Crypt Lake - Waterton - Hiking Alberta


Crypt Lake is a challenging Triple Crown classic hike in Waterton Lakes National Park.



This moderately difficult hike has something for everyone; hikers, scramblers, spelunkers, trapeze artists. 

Crypt Lake, nestled between Vimy Ridge and 2,439 meter (8,002 ft) Mount Boswell, is a unique experience and world-class hike in Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada. 

The hike begins with an early morning, 20-minute boat ride from the Waterton Village Marina to Crypt Landing on the opposite side of Upper Waterton Lake. The cruise on the Miss Waterton, with 50+ other excited passengers, passes the prominent and historic Prince of Wales Hotel, perched on the bluff above the north side of Emerald Bay.


Crypt Lake - Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada The Prince of Wales Hotel dominates the horizon on the bluff above the north shore of Emerald Bay


Crypt Lake - Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada About 50 passengers of varying ages fill the seats of 'Miss Waterton' on the lower and upper decks.


The boat drops us off at Crypt Landing on the east shore of Upper Waterton Lake about a quarter of the distance down the lake, south of Waterton Village.


Crypt Lake - Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada The Crypt Lake Trailhead Sign is clearly visible from the boat dock.


Crypt Lake - Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada 'Miss Waterton' returns to the Waterton Townsite Marina in Emerald Bay as the hike to Crypt Lake begins.


The hike to Crypt Lake hike is 8.7 KM (5⅜ miles) one way with an elevation gain of 695 meters (2,300 ft) to a maximum elevation of 1,981 meters (6,500 ft).  Values are approximate: No two references agree.  There is elevation loss as well, so gross elevation is higher.  

After the initial crowd moves on hike begins on good, flat trail along and above the shoreline of Upper Waterton Lake.  Soon the trail begins climbing on well-graded switchbacks over good, forest trail.  The clean, fresh smell of the forest is overwhelming as we pass the left fork trail to Hellroaring Falls

The Hellroaring Falls trail may be considered as an alternative descent route but this trail is not a wise choice for the ascent hike.


Crypt Lake - Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada The trail is lush and aromatic on initial switchbacks through forest. Vistas gradually unfold.


Excellent views of Upper Waterton Lake unfold as switchbacks climb and periodically leave the forest onto open ground.  As the trail straightens and levels following the initial set of switchbacks, a welcome pause is taken to enjoy the short detour to Twin Falls at the 3.5 KM (2¼ mile) mark of the hike to Crypt Lake.


Crypt Lake - Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada Twin Falls roar towards the Hellroaring Creek Valley is a beautiful and sensory place.


As the trail leaves the forest and becomes more rocky, impressive Burnt Rock Falls appears and occupies the attention on the steeper and rocky trail approach.


Crypt Lake - Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada Burnt Rock Falls of white water free-falling over rust-coloured rock creates a stunning image and amplified sound.


The steepness of the trail increases substantially for the next 2 KM (1¹⁄₃ miles) on rocky and uneven surface but primary attention is constantly consumed by the beauty unfolding around the journey. 

Snow bridges beside our trail contrast with the sheer walls towering above us on the opposite side of Hellroaring Creek Valley within a visual and audible cornucopia.  In the distance, Crypt Falls creates white water lace on a 152 meter (500 ft) drop from the forested precipice between Vimy Ridge and Mount Boswell

A shallow, emerald, alpine pond fed by Crypt Falls, so stunningly beautiful it takes the breath away, appears beneath.

Crypt Lake - Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada Crypt Falls makes tumbling lace threads of white water between Vimy Ridge and Mount Boswell.


Crypt Lake - Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada The emerald lake at the base of Crypt Falls rests majestically below Mount Boswell


Crypt Lake - Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada The emerald lake below Crypt Falls reflects the snow remaining against the walls of Mount Boswell


Next, the adventure component of the hike begins with a creek crossing.


Crypt Lake - Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada Crossing the Creek with pounding white water on either side above and below us.


Very soon a short forested section wraps around towards another rocky section.  A narrow rock ledge, tapered nicely away from the free fall to the right, leads to a metal ladder, firmly bolted to the rock wall, which will provide entry into the 20 meter (65 foot) long tunnel through the rock.


Crypt Lake - Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada The view from the narrow rock ledge back to Hellroaring Creek Valley is incredible. The Crypt Lake Trail is visible to photo right.


Crypt Lake - Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada Climbing the ladder to enter the tunnel is not a good place to fall.


