Waterton’s Crypt Lake hike is a spectacular trail that has it all. It begins with a boat ride to the trailhead, passing four waterfalls en route. There’s a ladder, a tunnel, and a chain you cling to as you traverse a cliff, you may want to hold off on the chains if you aren’t comfortable with heights though. For experienced hikers, this is a must-do adventure route and one of the Triple Crown hikes in Waterton.
Crypt Lake requires a ferry crossing to reach the trailhead. The ferry departs from the Waterton Marina in Waterton townsite. See “Insider Tips” for booking details.
|When to do|
July to late September
Yes, at closed backcountry campground
Out and back
Note that much of Waterton National Park was severely impacted by the 2017 Kenow Wildfire. To find out what trails are open, please check the Parks Canada website.
Start the day by taking a 20-minute ferry ride across Upper Waterton Lake from the marina to Crypt Landing. Although the trailhead is also approachable by hiking – a level trail on the eastern shoreline – save yourself the added 15.0km slog and take the ferry. You won’t regret it.
Taking a ferry with 40 or so other passengers means you won’t be alone on this hike. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. When travelling through a park with a large grizzly population, there’s safety in numbers.
After being dropped off at Crypt Landing, look for the signed trailhead on your right. The trail initially travels through forests of pine and fir on moderately graded switchbacks. In just 400m from the trailhead, you’ll reach a junction with Hell Roaring Falls. Stay left at the Hell Roaring Falls junction to stay on the main trail.
If you want to go to the falls you can. It’s a side trip through a gorge on a narrow, rustic trail. It is less than 2.0km, but it is best done on the return from Crypt Lake (if time allows), as it is a strenuous grind re-joining the main trail. If you do take the side trip now, at 3.0km the Hell Roaring Falls trail merges back on the main trail; continue to stay left for the main trail.
At 3.7km, you’ll reach a junction for Twin Falls. Take the short detour to gaze at the falls before returning to the junction and staying left for the main trail. Continue through the forest on a pleasant path, crossing several creeks. Eventually the path will become rockier and emerge from the trees at 5.5km. From here you’ll have impressive views of Burnt Rock Falls ahead.
The rocky trail gains elevation more rapidly for the next 2.0km, climbing above the falls and soon attaining views of the striking Crypt Falls, dropping 152m to the basin below. In the basin above Crypt Falls lies Crypt Lake – the destination – and above the basin towers the Wilson Range in Glacier National Park. To the left of the trail is Vimy Ridge, and to the right Mount Boswell dominates the view.
The trail switchbacks up rocky talus slopes, gaining elevation fairly rapidly; we find soaking in the atmosphere helps alleviate the challenge of the ascent. The view astounds and confuses; how does one reach the basin above the falls? As you get closer, you can see the trail crossing a talus slope in the distance, then disappearing. But first, you’ll re-enter forest and pass the now-closed Crypt Lake campground where a pit toilet is still functional on the left side of the trail.
Exiting the trees, cross a stream on large rocks before turning south across the gray talus slope spied from a distance. Although the trail is narrow and crosses a long, steep slope, it is angled towards the mountain, giving a sense of safety. The path continues to a small flat landing area with a metal ladder, bolted to the rock. This leads you into a tunnel blasted into the cliff wall. The 20m tunnel is wide but not tall, maxing out at 1m, requiring an awkward crouch to travel through.
Airy views and another challenge awaits on the other side of the tunnel. After crawling through, drop down several feet to the rocky ledge clinging to the side of the cliff wall with a 200m drop-off. The 12m long path is fairly wide and has a steel cable along its length, reducing the risk. However, those with a fear of heights may struggle at this point and are advised to turn back.
The final push to the lake is fairly level. At a junction, stay left for Crypt Lake – right is a short jaunt to view Crypt Falls as it plunges down to the lake below. The main trail has one last little climb over some rocks before the lake comes into view and the trail drops to meet the lake. The lake is surrounded by head walls and is a beautiful place to sit and enjoy some well-earned rest. If you still have some energy, there is an international path around the lake – the south end of the lake crosses the border into Montana.
After some refreshment and water refills, return the way you came. Count on half an hour less than the time it took to arrive at the lake to return to Crypt Landing.
The ferry price is $25 for adults and boats depart daily in the summer months at 8:30, 9:00 and 10:00AM. Return rides depart from the Crypt Landing at 4:00 and 5:30PM. Check out schedule and prices at Waterton Shoreline Cruise Company
Focus on the time on this hike, as if you miss the last ferry back to Waterton townsite from Crypt Landing, you’ll be spending the night huddled on the shoreline. Remember you’re on a schedule and give yourself plenty of time to make the return from Crypt Lake to the landing.
If you have a strong fear of heights, you may prefer to end the hike before the tunnel and ladder section; the chain traverse is not the time to conquer acrophobia. However, many folks with a mild fear of heights have no difficulty with this at all. Get advice from someone who knows you and the trail.
After hiking to Crypt Lake, rehydrate with an adult beverage at the Thirsty Bear Socialhouse in Waterton townsite.
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