Trailhead: Located on the east side of Waterton Lake in Waterton National Park. Boat shuttles depart from the boat dock in the town of Waterton.
Description: The hike to Crypt Lake may be considered the most unique hike in the world. It has been rated by several outdoor organizations as the best hike in Canada and in the top 10 internationally.
It starts with a 15 minute scenic boat ride across Upper Waterton Lake. Once on the trail you’ll pass by 4 classic waterfalls before reaching the Crypt Lake headwall. You then climb a bolted 8 rung steel ladder, crouch & crawl through a 20m natural tunnel, traverse 60ms along an exposed narrow cliff ledge protected by a steel cable then arrive at a beautiful tarn lake that is located in both Canada and the United States.
However, with all that said there is a major down side. Expect hoards of people and no solitude. Within minutes one boat can off load as many as 100 hikers at the trailhead.
You may want to skip this hike if you’re afraid of heights or you don’t have the stamina to hike 18km return with a total elevation gain of 710m within a 6-7 hour window. Allow 3 hours up to the lake with a shorter return time. The boat arrives at the trailhead around 9:30am with a return pick up at 4pm and 5:30pm. Check with the boat operator before heading out.
If you’re in reasonable shape with a few recent 15k hikes behind you, you should be fine. I was amazed at the number of tourists on our boat that had never hiked before. Several individuals were overwhelmed and turned back to wait for the return boat.
A few words of advice, collapse your poles and place them in your day pack when you arrive at the ladder going up and again at the cable when descending. Once you’re in the tunnel remove your day pack and carry it in front of you. If the ladder or cliff ledge looks busy wait for the crowds to dissipate. On hot days carry at least two liters of water.
Early season travelers should be aware that there is a wide avalanche slope with a fatal run out just past the cliff ledges. Hike elsewhere if snow lies above tree line.
On the return trip, it’s worth the effort to hike past Hell Roaring falls. This short extension loops back to the main trail so there is very little added distance. Crypt lake offers good Cutthroat Trout fishing. You’ll need a fishing license to try your luck, check regulations for closures. Ice is usually off the first week of July. You Are In Bear Country