The light can be seen at the other end of the tunnel.  Navigating the tunnel requires a variety of movements to squeeze the body plus backpack through the narrow, irregularly shaped but relatively straight channel.  Sometimes easy; sometimes a squeeze.


Crypt Lake - Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada 


Crypt Lake - Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada Waiting at the exit.  Conversation is easy.


Crypt Lake - Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada Nearing the exit of the Crypt Lake Tunnel.


The exit from the tunnel is an interesting experience.  First, there is a brief scramble down to a rock ledge with a 200 meter (656 ft) drop-off.  Next comes a slanted rock scramble up a ledge to a cable assist anchored into the stone but it is still a bit of a rush with fatal exposure adjacent.  Risk is minimal but focus is important.


Crypt Lake - Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada Working the way up the ledge with a cable assist.


Crypt Lake - Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada Photo of ascent from the top provides a better perspective of the exposure on the Crypt Lake hike.


The final segment of the trail to Crypt Lake is a flat, fair-quality trail through forest and welcome relief from the adventure zone.  There is substantial snow remaining in the forest and there are a few wet spots along the trail.  Many rock formations are uniquely shaped and the hike continues up over ridges of pure white stone with very interesting glacial wear patterns.


Crypt Lake - Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada Final trail segment to Crypt Lake - Forest, snow, mud and uniquely fascinating rock formations.


Crypt Lake fills the entire bowl and a few lingering icebergs float on the surface of crystal clear, emerald water.  Large, lingering, banks of snow cling to the cliffs around the shoreline.


Crypt Lake - Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada Crypt Lake is a very beautiful and pristine alpine lake with floating ice and crystal clear cold water.


At least two hikers have chosen to do the hike around the shoreline of Crypt Lake.  It is an international walk because the mountains on the south are actually on the other side of the border in Glacier National Park, Montana, USA

Most adventurers are content to sit in Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada to enjoy lunch in beautiful surroundings beside the lake while feet and legs enjoy well-earned rest.


Crypt Lake - Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada Two hikers make their way across a field of snow on the other side of Crypt Lake.


Crypt Lake - Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada Crypt Lake is the epitome of beauty and calm on this sunny day with a gentle, cool breeze.


The reverse hike is a different but equally spectacular experience.  The down scramble with the cable assist is more exciting because the exposure enters the field of vision.  It is always easier to scramble up than down.  The tunnel is relatively the same but the ladder is a bit more challenging and it is good to get feet back on terra firma.


Crypt Lake - Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada The down scramble into the tunnel raises the excitement a notch due to more obvious vertical exposure.


The view from the rock ridge, of the expanse of Hellroaring Creek Valley, is equally spectacular.  The sun has come around and the valley has warmed up substantially.  The pace will be kept as quick as possible to reduce exposure to hypothermia. 

On a similar, subsequent mission it would be wise to carry a filtered water bottle. 

After passing Crypt Falls and the emerald lake at its base, Burnt Rock Falls and Twin Falls the junction to Hellroaring Falls requires a decision.  This route past Hellroaring Falls will be used for the return but is not recommended.


Crypt Lake - Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada Hellroaring Creek Valley is equally spectacular on the return hike to Crypt Landing


Crypt Lake - Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada A final look back at Crypt Falls with visions of Crypt Lake tucked in behind


Back on the main trail, arrival at Crypt Landing occurs with 20 minutes to spare prior to departure on the final 5:30 PM return trip to Waterton Village.  The day has been an amazing experience which deliberately and successfully attempted to avoid the crowd, to spend quality time together and to take the time to thoroughly enjoy the special hiking experience.  The nine-hour round trip can be done more quickly.  This hike has been a rugged physical day. 

Collectively, over 250 photos were taken and it has been a challenge to reduce them to the few shown here to be representative of the experience.


Crypt Lake - Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada At Crypt Landing, waiting for the boat, after a fabulous hiking experience.


The Prince of Wales Hotel landmark on the boat ride home represents a welcoming beacon at the end of o log physical day.  The boat crew is doing a brisk business selling bottles of water and cold treats.  The price is of no consequence.


Crypt Lake - Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada In a very short span of time this landmark has become the symbol for 'coming home'









Love reading your blog and looking forward to hiking up to Crypt Lake myself this coming weekend. As for the origin of the name, I have a book that I bought many years ago entitled "Over 2000 Place Names of Alberta" by Eric and Patricia Holmgren that perhaps provides one of the more credible explanations I've encountered. It states the word "crypt" is likely a derivative of the Greek word "krupto" meaning to hide, which they suggest is perhaps apt for this beautiful lake and falls which are for the most part hidden from view.

