Perched on the “Crown of the Continent” in the southwest corner of Alberta, this often overlooked gem is actually part of the much larger Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. The term “Crown of the Continent” coined by well-known conservationist George Bird Grinnell in 1901, recognizes the unique position of the region where the headwaters of the continent flow into three separate drainages – the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic via the Gulf of Mexico and Hudson Bay. But long before Grinnell, First Nations tribes already knew the region was special. They called it the “Backbone of the World.”
The park’s unique location on this “Backbone” has resulted in an ecosystem of astonishing diversity, including an extraordinary variety of habitat types, plants and animals. With over 600 different kinds of wildflowers, Parks Canada’s wildflower guide describes it as a “botanic motherlode.” And hikers on the Carthew-Alderson Trail can see this incredible diversity within a mere 20.1 km (12.5 mi.). Consistently rated one of the best hikes in the park, the Carthew-Alderson Trail has also been called “the most popular one-way hike in the Canadian Rockies” by Brian Patton and Bart Robinson in their hiking “bible” Canadian Rockies Trail Guide. As it rises to the stark red argillite of Carthew Summit and descends to emerge at the Waterton townsite, hikers see nine alpine lakes and walk along the shores of four of them. They pass through lush subalpine forest with meadows full of wildflowers, then rise above the treeline to stand at one of the highest trail-accessible lookouts in the entire Peace Park. A truly remarkable introduction to a truly remarkable place called Waterton.
Photo of Waterton Lakes National Park by Walter Danylak
Photos of Cameron Lake and Carthew Lakes by D. Larraine Andrews