waterton Townsite is the charming center of Waterton Lakes National Park and features a variety of shops, restaurants, hotels, and other attractions.
Begin your visit with a tour around the main streets – filled with dozens of colorful flower baskets – to get a feel for this small mountain town.
When it comes to shopping, you’ll find a selection of gift shops, outdoor stores, and clothing boutiques. There’s also a grocery store here if you need to stock up on food and supplies.
If it’s time to relax and enjoy some local cuisine, then there are lots of great options in the area, offering everything from sandwiches, hot dogs, and pizza to steaks and seafood.
As soon as you get into town, head over to Wieners of Waterton to order a hot dog, fries, and a drink to cool off! We LOVE this cute restaurant!
Prince of Wales Hotel and afternoon experience
Prince of Wales Hotel is an iconic hotel that was built in 1927 and offers spectacular views of the park. While the exterior may look grand, you’ll find a cozy atmosphere inside.
Whether you’re looking for a romantic meal or after-dinner drinks, the hotel’s dining room and lounge offer a variety of choices.
For a unique experience, be sure to reserve a table for afternoon tea at the historic Prince of Wales Hotel.
The afternoon tea here is offered in the stunning Royal Stewart Dining Room overlooking the gorgeous Waterton Lakes.
Afternoon Tea is offered during the operating season from 12:00 am to 4:00 pm, and it starts at $36 CAD per adult.
Right outside the hotel – its lawn and parking area – will invite you to stunning panoramas of the surrounding mountains and of course the lakes.
In and around the hotel, there are also many hiking and walking trails to take in the majestic views.
See the Cameron Falls
A must-see attraction in Waterton is the breathtaking Cameron Falls.
Positioned on the corner of downtown, and with plenty of parking spaces close by, you have convenient access to this natural wonder. And you don’t have to hike to see Cameron Falls.
To maximize your experience and understand how it was formed, be sure to check out the informative display located by Cameron Falls.
If interested you can hike to take a view of the Falls from above by climbing a marked pathway.
There is a park located near the falls viewing area where you can enjoy an evening walk before dinner.
Dinner at the townsite
For dinner tonight, head to the Lakeside Chophouse at the Bayshore Inn. When the weather is nice be sure to sit by their lakeside patio (which is amazing).
You can order from a variety of options like burgers, kinds of pasta, etc.
Day 2 of 3 days in Waterton Itinerary: Bears hump hike, walk the Lakeside, UNESCO World Heritage site park, cruise or scuba diving
Wake up to an amazing breakfast at the Windflower Corner Coffee located at Waterton townsite.
Next, gear up for a hike to capture the gorgeous views of Waterton, its lakes, and mountains from above aka Bears hump hike.
Bears Hump Hike
Bears Hump trail is a steep, yet manageable climb that’s a must-do when in Waterton.
The hike is about 2.8 km (1.8 miles) out and back trail, and it takes approximately one hour to complete.
We are sure once you see the views from above, you will want to spend more time taking in the views!
This trail is highly frequented from May to October.
During winter months, however, it can become hazardous due to snow and howling winds at higher elevations.
AllTrails rates Bears’ Hump as moderately challenging – so pack your hiking boots and be ready for some inclines as well as switchbacks along the way!
To access the trailhead, you can head to the Prince of Wales hotel and then walk from there. It is located right across the street from the hotel.
Parking is limited at the trailhead, so you have to either start early or park at the hotel.
The trail is very well-marked and maintained. You will have a wooden railing starting from the parking lot and leading to the top.
Along the way, you will find informative displays narrating the history of the Bears Hump and its name.
Although the hike is short, it is steep. Take advantage of the rest stops/ benches to catch a breather and take in the views.
It is possible that you might find wildlife, particularly mule deer at various elevation levels. Be sure to stay on the marked pathways and don’t go or feed wildlife.
As you climb to the top, you will get postcard views of the gorgeous town of Waterton on the Emerald Bay, Linnet Lake, and Upper and Lower Waterton Lakes with the background of the Vimy Ridge and Peak.
Spend some time at the summit and take photos or just soak in the views.
Remember to wear proper hiking gear to get to the top, and be careful of loose rocks up there.
Cool off with an ice cream or Beaver Tails at the Waterton lake shore
Relax in the afternoon by walking on the lake shore. But get ice cream from Big Scoop Ice Cream Parlour or Beaver Tails to celebrate the successful hike 🙂 cheat day is allowed on vacation.
You will find lots of picnic tables and walking paths where you can enjoy the views and the serenity of this beautiful place.
