Waterton Lakes National Park
Distance: 11 miles Time: 6 hours Type: There and back
The Crypt Lake hike is often listed as one of the top things to do in Waterton Lakes park and there is certainly a lot of hype - in the town centre you can even buy a t-shirt saying "I survived Crypt Lake". Take it from me, all the hype is fully deserved and a trip to this part of Canada should not miss this absolute classic.
The hike starts with a boat trip from the town to the other side of the lake to reach the trailhead. Pretty much everyone on the boat is heading for the trail as that is one of the only stops the boat makes. It's a chance to meet fellow hikers (or size up the competition). From the landing dock the trail begins a switch-back climbing steeply away from the lake and into a huge valley. There is not much shelter once you leave the forest so good head gear and sun cream is a must. You pass two giant waterfalls as you climb higher in the valley, with increasingly stunning vistas.
At the top of the valley you reach the most famous section of the hike: a steel ladder that leads to a tunnel through which you have to scramble. On the other side is a chain to assist you on the climb up a cliff edge with a sharp drop. Once you reach the high ground you've climbed around 700 metres from the jetty. Things level out here and after a short walk through more trees you finally reach the lake itself: a stunning pool of turqoise water framed by steep ridges and a number of good spots to take in the view. There is some ice on the lake's surface all year round. We couldn't resist a plunge into the water, but it was a quick one given the icy temperature of the water.
It's worth setting aside the whole day for the hike given the timings of the boat trip. After a half-hour rest we hiked back down to the jetty where a number of other walkers (many of whom had journeyed over on the previous boat to us) were waiting for the return transit. After grabbing some food in town we headed to the lake shore to enjoy some late afternoon sun.
Here is a map of the park with hiking trails: