Another amazing trip out in Kananaskis Country, I took the entire Highwood loop heading south out of calgary. Shortly after going over the pass I spotted a young grizzly bear on the roadside (almost in the same place as on my previous trip), and spent quite a while photographing it before it wandered off into the trees. By the time I finished with the bear the weather which had started out pretty crappy had blown through, and it turned out to be an absolutely beautiful night.
- Emperor Falls campground
- Distance One Way – 16 km
- Whole Trip
- Distance Return – 46 km
- Elevation Gain – 1028 metres
Mount Robson and the Berg Lake Trail is said to be one of the top backpacking trips in the country. Which in turn means that it also see more visitors than most other trails in the Canadian Rockies. It starts out a nice easy walk through temperate rainforest along the shore of a lake and then a easy climb takes you up into the Valley of a Thousand Falls, where we stopped for lunch. We had set a painfully slow pace on this first part of the hike, which turned out to be a bit of a mistake as a thunderstorm rolled in shortly after lunch and we ended up slugging our way up switchbacks in the pouring rain. Not only did this make for a long afternoon we missed out on some seriously beautiful scenery and opted not to make the side trip to Emperor Falls because of it. Overall the hike was a relatively easy one with a couple of good climbs but nothing too intense and some absolutely amazing scenery. The valley was pretty spectacular despite it being fairly dry time of year (there was not quite a thousand falls). I got a real kick out of the river on the opposite side of the valley running along the the top of a massive cliff, somehow it just seemed unnatural to see river running along that high above the ground.
We camped out at Emperor Campground which was alright, but the trail runs right through the middle of the camp so there was a fair bit of coming and going, and there is basically nothing there but a place to set up tents.
If I was to do it again I would choose to continue on further to one of the other sites. As we found out the next day continuing on to the lake is a easy walk with absolutely no change in elevation, and there is a lot more to see and do further on.
With two glaciers, one of the more impressive mountains you’ll ever see, and of course Berg Lake with actual icebergs floating around (and the sound of them calving off the glacier) was pretty spectacular, despite the cloudy rainy conditions. There is also a handful of other hikes and trails in the area. Which unfortunately we didn’t have time to do next time we’ll have to plan on a few more days to explore the area, and do a bit more research into all the trails before hand. After passing Berg lake, we continued on crossing back into Alberta to Adolphus Lake where we spent some time relaxing on the shore.
The weather finally cleared up in time for our hike out, and we made much better time, and were able to enjoy a bit more of the scenery. While it was a fantastic trip I can’t help but feel between the overcast rainy weather and the lack of time that we only caught a glimpse of all there is to see and do in the area, and I will jump at the chance to go back and do it again.
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Not much to say, sometimes you just have a good day. I found this beauty on the side of Highway 40 and spent literally a couple of hours sitting back in the car watching. There was very little traffic and all the people that stopped to look were unusually respectful, turning off engines and staying in their cars. He/she never appeared to be even the slightest bit stressed out and had no reason to run off.
It was there on the roadside long enough that I eventually left it at one point, but when I ran into a group of Big-Horned Sheep a kilometre or so down the road, heading at a fast pace straight toward the bear I thought I would go back and see what happened. In the end it wasn’t all that exciting. The herd was trotting along down the middle of the road when suddenly all of them stopped in their tracks and looked up at the direction of the bear. There was a pause and then they all turned and ran back in the direction that they had come from. The bear didn’t even notice. In it’s defence I should point out that it was directly up wind of the sheep.
Of all the Bears I’ve seen this was definitely my best encounter to date, and one of the most beautiful example of an Eastern Slope Grizzly Bear I have ever seen.
