Presented in partnership with Travel Alberta
If you’re looking for a winter retreat that features big snow, quiet streets and endless outdoor activities, I have a feeling the town of Waterton, Alberta is what you’re looking for.
Did you hear that? That sound? That was probably you saying to yourself “Waterton, I keep meaning to visit that place.” For as long as I’ve talked about Waterton, people have always said they keep meaning to go, or worse yet, they’ve never heard of it. It’s one of those places you know you should visit, because everyone that does won’t stop raving about it, so if you’re hoping your 2017 includes exploring your backyard, this is your chance.
Simply put, Waterton is Alberta’s best kept secret in the mountains. And that’s not to say it isn’t busy in the summer, when hotels and camp grounds are often booked months in advance. The small community, and I mean small (population averages around 88 people), sits on Alberta’s southern border and it’s about a three hour drive from Calgary. The drive is one of Alberta’s best, as the mountains and prairies come seem to play hide and seek with each other.
What makes Waterton particularly beautiful is its mix of geography. The small town sits on the shores of the beautiful Waterton Lakes, which it shares with Montana. Alberta’s rocky mountains also dip their toes in the lake’s cool waters, resulting in a vista that has to be seen to be believed. On top of that, the Prince of Wales Hotel sits atop a hill high above the town, looking over it like a european castle. In the dozen or so times I’ve been to Waterton, I’ve never not take hundreds, if not thousands, of photos. Both my eyes and my camera are often overwhelmed by the natural beauty of the town. And yet, as I said, so many people have yet to make the three hour journey.
Well, if you’ve been meaning to, winter must just be the time to check Waterton off of your To-Do list. While many people think of Waterton in the summer because of its excellent hiking, golfing, beautiful camping many festivals and cute shopping experiences, the small town is a completely different experience during the winter months. That’s because almost all of the town closes up shop and basically waits for the snow to melt. But in recent years, more and more businesses have been staying open, meaning visitors are getting to experience this Alberta gem, even when it’s covered in a couple of feet of snow.
And when I say there’s only a few businesses open, I mean it. You have two hotel options, but they are both great. The Waterton Lake Lodge Resort is located in the centre of the town. It features 11 chalet style buildings house 80 suites in a variety of room types, including full kitchen hotel suites. It also has the only restaurant that’s open during the week.
About a block away, you’ll find the other hotel, which is the Waterton Glacier Suites, has been recently upgraded. This is where we stayed last time, and our room had two fire places, and we were entertained by the deer sitting outside of our room for most of the day. The other business that’s open? Well, that would be the hot dog restaurant, of course.
On the weekends, during the winter, you have to seek out Wieners of Waterton, which is just down the street from the hotels. Well, if I’m being honest, everything is down the street from the hotels, the town is that small.
But Wieners of Waterton isn’t just a regular hot dog restaurant, I’m not exaggerating when I say that I’ve often thought about making the drive to Waterton just for the hot dogs, they are that good. In the summer, you can find their sister restaurant next door called Waffleton, which makes the most delicious waffles you’ll ever have.
So before you drive to Waterton, be sure to pop into Pincher Creek and pick up the necessities, because once you reach the park, you’ll be treated to world class snowshoeing, excellent cross country skiing, ice skating (if the lake allows), and even ice climbing, but not much shopping. If you’re looking for a winter destination that’s big on adventure, while providing the remote mountain experience so many of us seek, just start planning that trip to Waterton now.
On top of winter experiences, you’ll also be treated to some of the best animal watching you’ll likely ever experience in Alberta. Residents will tell you that in the winter months, the town basically becomes a living zoo with deer and big horn sheep sightings extremely common. Make sure you look for moose, hares and marten as well. In the summer time, it’s very common to see bears as well.
The town of Waterton has always brought me a sense of peace. From its truly unbelievable geography, to the residents, of which there are only about two dozen in the winter time. Calgarians are used to the hustle and bustle of Banff, but if you’re looking to get away from it all, while celebrating all the things that makes Alberta great, I truly believe it doesn’t get better than Banff.