Unlike the busy streets of Waterton Lakes during the summer months, winter in Waterton is totally different. Most hotels are closed, there are only two restaurants, and everything is very quiet. But, for those looking for a winter adventure and the quiet solitude of the Rocky Mountains, there’s perhaps no better place.
Whether you’re looking to go snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, winter hiking, or just enjoying the splendour of a serene mountain town, Waterton Lakes in the winter should be on your bucket list.
In this guide, we’ll help you plan your winter trip to Waterton Lakes, including what to do, where to stay, and where to eat.
Things to Do in Waterton in Winter
As we mentioned, those looking for outdoor adventure such as cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or perhaps even ice climbing, will enjoy the quiet solitude and extreme beauty of Waterton Lakes National Park in the winter. Since ice climbing is primarily for professionals, we are going to focus on both cross-country skiing and snowshoeing since that is what most people do.
This is the most popular place for cross-country skiing but is also within avalanche terrain. The drive is quite beautiful but can also be closed due to heavy snowfall or avalanches. During our visit, the Akamina was closed due to icy conditions, which is unfortunate as it’s where everyone sends those looking to go skiing. At the same time, we have no avalanche training or avalanche safety kits, so maybe it’s for the best.
Popular trails along the Akamina Parkway include Cameron Lake, Crandell Lake and Loop, Lineham Falls, Rowe Lakes, and Akamina Pass. As mentioned, this area is class 1 Avalanche Terrain. Please visit My Waterton for more information.
Red Rock Parkway
This is another place that was recommended to us for cross-country skiing, but due to the winds, there wasn’t very much snow. This is parkway is actually closed due to animal migrations in the winter months, but you can cross-country ski right on the road and go as far as 20-kilometres or more. This parkway is also within Class 1 Avalanche Terrain so visitors should check in with Parks Canada and know how to handle a potential situation.
Perhaps the most popular hike is Bears Hump, which offers spectacular views over the town of Waterton and the lake itself. It’s one of the most iconic views in the entire national park. The trails start right across the road from the access road to the Prince of Wales Hotel. It takes about 45 minutes to an hour to reach the top and is entirely uphill. It’s not very difficult but due to snow, we definitely recommend snowshoes or perhaps even ice cleats if the snow isn’t too deep.
Another good spot for snowshoeing is Bertha Pointe. This takes only 20-minutes or so, but if you want more adventure, you can extend your hike all the way to Bertha Falls, which can take anywhere from 2-3 hours depending on how deep the snow is. If you’re doing the trail only to the lookout point, there’s nothing much to worry about, but if you do decide to go further, please note that it becomes avalanche terrain and you should be prepared.
Another popular trail for cross-country skiing is Wishbone. However, this is located more-so in the prairies and depending on wind and snow conditions, you may not have any snow to ski on. This is what happened to us when we visited in late February. The winds were so strong and the weather so mild that the patch of snow on the trail was maybe a foot wide and an inch deep at best. We tried skiing but after 5 minutes, we gave up and went back to the car. Still, when the Akamina Parkway closed, this is one of the main spots that was recommended, so if the snow is right, it’s probably a nice spot to go.
Where to Stay in Waterton in Winter
There are only two hotels open during the winter months, so your choice is easy.
Waterton Lakes Lodge Hotel
This is where we stayed during our visit. This property includes a number of house-like buildings, each of which has a number of guest rooms. There’s also a hot tub but it was closed during our visit because of covid. However, our room was very nice and was equipped with both a fireplace and a jacuzzi. Another nice feature of this lodge is that they offer rentals for cross-country skis, snowshoes, and even ice cleats. This makes it convenient for those looking to try it out. It’s also home to Vimy’s Lounge, which is one of only two restaurants open in the winter.
Waterton Glacier Suites
Another nice option, which is right across the street from Waterton Lakes Lodge Hotel is Waterton Glacier suites. The rooms are spacious and modern and this is also where you’ll find Red Rock Trattoria, which offers delicious Italian food. In the summer, they have other places to eat and drink as well.
Where to Eat in Waterton in Winter
There are only two restaurants open during the winter and each one is located in one of the hotels.
Vimy’s Lounge and Grill
Located within the Waterton Lakes Lodge Resort, this place is casual and popular. Since the other restaurant (mentioned below) is fancier and even romantic, this is the main spot for most people as they offer both lunch and supper, as well as breakfast from Friday to Sunday during the winter months. We definitely recommend the Cameron Lake Eggs Benedict for breakfast and the Buffalo Chicken Poutine for lunch.
Red Rock Trattoria
We were quite surprised by this restaurant. For those looking for quality Italian food and/or a more refined romantic experience, this is the place to go. We enjoyed a number of different meals here, including the Ricotta Gnocchi and the Baked Cheese Tortellini as well as some good wine and delicious appetizers like Calamari Fritti and Sicilian Prawns. If having a drink and appetizer, expect to spend somewhere between $120 and $150 for a two-person dinner. They are not open for lunch in the winter.
Things to Do in Southern Alberta
If you’re looking for a road trip during your time down in Waterton, there are lots of other things to do. If you’re down for skiing, we recommend Castle Mountain Resort, which is just over an hour away. For everything else, check out these articles below.