Spent the weekend camping in Jasper National Park. Saw lots of Black Bears, but no grizzlies. The cubs in the tree would have been a definite highlight, if it wasn’t a total shooting gallery with about a dozen other photographers lined up there in the middle of the road. Weather was really good, which was somewhat unfortunate because it made for a lot of situations with really bad light, ie. the cubs in the tree, and the mother and cub down on the lakeshore. There was a bunch of elk in and around our campsite, and I saw my first baby Elk that still had spots, but wasn’t able to get a shot of it. Overall it was a pretty typical trip to Jasper with lots of driving and a bunch of bears and other wildlife to photograph.
I had an amazing evening photographing flying Terns out at Frank Lake. The waterfowl was out in full force with Grebes and Redheads playing around by the blind. There was a bunch of White-faced Ibis off in the distance, and I saw my first couple of Black Terns. But the star of the day was most definitely the Common Terns which spent the whole time hovering and diving into the marshy area east of the blind. I think I shot about 800 photos of the Terns alone (a couple hundred of which were complete blurs, or more likely nothing but sky where I had missed the bird completely). One thing I learned for sure is that shooting birds in flight is not an easy thing to do and I could use a whole lot more practice at it. But it sure was a lot of fun..!
Overlander Falls – Mount Robson Provincial Park
- Distance – 6 km
- Height Gain – 70 m
After our hike at Wilcox Pass we continued on our way up to the town of Jasper and then turned west on to the Yellowhead highway making the obligatory stop at the Mount Robson Visitor Centre for some photos and were lucky enough to find the mountain in plain view and not shrouded in clouds (as is the usual case). Continuing on west for a few kilometres we made it to the Mount Robson lodge where we had a cabin booked for the weekend.
The “lodge” consists of a bunch of little cabins off the side of the highway with a campground further down along the rivers edge. I would highly recomend the place, the cabins are small and a bit on the old run down side, and a little bit too close to the highway for my liking. But the area is really beautiful, and with just a short walk you’re down at the rivers edge right in the shadow of Mount Robson.
I don’t really remember the chronological order ot the weekend, but it was a great and relaxing weekend with family and friends.
We took long evening walk down around the campground and river at the lodge. Spent a fair bit of time on the back deck just enjoying the great views of Mount Robson. We had a crock pot going all day, and feasted on pulled pork sandwiches and coleslaw. We spent a night relaxing around the firepit, eating s’mores. We drove down to Valemont for groceries and a walk around the visitor centre and fish spawning park.
We visited the viewing platform of Reargard Falls, a picturesque waterfall that is named for the fact that it’s the farthest point in the river that spawning salmon make on their journey upstream from the ocean (I’ll have to go back someday during spawning season).
We stopped at Overland Falls, which is only a couple of minutes from the road, but then decided to take a walk down a small trail that follows along the top of the river canyon through the dense temperate cedar forest. It was meant as just a bit of a walk, but it was a beautiful day for hiking, cool and damp with the occasional sprinkle of rain which the forest provided more than enough shelter for. So we just kept hiking, enjoying the day until the trail finally ended on a side road that we had driven down earlier in the day and turned back to retrace our steps. Turns out by the time we got back we had done about six kilometres, so I guess it can be called a hike.
We headed down to the river for some late afternoon fishing and a beautiful sunset. Where I caught a nice sized trout on one of those perfect casts where you just know a fish is going to take the fly as soon as it hits the water. We laughed at Tiffany who had to go wading into the river to retrieve the handle of my spin fishing reel that she sent sailing into the water.
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Wilcox Pass – Jasper National Park
- Distance – Return (Where we decided to turn around) – 8 km
- Elevation Gain – 389 metres
The trailhead to Wilcox Pass is located on the side of the parkway only a few kilometres south of the Columbia Icefields visitor centre. Being a fairly easy hike its a big draw for all the tourist that visit the centre, making it one of the busiest hikes in Jasper National Park. Even on a cold day in September there was a lot of people on the trail, that and the fact that you can hear the cars on the highway below for most of the hike definitely brings down the enjoyment level, but the views of the mountains and the Icefields and the meadow make it well worth the effort.
