Family friendly hiking in Waterton Lakes National Park

Isn’t it amazing (or pathetic, I’m not sure) how you can live in the same province for decades, and still not see some of the most beautiful places just hours from home?

After twenty-two years in Alberta for me, and thirty-years for my Alberta-born husband, we were finally making the trek to Waterton Lakes National Park, located in the southwest corner of Alberta.

Waterton National Park

Waterton National Park via Shutterstock

Picture 505 square kilometres of gorgeous mountains and rugged wilderness, windy roads and curious wildlife. It’s the ideal destination for those wanting a beautiful getaway. The charming town site, lovely historic hotels (most notably the Prince of Wales Hotel) and quaint restaurants are perfect for a lovers retreat.

Of course, that’s not how we experienced Waterton. Instead, three small children in tow, we went the chaotic camping route. The highlight of our trip to Waterton (other than the town’s candy store and huge community playground and splash park) was the two family-friendly “hikes” available from the area’s famous Red Rock Canyon.

Named after the layers of red rock, the canyon is a popular day spot in the national park. The red rock layers are primarily eroded sediments that formed at the bottom of an ancient sea 1,500 million years ago. The red and green rocks are argillite, a shaly siltstone. The red rocks contain oxidized iron while the green rocks contain unoxidized iron. Lighter coloured layers were laid down by storms or eruptions that created layers between the argillite.

There are two hikes accessible from the canyon – the Canyon Loop is a 0.7 km walk around the creek. It offers pretty views and a wide, paved path, necessary for the amount of foot traffic on the path. Blakiston Falls is also accessible from the canyon – this is a 2 km stroll for a rewarding view of the water cascading over the colourful rocks. There are numerous interpretive signs that offer information about the formation of the canyon.

Girls enjoying Red Rock Canyon in Waterton Alberta

Girls enjoying Red Rock Canyon in Waterton Alberta

The kids spent well over an hour wandering around the canyon, where the water was splish splashy ankle height in some spots, and up to their waists in others. Bring swimsuits for the wading, or a change of clothes, and water shoes or crocs. There wasn’t a kid that could resist playing in the frigid water the day we were there, and many parents looked on in dismay as children soaked their running shoes clamouring around on the rocks.

Arriving early ensures you’ll find parking in the limited parking lot – if you expect to visit later in the day, consider using the free shuttle bus Parks Canada offers from the northwest corner of the community playground to catch the 40 minute shuttle ride up the canyon.

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