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Canadian Hikes: Carthew-Alderson Trail in Waterton Lakes NP

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One of the great Canadian hikes I’ve done is the Carthew-Alderson Trail in Waterton Lakes National Park.

It’s a beautiful hike – with varied and outstanding scenery. You’ll see mountains, glaciers and many high alpine lakes. Throw in wildflowers in season, marmots and mountain goats, and possibly even a bear and you can understand why it’s one of the best hikes in Waterton Lakes National Park. Plus you can shuttle to the trailhead so you don’t ever have to retrace your steps.

We chose to take the Tamarack shuttle for $12.50 each and walk the 20 kilometres back to our car right in Waterton Village. The shuttle drops you off at Cameron Lake – which provides a gorgeous start to the day. It’s a popular spot for boating too.

"Cameron Lake"

The start of the hike at Cameron Lake

To find the trailhead you have to hike past the boat rental office, cross the bridge and look for the sign; it’s hard to miss. Then its four kilometers of steady but gradual climbing to reach Summit Lake. From there you get views of glaciers off in the distance. Don’t waste too much time at this lake though because the good stuff lies ahead.

"Glacier seen from Summit Lake"

Glacier seen from Summit Lake

The Hike to Carthew Summit

From Summit Lake to the Carthew Lakes it’s six kilometres. On a hot day you would want to have a lot of water as this is barren, rocky country where the heat gets reflected back at you. The trail contours across scree slopes – which are steep in places – to reach the Carthew Summit. It’s actually a pass and not a summit. When we were there it was cold and windy so dress in layers.

"Just above treeline on the way to the Carthew Summit"

Just above treeline on the way to the Carthew Summit

"The trail above treeline"

"Glacier view from the trail"

Glacier view from the trail

Once you crest the pass you head down, steeply at times, through a barren landscape of rock but the Carthew Lakes beckon in the distance. And if you look south you can see the peaks of Glacier National Park in Montana.

The hiking through here is fabulous!!

"Nothing but rock"

Nothing but rock

"The Carthew Lakes"

The Carthew Lakes

It would be easy to spend some time at the Carthew Lakes just admiring the scenery. Once you’re ready to leave, continue along the northeast side of the lake. Pass a second, larger lake – that boasts a little more in the way of wildflowers – and re-enter stunted forest, just above the Alderson Lake cirque.

"Flowers eking a life out of the rocks"

Flowers eking a life out of the rocks

"Signs of life among all the rocks"

Signs of life among all the rocks

Don’t forget to turn around every so often as the views are equally glorious looking back.

On the way to Alderson Lake we passed outcrops with stromatolites – ancient algal mounds and some of the earliest life forms. It would be easy to mistake them for lichen if you didn’t know what you were looking for.

"Heading for Alderson Lake"

Heading for Alderson Lake

"Stomatolites - some of the earliest forms of life"

Stromatolites – some of the earliest forms of life

"Marmot along the way"

Marmot along the way

It’s only two kilometres from Carthew Lakes to Alderson lakes and they pass all too quickly. We stopped to have lunch above Alderson Lake and were treated to the escapades of a few mountain goats eating and hopping on the cliffs at least 1,000 feet above the lake. I couldn’t get over the steepness of the slopes they were on.

"Mountain goat on impossibly steep cliffs"

Mountain goat on impossibly steep cliffs

"Turquoise coloured Alderson Lake"

Turquoise coloured Alderson Lake

It’s possible to camp at Alderson Lake but not at the Carthew Lakes.

From Alderson Lake you head back into the woods for the final seven kilometres. They turned out to be more interesting than I thought they’d be with plenty of peek a boo views and lots of wildflowers to appreciate. Close to the end you reach the beautiful Cameron Falls and you can see Waterton Village off in the distance.

"Path through the woods"

The last seven kilometres take you through the woods

"Waterton Townsite"

Waterton Townsite less than a kilometre away

"Cameron Falls"

Cameron Falls at the end of the hike

All told the hike gains 651 metres (2,135 feet) and loses 1,016 metres (3,332 feet) over 20.1 kilometres. We did it in just under six hours including a thirty minute break for lunch and didn’t feel rushed.

Other Waterton Lakes area hikes you might like:

Leigh McAdam

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Author Leigh

Avid world traveler. Craves adventure - & the odd wildly epic day. Gardener. Reader. Wine lover. Next big project - a book on 100 Canadian outdoor adventures.

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Join the discussion 20 Comments

  • Beautiful photos as always, Leigh! Looks like the Mountain Goat couldn’t find a better place than that :) Love the Cameron Falls.

  • Beautiful photos as always, Leigh! Looks like the Mountain Goat couldn’t find a better place than that :) Love the Cameron Falls.

  • HEATHER PRIEST says:

    That is such beautiful scenery and looks well worth the hike. Being a gardener I would love to know what the pink and grey plant is and if it’s commercially available, anybody know?
    Thank you as always for brightening my day with those vicarious trips that get me out of the office!

  • HEATHER PRIEST says:

    That is such beautiful scenery and looks well worth the hike. Being a gardener I would love to know what the pink and grey plant is and if it’s commercially available, anybody know?
    Thank you as always for brightening my day with those vicarious trips that get me out of the office!

  • Wow, what an amazing trail with some incredible views. The picture of the mountain goat high up the steep mountainside is incredible. The only mountain goat I have ever seen was crossing the road. Your sighting is much cooler.

    • Ted: I asked my husband if he could see the white dots up on the mountain – and then they started to move. My heart was literally in my mouth as I watched them jump around up on the cliffs. Very cool indeed.

  • Wow, what an amazing trail with some incredible views. The picture of the mountain goat high up the steep mountainside is incredible. The only mountain goat I have ever seen was crossing the road. Your sighting is much cooler.

    • Ted: I asked my husband if he could see the white dots up on the mountain – and then they started to move. My heart was literally in my mouth as I watched them jump around up on the cliffs. Very cool indeed.

  • Mellisa Turner says:

    It couldn’t have got any better, this is simply fabulous.
    Nature has been quite benevolent to the Waterton Lakes National Park. I wonder
    how that goat stands and possibly climbed that steep cliff. They must be
    greater trekkers :)

  • Mellisa Turner says:

    It couldn’t have got any better, this is simply fabulous.
    Nature has been quite benevolent to the Waterton Lakes National Park. I wonder
    how that goat stands and possibly climbed that steep cliff. They must be
    greater trekkers :)

  • Heck, sure, rank it one of the best Canadian Hikes. But it really depends on how many from the Rockies you’re including, lol. I think I’d rank the Helen Lake trail a bit higher, but that’s just me ;) And then there’s the Iceline trail, even better yet :D And what about the hikes at Lake O’ Hara?!?

  • Heck, sure, rank it one of the best Canadian Hikes. But it really depends on how many from the Rockies you’re including, lol. I think I’d rank the Helen Lake trail a bit higher, but that’s just me ;) And then there’s the Iceline trail, even better yet :D And what about the hikes at Lake O’ Hara?!?

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