New for winter 2018-19
What portions of Waterton Lakes National Park have reopened?

Parks Canada has assessed and reduced wildfire-related hazards on a number of trails and backcountry areas in Waterton Lakes National Park, and reopened them for winter 2018-19.

The Akamina Parkway is open to Cameron Lake for non-motorised use this winter (hiking, biking, snowshoeing, skiing, etc.). Trails accessible from the Parkway, including Lineham, Rowe (only to the top of Lineham Ridge), Cameron Lakeshore, Akamina Pass (only to the B.C. border), and Summit Lake are also open. This is approximately 35 kilometres of reopened trails in addition to areas reopened earlier this year.

The parkway will not be plowed and should be treated as backcountry terrain. Users should know the avalanche forecast and the type of terrain they are travelling in, and prepare accordingly. To ensure emergency access there is no parking in the entry to the Akamina Parkway.

Which portions of the park are closed? Why?

The McNeely’s and Little Prairie Day Use Areas, Tamarack Trail and Carthew-Alderson Trail (beyond the height of land past Summit Lake - see map) remain closed due to wildfire damage. The Akamina Pass Trail is only open to the B.C. border as eastern portions of the neighbouring Akamina-Kishinena Provincial Park remain closed due to wildfire hazards.

The Red Rock Parkway from Coppermine Creek to Red Rock Canyon, Bear’s Hump Trail, Crandell Mountain Campground and recreational opportunities associated with these areas remain closed at this time.

Parks Canada is assessing and developing rehabilitation plans for these areas before they can reopen. To ensure your safety, please respect all area closures. Entering a closed area can result in a maximum fine of $25,000. Parks Canada is grateful to our visitors, partners, and stakeholders for their support and understanding.

Winter and avalanche safety
What safety information should visitors be aware of before recreating in Waterton Lakes National Park or along the Akamina Parkway this winter?

Visitor safety is a top priority for Parks Canada. Backcountry travel always comes with inherent risks and backcountry travellers are responsible for their own decisions and safety. Parks Canada provides information to help people understand and assess the risk so that they can make travel decisions. Areas affected by the Kenow Wildfire may have increased hazards that last for several years or longer and may be triggered at any time with little or no warning.

This winter, visitors should consider the Akamina and Red Rock parkways as backcountry terrain. Many Waterton Lakes National Park trails are classified with Avalanche Terrain Ratings based on the Avalanche Terrain Exposure Scale (ATES) to help visitors determine suitable, planned objectives. The following ATES ratings only apply to the roadway and not to travel in the surrounding terrain:

  • Akamina Parkway (Entrance to Rowe Trail):
    • Class 1 - Simple Avalanche terrain
  • Akamina Parkway (Rowe Trail to Cameron Lake):
    • Class 2 - Challenging Avalanche Terrain
  • Red Rock Parkway (Entrance to Coppermine Creek):
    • Class 1 - Simple Avalanche terrain

ATES ratings should be used in conjunction with the current Avalanche Bulletin, issued twice a week for Waterton during the winter season. Visitors travelling in avalanche terrain need to have essential equipment, such as a transceiver, probe, and shovel, and know how to use it. They also need the skills to recognize avalanche terrain and unstable conditions, and to conduct companion rescue. Parks Canada recommends that people who want to recreate in avalanche terrain take a course in Avalanche Safety Training (AST) to learn and practice these skills.

There are a few things you can do to have an enjoyable and safe visit in the winter, such as:

  • Select a trip which best suits your abilities and experience, interests, equipment and the time you have available.
  • Familiarize yourself with the area you have selected by using guidebooks and topographic maps.
  • Check the weather forecast and current avalanche conditions.
  • Check Parks Canada’s website for updates as some areas may have restricted access or seasonal closures.
  • Be prepared to be self-sufficient in all weather conditions and emergency situations and carry a first aid kit, spare clothing, extra food and emergency shelter.
  • Ensure a friend or family member knows of your travel plans and travel with a friend or group.
  • Check the trailhead kiosk or Parks Canada’s website before starting your backcountry adventure for important updates.
  • Have a means of calling for help, e.g. cell phone, personal locator device, VHF radio or satellite phone (note: cell phones do not work in many backcountry areas of the park
Winter information
Will the Akamina Parkway be track set for cross-country skiing?

Parks Canada may intermittently track set portions of the Akamina Parkway for cross-country skiing when staff resources permit.

Where can visitors park to access the Akamina Parkway this winter?

Visitors can recreate along the Akamina Parkway this winter as it is open for non-motorized use. 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.

