A jewel of a park: Waterton


Despite the 2017 wildfire, the park is teeming with wildlife and wildflowers

A ZenSeekers' road trip isn't complete unless the destinations include outdoor adventures, and culinary, learning and cultural experiences. During summer 2018, create your #BucketlistAB itinerary in Southern Alberta and come and stay a night and see a sight.

Written and photographed by Chris Istace

Purple wildflowers carpet the grassy hillsides as the morning sun warms the Waterton Lakes valley. In the distance, we see a mother bear carefully watching over her three frolicking cubs on a closed trail below Bears Hump on Mt. Crandell.

The bear sighting is just one big clue along with the forest regrowth and flowers blooming that Waterton Lakes National Park is bursting with renewal.  

The stunning landscape of Waterton will make anyone visitor feel energized: the magnificent peaks rise more than 3,000 metres, creating a protective embrace around the bright teal green waters of the Waterton Lakes. Forests of pine, aspen and dogwood line the lake’s shores extending into the alpine terrain.

Watch Waterton Lakes National Park on YouTube.

Sprawling out from the mountains and forests are the vast grasslands where elk, deer, and even buffalo, now roam. The forests and grasslands with the perfect climate have created a flower-lovers oasis. Thousands of different plants can be found, including 175 species of endangered and 20 rare wildflowers only found in Waterton. I had a chance to see some of those beautiful flowers: the vibrant yellow balsam root, deep purple alpine lupine, ox-eye daisy and rich red paintbrush.

You’d never know that just last summer a bolt of lightning sparked a massive wildfire that rapidly changed the landscape.  But the Kenow Wildfire has been the catalyst that has thrust Waterton Lakes National Park into a transformative renewal. 

Photo: Chris Istace

The awesome power of nature is apparent everywhere in Waterton, says Kimberley Pearson, of Parks Canada. After the 2017 Kenow Wildfire, the forest is starting to come alive again.

Kimberly Pearson, an ecosystems scientist with Parks Canada, explained how nature takes care of itself in the wake of an event like this.  

“Nature is very powerful, very resilient,” Kimberly said, adding that this isn’t the first fire to alter Waterton’s landscape. What visitors saw prior to 2017 was actually nature having rejuvenated itself after a similar fire 100 years ago.

Although much of the west side of the park remains closed, there’s still plenty of Waterton Lakes National Park to experience. Parks Canada is keeping visitors constantly updated on trails as they open here, What’s Open in 2018.

The park is still thriving and growing and welcoming visitors. 

Photo: Chris Istace

From the tallest mountain to the tiniest flower, Waterton's landscape will stop you in your tracks and say, "Wow." 

“A valuable learning experience for visitors to Waterton Lakes this year will be in observing nature's inherent power to renew following even an extremely intense wildfire such as Kenow,” said Kimberly. “Areas where no life appeared to remain following the fire are very much alive and the complex web of life is already re-establishing.”

Armed with my love for the outdoors, passion for hiking and eagerness to see the renewal up close in some of the open park areas, I met up with Kelley Baker. A fourth-generation Waterton local, her family has been guiding and outfitting adventurers since 1910 through their family business at Tamarack.

Today, Kelley runs the Hike Waterton side of the family business and would be taking us to some of her favourite spots. To get a great perspective on the valley, we drove to the Waterton Valley Panorama lookout. We could easily survey the expanse and sheer size of this jewel of the Canadian Rockies while the maps and interpretive signage gave us better insights into the park’s topography. 

Waterton Wildflowers
Photo: Chris Istace

Wildflower season is one of the most beautiful times of the year in Waterton.

Heading to the Red Rock Parkway, though currently closed, the trails to the Bellevue Trailhead are open to non-motorized traffic. The landscape showed us just how nature can take care of itself, with the wildflowers juxtaposed against the backdrop of charred pine and the power of the Blakiston Creek rushing below.

Relaxing at a bench viewpoint overlooking Middle Waterton Lake, Kelly said, “I love the untouched feeling of this place. This place is magical. It brings people and nature together in an effortless way.”

When people come here to experience Waterton – whether they are hiking, biking, walking, finding a quiet spot to sit and relax, or going for a swim, they’re also supporting the restaurants and shops.

Photo: Chris Istace

Against the backdrop of charred trees, the wildflowers bloom.

“It's like discovering a new park in a way, because people are seeing their favourite place in a whole new light with the renewal. I think the best way for visitors to experience Waterton is to get here.”

My time here was so relaxing and peaceful that I left feeling like I had received a gift from nature, a feeling of renewal, just like the forest around me.

If You Go

Waterton Lakes National Park is about a three-hour drive south of Calgary.

Learn more about BucketlistAB here.

Grab an awesome itinerary and start your Southern Alberta adventure.

Check out the My Waterton website to get planning your trip.

Travel Alberta also has lots of great information about things to do and places to see in Waterton Lakes National Park.

Chris Istace is a ZenSeekers' correspondent, he can be found at The Mindful Explorer and on Instagram and Twitter.

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