I consider Waterton National Park to be one of the most beautiful areas in all of the mountain parks in Alberta. But Waterton in the winter can be a spooky place! Still beautiful, but definitely a little on the eerie side. My wife & I didn't know what to expect in Waterton in November, so we were surprised to find that the animals in town outnumbered the people by at least 100 to 1!
In the summer, the population of this small, southwestern Alberta town explodes to a few thousand tourists who come to experience the hiking, boating and scenic beauty of the area. In the winter, the town shrinks to about 100 people, most of them park staff. Deer and elk take over Waterton in the winter.
Upon our arrival to Waterton National Park, the gates were wide open and the attendant booths were empty as if we were about to enter a ghost town. Most businesses were shut for the season. The shops were boarded up and the streets were empty. The entire town was as if in a winter slumber. It felt like it was only the two of us plus several hundred deer.
(I wish we'd gotten a photo of this - it was eerie! - but we were very cautiously edging our way around the animals, hoping not to disturb them or trigger a stampede!)
Eventually, we saw two other people there, the only other humans we saw during the entire afternoon, strolling hand-in-hand down a distant street. Few cars were clear of snow & ice. It felt like this entire corner of province was in hibernation.
As we drove across town to Cameron Falls, we couldn't help but notice the hundreds of deer and elk grazing on the last of the foliage in the front yards of the homes. We also saw two peacock (we had to do a double-take) - somehow, they just didn't fit with the scenery of naked trees and snow-covered mountains.
Deer would stare at us drive by; elk would stop on the sidewalk and watch our movement. We felt like we were intruders in their Rocky Mountain paradise.
Feeling a bit out of place amongst the herds, we finally inched our way to Cameron Falls. We stayed in the car so as to not disturb the resident animals any more than we needed to. Even from inside of the car, the quiet roar of the falls could be heard. It was beautiful.
We continued our driving tour of the town and realized that these animals were taking advantage of the yet-to-be-frozen vegetation in the valley bottom. Snow had already accumulated at the higher elevations but the grass was still green in the valley bottom.
Upon further investigation, we learned that this migration had been taking place for ages and the animals still descend from their higher feeding grounds in the surrounding mountains, oblivious to the humans that remained in town.
More information about Waterton National Park is available from Parks Canada.
Driving directions to Waterton, Alberta:
It takes about 3 hours one way (270 kilometers) to get from Calgary to Waterton National Park. Drive south on Highway 2 to Fort McLeod, turn west on Highway 3 to Pincher Creek and then take Highway 6 south.
Visiting Waterton in the winter still stick in our minds as one of the most beautifully eerie experiences. Discover more about Alberta, including awesome hikes and other things to do, spectacular scenic stops, and interesting (and sometimes wacky) roadside attractions.