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.
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.
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.
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!!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: