Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Paddling in Waterton Lakes National Park

We've been going to Waterton Lakes National Park in Southern Alberta every summer for the past few years and we're always finding something new and awesome to do.  This year we spent a lot of time on the water and I finally got to SUP Cameron Lake.

 "All non-motorized watercraft from outside of the park are prohibited from entering water bodies in Waterton Lakes National Park."
You can try renting boats within the park but do your research and see if reservations are required.
Cameron Lake has traditionally had boat rentals.

Paddling on Cameron Lake

We spent two days paddling on the three Waterton Lakes and were blessed with hot sunny weather.  We also had strong winds that we used in our favour to do downwinder paddles with car/bike shuttles.

Kayaking down wind on Upper Waterton Lake

Paddle One - Lower Waterton Lake

We decided to paddle a short stretch of the Waterton River from the Hay Barn Day Use Area across the Lower Waterton Lake, down a short channel that is likely part of the river again, and then take out at the Maskinonge Day Use Area beyond the park gates.  Find a good map here.

Kids playing at the Hay Barn Day Use Area on the Waterton River

Surfing across Lower Waterton Lake

The wind was very much in our favour this day and we experienced one crazy downwinder paddle!  We were practically surfing on our boards and the whole trip took  around an hour.  When paddling in Waterton it pays to take note of wind direction and to always paddle with the wind.  Shuttles are easy to set up with a second vehicle or bike and especially if doing a section of the river, you'll have to figure out a shuttle.

Paddling past the park gates towards the Maskinonge Day Use Area

We were paddling with another family so it was easy to leave a second vehicle at the Maskinonge Day Use Area.  We easily pulled out near the bridge and it was very effortless to climb up to the picnic area from the river here.

Paddling down the River towards the Maskinonge

Paddle Two - Middle Waterton Lake to Upper Waterton Lake 

For our second paddle on the Waterton Lakes we chose to put in on Middle Waterton Lake and travel through the Bosporus to Upper Waterton Lake.

Paddling  below the Prince of Whales Hotel on Middle Lake

There's a small gap called the Bosporus that connects the two lakes and the water was deep enough to paddle through - even on a SUP.  Motor boats even travel through here so as long as you watch out for the markers, you'll do fine.

Paddling through to Upper Waterton Lake
Heading through the gap at the Bosporus

We paddled across a short stretch of the Upper Lake, the biggest of the three lakes, down to the town campground and took out here near Cameron Bay. The wind was again in our favour and it was a quick easy paddle.  Note that normally to paddle down wind, you'd be paddling the other direction but for some strange reason,  we were able to paddle south on this particular day towards the US border.  Normally the wind blows you north in Waterton, the same direction as in our previous day of paddling. 

Paddling on Upper Waterton Lake away from the Prince of Whales Hotel

Once we got to the campground, my husband got on his bike and  rode back to our truck at the Middle Lake boat launch.  It was a quick ride and he was back in no time.   Meanwhile, my son and I went for ice cream in town and hit the playground.

Paddling on Upper Waterton Lake towards Cameron Bay

Paddle Three - Cameron Lake 

We took a break from paddling on the windy Waterton Lakes and drove out to Cameron Lake on the Akamina Parkway expecting to have a mellow calm day on the water.  As luck would have it though, it was just as windy out there and we had to drive out twice before we found the calm conditions we were after. 

Paddling on Cameron Lake
Cameron Lake is the classic family paddling option in Waterton.  It is usually less windy,  there are no motor boats (unlike Middle and Upper Waterton Lake,) and there are even boat rentals on site.  Don't expect to find SUP or kayak rentals, but you can rent a canoe.

Beautiful Cameron Lake on a calm day

For us, the most interesting thing about paddling on Cameron Lake on this trip was checking out the snow at the far end of the lake.   We felt like we were paddling in Alaska or something with glaciers hanging over the water.

Snow on the far side of Cameron Lake in July
Alaska or Waterton??
Flip flops, water and snow.
Does this not look like a huge glacier above us?

I wouldn't expect to find snow on the slopes above Cameron Lake past July but it's a beautiful paddle all summer long, snow or not.

Family Paddling on Cameron Lake

Paddle Four - Sunset Tour on Upper Waterton Lake

The final paddle we did this trip was just a short sunset tour on Upper Waterton Lake from our campsite in town.  The water was calm and we even let Noah try out his own kayak for the first time in the protected Cameron Bay.

Sunset tour on upper Waterton Lake
Paddling on Upper Waterton Lake at Sunset

Families wanting to paddle will also find a protected spot in Emerald Bay at the other end of the Waterton townsite.  Note that the water in the lakes here is glacial cold and every precaution should be taken to protect oneself from falling in.  Noah was wearing a short wet suit for this paddle and the water was very calm.

First SUP family paddle on Upper Waterton Lake
Learning to Kayak in Cameron Bay
Cameron Bay is a good place to practice paddling

Other Great Paddles - Middle Waterton Lake to the Hay Barn Day Use Area

Last year we paddled from one of the day use areas on Middle Waterton Lake to the Hay Barn Day Use area.  We got to do a short section on the Waterton River as well where it flows out of the Middle Lake.  We could have continued all the way to the Lower Lake on the river (as we did this year) but it's a long paddle across the Middle Waterton Lake and we had very little wind this day to push us.

Paddling across the Middle Waterton Lake
Kids playing at the Hay Barn Day Use Area on the Waterton River

Other Great Paddles - Upper Waterton Lake towards the US border

We did this one last year as well from Cameron Bay in town towards the United States border.  It's an out and back paddle so look for calm conditions because any wind that blows you out will be against you on the way back.  There are also motor boats to deal with so make sure the thought of paddling with bigger boats doesn't scare you.  It's not usually a problem if you stick close to shore.

Beautiful paddling on Upper Waterton Lake in Cameron Bay
The Upper Waterton Lake is great for kayaking

Family Paddling in Emerald Bay

We didn't paddle here this year but it is a great place to paddle as a family in protected waters.  You'll see lots of children here learning to kayak or just playing in the cold water.

SUPing in Emerald Bay on Upper Waterton Lake
Family and dog friendly Emerald Bay

For more information on boating and paddling in Waterton Lakes National Park, visit the Parks Canada website or the website

Upper Waterton Lake

To read my previous stories on Waterton, visit these links:

Family Fun in Waterton Lakes National Park

Camping in Waterton Lakes National Park

Waterton Lakes National Park - in Winter (a whole different experience!)

Looking down on Upper Waterton Lake from the Bear's Hump


  1. Great post and beautiful photos!

  2. can you recommend a canoe trip with hiking in Waterton? WE are experienced in both.

    email me at