Waterton National Park - Best Places to Photograph in the Canadian Rockies Part II
by Dr. Robert Berdan
February 14, 2011
Waterton Town looking down from Bears Hump viewpoint - Panoramic shot approximately 180 degrees
Waterton is a 3.5 to 4 hour drive south of Calgary and is just far enough away to avoid the crowds typical of Banff and Jasper National Parks and I like it that way. The drive from Calgary down highway 22 is beautiful as you travel through the Rocky mountain foothills through some of Alberta's best ranching country. If you are lucky you may even see cowboys herding their cattle.
Driving south on highway 22 towards PIncher Creek near Maycroft, AB
Waterton park is not very large, though there are plans to expand the park and it is connected to Glacier National Park in the US. Wildlife is abundant and easily approached within the townsite, however don't get caught feeding the animals it is is illegal in the parks and will net you a fine. If you travel in the back country you should carry bear spray and bring along bear bangers as grizzlies are common. Cougars are also present though they are rarely seen. The most common wildlife includes Elk, deer, bighorn sheep, and Richardson ground squirrels around the town campground. Foxes, coyotes, moose, otters and beaver are also encountered occasionally. There are a wide variety of birds including Loons, Kingfishers, sandhill cranes, cedar waxwings, osprey, mergansers, and grouse, In June the wildflowers are found almost everywhere and fill the fields. Waterton National park is a photographers paradise.
Looking south on highway 6 toward Waterton National Park you will drive through Twin Butte which is 26 Km outside the park.
There is a small general store and you should stop and admire the view and take a few pictures before proceeding.
Waterton lake is very cold though in the shallow bay within Waterton they have created a small protected beach for children. The lake also acts like a wind tunnel funnel so it is good place for wind surfers equipped with a thick wet suit. There are boat tours down to the end of the lake and you will occasionally see canoes and kayaks on the lake though it is recommend to stay close to the shore line. The park has numerous hiking trails and wildlife can be seen along or near most of the roads. One of the most popular hikes is along Red Rock Canyon.
As you approach the entrance of Waterton National Park you will see rolling hills on your right and about 1 Km before the entrance there is a Buffalo paddock that is worth visiting and driving through.
The town has about a dozen hotels and motels, the most conspicuous one and the most expensive is the Prince of Wales hotel overlooking the Bay. Anyone can have a meal at the hotel or just park and take a walk around to enjoy the spectacular view. In town my favorite place to stay is the Bayshore inn. There is also a hostel and campground, though the campground is usually full in summer. There is also a campground just outside the park for those that can't find a place in town. You will find several restaurants, a small theater, grocery and liquor store and police headquarters. Waterton also has a golf course where the biggest hazard is grizzly bears on the greens. You can also take a trail ride on horseback.
This photograph was taken from under the bridge which crosses the Waterton river at the entrance of the park. This is a great location to see beavers, otters, a wide variety of birds and of course its a great spot to catch the sweet light of sunrise on the mountains - Vimy Peak in the background.
There are many great locations in the park to take pictures. The first good place is at the entrance of the park which is best at sunrise and sunset. The drive from the entrance to the US border is also a good place to view wildlife including grizzlies, cougars and deer. Also the prairies around the park offer spectacular landscapes in the morning and evenings - if you have time explore some of the back roads.
As you drive into the park toward town you will see small lakes, wide open fields and Vimy Peak. The fields in June are full of wildflowers (gallardia) and Elk frequent the valley bottom.
What camera gear should you bring? Everything! Wide angle, macro and telephoto lens. A pair of binoculars is also recommended. Be sure to stop in the Ranger station on the way to town to find out about wildlife viewing opportunities and places to avoid because of bears. One hike I recommend that takes about 45 minutes is up to the Bears hump that overlooks the lake. The hike starts at the Ranger station near the entrance of the town. The hike is steep, but if you are not carrying a lot of heavy equipment and take your time it can be reached by most healthy adults and the view is worth it. (See picture at the top of this page).
View from hill top Where the Prince of Wales hotel is located. You can park and walk around. Waterton town and dock is visible to the right of the picture. Best time to photograph is early morning and late in the day. In the middle of the day this spot can get very windy. You may also encounter Big Horn Sheep grazing on the hillsides.
As you drive into town you will pass a small cove (above) where you can picnic, launch a kayak or if you don't mind the
cold water go for a swim. The Photo above was taken in early Spring before sunrise.
Within town is a small but beautiful water fall called Cameron Falls shown above. The photo above was taken at night, F2.8, 13 second exposure with a tripod. You can park right beside the Falls and it's an excellent place to photograph cedar waxwings, and squirrels and a variety of wildflowers like nodding onions.
Does are found through out town in early summer and generally not afraid of people so you can get very close to get pictures with almost any type of camera. Bighorn sheep often wander through town, be especially careful when driving at night as you can see from the photo below they frequently cross the roads in the dark.The speed limit is 30 Km around the town.
Top left (cougar) photographed along side of the highway 6 near the Belly river campground. Top right - Bighorn sheep on the road at the entrance to the town of Waterton. Bottom left - black bear along the side of highway 6 and bottom right - mule deer in the fields adjacent to the highway leading into the town of Waterton. .
Near the entrance of the park is a pull off that overlooks the park and the lakes called the Maskinonge Lake - it can get windy here, but its a great spot to look for birds, deer or just take in the scenery.
Early morning light on Mt. Crandell taken with 70-200 mm lens.
Sunrise looking west on Upper Waterton lake in front of the Bayshore Inn. The shoreline is composed of small stones
and the water is crystal clear and cold.
Upper Waterton lake in front of the Bayshore Inn facing east before sunrise.
View from highway driving from the park entrance toward the US border in Spring time.
Top left - Vimy peak coming out fog hanging on the lake, Top right - Waterton river facing east from the bridge at the main entrance, Bottom left - Red rock canyon and bottom right - Prince of Wales Hotel and full moon.
VISTAS OUTSIDE WATERTON PARK
Old barn along highway 505 near Waterton
Belly River - take highway 5 from Waterton and drive East, then head up the dirt road after your cross the river. The land
has been purchased by the Nature conservancy of Canada in order to protect it from housing development.
Morning photograph along highway 6 between Twin Butte and Waterton park in Autumn,
View of wind farms from along highway 507 west of Pincher Creek. The number of wind generators has been
growing rapidly in the past few years.
Watch short movie from the Bear's Hump and Tour Boat on the Upper Waterton Lake
Waterton Town Site Attractions and Accommodations
Above pictures from the Thirsty Bear Saloon (top left), Main street and the Bayshore Inn (top right), Bayshore Inn Spa (bottom left), Front deck of the Bayshore Inn (bottom right).
In town you will find book and gift shops, a museum, several restaurants and the Thirsty Bear Saloon where you can kick up your heals, have a beer and socialize. Sounds like I am writing for a travel brochure. The truth is I don't want the place to get too popular or it will lose its charm. If you are a photographer, hiker, nature lover, however Waterton national park is a must see place. If you do stay at the Bayshore Inn tell them I sent you maybe they will give me a discount next time I stay there :-)