Sightseeing and Wildlife Viewing
© Parks Canada / Pat Snyder
It's easy to get out and explore this park "Where the Mountains Meet the Prairie". Grasslands sweep up wide valleys and lower mountain sides, allowing for excellent wildlife viewing. This meeting of prairie and mountain underlies Waterton's unusually rich variety of plants. Over 1000 plant species are found here, and many are rare. Here, prairie plants mix with mountain and coastal species (which thrive here because our climate is largely influenced by weather from the Pacific northwest). The best time to see wildflowers is when they paint the prairie in spring. Step out of your car from any roadside pullout and within a short wander you can easily count twenty or thirty different types of flowers.
The landscape and variety of life you see in Waterton was shaped by natural processes like fire and flood, and continues to depend on them for its health. Evidence of these processes is easily experienced as you drive or walk in the park. A spring trip along a road crossing the Blakiston Fan will allow you to experience first hand the influences of water and floods in the creation of this important wildlife habitat. It's no coincidence that this is also an excellent place to see deer, elk, moose, and a variety of birds. Erosion caused by moving water has also created two of Waterton's most popular features - Cameron Falls in the townsite, and the gorge exposing the colourful sedimentary rocks of Red Rock Canyon.
The benefits of fire for plants and wildlife are easily seen during a drive along the Chief Mountain Highway. Portions of this road pass beside and through the site of the 1998 Sofa Mountain Fire. Experience this renewed landscape first hand, and take your camera. It's a photographers paradise.
The park's variety of plant communities provide homes for many animals, including over 60 species of mammals, over 250 species of birds, 24 fish and 10 reptiles and amphibians. Wildlife are often visible in the park, and can be watched from your vehicle or a boat safely and with a minimum of disturbance to their lives. Wild animals tend to be more active early or late in the day, so these are the best times to look for them. Check out the sections on Wildlife and Wildlife Viewing for further information.
Your sightseeing is also enhanced by varying your means of access. While much of the park is readily viewed and enjoyed while driving the scenic parkways, take some time to park in a pull-out and go for a short walk on the prairie, along a short trail, or to one of the interpretive exhibits found along the way. The "Native History" exhibit on the Red Rock Parkway provides a short stroll, information about native use of the valley, plus a spectacular view of the Blakiston valley. A short stop at the "First Oil Well In Western Canada" National Historic Site marker introduces you to some park history, and a short exploration along the creek side may even reveal a first hand experience with oil seepages which still remain.
Waterton's most recognized landmark is the Prince of Wales Hotel National Historic Site. It is well worth a stop to wander through the lobby and take in the classic view of Upper Waterton Lake which symbolizes the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.
Waterton's two national historic sites are part of a much larger system of sites found across Canada. You can visit many more of these sites while you are in southern Alberta, including the Bar U Ranch, Stirling Agricultural Village and Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump .
Another excellent way to experience the International Peace Park is by taking the boat tour down the Upper Waterton Lake and across the International Boundary to Goat Haunt Ranger Station in Glacier National Park (USA). This 2-hour boat tour starts from the marina in town. In addition to exceptional sightseeing, the trip includes a commentary by excellent guides.