Waterton Lakes National Park
Driving Distance from Calgary: 3 hours [google map directions] Number of Sites: 238
Facilities: Toilets, Showers, Store, Amphitheatre, Bike and boat rentals, Playgrounds, Laundry
Nearest Town: Waterton
Cell Reception: Yes, but only 1 or 2 bars
Camping at Waterton Lakes National Park was an Alberta bucket list item for me. Ever since driving to Montana in the summer of 2011 and seeing the big mountains off to the west, I’ve wanted to explore them. This summer, we finally did it.
Waterton Townsite, which is basically, a campground in downtown Waterton. A village of only 35 or so people in the winter, Waterton balloons to hundreds in the summertime. It’s a beautiful playground at the base of numerous mountains for hiking and exploring, and the gorgeous, deep, and cold Waterton Lakes to play in. You can choose from many cabin rentals, or hotels, or tenting if you want to stay in the town.
Camping at the Waterton Townsite is not your typical Parks Canada camping experience (eg camping at Johnston Canyon). The sites are close together, there are few to no trees, and privacy does not exist. There are no fire pits, nor running water at the campsites.
The tenting area is a little more private, and it runs along the shore of Upper Waterton Lake. Still, as we experienced on our trip camping at the Waterton Townsite, tents can be placed virtually on top of each other, campers will cut through each other’s sites to get where they want to go, and you can hear everything that happens in every tent all night.
If you want a more private experience check out the Crandell Campground which is up a valley about 15km from the townsite, or you could stay at Waterton Springs just outside the Waterton Lakes National Park gates.
Despite the imperfections, I liked camping in the townsite. There is a beautiful playground with a splash pad just a block away. You can wander Waterton easily and if you don’t feel like camping, you can grab snacks and drinks at any of a number of restaurants (the line-up at Weiners of Waterton is worth it). You can walk right to the beach from your campsite, you can hike any of a number of the popular trails without driving to the trailhead. You can rent boats, take boat tours, or just lounge.
We spent our time playing at the playground, chasing ground squirrels (be careful not to pitch your tent over a burrow), throwing rocks into the lake, watching windsurfers, taking the shuttle to Red Rock Canyon (recommended because of lack of parking at the site), visiting the Bison Paddock, and then trekking the popular Bear’s Hump hike during our stay in Waterton Lakes National Park. And we’ll be back.