The Crypt Lake trail is a well-known day hike in the often overlooked Waterton Lakes National Park, located in Alberta, Canada. It is a difficult 17km return hike that gradually climbs over 700 metres in elevation.
The hike involves a bit of an obstacle course where you need to climb a steel ladder bolted into a rock face, climb through a small natural mountain tunnel and edge along a narrow cliff face to reach the lake.
To start the hike, you first have to take a boat across to the other side of Upper Waterton Lake. It was a beautiful boat ride over and it saved us hours of hiking. Before the ferry service began, Crypt Lake was only accessible by undertaking a multi-day hike.
There are a lot of bears in the area so we spoke loudly to each other to let them know we were coming throughout the hike. We didn’t see any bears but we did see lots of cute squirrels and chipmunks.
The first part of the hike was through the forest and rose slowly into the mountains. We were shaded by trees and it was relatively easy going.
Wild berries grew everywhere around the trail – salmonberries, raspberries and blueberries. It was a veritable feast. I helped myself as we were walking through the forest. Luckily no bears saw me eating their favourite food.
The second part of the hike to reach the lake, we scaled numerous switchbacks exposed to the sun, over rocky and dusty terrain. This was definitely the toughest part of the day and felt quite dangerous at times, when we slipped on loose scree.
There were a few waterfalls on the way but the most spectacular was definitely the 600m high cascade of Crypt Falls. Crypt Falls drops out of Crypt Lake and feeds a smaller lake, far below.
The Falls were like an illusion. They never seemed to get any closer and it felt like we had been walking for ever.
Finally we made it to the section of the trail leading across a cliff face and up to the lake. After climbing up the ladder bolted into the cliff and traversing the claustrophobic tunnel, we were nearly at our destination: stunning Crypt Lake.
It certainly was a sight for sore eyes.
Crypt Lake is a glorious shade of blue. It is sheltered in a natural bowl shaped depression amidst the mountains. The opposite side of the lake is located in the US and has a year round snow field.
We ate our picnic lunch and had a much deserved break. A cheeky chipmunk was hanging around to see if we could spare him some of our lunch. He gave up after a while.
I would have loved to swim in the lake and I definitely felt hot enough on the way up there, but by the time we had eaten our lunch we had cooled down a significant amount, so we contented ourselves with a knee deep paddle in the frosty water instead.
On the long trek back, we had to be even more careful with our footing on the loose rocks. It was a relief to get back into the forested part of the trail where it was more level. Luckily we managed to make it back down to Upper Waterton Lake in one piece.
By the time we arrived back at the ferry dock we were utterly spent, but in a “Woohoo that was awesome!’ kind of way. There was just enough time for a quick and chilling dip in the lake before the boat picked us up.
When I jumped in the cold took my breath away and I clambered to get out as fast as possible. It was massively refreshing though and I love the tingly feeling you get when you have been swimming in very cold water.
It was a hard going hike but hugely rewarding, with amazing views over the valley, lots of wildlife, delicious berries and many waterfalls, but the lake itself was definitely the star of the show.
I highly recommend this hike, just make sure you are in reasonably good shape when you undertake it and take lots of water.