The best hike in Canada

So far as I can tell, Crypt Lake in Waterton was voted best hike in Canada via some magazine, back in the year I was born. Is it still, or was it ever, deserving of that title? I’d have to go to Canada a lot more often to find out, but I can tell you that it’s worth doing.

The normal way to access the final 5 miles of trail involves a 20 dollar boat ride from town, across skinny Upper Waterton Lake. We choose to see a bit more, and do the hike by fair means, biking and hiking in along lower and middle Waterton Lakes.

DSC02883Use the bounce.  M photo.

The beginning of the Wishbone Trail is fantastic, easy singletrack, excepting a stream crossing (above) and some heinous clay mud sections in the thicker aspen groves. We inadvertantly poached the final 4k to the Wishbone dock junction, as our NatGeo map and the TH sign both said it was still open to bikes. The sign at the Vimy Peak junction had been altered to say no bikes, but when this obviously happened with a hand file I don’t take it too seriously. The current Waterton brochure, perused the next day, corrected our error. Sorry Waterton.

The ~4k from Wishbone to the Crypt dock, and the first 2/3 of the crypt hike, are not especially noteworthy. At least the Crypt trail is well brushed out, and eventually some nice waterfalls come into view.


Their are two unique features which make the hike: the namesake underground outlet of the lake itself, and the ladder and tunnel which traverse the final cliffs to it. The ladder and the post-tunnel cable are pretty tame, relative to something like Angel’s Landing, but the tunnel was pretty cool.

It seems to follow a natural weakness through about 60 feet of limestone, and was made with minimal human work. A ~6 foot human (i.e. me) can fit through perfectly when walking bent double.

No photo can show the crypt outlet well. The lake was no visible egress, but 200 feet away, and perhaps 40 from the cliff edge, a strong stream issues from beneath a short limestone cliff and in 45 seconds creates the huge, thin waterfall shown above. Earlier in the year, with more hydraulic pressure from snowmelt, it must be quite a sight.


Fighting the mud and brush had made the bike take a lot longer than we expected, and enjoying the lake without the 92 people we passed on the way up (they had to get down and catch the boat back) seemed mandatory.  We were in for a long day, and a late ride back along 10.5k of trail laden with bear scat.

Fortunately, the way in turned out to have had a ton of false flats and gentle ascents, and most of the mud had dried out, which made the ride back screamingly fun.  Phenomenal light, a few surprise elk herds, and successful yells to preemptively scare off all bears had all the fatiguing, humid bother feeling very worthwhile.


We were both pretty tired, and doing what we had done a few days prior (sucking it up and paying the exorbitant fee to reserve a campsite in Waterton townsite) was looking very smart, especially when the site turned out to be 150 feet away from a bath house with free, unlimited hot showers.  Being covered in sweat and grass seed does get old fast.  We made dinner, drank some wine, M barfed (she fought a bad gut most of the way back), we went to bed, woke up early and hungry, had a tasty breakfast in the Prince of Wales Hotel, lazed around, and eventually made it back home.

All the ingredients of a perfect weekend.

3 responses to “The best hike in Canada”

  1. I still blame the wine for the barfing… after the day’s hot and humid exertion, sharing one beer when we got to the car, and another beer as we set up the tent, the wine was too much. Too much.

  2. Notwithstanding signage, would you still recommend bike over hike to Crypt? Headed that way.

    1. A tough call. It’s not a short day, and the hiking miles before the Crypt trail proper aren’t especially interesting. The bike is good, and there is a lot to be said for being off from the crowds and especially having the lake yourself.

      Renting a canoe somewhere and taking that across to start the hike is a good option.

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