Waterton Glacier International Peace Park
Located at the town site is the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.
Head over there as you stroll along the shoreline and towards the view of the Prince of Wales hotel.
The international peace park was created in 1932 to commemorate the peace partnership between Canada and the U.S.A.
Both the Glacier and Waterton Lakes National Parks are recognized as Biosphere Reserves by UNESCO.
Today, it is a World Heritage Site.
When you arrive at the site, you will find information about this recognition with flags of both countries.
Sightseeing cruise or scuba diving
Looking to experience something incredible? Waterton Shoreline Cruise Co. offers sightseeing cruises that are perfect for a relaxed experience.
You can choose from breathtaking panoramic views with their scenic tours, or if you’re a photography and wildlife enthusiast – they have just what you need too.
Most of the cruises are 1.50 hours long. Check out their schedules here!
If you do not wish to go on a cruise, you can opt for sailing and paddleboarding here too.
You can use canoes, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards (SUPs), paddle boats, drift boats, and sailboats. In fact, you can take on both motorized and non-motorized watercraft in the Upper and Middle Waterton Lakes.
Or you can go scuba diving here. Waterton Lakes National Park is an ideal spot for divers of all levels, from beginners to experienced scuba divers.
Wrap up the day with dinner and drinks in the town of Waterton.
Day 3 of 3 days in Waterton Itinerary: Red Rock Canyon Park activities, biking, drives
On day 3 of your Waterton Lakes National Park itinerary head out to Red Rock Parkway for some outdoorsy activities.
You can go biking, hiking, or just drive through and take in the majestic mountains.
Red Rock Canyon Park – Hiking and sightseeing
Head to the Red Rock Canyon after breakfast. This park is located about 25 minutes from the national park.
Red Rock Canyon Park is an incredible destination with breathtaking red sandstone formations and a unique ecosystem home to diverse wildlife.
It is a great place for camping, hiking, biking, and horseback riding, offering plenty of exploration opportunities.
The area is easily accessible from Waterton Lakes National Park, and once you hit the parking lot, it is a short walk to see the red argillite rock formations.
From here, you can explore the Red Rock Canyon Loop Trail.
The Red Rock Canyon Loop Trail is an easy 1 km (.62 mile) hike. The route is partially paved and it showcases the red rock-surfaced path along the way. Here, you will also find informative boards, viewing areas, and more.
You will also find water trickling down in canyon walls, so ensure you wear waterproof pants and shoes to enjoy the trail.
Without getting in, you can also enjoy a walk alongside the canyon, and take in the stunning views of the canyons itself, and the greenery surrounding you.
When visiting Red Rock Canyon, it’s important to remember that it is part of a protected area and you should take precautions to ensure the park remains pristine for generations to come.
Another cool waterfall hike is to Blakiston Falls. This is also an easy hike of 2.4 km (1.50 miles), and you can complete it in 45 minutes to an hour. This trail is pet-friendly.
The route is a mix of bridges, steps, some inclined patches, and viewing platforms. All of it welcomes you to experience the brilliant view of Blakiston Falls with picturesque mountains in the backdrop.
As your journey takes you through this serene forest trail, take a moment to appreciate Lone Creek from an idyllic overlook point you can even catch sight of those mysterious Blakiston Mountains hiding among lush trees!
When you arrive at the viewing platforms, the power and might of the water can be truly felt.
Benches are provided along the way so that you can rest and take in all senses – sights, sounds, and feelings – brought on by these impressive gushing waters!
If you wish to continue hiking, opt for the Snowshoe Cabin Trail. This is an easy hike and it takes about 4 to 5 hours to complete.
The trail length is 16.4 km (10.4 miles), and it takes you on the avalanche slopes and dried creek beds, passing through greenery and open meadows, with Bauerman creek flowing alongside.
Biking – Red Rock Parkway
For an unforgettable experience go biking or cycling on the picturesque 9 km (5.5 miles) section of the Red Rock Parkway!
From the northern park area, you can take in breathtaking mountain views while admiring meadows awash with wildflowers and lush foliage as far as your eye can see. You can rent bikes at Pat’s in Waterton town.
Another option is the Akamina Parkway (16 km or 9.9 miles route) which starts in the town of Waterton and takes you through the Cameron Valley.
You can stop at these interesting points from historical sites such as First Oil Well – Western Canada’s National Historic Site, and others like Lineham Falls, Akamina Pass, Cameron Lakeshore, and end at Cameron Lake.
