By Karlie Marrazzo
This past weekend, my husband Dave and I went to Waterton Lakes National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in Southern Alberta to celebrate our sixth wedding anniversary. It’s become a tradition with us to go out of town every year for our anniversary, ever since our first anniversary of dating, all the way back in 2003. Aside from our wedding day and a couple of longer distance trips, we always spend our anniversary in the mountains, usually in Banff or Jasper. We wanted to try something new this year and have only heard good things about Waterton, so it was set.
Waterton is about a six hour drive from Edmonton. The further south you go, the more beautiful it gets. Once we passed Calgary, we deviated from the main highway and took Highway 22, or The Cowboy Trail. This road passes through some stunning countryside – big, beautiful Alberta skies, golden farmlands on either side, the Rocky Mountains suddenly sprouting up from the prairies, and cows and horses dotting the land.
As you enter the park gates, the mountain and lake views really open up in front of you. The iconic Prince of Wales Hotel is on your left side, which is the most famous view of Waterton. It is pretty incredible to see from all vantage points. However, we were on a bit more of a budget, so we drove into town where we were staying at a classic 60s motel for two nights, before splurging for the anniversary night at the Prince of Wales.
Our whole stay was very low key. That first night (Friday), we had a simple dinner of tacos, bought some cider at the liquor store and sat on the lakeshore, chatting and taking in the view. We’ve been very busy at home getting ready for our upcoming trip to Europe, as well as with work and other projects, but once we were in that peaceful natural setting, we sort of exhaled and just enjoyed ourselves.
On Saturday we planned on potentially doing some hiking and checking out some scenic drives, so we drove the Red Rock Parkway up to the Red Rock Canyon. Unfortunately one of the other nice drives, the Akamina Parkway, was closed due to damage from the heavy flooding Southern Alberta received earlier this summer. The hike itself was very easy and only took us about 20 minutes to complete. I would call it more of a walk than a hike. There were tons of people around, more so in the actual canyon than on the trail!
Waterton is well known for bears, and I was hoping to see some from a safe distance. I was also sort of nervous to run into them on a hike, but was prepared with bear spray and a bear bell. On our way back to town, a few people were stopped along the side of the road, pointing cameras and binoculars somewhere into the distance up the side of a mountain. Apparently there were a couple of bears, but we didn’t see them. We drove for only a couple more minutes and came across the same scene. This time we waited. And waited. And waited. When everybody else had gone, we spotted a small bear about 150 yards away. We snapped a bunch of pictures, and as I was wishing he were closer, I turned my head to the left casually. “Dave!!” I screamed and jumped. A giant bear was crossing the highway probably only 30 yards from where we were parked. It all happened so fast that we weren’t able to get a picture, but I certainly got my wish of seeing a bear a bit closer. Needless to stay I stayed in the car the rest of the time we were watching the small bear.
Another relaxing evening, another casual dinner. We took a beautiful walk all along the shore of Waterton Lake, running alongside the town and the campground. The scenery is so stunning and the atmosphere is so calming. We walked for about an hour and followed it up with some frozen yogurt. A perfect, relaxing evening.
Sunday was our anniversary, and we planned to go on an international boat cruise. Waterton is very close to the U.S. border, and Waterton Lake extends south into Montana and Glacier National Park. Waterton Shoreline Cruise Co. runs boat tours on the lake and into the U.S., where you can either get off the boat for about 30 minutes and explore, or stay off for longer and do some hiking before returning on another boat. We opted for the more leisurely option. The ride south was quite windy, but other than that the weather was perfect. Not a cloud in the sky and very warm. Goat Haunt, Montana, is not actually a U.S. Port of Entry, but there is a ranger station for the hikers to register with, and you can stamp your own passport with a souvenir stamp.
As a treat to ourselves, we decided to splurge and spent one night in the Prince of Wales Hotel, a historic grand railway hotel that was built in 1927. The views of the hotel and from the hotel are stunning and there are always people flocking to it to take photos from all angles. We stayed in a lake view room on the fifth floor and the view was even more incredible, as we were that much higher up and we had it all to ourselves.
We were in Las Vegas last year for our fifth anniversary, and we took a trip to the Pahrump Valley Winery. We had a bottle that we had saved for the next year, took it down to the lobby, and sat near the window overlooking that famous view while somebody played beautiful music on the piano in the lobby. It was perfect.