Bicycle Touring in Waterton Lakes National Park
It was Canada Day Weekend and there was a steady stream of cars trying to get through the gates and down the narrow highway into Waterton Lakes National Park for a day of hiking, touring, and sight-seeing. Normally we would have been one of those vehicles had I not done a bit of research before our trip and discovered an alternate way of accessing the popular park. The Kootenai Brown bicycle trail starts at the Park Gates and brings you right to the Visitor Centre on the edge of the Waterton town site. Although you do have to pay and drive through the gates to reach the signed parking lot, you will quickly find yourself on a stunningly beautiful paved trail that parallels the highway as you make your way to the Visitor Centre. The trail is 7km one way and is rated as easy by Parks Canada. As a novice cyclist, I had to walk a few hills but my husband managed to do the full 14km trail while pulling our son in a bike trailer – and never had to get off his bike. Obviously one of us is out of shape.
Though the bike trail mostly follows the highway, you will have periods of isolation where you drop down to a beautiful meadow and ride amongst the wild flowers. I’ve driven this road many times and honestly, had never really noticed this meadow with the mountains looming over it. Without a windshield in front of you everything is so much more crisp and meaningful. The meadow transformed into living scenery when I was right beside it and able to interact with my surroundings.
Once you get to the Visitor Centre, it’s an easy ride downhill into the town site on a sidewalk shared with pedestrians. It was a steep ride back up to the Centre on the way back for me and I confess that this was one of the hills I had to walk. That shouldn’t be a reason for not attempting the trail though. Walk or ride, you’ll get back to your car at the end of the day.
When we got to the town site, we continued riding on the Townsite Loop Trail. It’s a 3.5km loop that follows the very scenic Upper Lake shoreline. There are lots of benches to stop and rest at as well as beach areas for children who might want to throw rocks in the lake. This trail is shared with pedestrians and can get quite busy so that was perhaps the one challenge of biking the loop rather than riding the town streets. We didn’t finish the full loop because we wanted to visit the town splash park and community playground located in the centre of town near the campground. Again, the bikes make it easy to access without having to find parking. Any family with young kids will definitely want to visit this park. It was definitely the key attraction for most families in Waterton the day we were there.
We finished off our tour with a quick stop at Cameron Falls, a popular tourist site located a couple blocks away from the playground, and then started our ride back home to finish out our 18km ride.
Other things you might want to include on your bicycle tour:
- A hike up the Bears Hump (this 2.8km return hike climbs 200m up from the Visitor Centre to a fabulous viewpoint overlooking the whole town site, Prince of Wales Hotel, and Waterton Lakes)
- A walk around the Prince of Wales Hotel (this 2km loop is easy and a good way to stretch your legs)
- Ice-cream! (there are a lot of fabulous ice-cream shops in Waterton not to be missed)