O Canada! Part I: Waterton Lakes Nat'l Park
I've said it before and I'm sure I'll say it again. This place is it! It has everything I love. Everything I love to look at and do and hike and see. Canada, you have outdone yourself. You've taken ahold of my eyes and heart and I won't be the same now that I've gotten another taste of you. Gosh, I love being corny - but it's true!
The last time we were in Canada was in '13. Back then, without twins in tow, we covered some mean ground on a ten day vacay with friends exploring Vancouver, Whistler, Kamloops, and Banff/Canmore. This time, however, we drove into Alberta from Glacier National Park in Montana, skirting the border via Highway 3 "the scenic road to the coast." I actually didn't think there was a place that could match Glacier. That is, until I stepped foot into this part of Canada.
When we last left off, we had just hugged my mom and Glacier National Park goodbye. With both in the rearview mirror, we were on our own. Like for real. This was the first time in 2 1/2 months that we didn't have a plan to visit anyone. Nowhere to be, nobody expecting us. I felt like my mom just patted us on the butts and shoed us away. Sort of like when you head off to college; a little reluctant to leave the comforts that you know but excited for the great unknown. Not sure what you're going to see, who you're going to meet, and what kind of beer will fuel your early afternoon happy hour. It was exhilarating to be cruising into a new country just the four of us. The gentleman at the border patrol asked us how long we were staying. "I'm not sure," Chip stated matter-of-factly. "We have a year or so, how long should we stay?" From the outside he remained calm with his stately garb and accoutrements but we could see his demeanor shift when we said we had nothing but time. Seeming genuinely interested he shot us a couple more questions, stamped our passports, and wished us a great trip. It felt good to be in Canada, eh!
The buzz didn't have a chance to die out because we came hauling in to the Belly River Campground only a few miles after speaking to that nice border agent. We'll describe this campground as a "more that meets the eye" kind of place. We arrived mid-week so the vibe it gave off was lonely and desolate. Not a creature was stirring (not even a mouse). There was no playground. No sign of a river. In fact, the eery solitude made us feel as if we were being watched. By bears! "I don't think we will be staying here after tonight," I mumbled under my breath.
Knowing the day would be hot, we nestled Spud into a shady campsite surrounded by trees. Just then a shaggy-haired man came trudging by. His face brightened as he shot me a smile so I decided to strike up a conversation with him. In the end, he told us we arrived at the right time (before the weekend), scored the best campsite in the whole place (boom!), that we made the right choice by camping here (one of his favorites in all of Canada), and that there's a path right next to our site to the RIVER (did somebody say happy hour by the river?!). My mood changed instantly. This place sounded wonderful. And it was. Wonderful enough that we threw what few plans we did have out the window and spent three nights there. We ended up meeting great people (Canadians and Germans) and did in fact partake in happy hour (and work out sessions) by the river every afternoon. The mornings and early afternoons though were reserved especially for Waterton Lakes National Park. We barely scratched the surface here but prepare for beautiful mountain/lake scenery overload below...
Waterton Village & Prince Of Wales Hotel
You may recall in our last post I mentioned Glacier National Park extends into Canada. Waterton Lakes National Park along with Glacier was the world's first international peace park (there are now 146 total). If you're like I was and are thinking "WTF is a "peace park?", I can help: basically it means the two work together to protect the water, land, plants, and animals within these parks, peacefully and collaboratively.
As we drove from Belly River campground north, the historic Prince of Wales Hotel was the first to greet us in the area. This iconic hotel stands perched above Waterton Village like a watchful eye gazing out over its land. We wanted the opportunity to catch the same view so we dashed into the hotel lobby and with our jaws on the floor we peered out the floor-to-ceiling windows in awe.
Afterwards we took Spud into Waterton Village (you can see the town in the far right on the photo below). It's a quaint little town with adorable storefronts, a community park, and a large campground extending the width of the town. Reviews online lead us to Belly River versus camping in town (noisy, more expensive, more people) but a bonus with this campground is guests at the Belly River CG can shower in town for free. We were happy to take advantage of that freebie.
Bears Hump Hike
At 1.8 miles roundtrip, the hike to Bears Hump was strenuous, slightly stressful, really steep, and absolutely worth it. Bennett had a minor fall (picture crying kid on the side of a narrow trail with passersby looking concerned) and Reid announced that he had to poop on the way up (oh, great) but neither stopped us from reaching the top. This is one of my favorite views ever. I love a little city, mountain, sky, and water all in one. I could hardly pull myself from the ledge so Bennett and I stayed behind a few minutes longer. It was almost too much to take in.
We almost didn't go to Cameron Lake. It was 20 km or so from town and originally we were looking for Cameron Waterfall and missed the turnoff. This was before we knew the waterfall was seconds from the town park. So google maps was leading us to who-knows-where. Since the drive was pretty anyway, we kept going and eventually reached an ample parking lot and thought "Damn, if this were Glacier, we would never find a parking spot." We hopped out of the car and made our way to the lake which was hidden by dense pine trees. As we emerged from the trees and on to the shoreline I laughed out loud. I actually belly laughed because seriously, were we in heaven? That sounds a little dramatic but if this place existed in Glacier or the US it would be teeming with tourists. It was drop dead gorgeous. The pictures don't even do it justice (maybe watch the video). We're accustomed to having to hike at least a few miles for these kinds of views but here it was seconds from a parking lot. You Canucks are spoiled!
We made our way straight to the dock, where several kids were jumping off into the cold (freezing) lake. Chip has made it a point to stop being a wuss and to swim in any water that looks inviting regardless of the temp and he wasn't about to let this lake (or himself) down. I have made it a point to not point and laugh when he exits said cold water and is changing into dry clothing. The boys and I watched him fling his body every which way off the dock and into the water. It looked fun but I was happy to be sitting this one out in the sun.
Because Canada is so awesome (and because we took too many pictures) it is worthy of two blog posts. So we are going to leave you here, hopefully wanting more Canada in your life. Stay tuned, we will be back shortly with more!