I'll practice the "better safe than sorry" tradition and NOT stay the night at Crypt Lake. Thanks for the unbiased opinion and advice. Keep up the great work you do educating and getting people interested in the outdoors!

Many years ago there was a tragic encounter between wildlife and campers on the Crypt Lake hike. The campground, previously located prior to arrival at the exhilarating ladder, tunnel and chain components of this spectacular hike, has been permanently closed. I would recommend gathering information on arrival. Stop at the Visitor Centre at the arrival to Waterton Village and obtain, without discussion or judgment, the official Parks Canada position. Discuss the current options with a local outfitter in the Village to obtain the unofficial position and the current culture of practice. Crypt Lake trailhead is accessible by reserved passage on a boat to the other side of Upper Waterton Lake. It is a long day hike if time is taken to absorb the incredible beauty of this hike. They know the number of people who left in the morning and the number of people who returned in the late afternoon. The trailhead is accessible by long hike or bike access along the base od Vimy Peak. That may or may not be practical. It is an option to consider. My guess is that people do overnight at Crypt Lake. We did not considered this as an option. You would need to be properly and completely equipped. Highly experienced bear awareness and management skills could be critically important. We all pray that anyone bending the rules, and accepting the potential risk, practises a 'leave no trace' operation for the benefit of future guests. Good luck on your choice. Life is simply a series of decisions.

I am currently researching the Crypt Lake hike and on some maps there is a backcountry campsite at Crypt Lake, however when you phone Waterton Lakes National Park to make a reservation, they say there is no camping on that side of Waterton? Can you camp at Crypt Lake? I would like to spend a couple of nights out there and I am just wondering if it can be done?

There was a broad range of people on the boat from Waterton Marina to Crypt Landing on the east shore of Upper Waterton Lake. Participants ranged from fairly young children to older people like myself. I would recommend a fair weather day without rain or strong winds. The hike is spectacular and worthy of least an attempt. Every person of average fitness will be able to do most of the hike. Some may choose to not do the ladder, tunnel, cable-supported scramble portion which leads to Crypt. Lake. In my opinion, the hike is still worth doing. I recommend taking the first boat out and the last boat back. Take plenty of time to enjoy the experience. Do a little side hike on Wishbone at the end if there is time left over. Good luck. The vistas are awesome.

Well, I was hmm and really should I do this, would a person of average fitness be able to do this hike or is this hike really a test of will?

It is a memorable hike, Leigh. There should be a mid-September opportunity. With no stops it is around a three hour drive from Calgary. Weather this past year has been somewhat bizarre and the Crypt Lake experience would benefit from a fair weather day. The altitude of Upper Waterton Lake is at 4,200 ft and Crypt Lake is at 6,410 ft. so winter onset could be a factor. Good luck on your move.

This is the hike I want to do this year before the snow flies. I only hear great things about it and your photos make me want to go even more. Back to packing but perhaps it will be a mid September hike.

I have not been to Australia but I will take advantage of the first opportunity. There are many places there I would like to see. We are fully recovered. Thank you for your comment, Helen. In subsequent posts for my recent Waterton trip, there are several short hikes to very scenic locations. Combining several on the same day makes a great hiking experience with lots of variety. My son and I have been hiking together for 30 years. We have achieved significant goals together and I consider us close friends as well as father and son. I am very fortunate. You are correct. The camera I use is heavy and bulky. My son uses a Canon G7. In hindsight I might have been better off with the current version of his camera, the Canon G9, and I will give that serious consideration next time around.

Thank you Barry! You certainly inspire me to get out and about but I live in the wrong country. Our small national parks have trails but rarely a walk longer than an hour. I'm looking forward to our visit to the Snowy Mt high country in November. I'm very impressed with your camera but it may be bulky for my needs. I love that you were able to share Crypt Lake with your son. Hope the body has recovered now!

Great to spend some time and suffering together. Could not have been done without ice cream. Glad you enjoyed your first visit to Waterton. It is a great National Park and I hope you create the opportunity to complete the Triple Crown. Thanks for your comment, Bill.

Great post! This is definitely a hike Joanne and I will never forget. Reading your blog brings it all back again in vivid detail. Waterton Lakes is very awe inspiring and we definitely plan to return again one day. One of three of the Triple Crown done, two to go!