Where should visitors recreate in Waterton if they do not have avalanche training?

There are many great winter experiences in Waterton for all visitors! Wildlife viewing along the Entrance Road and walking to Cameron Falls in the townsite are excellent winter-time adventures for any visitor. If visitors don’t have avalanche training, Parks Canada recommends they recreate on the Bellevue Prairie Trail, Wishbone Trail and Townsite Loop Trail.

What are some recommended activities and areas in Waterton this winter?

Winter is a wonderful time to visit Waterton! For a list of recommended activities and areas in Waterton this winter, visit: Travel tips and ideas.

Where can visitors obtain information and buy passes in the park?

For information and to purchase park passes this winter visit Parks Canada’s Visitor Centre in Waterton Lakes National Park at the Lion’s Hall in the townsite. Hours of operation are Monday to Friday, 8 am to 12 pm and 1 pm to 4 pm. The Park Gate is open (hours vary) to sell passes and provide information on the weekends. The Parks Canada Family/Group Discovery Pass is available for purchase in the park, and until December 31st you can get a 20% discount!

Are there washrooms available in Waterton in the winter?

The Fire Hall and Cameron Falls washrooms are open in the Waterton townsite in the winter Waterton townsite map

Where can I find more information such as maps, trails conditions, etc.?

Our website contains a wide variety of information to help visitors plan the most enjoyable and safest possible trip to Waterton Lakes National Park. Our What’s Open in Waterton webpage links to many sources of helpful information

What are driving conditions like in the winter?

Visitors should be prepared for conditions ranging from warm to extreme cold when en route and in Waterton Lakes National Park in the winter. Poor visibility, icy roads and drifting snow occurs frequently. In response to winter storms that can quickly drop large amounts of snow onto park roads, Parks Canada removes snow in priority order, starting with Highways 5 and 6 and the Entrance Road, followed by high-priority streets in the community and then low priority streets. Remember to fill your vehicle with gas before visiting the park during the winter season. The nearest service stations are in Pincher Creek and Mountain View. For the most up-to-date travel information visit our social media channels (Facebook and Twitter) and Alberta 511.

Is Akamina-Kishinena Provincial Park in B.C. accessible from Waterton this winter?

In Waterton, the Akamina Pass Trail is open to the public until the B.C. border. BC Parks has closed eastern portions of the Akamina-Kishinena Provincial Park due to hazards from wildfire activity. For more information on the B.C. closure visit: Akamina-Kishinena Provincial Park

Is the ACC taking reservations for the Cameron Lake Cabin on the Akamina Parkway?

Yes, the ACC is taking reservations for the Cameron Lake Cabin now that the Akamina Parkway is open to non-motorized use. For more information visit the ACC’s website.

Why is the Akamina Parkway open to non-motorised use now? What has been done to allow this access?

Parks Canada has assessed and reduced wildfire-related hazards on a number of trails and backcountry areas in Waterton Lakes National Park, including the Akamina Parkway. We are able to allow non-motorised access by considering the road as a backcountry trail this winter. Our highly-skilled staff (who have specific training to assess and alleviate wildfire-related hazards) have evaluated the terrain, felled hazard trees and mitigated other hazards as is appropriate for a backcountry trail. The scope of mitigations is less extensive for trails compared to roads because the risk is lower.

What else is open in the park?

Access to areas and trails reopened earlier this year remains the same. The Red Rock Parkway is available for non-motorised use from the Entrance Road to Coppermine Creek. The Entrance Road and adjacent facilities, and townsite are open. Parks Canada is plowing the Chief Mountain Highway to the Chief Mountain Overlook until the end of December, then the highway is unmaintained until spring. The road to the Horseshoe Basin trailhead is not plowed in the winter What's open

Is Parks Canada offering a volunteer event in Waterton this winter?

Parks Canada’s annual Christmas Bird Count is on Saturday, December 15, 2018 this winter.

Ninety-two different bird species have been recorded here in winter. So there's always the allure of the rare one or two that no other Alberta location gets on their count! The count is organized by the Crowsnest Conservation Society in collaboration with Waterton Lakes National Park.

Oh, and it's just not birds, we also list the mammals and the tracks that we see.

Self-service materials (record sheets, maps) to conduct the count will be posted at the Waterton Fire Hall by 4:30 pm on December 14 or email to participate in count week. On Saturday at 2 pm come for the gathering to meet fellow volunteers and share sightings Volunteer events

Can I winter camp in Waterton?

