Awesome hikes: Crypt Lake

Over the years, I’ve experienced some wonderful hikes in many different countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Africa, China, Peru, Ecuador and the USA. This is the first blog in my ‘awesome hikes’ series, which I hope to add to on a regular basis. If you’ve done a great hike, please feel free to recommend it in the comments section. I’m always looking for new places to explore.

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you like sunshine flows in the trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” John Muir, Naturalist

According to the Canadian Rockies Trail Guide, sections of the Crypt Lake hike are not well suited to those suffering from claustrophobia, acrophobia or obesity. But rather than deter us, this description actually inspires us to drive south from Banff to Waterton Lakes National Park.

The park is adjacent to Glacier National Park in Montana, USA, and together these parks make up the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park; also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Access to the Crypt Lake trailhead is via a 15-minute boat trip across beautiful Waterton Lake and, from there, we set off through a forest of Douglas fir and white spruce. The 17.2 km (return) hike rewards us with breathtaking scenery, including a series of waterfalls and an abundance of wildflowers, as the trail gains 700 metres in elevation. The trail passes close to Hell Roaring Falls (1 km), Twin Falls (3.5 km), Burnt Rock Falls (5.6 km) and Crypt Falls (8 km).

Eventually, after a series of steep switchbacks, we come to a sheer wall that appears, at first glance, to block the path. But it’s not a dead-end. A short ladder leads us to a narrow 60-foot tunnel, where the only option is crawling.

We emerge to an exposed precipice (a death-defying drop) and it’s here that I begin to appreciate the comments in the guidebook. Fortunately, there’s a cable attached to the cliff for anyone who is faint-hearted or suffering from vertigo.

From here, it is only a short walk to one of nature’s most beautiful settings; snow-capped mountains rising majestically above the deep green waters of Crypt Lake. We follow the trail around the lake, mostly so we can say that we crossed the US border into Montana, but also to walk in the snow on the lower slopes of the mountains.

Our trip back to the boat is equally fun, especially as my imagination gets the better of me. I hear some rustling in the bushes and I’m certain there’s a bear in there, waiting to maul us. We quickened our pace significantly (despite the tired and aching muscles) and nervously scan the bushes on either side of us. It’s one of those things about hiking in Canada; there’s a part of me that would love to see a grizzly bear in the wild, but another part of me that would rather not. It’s just an added exhilaration that you don’t get on a hike in Australia, where I do most of my hiking.

The Crypt Lake hike was voted best Canadian hike in 1981 and is arguably one of the most spectacular in the world. It is definitely one of my all-time favourites.

Have you hiked to Crypt Lake? What is your favourite hike?


5 thoughts on “Awesome hikes: Crypt Lake

  1. I’d forgotten how amazing this walk was. Thanks for reminding me. I remember the waterfalls and the wildflowers and calling out “hey bear” all the way back to the boat.

    • Hi Mary, I’m glad it brings back some great memories for you… it definitely makes me want to go back to Canada. I really miss hiking there. I also remember you being very patient with me, as I struggled a bit on the way up. The sun was pretty intense that day and there wasn’t much shade in the section before the tunnel. But it was worth the effort – Crypt Lake is so gorgeous!

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