I follow and enjoy Banff Trail Trash as well and although we occasionally travel the same territory, our methods of doing it are quite different. Thank you for your kind words. Crypt Lake is an aggressive venture that would not be suitable for everyone. It is the most difficult hike we did in our 5 day visit. One of the objectives within my blog is to inspire ordinary people to spend some time and, over time, perhaps establish a relationship with nature. I try to include a broad range of experiences that may appeal to a broad range of people. My photographs are taken in some of the most incredibily beautiful places on the planet but they are a poor substitute for actually being there. For people who cannot do what I do, for any number of reasons, I hope they can travel vicariously through my words and images. The camera I currently use is a Canon Powershot SX10is. I have been using it for about a year and a half. It is a bit clunky but I am happy with the results the camera gives me. For decades I used film SLR cameras and I am reluctant to start carrying around heavy gear and accessories again. I am a hiker and now a blogger. I prefer to focus on that which I love the most. I take the light I get when I happen to be there. I am not much to sit around and wait for something. If I discover something of interest, professional photographers may choose to visit and practice their craft. I no longer have the patience or the time I enjoyed when I was younger.

As you know, D, Waterton Lakes National Park is famous for windy weather and the mountains often make weather unpredictable. We were blessed with 5 consecutive days of sunny, hot weather and little above a calm breeze. This must be close to the category of divine intervention. It was Bill and Joanne's first visit to Waterton and they left for home impressed. There are more posts coming for Waterton and I have a Kananaskis hike planned with my Grandson as well as a hike to Memorial Lakes before leaving for Yosemite National Park in California, USA. Ready or not we are gearing up to leave as scheduled. The hills seem to be getting taller, D. Thank you for your comment and I would like you to know that my son, Bill and my daughter-in-law, Joanne, each went home with a <a href="" rel="nofollow">Summit Stone</a>.

I discovered your blog through being an avid viewer of Banff Trail Trash. Each of Leslie's blog's give me such a buzz with her energy, words and photography but I know that I could never visit and follow her trails. In finding your site, I am completely enjoying your trails and wonderful photography, knowing if I get the chance to visit [I'm from Aus.] then I should be able to walk some of them. Thank you! Just a little worried about the ladder and rock ledge on this one though!!! By the way what camera do you use as mine has just broken?

I've wondered about that tile as well when we have visted there. We asked but only heard conjecture about the meaning. Wonderful trip report and an amazing adventure day out there! Something for everyone with all the variety of challenges. Bet you are now feeling ready and looking forward to Yosemite! DSD

Hello Barry, Your post inspired my family to do this walk this summer! But I heard a lot of stories about the grizzys on this trail... should I be concerned (for a beginner mountain hiker to call it quits on this trail?)

The first ²⁄₃ of the Crypt Lake hike is worth doing for anyone. The final third is the adventure component.  It depends on the kind of person you are.  If you willing to accept and manage risk, it is not that big a deal.  If you are reluctant to take that risk then you should call it a day and stop at the creek just prior to entering the tunnel. Enjoy a great lunch and perhaps gain some escalating hiking experience to go back another time.  This hike is a special experience.  In my humble opinion the final third benefits from a bit of experience and self confidence.  The final third risk will increase in wet and/or windy weather.  

The stories you have heard are from decades ago.  The campground has been closed for decades and management is high.  I would not be concerned about this.  It is a busy trail.  If there was bear risk the trail would be closed.  The bear thing is blown out of proportion.  Bears are not out there hunting for people.  In my experience they will go out of their way to avoid people.  Read my post on bear awareness in hiking tips.  Perhaps that will help.  Quite frankly, the paranoia is unjustified but there are smart things you can do.  You are more likely to die on the highway trying to get to the trail-head.  Go for it.  Do as much as you can then turn around and go home.

Short answer. No.

Just found your Crypt Lake post from 2 years ago. My family and I are planning a trip and considering the Crypt Lake trail, but only the first two thirds as you recommend, for time and for our readiness. I'm trying to get a sense of how far it is/long it takes on average to do that leg of the trail. this time of year, only two ferries - 10 am and 5:30 pm - so don't want to miss it!! thanks a million, your blog is spectacular.

The distance is well within the range of seven and a half hours for average hikers.  Check with the Park Visitor Centre to review your plan, experience and gear. Monitor time for approx 2/3 up and 1/3 down. Consult a Gem Trek topo map to plan distance and calculate average pace.  It is impossible to assess a specific trip for specific people.  Performance can vary by weather and temperature.  The Rangers at the visitor centre will be able to make a more specific assessment when you are in their presence.  Consider avoiding the Hellroaring Creek trail. Sounds like a winner to me.  Appreciate your kind words.  Thank you.