Beyond the one stop travel marts and manicured rest stops is a parallel world of state parks, lonely drives, exciting vistas, and opportunities hard to find when going 70 MPH. To us the best planning involves endless staring at our Rand McNally Road Atlas in search of the possible. Such planning got us first to Curt Gowdy State Park (in time to catch a blue grass festival) and then on top the snowy mountain range to camp at beautiful Lake Marie (elevation high enough for year round snow, maybe +9.000’). We spied moose, hiked around the alpine wonderland, and wondered at night if the light rain would turn to snow before morning. A real bummer was Henna repeatedly becoming sick through the night. Corey and I tried our best to comfort her and knew that there was nowhere to go until daylight. My friend Louie (who also first told us of this Swiss Alps like place) thinks it was altitude sickness. Corey suspects stomach flu (she was sick two nights later at Angel Lake State Park in Nevada). Me, I try not to choose sides. Either way we slinked off the mountain the next morning and regrouped in Evanston, Wyoming. The next day Henna was her usual, cheerful self.
This is the story of three lakes all found within Waterton National Park; Waterton, Bertha, and Cameron. Waterton Lake, at about 4000’ altitude is the lowest and most accessible of the three. Whereas Banff and Lake Louise appear over crowded with tourists in a rush, Waterton National Park is all about the loitering traveler. Spend less than a weekend and you will feel cheated. We came thinking we would spend a couple of days and spent four nights. I could have stayed the rest of the summer. Lake Waterton is large, frigid from its mountain stream sources, and stunning in its beauty. It’s also is surrounded by boat docks, cottages, diners, a quaint movie theater, and good coffee shops. Being a Canadian National Park, each business is run by a different entity and a lot of them have a mom and pop feel that is lacking from our own National Parks.
Cameron Lake is a drive. In fact it is a windy, uphill drive that is sometimes closed due to snow into June. But because it is so absolutely drop dead beautiful most tourists venture the climb. At this lake there is only one bait/canoe rental/ ice-cream/ tourist shop available and a decent size parking lot. The lake is high (at about 5400’ elevation) and the water is cold. When we were their last summer the boat house had just been clear to open and there were still floating patches of ice in the water. We were also told to stay clear of the American side due to grizzlies having been spotted there (we went closer to our country’s side than we probably should have and saw no bears).
Berth Lake is a hike. From our campsite and back it is over eight miles. Up switchbacks, past waterfalls, through snow patches, and into the clouds the trail is wonderful and strenuous. Henna did not complain until the very end when she plopped down on the trail and said she could go no more. At Bertha Lake there are no shops, food, or ice cream so the three of us dined on the remainder of the snacks and tried to ignore the biting bugs. Being that the trail was just recently opened for the season, I was seriously concerned about meeting up with a bear and we spent no more than twenty minutes on the shore. But for that short amount of time we owned the prettiest lake in all of Canada.
There’s no swimming here. And only boat at a time is allowed on the lake. But man, the view is something. At a little under 2000′ deep, Crater Lake is the ninth deepest lake in the world. Really it is a completely flooded dormant (we hope) volcano. It blew its top off and rain filled in the spaces. That is probably an overly simple way to put it but we never claimed to be geologists. In late July 2011 we visited this marvel and half the crater was closed to traffic due to snow. The last of the icebergs had melted in the lake and the first boat tour of the season was the next day (usually they begin in mid-June). The three of us threw snowballs at each other at each overlook and made a half-hearted ascent up a mountain to get a better view of the lake. Corey and I had been to this spot before and we had taken the boat tour. This time though, with half the park closed and more of the trip behind us than ahead, it felt pretty good sharing it with Henna. Even if we only stayed for a few hours.
As you can tell by our count down icon, the trip is coming soon. Where are we headed? West. And in going west we hope to revisit some of our favorite spots. Many of those spots combine two topographical features we hold dear: altitude and water. Some allow a little work to get there, others not so much. A few, like our dear friend Lake Tahoe, are even overcrowded. Its banks are lined with timeshares, casinos, parking lots, and other man-made entities (we have heard rumors though that there are quieter spots away from the crowds). But man, those waters are beautiful to swim in. And if you float on your back and glance sideways to the cliffs you can feel all alone out there. Then you dry off and walk into town for a drink.