Hike: Crypt Lake, Waterton

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crypt lake

The Victoria Day long weekend is the unofficial kick off to summer in Alberta. It’s usually when we tighten our hiking boots, double check we have the bear spray, and head out to the Rockies to take our cardio vertical.

All summer long, we’ll be featuring some of our favourite hikes, and letting you know what to expect before you head out.

Crypt Lake

Distance: 16.8 km
Difficulty: Moderate-Challenging
Elevation: 670 meters
Time: 4 – 6 hours       

The Crypt Lake hike in Waterton Lakes National Park is one of the most interesting hikes I have done in Alberta. The various types of terrain and mixture of challenge and fun make it an absolute must.

The beginning of this spectacular hike is across the lake from the town of Waterton. The boat ride is actually a nice start to this journey because it allows you to take in some of the sites and focus your mind on the trip ahead. Tickets for the boat are purchased when you arrive at the dock for a day of fun and scenery.

When you arrive at the mouth of the hike the boat docks and it’s time to take on the mountain. The first portion is a lush, forested hike with plenty of shade and greenery. As you climb toward the falls the terrain changes to more of a rocky scree-type terrain that has winding paths up the mountain with the green valley floor fed by the river departing Crypt Lake.

It’s almost comforting on the hike up to see where the falls come from the lake because it gives you a clear endpoint. The scenery along the way is breathtaking and comes to a sudden stop when you reach a large cliff face with a tunnel. At the mouth of the tunnel, there is a ladder that helps you climb in and go through the mountain to the final portion of the hike. On departure from this relatively tight tunnel there is a wire bolted to the cliff face for those who get a bit queasy; however, the terrain below is far from a drop-off. This little adventure through the mountain truly offers the feeling of adventure to this already fun hike.

The last portion of this hike to Crypt Lake is forested with the option to take a detour to the Crypt Falls. Standing beside the falls is a misty, cool experience and you can look down at the entire valley you have just defeated. After this treat, the only thing left to do is continue the last five minutes to the finish line.

The picnic at the end of the hike beside the glacier-bordered, greenish-blue water is truly the climax of the journey. We chose to dine on the ice on the far side of the lake and jump off of a 20-foot cliff into the freezing water below. This was a refreshing treat that I recommend as long as you have created a quick escape route from the crisp water.

This hike was a great mixture of challenge, variety, beauty and fun. The short cave portion and beautiful finish make the hike.  This hike has a moderate to hard difficulty level that shouldn’t be taken too lightly. Technique is important on the way down and beginners should plan for a hard trek, but one that is completely worth it. More experienced hikers could tackle it in less than four hours of walking time especially if you elect to cut some of the switchbacks short.


Article written by Curtis Howden, Regional Fitness Director at World Health. 

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