Erin and Andrew Sunter, along with their children Aidan (age 6) and Parker (age 3), hiked the Crypt Lake trail in Waterton Lakes National Park on the Canada-USA border. It is one of the most popular day hikes in the Canadian Rockies.
Q: Can you give us an overview of the hike?
A: First you take a 15-minute ferry ride from the Waterton Park townsite, which is in southern Alberta, to Crypt Landing. From there it’s 17.4 km (10.8 mi) to Crypt Lake and back. The hike is considered to be of moderate difficulty with an elevation gain of 690 m (2263 ft). It should take 6 and 8 hours to do the trail.
A: There are several reasons why it is so popular. First of all, the time spent walking in the forested area is relatively short. You’ll pass four waterfalls, one particularly impressive. Then you’re right in the mountains with these beautiful views. There are several special moments from the boat experience, climbing the steel ladder, going through a tunnel, holding onto a cable and ending up at an alpine lake. Altogether that is rather unique for a day hike.
Q: Is taking a ferry to the trailhead a bonus?
A: Actually it is a mixed blessing. It means that you have to start the hike with a lot of other people but since there are only two boats a day the total number of hikers is limited. When you start out you feel pressure to walk quickly because there is a line of people behind you but after awhile the line thins out. Often we didn’t see anyone else on the trail.
Q: What is the greatest challenge?
A: Near the start of the trail there is a section with very long switchbacks and anyone who does it needs to be in decent shape. If you look at the photos it would seem that carrying Parker up the steel ladder would have been a challenge but it was easy for the ladder is short. There is no real exposure on the ladder. Going through the tunnel in the mountain could be difficult for it’s almost 30 m (100 ft) long and the passage is quite low. After the tunnel you have to make your way along a narrow ledge where there is a steep drop. That is probably the most challenging section although you can hang onto a steel cable that is bolted into the rock face. If you don’t have a great fear of heights you should be able to do it for there is nothing technical about it.
Q: What about doing it with kids?
A: We regularly take the kids on hikes but this was the closest they’ve been to a scrambling-type environment. We were perhaps overly tense and maybe stressed Aidan out a bit because we kept telling him to be careful. I wouldn’t take a kid unless I thought he would be very reliable. What is probably most challenging is just the distance. It’s almost 20 km and you don’t want to be there with a kid who breaks down halfway.
A: For the kids it was the time at the lake, throwing rocks and putting their feet in the water. Some people walk the trail around the lake.
For all of us the hike itself was a highlight of our visit to the park. We never thought about turning back; we knew we were going to make it, that we would get to the lake. If you can make it through the tunnel and around the cliff then it is an easy 20 minute walk to the lake.
Q: Is there any other advice you would pass on?
A: You need to be aware of the time and make sure you’re back to the ferry landing to catch the last boat. Even in peak season there are only two departures, one at 4:00pm and the other at 5:30pm. Contact the Waterton Inter-Nation Shoreline Cruise Company about the schedule and cost.
Both grizzly and black bears can be on this trail so you should check with the visitor information centre about bear sightings before you go. We brought a can of bear mace with us that we bought at a store in the park.
Parks Canada tells hikers that they need to take individual responsibility for planning their trip and hiking safely. That’s good advice.
See related article: Waterton and Glacier National Parks: Hugging the Canada-USA border
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Photo credits Erin and Andrew Sunter
© Riding the buses 2013