2015: Rocky Mountain Riding – Waterton Lakes National Park – June 22-25

So I have these rules. I have them because I can out-scatterbrain the most formidable contender when it comes to forgetting where I put something down. If I don’t put the dog’s leash in exactly the door pocket it belongs, or if I don’t put the camera back in its backpack, or if I don’t put the trailer keys in the centre drink holder… Disaster. Despair and furious anger combined. (If that combo were a mutt designer dog “breed”, it would be a Furious Despanger).

Right. So I have these rules, and one of them is that my wallet goes back in my backpack/purse thingy when I’m done with it.

A crackerjack way to raise your blood pressure is to pull in to a Parks Canada gate with a horse and trailer, late in the day, expected at the stables within the park, reaching in to your backpack/purse thingy and finding… no wallet. No way to pay a park entry fee, no way to pay your camping fee, no way to pay the horse’s boarding fee. The last time I’d pulled out my wallet was to pay for gas in Fernie, two hours back down the highway.

I know I came across like a total flake (“I have my wallet, it’s in my truck somewhere, but look, LOOK at this truck – you can see why I can’t find it, right? Oh my gawd. It’s a disaster. I’m SURE I didn’t leave my wallet in Fernie. It’s got to be in there somewhere.”), and also, like a heroin addict in search of a hit (“Will you take a VISA number if I call my husband and he gives it to you over the phone? Please? Please? PLEASE??” I really need this. You really have to give me this.).

Once it became apparent that they would let me in to the Park with the credit card number that my infinitely reliable husband instantly texted me, my anxiety was only partly assuaged: OMG, but I’m also out of beer. How am I going to buy beer?? Will they take the phone CC number for beer? (Turns out, actually, yes – most businesses will take a texted CC number on your phone, no problem).

The errant wallet eventually did turn up in the nether regions of the semi-organized chaos that is my truck.

But then I lost my car keys. Up an effing mountain.

In Waterton Park, dogs must, for their own safety, remain on leash at all times (Waterton has, among other things, Killer Attack Deer that will beat up dogs. And I also saw three bears while I was there, close up and personal).

DSC_2732Spy, who has been used to four-hour rides and tussling with other dogs all day, turned into a maniac when he was deprived of his extended off-leash exercise. To try to take a bit of the edge off, I took him on an evening hour-long hike… at the end of which, I discovered my truck keys were no longer in my backpack.

They did turn up, spotted by another hiker on the trail, but not before we were up the hill again at the crack of dawn. We were up that hill, and down again, and then, at the end of the day, up the Bear’s Hump, to take a little more of that edge off.


Waterton Lakes is full of Very Serious Hikers. Soon after the crack of dawn, as I was slopping around my campsite in my PJ bottoms and Blundstones and hoodie, clutching my coffee, about to pop out and feed the steed who was staying up the road at the Park’s trail riding stables, the chirpy-looking hikers would emerge, wearing their athletic sandals or Serious Boots, sporting their technical clothing, and their hats and caps, and their little backpacks, toting binoculars and cameras with Very Big Lenses, waving walking sticks and walking poles. There was a lot of serious hiker business going on.

Pai was settled in a sweet little shady paddock at Alpine Stables, which is a laid-back trail riding operation that offers day rides and overnight packing trips to dudes and experienced riders alike, and which kindly opens their facility to overnight boarders like me. The place is run by Deb, and her dad Dee, who built the stables decades ago. Dee is pretty much exactly how you picture an old cowboy would be – curved and bent, with the crystal clear blue eyes, and a slow and thoughtful way of speaking.

Deb gave me awesome information about the local trails, and Pai and I had some fantastic riding over the three days we were there. Our first route was the Crandell Lake loop, which was winding single-track over varied terrain, with fantastic mountain views.



The next day, we did and out-and-back to Twin Lakes. It’s possible to do a loop on that route, but there was too much snow at the top for us to risk trying it. Our lunch stop was yet another eyesore.


And on our last day, we went to Upper Rowe Lake.


Yup, that’s the trail.

IMG_4259And then we were off again, to visit Vanessa and her family in Taber, Alberta.

Trail and camp notes for horsey folk:

There is no equestrian camp at Waterton. Pai stayed at Alpine Stables, which is within the park; the cost of stabling is $15 per night, $20 if you need them to provide hay. Pai had a very roomy, shady paddock there.


I stayed at the main Town Site campground, which was a 4-5 minute drive away. A non-powered site there costs $27. The daily park user fee is $7.50/day. The campground is a cheek-by-jowl sort of place. I can recommend site E-5, which had 3 trees and nice mountain views. A lot of the sites are basically parking-lot style.

The trails I rode at Waterton – the Crandell Lake loop, the Twin Lakes trail, and the Upper Rowe Lake trail – generally have good footing, with a few tricky spots over smooth rock. Some of the trails are that ubiquitous single track that clings to the side of a hill, with a wall on one side and a drop-off on the other. Don’t look down.

Almost all the trails at Waterton allow horses. One of the hikers I was talking to mentioned that the trail he was on, from Cameron Lake back to Waterton, would be a little challenging, footing-wise, for a horse (but he’s not a horseman, so he may not be correct on that).


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