Other than biking, you can also opt for long-haul backpacking and horseback riding routes. There are well-maintained trails and routes that allow you to do so.
For horseback riding tours you can choose hourly and daily excursions conducted by Alpine Stables.
(Optional) Day 3 of 3 days in Waterton Itinerary: Full day hike: Crypt Lake Trail
If you prefer a day of adventure and hiking, then embark on an unforgettable and full-day Crypt Lake Hike in Waterton Lakes National Park!
From breathtaking views to its illustrious inclusion in National Geographic’s “World’s 20 Most Thrilling Trails” list (in 2014 and 2017), this hike is sure to provide you with memories that will last a lifetime. Be prepared for a spectacular journey!
This is a 20.4 km (12.7 miles) heavily trafficked loop trail and is rated at a difficult level.
It takes about 3+ hours to get up there, but the stunning views of the Crypt Lake and the mountain cliffs surrounding it make it worth it!
To reach the Crypt Landing trailhead, take a 15-minute vessel journey across Upper Waterton Lake.
Although the Crypt Lake hike is one of the most popular, there are more. One of the easy hikes to do on day 3 instead is the Bertha Lake hike.
This is great for beginners, all of 10 km (6.2 miles) round trip and it welcomes you to Waterton’s gorgeous stunning scenery.
Another shorter trail is to Lower Bertha Falls. This is a 5.3 kilometers (3.2 miles) moderately rated out-and-back trail that takes you through a forested area and then ends at Lower Bertha Falls. The trailhead is accessible from the Waterton village campground.
Additional travel tips: Waterton Lakes National Park Itinerary
Adventuring Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta is an unforgettable experience. But if you want to make the most of your trip, there are some travel tips worth considering:
Having access to a vehicle will be helpful in getting to various sites in and around Waterton Lakes National Park. As mentioned, the nearest airport is in Calgary and it is a drive of 3+ hours to get there.
Once in Waterton, you can walk or hike to many trailheads and lakes, including cafes and restaurants.
Activities like rafting, horseback riding, and cruises are ticketed and you can book them online or in town.
Do plan ahead and book your accommodation and activities as early as possible.
Respect wildlife and keep a safe distance at all times; never approach an animal!
Read: How to spend 7 days in Jasper and Banff national park
The best time to visit Waterton National Park is from late spring to fall. Summer is great as you can indulge in outdoorsy activities, but just plan for accommodation ahead of time.
The National Park is open all year round, but still, May through September offers some of the best views with an abundance of wildlife surrounding and temperatures that are sure to please.
Packing for Waterton National Park
Pack appropriate clothing for all seasons; temperatures can change dramatically during the day. Here are some of the essentials,
- Lightweight waterproof jacket: This is a must for all year. A lightweight waterproof jacket is perfect for layering on hikes, or evenings. Here is my favorite one
- Hiking shoes: Pack your hiking boots as you will be walking and hitting the trails often in Waterton. I love these ones from KEEN shoes
- Winter Parka: In the winter, don’t forget a warm parka jacket with a hood and deep pockets. Click to view this winter jacket
- Base Layers: Add base layers to your packing list in the winter. Click to view my favorite pair bottom and top here
- Winter Boots: For winter hikes, and walks pack a pair of sturdy winter boots for outdoor activities. Buy my favorite pair here
- Winter accessories: Add warm winter accessories like socks, tech gloves, colorful beanies
When hiking, bring plenty of water and snacks, especially if you’re going on a long hike or exploring a particularly remote area. Make sure to leave no trace of your visit; pack out whatever you bring in.
Wear protective gear like sunhats and sunscreen to protect yourself from the elements. Check the weather conditions and be aware of any safety warnings before setting out.
Other things to know: Cash and credit cards are accepted in stores and restaurants in Waterton. CAD or Canadian dollars is the official currency.
These tips can help make your trip to Waterton Lakes National Park an enjoyable and safe experience
From white-water rafting to hiking and cruises, Waterton Lakes National Park has something for everyone. With stunning views and plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy, the park is truly an unforgettable destination.
Spend three days exploring this majestic area and make wonderful memories that will last a lifetime.
Plan your visit today to experience all that Canada’s Waterton Lakes National Park has to offer. Happy Exploring!
More Canada travel guides:
- Banff: Banff itinerary 5 days | Where to stay in Banff National Park | Things to do in Canmore | One day in Lake Louise itinerary
- Jasper: Edmonton to Jasper road trip itinerary
- Calgary: Things to do in Calgary downtown | Where to stay in Calgary | Calgary to Drumheller attractions