For winter camping enthusiasts, the Pass Creek picnic site, located on the Entrance Parkway about four kilometres from the entrance gate, offers a sheltered winter campground (open November 1, 2018 to April 1, 2019, access weather dependent).

How can I plan to have the best trip this winter?

Parks Canada encourages visitors to plan their trip ahead of time. Visitors can find the most up-to-date travel information on our social media channels (Facebook and Twitter) and Alberta 511.

Impacts from the Kenow Wildfire
What work has been completed to this point? What work needs to be done to re-open closed areas and rehabilitate infrastructure impacted by wildfire?

Following the wildfire, Parks Canada secured fire-affected sites, reopened the Entrance Road and townsite after mitigating immediate hazards, and initiated preliminary hazard, ecological, and damage assessments. Parks Canada has assessed and cleared hazard trees and repaired damage in the areas that we are now reopening to the public. Parks Canada is developing an extensive rehabilitation program that ensures public safety, maintains environmental protection and offers quality visitor experiences. Public safety is of utmost importance to Parks Canada. Assessments regarding slope stability, avalanche hazard, water quality, and hazard trees are ongoing. Parks Canada is making every effort to re-open closed areas, and will do so when it is safe for staff and public.

When will the Akamina parkway be open to motorized use?

Parks Canada is making every effort to re-open popular areas, and will do so when they are safe for general public use. The Agency is still determining a timeline for when the Akamina Parkway will be open to public vehicle traffic. To road requires extensive mitigations that may take multiple years to complete.

What work needs to be completed to open the Akamina Parkway?

Parks Canada continues to assess and develop rehabilitation plans for closed areas and facilities impacted by the Kenow Wildfire, including the Akamina Parkway to public vehicle traffic. Hydrological and slope stability changes have occurred along the parkway and the risk is higher along roads than trails due to higher usage volume. Extensive mitigations appropriate for such a road taking into account hazard trees, slope stability and infrastructure repair (guardrails, day use areas, etc.) are required before the Akamina Parkway can reopen to public vehicle traffic. Specifically, some of the required work includes rock scaling, guardrail replacement, signage replacement and addressing drainage changes before the road is safe for general vehicle use. Parks Canada was proceeding with an extensive rehabilitation project for the parkway before the Kenow Wildfire. That project is being redeveloped to include wildfire hazard mitigations in addition to the original work.

If areas are closed, will entry fees be discounted?

Regular entry fees are in effect. A rich variety of visitor activities and experiences continue to be available in Waterton Lakes National Park. Entry and service fee revenues are kept in the park or site where they are collected to support visitor services and facilities. This means that every time you visit a park or site you are investing in its future.

Are there are any wildfire-related safety or public health issues to be aware of when visiting?

Areas of the park that are open are safe to visit.Visitors to national parks need to be aware of the potential for natural hazards. The risk of natural hazards can be reduced by being well-informed and prepared. It is important to know there may be increased risk, even in open areas, in terrain that was recently burned by the Kenow Wildfire. Post-wildfire hazards may last for several years or longer after a wildfire and may be triggered at any time with little or no warning.

  • Water quality - Wildfire can degrade water quality; however, the overall approach to creating safe drinking water remains the same as in unburned areas. The Kenow Wildfire may have affected water quality in the backcountry. Visitors travelling in the backcountry should treat drinking water collected from burned areas, or pack in potable water. Water turbidity and microbial pathogens (potentially increased due to the wildfire) are examples of contaminants that need to be addressed through treatment. These contaminants can be addressed with two steps: 1) filtering backcountry water with a microbial water filter that meets a third party standard such as P231 and 2) disinfection with chlorine tablets if the filter pore size is 0.02 microns or larger.
  • Blowing dust – There is loose ash and dirt in the park. Strong winds will transport this ash and dirt, and could cause air quality and visibility issues.
  • Reduced shade – In fire affected areas, reduced shade due to the burning of the forest canopy will make hiking and walking on hot and sunny days more strenuous. This may affect snow conditions in the winter. Due to the lack of a canopy, hiking/skiing trails will be more slippery in rainy or icy weather.
  • Rock fall, steep slopes, and debris - Rock that was once held in place by vegetation is now loose and more unstable. Take care when travelling over steep slopes and rocky areas and reduce your overhead hazard to steep slopes and cliffs where fallen trees or loose rocks may roll downhill. Increased rock or debris fall hazard can be expected during rainy or windy weather. Also, watch out for hazards from damaged or destroyed infrastructure like steel, nails, and glass.
  • Hazard trees - Any trails that are open have been assessed for hazard trees and the risks have been reduced. Travel quickly and spread your group out to reduce exposure time. Avoid burnt forests during windy conditions with rain or snow. Travel off trail carries increased risk of injury from falling trees. Hazard trees have not been assessed or cleared in off-trail areas.
  • Wildlife – Following the wildfire, animals may behave unpredictably, including entering the townsite in search of food. For your safety and the safety of the animals, never approach, feed, or entice wildlife. Dispose of garbage only in the bear-proof bins located throughout the townsite in order to avoid attracting wildlife. Report all wildlife observations/encounters by calling 1-888-WARDENS (1-888-927-3367).
  • Rock climbing and scrambling - Boulders and cliffs were exposed to extreme temperatures during the wildfire, causing some rock surfaces to become brittle. Rocks and climbing areas that were once solid may now have increased rockfall hazard and insecure hand and foot holds. All rock climbing anchors and bolts need to be treated with extreme caution. Trees should no longer be considered as secure anchor options.
  • Amplified runoff after rainfall or snowmelt could result in a rapid increase of water course depth and flow rates or flooding conditions.

