Winter in Waterton
Winter is an excellent time to enjoy mountain scenery and the serenity of Waterton Lakes National 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.
Waterton is open year round and 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 1, 2018 to April 1, 2019, access weather dependent).
Before leaving home, ensure you have the right training and equipment for the terrain and conditions you are entering.
For information on winter accommodation and amenities in the Waterton townsite, visit Waterton Lakes Chamber of Commerce.
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.
The Akamina Parkway is open to Cameron Lake for non-motorized use this winter (e.g. snowshoeing, skiing, hiking, biking). The parkway will not be plowed and should be treated as backcountry terrain. Parks Canada may intermittently track set portions of the Akamina Parkway for cross-country skiing when staff resources permit. Parking is available at the Bear’s Hump trailhead, the Emerald Bay Day Use Area and nearby townsite streets. These lots will be cleared of snow when feasible. To ensure emergency access, there is no parking in the Akamina Parkway entry or along the Entrance Road.
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, Kootenai Brown trail and Wishbone trail 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.
The Alpine Club of Canada (ACC) operate a backcountry hut in Waterton Lakes National Park (Cameron Lake Cabin), providing overnight accommodation in the winter.
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 (roughly) 40 winter resident bird species will you find? Plus, there’s always the excitement of seeing a late migrant and the lure of spotting a very rare species.
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 Wildfire.
Depending on snow conditions, opportunities for ski touring exist on or off the trail system in Waterton Lakes National Park.
Cameron Lake Cabin, operated by the Alpine Club of Canada, provides an excellent base for ski touring options. Visitors must ski or hike along the Akamina Parkway approximately 15 kilometres to reach the cabin in winter 2018-2019.
Backcountry travel always comes with inherent risks and backcountry travellers are responsible for their own decisions and safety.
The Kenow Wildfire has expanded the terrain available for backcountry skiing in the park, but has introduced new hazards. Fallen logs and sharp branches can be hidden under the snow surface. Ski with caution in the burnt forest. The wildfire has also opened up areas previously sheltered from the wind, and changed the snowpack. Consider what may have been familiar terrain with a fresh perspective.
If the terrain you plan on visiting involves avalanche hazard you will need:
- Training to recognize avalanche terrain and understand the avalanche hazard.
- Avalanche rescue equipment: avalanche transceiver, probe and shovel and the knowledge of how use them for companion rescue.
Many of the trails in Waterton Lakes National Park are classified with Avalanche Terrain Ratings based on the Avalanche Terrain Exposure Scale (ATES) to help visitors determine suitable, planned objectives.
Avalanche Terrain Ratings should be used in conjunction with the current Avalanche Bulletin, issued twice a week for Waterton Lakes National Park during the winter season.
There are a number of locations in Waterton Lakes National Park suitable for ice climbing. Popular climbs include the Compound Gullies, Quick and Dirty, Experts Choice, Lineham Falls and Sullivan Falls.
Boulders and cliffs were exposed to extreme temperatures during the Kenow Wildfire, causing some rock surfaces to become brittle. Rocks and climbing areas that were once solid may now have increased rockfall hazard. All anchors and bolts need to be treated with extreme caution. Trees should no longer be considered as secure anchor options.
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 respectful of the conditions at all times.
Winter travel tip
Remember to fill your vehicle with gas before visiting the park in the winter. The nearest service stations are in Pincher Creek and Mountain View.