Waterton National Park
Time: 6 hours
Distance: 20.1 km
Elevation Gain: 650 m
How To Get There: As of right now, you have to book a shuttle that will take you to the trailhead as the road is temporarily closed. Make sure to reserve a spot on the shuttle ahead of time as it can get very crowded, very quickly.
I was very excited to do this hike! Not only would it allow me to check off another hike from the Triple Crown list (for Crypt Lake, click here), but it was also that time of the year where Matt and I continued our annual tradition of exploring Waterton National Park.
The weather was forecast to be pretty decent for the weekend. Of course, it’s impossible to predict the weather in the mountains so things didn’t turn out quite that way. We ended up hiking through grey skies and a lot of wind!
The shuttle service is still in place on the Akamina road in Waterton. So we booked our shuttle for 9 am and then planned to hike the trail all the way back to the village of Waterton. The shuttle bus dropped us off around 9:30 am at the interim trailhead (the trailhead usually starts right at Cameron Lake but the area is under construction so the bus stops about 500 m from the actual parking lot).
You make your way through some thick trees until you are hiking parallel to Akamina lake.
Eventually, you pop out on the bridge that crosses over the river and are granted an immediate view of Cameron lake.
From here, we walked over to the Carthew-Alderson trailhead and began the hike.
If you want to see a description of the trail for the first 4 kilometers or so please click here. Essentially the first part of trail is completed in a series of five switchbacks. Once you finish the switchbacks, you walk southeast until you are able to spot Summit Lake.
Matt took a quick picture of the lake (so we could have a picture of it when it wasn’t surrounded by snow) and then we turned left, following the sign up a gradual ascent.
Soon we were able to see the valley below us as we began to hike up and around an almost bowl shape towards Mt. Carthew.
There was one hiker who was just a little bit a head of us who seemed to enjoy stopping and checking out the plant life along the trail. It made me wonder if he was some sort of environmentalist. Matt and I had our own opportunity to stop and explore the wildlife when we noticed that wild raspberries and huckleberries were popping up all over the place. We popped a few in our mouth and then left the rest for the bears.
Despite the fact that it was supposed to be a warm sunny day, Mother Nature decided that she had other plans. The weather was actually quite cool and there were dark grey clouds hanging high above us. As we began to move away from the tree line, hiking further and further up the bowl, the protection from the wind became non-existent and we definitely started to feel it. I tried to keep my sweater off for as long as possible, as I was definitely working up a sweat, but after a while, it just got to be too cold.
The wind was worth it though as we quickly began to get good views of Lake Wurdeman, Lake Nooney and eventually even Summit Lake. The last part of the hike up to the top of the ridge of Mt. Carthew consisted of about three or four long switchbacks.
Once we finally climbed our way to the top, the wind got even worse! We almost got whipped right off the ridge. I wanted to take a quick detour and hike to the summit of Mt. Carthew but the wind had other ideas. So we quickly took a few pictures of the beautiful panoramic view and then began to speed-walk the rest of the ridge so we could get back down and away from the wind.
The ridge line only lasts for another 500 metres or so before we turned right and began descending down towards Carthew lakes.
There is a bit of loose rock as you make the steep descent so you do have to watch your footing a little bit at this part (of course, this might have been tricky for us just because we were also getting blown all over the place). The first lake is probably the pretties out of the Carthew lakes in my opinion as you have the highest elevation view at this point and the mountains serve as a beautiful background.
We hopped over a small creek waterfall before moving clockwise around the lake, admiring the beauty of it as best we could in the cold.
Once we dipped down in elevation for a bit, we hopped over the same creek again, this time taking advantage of the few trees that blocked the wind so we could stop for a quick lunch break.
After a 20 minute rest, we continued on, descending further towards the second (and biggest lake). In order to follow the trail, we had to hop over the creek one more time.
The largest lake which was surrounded by loose rock as we made our way around it.
As we rounded the lake, Buchanan Ridge came into view.
Descending was a bit difficult on the knees but it was definitely worth it not to feel that wind on our faces anymore.
As we descended, Alderson Lake began to come into full view. It was absolutely stunning, with Mt. Alderson standing high and mighty directly behind it. Even though the sky was grey, the lake still managed to look a beautiful blue. We passed a small waterfall before taking a few pictures of ourselves with the lake in the background.
After that, we descended a few gravelly switchbacks and then found ourselves back in the forest.
At first I was disappointed, as I thought that meant that we wouldn’t be able to get a good close look of the lake itself. But after moving through the trees for about 0.8 km, we ended up seeing a sign that indicated that if we turned right, we could hike another 0.2 km towards the lake.
It's not very clear, but if you turn this way, you’ll also come across the backcountry campground.
We were able to spot a few tent pads as well as the outhouse (which is in very good condition) before we walked to the lake and sat down for a few moments.
With the rock wall as the background, it’s a beautiful place to stop for a picnic. We took a few pictures and then continued on our way, going back the 0.8 km to the main trail.
The rest of the trail after this continues through the forest, descending and ascending up and down various hills and crossing over three or four avalanche chutes.
We hopped across various creeks, enjoying a few more wild raspberries as we went. At one point, we had to step off of the trail to make room for a group of horseback riders.
You can hear Carthew Creek but for the most part you can’t see it as you continue the very gradual descent through the thick forest. Every now and again the valley opens up so you can see the mountains on the other side.
The very last part of the trail ends in a series of several switchbacks before you are able to see the village of Wateron from high above, as well as a good view of Vimy Peak and Bear’s Hump.
We took one last picture together on the trail before we continued on, ending the hike at the Cameron Falls parking lot.
Though the wind and grey skies made some of the trail sort of miserable, I can definitely still see why it’s considered one of the prime hikes of Alberta. The views while on top of the the Carthew ridge is absolutely incredible and the various creek waterfalls that connect the Carthew lakes is very tranquil. I still think Crypt Lake is more of an interesting hike but I would definitely recommend this hike as well for someone who wants a bit of an adventure. Matt and I definitely had one!