“Chicks and geese and ducks better scurry, when I take you out in the surrey, when I take you out in the surrey with the FRINGE on TOP!!”
All three kids were singing at the top of their lungs as they swerved and careened down the waterfront road of Waterton Village in, you guessed it, a surrey (definition: a light 4-wheeled carriage with 2 seats facing forward). More accurately, my husband and I were riding with our three kids in surrey bikes, rented from Pat’s Waterton. Thankfully, it was a quiet day on the streets and (also, thankfully?!), soon the kids didn’t have enough breath to sing, as all their energies were required to keep pedalling the bikes.
We had just arrived in Waterton Lakes National Park for a mini-getaway that I was viewing almost as a “staycation,” since the drive from Calgary is only a few hours. It quickly became apparent that we had left the big city bustle behind and we were soon to enjoy a mountain experience of unparalleled peace and relaxation.
Living in Calgary, we tend to be mountain-rich. The world-famous Banff National Park is on our doorstep and many people in Calgary catch a glimpse of the mountains every day. But Waterton Lakes National Park is Alberta’s sparkling jewel, the smallest National Park in the Rocky Mountains. Located in the southwestern corner of Alberta, tucked up against the US and BC borders, the park rises from the prairies to the exquisite peaks of the Rocky Mountains, in an almost startling transition. Although the park is small, measuring only 505 km², it is replete with scenery and wildlife and is known for its gorgeous chain of lakes. The park was established in 1895 and in 1932, it also formed part of the first International Peace Park with Glacier National Park in Montana.
Wildfires have affected Waterton Lakes National Park in the last couple of years, notably the Kenow fire in 2017. In 2018, a wildfire evacuation alert was issued, as plumes of smoke towered over the townsite in Waterton. The 700-hectare wildfire (and growing) was only kilometres away in the Boundary Creek Valley. Thankfully, the evacuation alert was lifted on August 27, 2018, after rain fell on the park, and the Waterton Lakes National Park is fully open for visitors to come and enjoy!
Even with the devastating wildfire of 2017 and this year’s threat from Boundary Creek Valley, Waterton offers an atmosphere of peaceful tranquillity. I felt like I had stepped through a door in my busy fall and was able to appreciate the fun things about family life. The mood of the Village invites you to play and rest, or rest and play, in whatever order you most need. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but I will: Waterton is a brilliant getaway for a relaxing mountain experience!
We rolled into the village on a warm September afternoon when the sunshine broke into beads of light on the surface of the lake. We were staying at the Bayshore Inn Resort and Spa, located on the edge of Upper Waterton Lake. The Inn is ideally located on the lakefront, plus, you can park your car and stroll everywhere you want to go. It’s furnished with rustic touches and practical comfort and the walkways are lined with impressive flowering baskets of brilliant colour. Our family suite was spacious, with two queen and two double beds, plus the convenience of a coffeemaker, fridge, and microwave. The best part was opening our patio door to the comfortable balcony, equipped with chairs, and greeting the lake.
Once all the bags were unloaded, we ate a quick lunch on the balcony while admiring the view and planned the next step of our getaway.
You might want to sit in the peaceful comfort of your patio, appreciating the view. Or make your way down the street, stopping for a patio lunch or drink along the way. Bring a book and relax in the iconic Parks Canada red chairs near the campsite. These sound like perfect ways to play for me.
As delightful as these sound, with three kids in tow, there was no point in setting ourselves up for frustration, so I put my book away. There are many incredible hikes in the area, although check before you go, as some have been closed due to the wildfires. We decided to set out for some mildly active fun.
Our first stop was Pat’s Waterton Gas and Cycle Rental, where we met Jordan, the smiling owner from whom we rented the surrey bikes. This was the perfect way to tour the village and get a feel for the area. We pedalled (and to be honest, sometimes pushed) our way around the Village and to Cameron Falls for a few pictures. This had the added benefit of tiring the kids, always a lofty goal.
Later we embarked on a Waterton Cruise with the Waterton Shoreline Cruise Company. This 2-hour experience travels south on the Waterton Lakes, crossing the international border to Glacier National Park and stopping at Goat’s Haunt in Montana. Our guide on the boat was filled with information about the lakes, Waterton, wildlife, and the International Peace Park agreement with Glacier National Park. With beautiful scenery and the chance to catch of glimpse of wildlife, the tour gave us a broad, attractive picture of Waterton Lakes.
If you want a more intimate lake experience (no, we didn’t fall in), you can rent a canoe, kayak, or stand-up paddleboard from the helpful Blakiston and Company in Emerald Bay. We divided the five of us between two canoes for a peaceful paddle around the bay. Well, the environment around us was peaceful. Trying to teach the kids how to paddle when I have only a rudimentary knowledge myself was, um, interesting. But this sheltered spot was safely protected from the wind and choppy water, thankfully, and we’ll just say canoeing is never as effortless as it seems. It’s a good thing we didn’t actually need to go anywhere.
Waterton Village has a handful of restaurants and several dessert or ice cream shops. We ate supper at Wieners of Waterton; the kids found a certain enjoyment in the alliteration. The restaurant offers gourmet hot dogs or smokies, topped just how you like it. There’s even a falafel dog for the meat-free. But the sweet potato fries were the winner, as they were simply the best I’ve ever tasted. Hot and crispy on the outside and soft and full of flavour on the inside. Delicious.
After supper, we went out in search of chocolate. Welch’s Chocolate Shop had just finished making a sample tray of several fudge varieties, still so fresh and warm I had to promise the cook I would be careful not to burn myself if she sold it to me early. It was the perfect way to end the day.
What does your family enjoy doing? Whether you’re hoping for rest and relaxation or active fun to please anyone, you can find it in Waterton Lakes National Park. Recreational and family activities are plentiful amidst the inspiring scenery. Fall is so fleeting, don’t let it slip away this year without making the most of it! Let Waterton give you a relaxing weekend in the middle of your busy family life.
The author would like to thank Waterton Lakes National Park for hosting her family. All opinions expressed are her own.