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Crypt Lake is one of three hikes that make up Waterton’s Triple Crown and in 2014 National Geographic rated it as one of the world’s top 20 most thrilling trails! Highlights are spectacular waterfall views, a 60 ft. cave you will climb through and an exciting cable traverse along a cliff ledge.
Time Required: 5-7 Hours
Location: Waterton, AB
Distance: 18km round trip
Elevation Gain: 700m
Difficulty: 7/10 – Elevation gain and exposure
Season: June to mid-October
Additional Requirements: This hike is accessed by water ferry. Crypt Lake water shuttle tickets are required.
From HWY 3 West: A dedicated ferry service operated by Waterton Shoreline Cruise Co. provides access to the trailhead from Waterton. Park your vehicle at the Waterline Marina and purchase a ticket for the Crypt Lake Ferry. Be sure to check the ferry times.
There are only 1 or 2 ferry drop off and pickup times per day (2 during peak season).
The ferry ride to the trailhead is around 15 minutes and you are provided with some basic information about the hike along the way.
WHAT TO BRING
- Comfortable Footwear: The hike to Crypt Lake and back will take anywhere from 5-7 hours. The trail to the lake is well defined and maintained so true hiking boots are not critical. A comfortable pair of running shoes with good grip will suffice.
- Water: This hike is very exposed to the elements and most of the elevation gain is done without any shade. If it is a warm day ensure you have enough water for seven hours of activity in the sun.
- Snacks: Bring some of your favorite snacks to enjoy along the hike as well as a light lunch for when you arrive at Crypt Lake. Some of our favorite snacks are trail mix, bananas, beef jerky and licorice (Supernibs! Cause they’re the best).
- Weather appropriate clothing: There is little shade on a hot day and little shelter on a windy day. Plan accordingly.
- Sunscreen: If it is sunny and you’re like Mattson, who easily burns, bring sunscreen!
- Insect Repellent: Insect repellent can greatly improve your hiking experience.
- Bear Spray: You are in bear country. Always hike with bear spray that is easily accessible.
- Camera: There are numerous photo opportunities you won’t want to miss.
- This Guide: Print a copy of this guide to reference throughout the hike
Wildlife: You will be hiking in bear country. It is always advisable to check in at the local Visitor Information Center to learn of any trail closures due to wildlife. Carry bear spray in an easily accessible location. Travel in groups of multiple hikers and make lots of noise to avoid an unexpected encounter.
Leave No Trace: It is important that we enjoy the outdoors responsibly and sustainably. Some key principles to consider when hiking to “Leave No Trace” are:
- Plan ahead and prepare: Proper planning allows adventurers to hike safely while minimizing damage to the land.
- Travel on durable surfaces: Stick to the trail when possible. If there is no trail, or you must travel off trail, stay on durable surfaces to reduce your impact.
- Dispose of waste properly: Pack it in, pack it out.
- Leave what you find: Leave rocks, plants, archaeological artifacts and other objects of interest as you find them.
- Respect wildlife: Observe wildlife from a distance. Never feed wild animals.
- Be considerate of other visitors: Be courteous to others to allow everyone to enjoy their outdoor experience.
To learn more about “Leave No Trace” visit http://www.leavenotrace.ca
Summary: The hike to Crypt Lake follows a relatively clear trail passed beautiful waterfalls, through a 60 ft. cave, and along a cliff ledge assisted by a cable. There is an optional detour to Hell Roaring Falls near the beginning of this hike but we recommend saving it till the end if you have extra time. Although the total elevation change from the dock to Crypt Lake is about 700m there is some elevation loss along the way so you will end up climbing close to 1000m in total. It is critical that you budget your time and pace appropriately so that you catch the return ferry to Waterton.
The Crypt Lake trailhead sign (Route marker #1 on the map) is clearly visible from the boat dock. The trail begins just right of the sign and heads into the forest. If there was a full boatload of tourists we recommend evaluating your hiking ability and either starting off quickly to get ahead of everyone, or hanging back and letting the faster hikers go. This is one of the most beautiful trails in Waterton and is best enjoyed without a boatload of tourists surrounding you.
Initially the trail climbs up gradual switchbacks through the forest. Early in the hike you will come across a sign to Hell Roaring Falls (Route marker #2 on the map). Ignore this sign and continue on the main path. Hell Roaring Falls is a good alternate route down if you have extra time before the ferry arrives.
Continue following the trail as it climbs through the forest till the 3.5km point where you will see Twin Falls (Route marker #3 on the map) off to your right down a short steep side path. It can be a bit challenging getting down to the falls as the path can be slippery but it is worth it to be able to walk right up to the waterfall.
Once you depart Twin Falls the trail will leave the forest and become steeper and rockier. The rest of the climb up to Crypt Lake is quite exposed and can be very warm on a hot summer day. As you are climbing the upper switchbacks you will get a great view of Burnt Rock Falls (Route marker #4 on the map) in the distance. Continue traversing along the side of the valley enjoying the spectacular view looking back towards Upper Waterton Lake.
As you continue along the trail you will come to a ladder bolted into the rock wall. After climbing the ladder there is a 60 ft. natural tunnel (Route marker #5 on the map) you will have to climb through to continue to the lake. The tunnel is no more than 4 feet wide so it must be entered single file. With a large backpack it can take some maneuvering to get through the tightest points.
Once you emerge from the tunnel you are presented with stunning views of crypt falls (Route marker #6 on the map) as well as an exciting cable walk along the cliff ledge.
From the exit of the tunnel follow the path for 500m along the ledge and into the forest where you will come to a fork in the road. Heading right will take you to the top of Crypt Falls. Heading left will take you to the lake. We recommend checking out the falls for some incredible photo opportunities and then following the path the remaining 200m to the lake for lunch (Route marker #7 on the map).
Once you have enjoyed the lake and had sufficient rest, return to the boat dock along the path you ascended. If you have time to kill before the ferry arrives, there is an optional detour to Hell Roaring Falls near the end of the return hike.
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Have fun out there!