Waterton Lakes National Park
Time: 4 hours (return)
Distance: 6 km
Elevation Gain: 460 m
How To Get There: In the Waterton townsite, about 500 m past the Cameron Falls, across from the serviced campground on Evergreen Street, the trailhead is well-marked and easy to see.
This isn’t the first time Matt and I have done this hike (check out our first trip to the lake here). It is, however, the first time we actually saw the lake. When we walked the trail five years ago, it was so foggy that we literally couldn’t see even 3 feet in front of us. So we only had pictures on the internet to go by to know that we had missed out on a beautiful blue vista.
Waterton National Park suffered a devastating wildfire back in September 2017 and because of this, many trails were closed down due to clean-up and reconstruction. But Bertha Lake had recently been re-opened and we took it as the perfect sign that it was time to hike it again, but this time, with nothing but sunny skies in the forecast.
A gorgeous day plus the fact that there was a limited selection for trails in park meant that we were battling crowds almost the whole way through. But the day was so beautiful that it hardly mattered. There was plenty enough gorgeous scenery to go around. Starting at the Bertha Lake parking lot where there is a sign warning about possible fallen debris and other possible hazards left behind by the fire.
The trail starts easy enough as it makes its way through an explosion of green. It was only 11 am but the sun was already hot so the brief shade was welcome.
An assortment of Common Harebell and Spring Flower dotted the forest floor.
The trail follows close along the shores of Upper Wateron Lake.
Not even a few hundred metres into the hike and we were able to get a glimpse of the damage caused by the fires. Trees were scorched bare though foliage was wasting no time popping up to create a stark contrast of green and black.
1.5 km in, the trail splits and if you stay left, you are able to walk a little further until you reach a gorgeous lookout. Prepare to have company as many people use this as their final destination.
We enjoyed a quick moment for pictures and then retraced our steps back to the fork, this time going right.
Shortly after the lookout, there is an opportunity to turn left towards Bertha Bay, Boundary Bay and the US border. We continued straight.
The trail follows through the valley with little elevation gain with Mount Richards peering over our left side.
The trees are scarred almost the whole way to the lower falls and it became blatantly obvious to us just how far the fire had reached. But the purplish pink wildflowers acted as a healer, adding a beautiful flare to the damaged valley.
The trail dips down closer to Bertha creek before reaching the lower falls. While the waterfall is impressively wide, cascading over a rock face, it’s also very popular with tourists and so we didn’t stay long before moving on.
The remaining 2.8 km is where most of the elevation is gained which is evident right away as a steep hill awaits you after passing the falls.
The trail winds up through layer after layer of green brush, creating the perfect hiding spot for grazing bears. Make sure to make a lot of noise at this section!
After getting back into the forest, the world became a sudden juxtaposition. On one side of the trail was untouched greenery while the other had gone up in smoke. The mixture of colors really made Upper Waterton Lakes pop in the background.
Stretched out switchbacks assisted with ascension as we weaved our way back and forth.
The fire damage doesn’t quite reach the midsection of the climb and for a moment, it almost felt like the fire had never happened in this area at all.
Upper Bertha Falls is visible to the right but it’s not easy to get a good look as large coniferous trees block some of the view.
We came around a few more switchbacks following the second waterfall and then were completely blown away by what we saw, all fabrication of the wildfire disappearing in an instant.
The land was exposed and barren, save for naked trees. The silver lining was that it provided another great view of the lakes below.
We continued on for another 500 m or so with little elevation left to gain, the path wide and hard under our boots. We started to dip down to the lake and the green returned, the fire unable to breach Bertha Lake’s perimeter.
The trail forks. If you go straight, the trail eventually ends in a subpar lookout. It’s best to turn right, so you are able to see the lake up close and personal.
The trail drops quickly and the ground becomes loose with chunks of dirt and rocks. Tread carefully.
We finally reached the shoreline of the lake. The water was a clean blue and the mountains in the background were breathtaking. I was so glad in that moment that we had decided to take a second shot at this trail. It was absolutely worth it and this time, the scene could not be clearer.
The trail circles the entire lake for a total of 4.0 more kilometres. We opted to travel counter clockwise, across the bridge over the lake creek runoff and past the backcountry campground, Bertha Peak standing proud before us.
With an abundance of wildflowers to keep us company, we found a nice little rock beach to stop and drop our packs. Here was the perfect place to have lunch and dip our feet into the cold mountain lake.
We had a quick cat nap in the sun before returning the way we came.
We travelled clockwise back on the trail for a short bit and were treated to a better view of a small waterfall trickling down Bertha Peak. I would have liked to survey the whole lake but time constraints prevented this.
Instead, we took a few more pictures of the gorgeous backdrop and then headed back to the townsite.
What a gorgeous day it ended up being and I was so glad that Bertha Lake had remained relatively unscathed. It’s the perfect hike for people of all abilities and it has a little bit of everything- waterfalls, views and a turquoise lake. You can even stay the night at the campsite if you want to try reaching Bertha Peak as a side trip (or as a longer day hike). This is definitely a hike you want to do when visibility isn’t an issue and you can see all it has to offer!