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Winter in Waterton Lakes National Park

Winter Activities

Winter in Waterton is an excellent time to enjoy mountain scenery and the serenity of the park. Opportunities abound to celebrate winter: Enjoy wildlife viewing and photography; snowshoeing and cross-country skiing; ice climbing and ice skating; 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 in the community).

Park Access and Travel Conditions

The Entrance Parkway and main roads in the community remain open year-round while the Akamina Parkway is maintained to the Little Prairie picnic site (the staging area for ski access to Cameron Lake and beyond).

The Community of Waterton Waterton Community
© Parks Canada

When planning to ski or snowshoe in Waterton, always check the webiste for Akamina Access road updates before you go (find links on our homepage throughout the winter season).

The Red Rock Parkway and the Chief Mountain Highway are closed to vehicles during the winter months.

Be prepared for conditions ranging from warm to extreme cold. Poor visibility, icy roads and drifting snow can occur frequently. Waterton's winter stroms can quickly drop large amounts of snow onto park roads. In response to these challenging conditions, Parks Canada has set new priorities for snow removal effective this winter.

The first priority for snow removal is Highway 5 and 6 and the Entrance Parkway. This will be followed by streets in the community that have been designated as high priority; then the Akamina Parkway; and last the community streets designated as low priority.

Please obey parking zones at Little Prairie picnic area. Snow-clearing equipment requires sufficient room to safely pass parked vehicles and turn around.

Weather

A Chinook Arch Chinook Arch
© Parks Canada

Waterton has highly variable mountain weather - it can change quickly. Winters are mild and snowy, with frequent warm spells caused by chinooks. 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.

Winter Information

More trail and winter information is available on signs at the Park Operations Building, cross-country ski trailheads or here on the website. Personal information is available at the Park Operations Building, or by calling 403-859-5133, weekdays between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. (MT).

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 Activities

Cross-country skiing in Waterton Lakes National Park
Cross-country skiing in Waterton Lakes National Park © Parks Canada

Cross-country Skiing Cross-Country Skiing
Cross-country skiing is a great way to enjoy Waterton in the winter. The best snow conditions are along the upper Akamina Parkway, and there are two cross-country ski trails in this area: the Dipper trail and the Cameron trail. The ski season in Waterton generally extends from December to March. Ski trail reports and Akamina Parkway access updates are updated regularly (find links on our home page) as conditions change. Before leaving home, ensure you have the right training and equipment for the terrain you are entering. Please note: Dogs are prohibited on designated ski trails.
Snowshoeing Snowshoeing
Whether you are interested in taking a short stroll around the community or accessing more remote locations in the backcountry, Waterton can be a great place for snowshoeing. Many locations are good for this activity but Cameron Lake and Crandell Lake are two of the most popular destinations. When snowshoeing in areas with designated ski trails, please preserve the trail by snowshoeing beside the ski tracks, not on them. Before leaving home, ensure you have the right training and equipment for the terrain you are entering.
Winter Photography Winter Photography & Wildlife Observation
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 the winter months. A rare highlight would be sighting one of the park’s wild cats: cougar, bobcat or lynx.
Toboggan Sledding/Tobogganing
Bring a sled and take advantage of Waterton's slopes and drifts. Be careful to stay off avalanche paths. Some of the favourite spots are on the Prince of Wales hill and around the community.
Picnicing Picnicing
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). Each picnic area includes an outhouse. Water and barrier-free washrooms are available at the Firehall.
Ski-Touring Ski-Touring
Depending on snow conditions, excellent opportunities for ski-touring exist on or off the park's trail system. Popular trails include Crandell Lake (easy-moderate), Rowe Trail, Akamina Pass, Summit Lake and Wall/Forum Lakes (all difficult). These trails are not marked or maintained and are subject to avalanche hazard. Before leaving home, ensure you have the right training and equipment for the terrain you are entering. Contact us for information about best locations, weather, avalanche conditions and general advice. On weekends you can reach our Waterton visitor safety technicians during business hours by calling our dispatch centre in Banff at 403-762-1473 and asking to be redirected. A detailed avalanche forecast and information regarding backcountry skiing conditions is available.
Climbing / Mountaineering Ice Climbing
There are a number of locations in Waterton suitable for ice climbing. Contact us for information about the best locations, weather, avalanche conditions and general advice. On weekends you can reach our Waterton visitor safety technicians during business hours by calling our dispatch centre in Banff at 403-762-1473 and asking to be redirected. Winter climbing in the Canadian Rockies presents significant hazards that are unique to this area. Before leaving home, ensure you have the right training and equipment for the terrain you are entering. Climbers must be informed, prepared, aware of their options, and respectuful of the conditions at all times.
Winter Camping  Winter Camping
Pass Creek picnic site, located on the park's Entrance Parkway, about four kilometers from the entrance gate, offers a sheltered winter campground, free of charge. 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 Firehall in the community.
Winter Camping Wilderness Camping
A wilderness use pass is required for overnight camping at designated backcountry campsites. There is no charge for this pass during winter months and self-registration is available at the registration box located at the warden office entrance. Fires are only allowed in designated fire pits at Crandell Lake, Lone Lake, Bertha Bay, Boundary Bay and Snowshoe campsites. Opportunities for random winter camping are limited and available by prior arrangement only. To book a random campsite or to obtain further information, contact us. Before leaving home, ensure you have the right training and equipment for the terrain you are entering.
Wildlife Viewing Winter Birding
There may be fewer birds around in winter, but with no leaves on the trees, they are easier to see! Chickadees, grouse and woodpeckers roam wooded areas, while ravens and eagles soar above, and dippers and goldeneye are in open waters.

Top 10s

Top 10 things to do in Waterton Lakes National Park in the winter, as recommended by Waterton residents and Parks Canada staff.

Winter Bird Count

The Lethbridge Naturalists Society holds a Christmas Bird Count in the park each year. An average of 25 species is seen on the Christmas counts. For further information, please contact the park.

Useful Links:

Emergency Contact
A-Z of Activities
Hours of Operation
Special Events
Visitor Safety
Prohibited Activities
Safety in the Mountain National Parks
Winter Activities in the Mountain National Parks