The sun peered around the edge of a massive cloud casting the M. V. International in a warm afternoon glow. The motor rumbled below as the wind swirled our hair, nearly stealing our breath. One of my kids looked across the bench at me and beamed.
There’s nothing quite like being on the water, be it ocean, river, or lake, and when you’re surrounded by the exquisite scenery of Upper Waterton Lake, what’s there to complain about?! Plus, we were getting the unique experience of crossing into the United States and Glacier National Park, without clearing customs. (This was disproportionately exciting for us.)
My husband, 3 kids, and I were enjoying a getaway to Waterton Lakes National Park and the highlight of the trip would turn out to be the two-hour boat cruise offered by the Waterton Shoreline Cruise Company. It’s one thing to visit a place, but it’s a delight to discover a place.
The Waterton Shoreline Cruise takes you on a scenic cruise from Waterton Village to Goat Haunt, in Glacier National Park, Montana, aboard the M. V. International. The vessel is comfortably arranged with outdoor and indoor seating and has been in service since 1927, with only two exceptions. One year, during WWII, the boat was docked due to the gasoline rationing and in 1954, the boathouse collapsed and the International sustained some damages.
Our cruise was manned by three crewmen, including a captain with over 25 years of experience, and we were entertained and educated by one of the crew members along the way. It was clear that our guide, who grew up in Waterton, loved the area. He spoke with light-hearted warmth and passion, giving us a wealth of information about the park.
Things to know: There are no bathroom facilities aboard the International and it’s nearly an hour to facilities at Goat Haunt. So, you know, plan accordingly.
Every so often, I like to inflict “educational” experiences on my children. It’s not that I’m hoping for International Baccalaureate results, just to expand their horizons a little. Occasionally (frequently), this is met with resistance. That’s why I love activities like this cruise; we learned so much about the landscape and Waterton area and everyone had a great time!
Located at 4200 feet elevation, Upper Waterton Lake is the deepest lake in the Canadian Rockies. Its steep edges, much like a bathtub, tell of the glacier action that formed it. Only snowpacks are left in Waterton now, but there are 26 active glaciers in neighbouring Glacier National Park in Montana.
Our guide pointed out unique mountain formations, such as Sawtooth Ridge, that was formed when glaciers on each side retreated, creating a fascinating mountain peak. As we approached Goat Haunt, our guide pointed out Mt. Cleveland, which is the highest peak in either Waterton Lakes National Park or Glacier National Park, at 10 466 feet.
We saw how rocks can actually fold and learned about the so-called Lewis Overthrust (where older pre-Cambrian rock was thrust onto younger Cretaceous rock due to tectonic pressure.) Geologists come here to study the land of the “upside-down mountains.”
Things to know: Hold on to your hat. Waterton is the second windiest place in Alberta. (Crowsnest Pass is the first.) Wind gusts of over 100 km/hr are not uncommon.
In 1932, Waterton Lakes National Park and Glacier National Park formed the first International Peace Park. The two Parks work closely together, especially on such important tasks as fighting wildfires. Our boat paused for a moment at the boundary between the two countries, where you could make out a marker in the tree clearing.
We enjoyed being able to disembark at Goat Haunt, Montana, without even flashing a passport. (Due to one particularly gruelling customs line, my kids now hold very unfavourable opinions about crossing the border, thank you very much, Toronto airport.) Anyone wanting to stay beyond the standard half-hour cruise stop at Goat Haunt would have to clear customs and provide identification, however. Our half-hour in Montana was spent skipping rocks, in a moment of time my kids will always remember as “The USA has the best skipping rocks!” Whatever makes them happy, I guess.
Our cruise did not include a stop at the Crypt Lake hike, but our guide pointed out the trailhead at Crypt Landing. This unique hike has been rated by National Geographic as one of the World’s 20 Most Thrilling Trails. Beginning with a 15-minute boat ride (which can be arranged with Waterton Cruises), the hike passes by four spectacular waterfalls, climbs a steel ladder, and snakes through a narrow, 60-foot long tunnel. After a short jaunt along the edge of a cliff (thankfully, with the aid of a cable for security), you arrive at the beautiful Crypt Lake.
Besides the fun of being on the water and the wind gusts grabbing your hat, be sure to watch out for wildlife on your cruise. Bald eagles, ospreys, bears, mountain goats, and moose may be spotted along the lake’s edge or along the mountain slopes. We saw a young bald eagle on our cruise, and just as the cruise was winding down, someone spotted a black bear having a leisurely meal along the water’s edge. Our captain manoeuvered the boat closer to the bear and we enjoyed watching him watch us for a few minutes.
Things to know: Consider bringing a pair of binoculars for a better glimpse of fascinating wildlife.
After enjoying our (safe!) encounter with the bear, the International slowly made its way back into the harbour. Windblown and filled with excitement about all we had seen and done, the kids skipped off the boat, ready for our next adventure. And, of course, dinner.
The author would like to thank the Waterton Shoreline Cruise Co. for hosting her family. All opinions expressed are her own.