NTS Map: 082H04. Elevation gain - 650 m (2,135 ft), elevation loss - 1,015 m (3,330 ft).
Note: time and distance are one way. Time shown is a non-lingering pace. You may want to stay longer on the ridge, weather permitting. However, it can be very windy on the ridge, so no matter what the weather conditions at Cameron Lake, take adequate clothing.
This is one of the premier hikes in Waterton Lakes National Park. The trail begins at Cameron Lake. Turn left for the trailhead, across the footbridge. Follow the lakeshore and quickly enter a forest of towering spruce and fir. Soon the trail begins a series of four switchbacks, each taking about 10 minutes. They allow an easy ascent of the steep forested slope. Catch glimpses of Cameron Lake, Mount Custer and Forum Peak (see Akamina Ridge) through the trees as you climb.
At 3 km, the switchbacks end and the next 1 km is largely level walking through meadows and open subalpine forest, with views ahead to Chapman Peak. At 4 km you reach Summit Lake (top left photo), backed by Chapman and Custer to the south. At the trail junction turn left for Carthew and Alderson Lakes.
Climb away from Summit Lake on a stony path of broken mauve rock, and the steady climb continues as you traverse a steep forested slope. You are heading for barren Carthew Ridge, directly ahead. Views south of Chapman and other peaks grow more and more impressive as you get higher and the trees become more stunted.
At 8 km, crest the ridge to stand atop 2,310 m Carthew Ridge. Look east over Carthew Lakes, flanked by Mount Carthew (left) and Mount Alderson (right), with a glimpse of flat prairie in the distance. To the south are the lakes and mountain views that accompanied you up the scree. But the wind on the ridge can be fearsome and, if it is, even the fabulous views may not persuade you to linger up here for long. When the weather is good, follow the path along the ridge to a bluff for an even vaster panorama.
It's all downhill from here. As you descend from the ridge you will encounter a series of small lakes, the Carthew Lakes, surrounded by thick, twisted spruce trees less than 3m tall. Living in this harsh environment, they will never grow any taller. Beyond these lakes is Alderson Lake with its towering 700m cliffs of Mt. Alderson. There is a campground at Alderson Lake, the only one on this trail.
From here it's a long 7km trek back to the townsite through the trees, emerging at Cameron Falls.
To fully appreciate this trail it should be completed end to end. This, however, require either 2 vehicles or a shuttle service from the townsite.
Some photos by Wendy Devent.
Cameron Lake, at the end of Akamina Parkway in Waterton Lakes National Park. A hiker shuttle runs to the trailhead from Waterton Park townsite ($8 per person)for those who wish to do the entire trail from Cameron Lake to Waterton. The shuttle only runs at 8 am, so plan for that. Buy tickets from the outdoor shop at Tamarack Village Square. The trail ends at Cameron Falls in the townsite.
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Posted By: old hobbit
- Tue Aug 21 21:55:53 EDT 2012
UpsideSpectacular views, wildflowers, waterfalls, lakes - trail is well maintained
Downsidewouldn't want to be on the summit in really windy weather - people have been blown off the trail
CommentWe hiked from Waterton to Cameron Lake and spent the night at Alderson Lake - wonderful, although you do have to climb 500 metres more going in this direction. (I'm not that fit but managed to do it. It was explained by locals that this was the best way - you have a short walk to the lake the first day on a trail which is nice but not spectacular. Then you have the whole next day to play around in the alpine, which we did. Everyone else was hiking the other way - our shuttle car didn't work out so we just hitchiked - took 2 minutes to get a ride.
Posted By: johnnyrailrider
- Fri Oct 17 11:21:02 EDT 2008
UpsideBreathtaking scenery. An excellent workout. The best hike in Waterton by far.
CommentI usually leave my bicycle in the woods by Cameron Lake and then return to Cameron Falls to start the hike. By the time I am finished, I can enjoy a bicycle ride back to the car.
Posted By: vpigeon
- Sat Sep 08 23:58:36 EDT 2007
UpsideA great 20 k hike in Waterton Lakes NP, probaly better than Crypt Lake.
Downside6.5 k walk down through forest from Alderson Lake back to Cameron Falls (Waterton Townsite).
CommentI personally rate this one better than Crypt Lake, for its views, great hikes up and down on open flanks of mountains. The best bet has to be to take the shuttle (Tamarack Outfitters, $10/person in Sept 2007, leave your car at Cameron Falls in Waterton Townsite) at 9 am, up to Cameron Lake and then hike back to the townsite. This is a 20 k hike, up 750 m from Cameron Lake to the summit, and then down 1125 m from the summit to Cameron Falls. Budget 6.5 to 7 hours. Wear sunscreen on a sunny day, bring lots of water, possibly some clothing for cold at the summit.
Posted By: brelly
- Fri Aug 12 18:07:48 EDT 2005
UpsideBeautiful views if the weather is nice.
DownsideCarthew ridge can be very windy and cold. Hiking in the trees to Alderson Lake.
CommentJuly 2005 We hiked east to west (to avoid the long downhill with bad knees) and camped at Alderson Lake, at which there was a rock slide in the middle of the night. In rained quite a bit and was windy but that's not surprising at Waterton NP. Fairly busy trail and besides 1 other man, we were the only ones backpacking. It took us longer than 6 hours but we had packs and significantly more uphill. A must do hike in Waterton.