Bootprints Hiking Guide: Majesty at Bertha Lake in Canada’s Waterton Lakes National Park
May 13, 2017
Waterton Lakes National Park lies on the southern border of Canada, connected to Glacier National Park in neighboring Montana. The park is comprised of 195 square miles, with its highest elevation at the summit of Mount Blakiston (9,547 feet) and lowest elevation at Waterton (4,232 feet).
With fewer than 500,000 visitors per year, Waterton is not over-crowded, but campgrounds within the park are full during the summer months. Since my trip there was not on a schedule, I stayed in a quiet tent site nestled by an aspen grove at Waterton Springs Campground, located on a hillside northeast of Waterton.
Approaching a bear crossing sign near the entrance to Waterton, I watched a bear run out of a meadow at the edge of Lower Waterton Lake and cross the road in front of me. I am certain the Canadians train wildlife to obey the road signs.
Exploring the town, I stopped into a recreational gear shop to gather information. I discovered that the shop doubled as a currency exchange and took advantage of the opportunity. My entire week in Canada only cost 500 Loonies (the Canadian dollar coin).
Hike to Bertha Lake
I parked on the southwest edge of town and found Cameron Falls, a beautiful frosting of water slipping over buckled layers of Cambrian rock formed a billion years ago. From here, at 4,260 feet, I hiked south, then west on a 4-mile trip covering 1,500 vertical feet to Bertha Lake. I completed the entire hike in four hours. Along the way, I passed Lower Bertha Falls, a thin, broad bridal veil of water smoothly flowing over a plate of fissured rock.
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Bertha Lake is located up a narrow, fairly steep canyon near tree line. The lake is just beyond Upper Bertha Falls, a thin and steep cataract inaccessible by trail. Forming an amphitheater of steep cliffs surrounding Bertha Lake are the summits of Mount Richards (7,926 feet), Mount Alderson (8,831 feet) and Bertha Peak (8,050 feet). Crystal-clear water fills the narrow lake, providing good cutthroat trout viewing. Great resting spots on rock outcroppings and level dispersed campsites surround Bertha Lake.
Two longer hikes in the Waterton area seem enticing. The first is Crypt Lake Trail, which begins at the Prince of Wales historic hotel and follows the eastern shore of Upper Waterton Lake before continuing along Hell-Roaring Creek. For 24 Loonies, most hikers take a ferry across Waterton Lake, reducing the hike by several miles. The climb offers views of 490-foot Crypt Falls and a crawl through a tunnel, which gains access to the upper valley where Crypt Lake lies. The hike involves cliff exposure, aided by a steel cable. The total, round-trip distance of the trip is 12 miles with a vertical ascent of 2,300 feet.
The second is Carthew-Alderson Trail. From the east side of the village of Waterton, the trailhead begins at Cameron Falls and ascends along Carthew Creek to Alderson Lake at the foot of Mount Alderson (8,831 feet). The trail continues climbing to Carthew Lakes at the base of Mount Carthew (8,628 feet), and then terminates at the shores of Cameron Lake. This trail is 12 miles one way with 2,000 feet of elevation gain.
How to get there
Waterton Lakes National Park in southern Alberta is (only) 1,000 miles north of Summit County. Instead of taking a direct route, I spent six days traveling 1,500 miles on a meandering course through the Rocky Mountains to reach the border of Canada at Glacier National Park.
To reach Waterton Lakes, drive north on Highway 89 from the east gate of Glacier National Park at Saint Mary, and then drive northwest on Highway 17 to Canada Highway 6. Turning into Waterton Lakes, pass Lower and Middle Waterton lakes, continuing south into the town of Waterton. Follow Evergreen Street on the west side of town to Cameron Falls and the trailhead for Bertha Lake.
Author Kim Fenske's writings include, "Greatest Hikes in Central Colorado: Summit and Eagle Counties," and "Hiking Colorado: Holy Cross Wilderness," both available from Amazon Kindle books.