Waterton Lake National Park’s most unique hike is the Crypt Lake Trail, an 8.7km trek involving a boat, ladder, tunnel and rope with a picturesque lake at the top. We got tickets for the 9:00am boat ride to the trailhead; there is also a 10:00am option in July and August with return times at 4:00pm and 5:30pm.
The ride across was only about 15 minutes long and along the way the guide provided commentary on what to expect along the trail, as well as giving everyone reassurance that no one (so far) has fallen off the roped ledge.
Of course the beginning of the hike was crowded but soon everyone found their own pace and spread out along the trail. There are several waterfalls along the way, but they are best explored on the way back down to be sure that you have adequate time to complete the hike and catch your boat back.
The trail switchbacks up through the trees for the most part, then opens up into more switchbacks on the exposed mountain face. At the top of these switchbacks is a former campsite (it is listed on maps but the signs say no camping), with an outhouse available if needed. After this point the trail heads up to the rock ledge, with a short ladder up into the tunnel.
We found it was not necessary to remove our backpacks through the tunnel, although you do need to watch your head in a couple of places. After coming through the tunnel, you come to the roped section of the trail. I found it harder coming down than going up, because you have to look down when you descend, but I never felt unsafe.
About 2.5 hours after we started the hike, we arrived at Crypt Lake. It is a pretty alpine lake with numerous fish swimming about.
The cliffs behind the lake are actually across the U.S. border, so we ended up crossing into the U.S. and back as we hiked around the lake.
Surprisingly, coming down took just as much time as the ascent, but we also checked out a few of the waterfalls along the way (we skipped Hell Roaring Falls). We had about half an hour to wait for the boat at the bottom, so we relaxed and chatted with the other hikers while a chipmunk tried in vain to steal our snacks (it even tried jumping on Jeremy’s head). This is definitely a memorable hike and well worth doing during a stay in Waterton.