Winter in Waterton
Some areas in Waterton Lakes National Park are now open to the public after the Kenow Fire. Closures are still in effect for other areas due to safety hazards and infrastructure damage. Please see the up-to-date list of open and closed areas.
Winter is an excellent time to enjoy mountain scenery and the serenity of the park. It offers good opportunity for wildlife viewing and photography; snowshoeing and cross-country skiing; or even a walk and a picnic on a beautiful day.
The winter season begins in November and usually stretches into April. During this time most of the facilities in the park are closed (heated washrooms and running water are available at the Firehall and Cameron Falls in the community).
For camping enthusiasts, Pass Creek picnic site, located on the Entrance Parkway about four kilometers from the entrance gate, offers a sheltered winter campground (open November 22, 2017 to April 1, 2018, access weather dependent. Improvement work may temporarily halt access).
- For information on winter accommodation and amenities visit the Waterton Lakes Chamber of Commerce.
Park access and travel conditions
The Entrance Parkway, Chief Mountain Highway to the Chief Mountain overlook and main roads in the community remain open. Red Rock Parkway is open to non-motorized travel as far as the Bellevue trail.
The Red Rock Parkway and the Chief Mountain Highway beyond the Chief Mountain overlook are closed to motor vehicles during the winter months.
Be prepared for conditions ranging from warm to extreme cold. Poor visibility, icy roads and drifting snow occur frequently. Waterton's winter storms can quickly drop large amounts of snow onto park roads. In response to these challenging conditions, Parks Canada has set priorities for snow removal.
Road maintenance is done first on Highways 5 and 6 and the Entrance Parkway. This is followed by high-priority streets in the community; then the Chief Mountain Highway; and last the community streets designated as low priority.
Waterton has highly variable mountain weather and it can change quickly. Winters are mild and snowy, with frequent warm spells caused by chinook winds. Wind is the most important climate factor in the park. In fact, Waterton is the second-windiest place in Alberta. Highest winds blow in January and November, with gusts of over 150 km/hr recorded in the main valley. In winter, visitors must be especially careful of wind chill.
Winter safety and trip planning
Make sure you have what you need to enjoy a safe trip. Study the trail description and park map; choose an objective suitable for the least experienced member in your party. Before leaving home, ensure you have the right training and equipment for the terrain you are entering.
All backcountry travellers are responsible for their own decisions and safety, and should be well informed about the type of terrain they will encounter. Be aware that there are specific travel restrictions that apply to custodial groups (those which include minors without their legal guardians) between Nov 15 and April 30. Consult the Avalanche Terrain Exposure Scale (ATES) and Avalanche Terrain Ratings for Waterton Lakes National Park to help determine if your planned objective is suitable for you.
Winter safety references
- Winter safety and trip planning
- Avalanche bulletin
- Avalanche terrain ratings
- Trail conditions
- Weather forecast
- 511 Alberta road report
- Information for youth groups in winter
More trail and winter information is available on signs at the park operations building and at the park gate (variable hours). In-person information is available at the park operations building, or by calling 403-859-5133, weekdays between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. (MT).
Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing
Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are great ways to enjoy Waterton Lakes National Park in the winter. The season generally extends from December to March. Before leaving home, ensure you have the right training and equipment for the terrain and conditions you are entering.
Highway 6 (Chief Mountain Highway) will be plowed to the pull-off just beyond the Chief Mountain overlook. Visitors can ski or snowshoe the adjacent terrain and highway to the south, when conditions allow.
There are no designated cross-country ski trails in Waterton Lakes National Park this winter. The Akamina Parkway, including the Dipper and Cameron ski trails, are closed because of the Kenow Fire. Please see our up-to-date list of open and closed areas.
For groomed trails, try one of our neighbouring provincial parks:
Winter hiking and cycling
Whether you are interested in taking a short stroll around the community or accessing more remote locations, Waterton can be a great place for winter walking, hiking and cycling. Weather permitting, the Red Rock Parkway to Bellevue trail junction, and the Kootenai Brown and Wishbone trails are all open for cycling. Chinook winds often free much of the Waterton valley and east side of the park from snow.
Winter can be a great time for watching wildlife in Waterton. Depending on winds and snow, you might spot elk, deer, bighorn sheep, moose, river otters, red squirrels, snowshoe hares and marten in the park. During fall and winter, elk move through in large herds. Look out for them while driving into the park from the north or east. A rare highlight would be seeing one of the park’s wild cats - cougar or lynx – or their tracks.
Sledding / tobogganing
Bring a sled and take advantage of Waterton's slopes and drifts. Be careful to stay off avalanche paths. Favourite spots are on the Prince of Wales hill and around the community.
Bundle up and come for a picnic! Kitchen shelters with stoves are available but you must supply your own wood and bring your own supplies (no grocery store is open in the village in the winter). Most picnic areas include a vault toilet. Water and barrier-free washrooms are available at the Fire Hall and at Cameron Falls. Please see our up-to-date list of open day-use areas and shelters.
Pass Creek picnic site, located on the park's entrance road (Highway 5), about four kilometers from the entrance gate, offers a sheltered winter campground. Facilities include a kitchen shelter, wood stove and toilets. Water from the creek may be used if treated or boiled before use. Heated washrooms and running water are available at the Fire Hall and Cameron Falls in the community.
There may be fewer birds around in winter, but with no leaves on the trees, they are easier to see. Some are very colourful such as the Steller’s jay. Chickadees, grouse and woodpeckers roam wooded areas, while ravens and eagles soar above, and dippers and goldeneye are in open waters. How many of our 37 resident winter bird species will you find?
Take in one of our winter interpretive programs. Details to follow.
Winter in Waterton Lakes National Park offers many opportunities for photographers, from wildlife watching to stunning landscapes. Look out for the unusual landscape that can be found as a result of the Kenow Fire.
Ten things to do in winter
- Go for a walk, snowshoe or ski at night. Hope the skies are clear for stargazing and hear the coyotes howl!
- Watch the sunrise from the Maskinonge overlook and then have a picnic breakfast at the day-use area.
- Sit around a fire at Cameron Bay cook shelter, make some s’mores and watch the big waves hit the beach.
- Walk along the river between the Marquis Hole and the Hay Barn (be prepared for muddy or icy conditions).
- Bundle up, pack some hot chocolate and bring binoculars to view the starry night or appreciate a full moon from Chief Mountain overlook.
- Walk around the Prince of Wales hill to hear and watch the wind.
- Hike, bike, ski or snowshoe along Red Rock Parkway and look for animal tracks in the snow.
- See how many deer you can spot in the townsite (remember to keep your distance).
- Hike, bike, ski or snowshoe Wishbone trail and listen to the sounds of nature; or see if you can spot the elk on the big meadows.
- Take in the view from the Bison Paddock and see how the Kenow Fire has affected the forest and grassland.