Parks Canada is undertaking the necessary assessments, analysis, and planning to develop a long-term approach for Waterton. We are working to restore the national park experience in a manner that is safe for our many hundreds of thousands of annual visitors and fully consistent with the ecological objectives for the park.

How much is it costing to rehabilitate the park after the Kenow Wildfire?

It is too early to provide a cost estimate. Parks Canada is still determining costs and impacts associated with infrastructure damage and rehabilitation. A significant amount of work is required to rebuild lost infrastructure and stabilize areas of the landscape impacted by the fire. Parks Canada is budgeting for costs and ensuring all work is completed in an efficient and fiscally responsible manner while also adhering to all required environmental standards.

The impact of the Kenow Wildfire on the park was significant. The wildfire burned 19,303 hectares or 38% of Waterton Lakes National Park. Over 30 assets throughout the park were destroyed or significantly impacted. For Parks Canada and Waterton Lakes National Park, managing the reconstruction program will be unprecedented and complex.

Why is Crandell Mountain Campground not operating this year? When will the campground reopen?

The Crandell Mountain Campground is closed due to extensive infrastructure damage from the Kenow Wildfire. The campground requires significant reconstruction before it can reopen. It is too early to provide a timeframe for this.

Why is the Bear’s Hump trail closed? When will it reopen?

The Bear’s Hump Trail was destroyed by the Kenow Wildfire. Metal spikes remain in place of the many wooden steps along the trail. Parks Canada is assessing and mitigating hazards along the trail. Parks Canada is working quickly to rebuild the trail in an efficient, sustainable and economically responsible manner.

What is happening at the Alpine Stables site?

Parks Canada cleaned up burnt debris and soils to remediate the Alpine Stables site this spring. Parks Canada is working closely with the Alpine Stables operators to provide on-going horse riding experiences in the park. The operators used temporary structures at the site and provided a modified service in 2018. Parks Canada is committed to maintaining a quality horse riding experience in Waterton Lakes National Park, and is redeveloping the site.

Will Canyon Camp be open in 2019?

Canyon Camp is closed until further notice. The camp suffered extensive damage as a result of the Kenow Wildfire. Assessments are still taking place and it is too early to provide a timeframe to reopening.

Are non-native plant species a concern in Waterton Lakes and in areas affected by wildfire?

There are fire related impacts that will require on-going monitoring and potentially pro-active management actions, including the risk of non-native species expanding their presence in the park. There are other potential sources of invasive species in Waterton Lakes also. Visitors are encouraged to be diligent of non-native species to help protect the park.

Visitors can assist Parks Canada in this important work by reporting invasive species they see and by reducing the spread of non-native species by ensuring gear such as hiking boots, watercraft, bicycles, and vehicles are clean. Parks Canada recommends brushing boots and clothing prior to and after hiking to limit the spread of weeds and seeds, and is planning to install boot cleaning equipment at trailheads.

Parks Canada limited horse use by the general public in 2018 to areas unburned by the Kenow Wildfire. This temporary protective measure will help vegetation to recover in burned areas, and reduce the risk of further spread of non-native species.

Why is the Bison Paddock closed? Will the bison herd return?

Parks Canada relocated the bison herd before the Kenow Wildfire reached Waterton Lakes National Park to keep the animals safe. The bison handling facilities in Waterton sustained some damage (burnt wooden planks), and the grassland in the Bison Paddock burned. While the handling facilities have been repaired, the return of the Bison herd is contingent on the recovery speed of the native grassland in the paddock.

Please contact us if you have any additional questions.