Waterton Lakes National Park, the real Brokeback Mountain

By Jan Westell   Trail Canada

When rolling prairie meets a wall of majestic mountains that surround a pristine lake, the view is nothing short of spectacular. That's the landscape that greets visitors, long before they arrive at Waterton Lakes National Park. The overland route to the park takes travellers through Southern Alberta foothill country, scenic ranch land that was chosen as a film site for the 2005 feature film: Brokeback Mountain.

Apart from the majestic backdrop, Waterton Lakes National Park is also an environmental and geographic gem, which qualified the park as a bisophere reserve in1979, by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Waterton was designated a World Heritage Site in 1995 by UNESCO partly because of the park's biosphere reserve status and also because of its historic cultural partnership. That was related to a 1932 partnership, when Waterton was designated an International Peace Park, with Montana's Glacier National Park just south of the border.

Yet Waterton Lakes National Park is more than a scenic and environmental wonder, where mountain sheep and deer are commonly found in the town site. But what makes Waterton truly enticing is that little has changed in the past 50 years. Apart from minor physical changes, commercial development has been largely discouraged, in a park that is almost 100 years old. The Canadian Rockie's most southern park is also removed from the well-trodden international tourist trail, which has caused Banff and Jasper to lose some of its lustre with those who prefer a more rustic experience.

One of the most striking man-made features of the park is the Prince of Wales hotel, which sits high on a bluff overlooking the lake. Opened in July 1927, the grand hotel designed in the European chalet style, was built by the Great Northern Railway Hotel Company, as an addition to less spectacular hotels in Montana's Glacier National Park. The hotel was intended to attract wealthy travelers, and Americans who were escaping the restraints of prohibition, at that time. To this day, the hotel has changed little over the last few decades, due to prior economic instability and a tradition of frugal management. In 1995, the Prince of Wales Hotel was designated a national historic site, which has since prevented any dramatic renovations.

At 525 sq. km. Waterton Lakes National Park is considered the smallest of Canada's national parks. The park is open year-round, although most facilities are closed in winter. Summer recreational activities include camping, hiking, horseback riding, boating, or wilderness exploration. Limited commercial lodging is available in winter, and visitors can snowshoe, cross-country ski or take a stroll through the charming town site.
Waterton's town site has all the necessary services during the summer peak season including recreational outfitters, gift shops, family an fine dining, a variety of accommodation, and even a theatre.

Waterton is located 264 kilometres from Calgary, and 45 kilometres from Pincher Creek, a nearby town that serves local ranchers.

Alberta

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