The hike starts out climbing through a beautiful old-growth forest. Although only a moderately climb it was definitely made worse by the weight of my 500mm lens, and the fact that I had been driving for the previous four or five hours. Once out of the forest the trail opens up above the tree line with an incredible view of the Athabasca Glacier, the visitor centre, the highway, and all of the towering mountains that surround the area. Eventually the trail leads up into a massive wide open alpine plain that goes on for what looks like a couple of kilometres.
I’m not really sure where the actual trail goes or how far of a hike it’s supposed to be, there seems to be a few different descriptions online, although I did read somewhere that you can hike all the way to Tangle falls (another stopping point on the 93) but then you would need a ride back to the trailhead. On this occasion we basically just hiked up to the alpine plain and kept going until we decided to turn back.
One of the main draws to the pass is the Rocky Mountain Big Horned Sheep that frequent the area (hence me lugging my long, heavy lens up the mountain). We were not disappointed, and found a group of large healthy adult Big Horned Sheep feeding and drinking at a watering hole out in the open meadow. We stopped and photographed them for a quite a while (the whole time wishing I had dragged my tripod up along with the long lens) before heading back down the way we came.
Did I mention it was cold and extremely windy out in the open….
Overall a great hike, and well worth the effort, I look forward to going back when I have more time to spend exploring the area.
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Another beautiful day at Elbow Lake…
A bit of a hike, a couple of fish. What more can I ask for…
I’ll spare you the details as I’ve covered Elbow Lake a few times already…
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We were a bit slow getting out of town and it was mid afternoon by the time we got to the Bolton Creek Campground. The weather was pretty crappy and it was drizzling a little bit so the first thing we did was string a tarp up over the picnic table… Then it rained… and rained… and rained… and we sat for a couple of hours on top of the table under a tarp that leaked like a seive and was too small to cover the benches of the the table, and watched it rain.
Eventually it lessend a little bit and we were able to get the tent and the rest of camp set up before running down to the camp store to buy a new non-leaking much larger tarp.
On the way out of town we had stopped at the grocery store with no particular meal plan, and after a bit of discussion decided that beef stew should be fairly easy in the camp pot, so we bought;
- one onion
- two carrots
- two potatoes
- one bulb of garlic
- one pack of stewing beef
- one bag of mushrooms
- one carton of Beef Stock
Back at camp we threw it all in the pot over the fire and let it cook nice and slow, realizing a good stew needs to be a bit thicker than just beef stock I toasted up a hot dog bun and crumbled it into the pot. Maybe I was just cold and wet and hungry, but by the time we sat down to eat at about eleven o’clock at night (do to the fact that it took all afternoon to get the fire going in the rain), it was quite possibly the best bowl of stew I’ve ever eaten.
The rest of the trip was entirely uneventful. That being said there is something strangely enjoyable and relaxing to spending an evening with friends while sitting under a tarp in the pouring rain.
I headed out early to Kananaskis country to take pictures, and had after a run-in with a Ruffed grouse and a couple of deer, on the Jumpingpound road (Hwy 68?) I headed up along the #40 to the lakes and shooting pictures along the way. Eventually the weather turned and it clouded up and started to drizzle. So I thought I would stop by Bolton Creek Campground where my sister was camping with a couple of friends. I ended up staying the night (there are benefits to keeping all of your camp gear in the trunk of your car).
I woke the next morning to the sound of rain, which cleared up shortly after, so we decided we’d go for a quick hike, and headed out for the Mt. Everest Expedition Trail, which is basically just a 2 kilometer walk to a lookout point over Kananaskis Lakes.
I also spent a bit of time wandering and photographing the shoreline of the lakes and assessing the damage caused by the recent floods . Then after packing up camp I decided I might was well take the long route back down spray lakes trail, where I spotted a Great Blue Heron out on the lake standing on a old rotten tree stump a few metres from shore.
Another evening out at Frank Lake…
I had my first experience with the Common Tern, and they may be one of my new favourite birds, I think I could spend hours watching them hover over the water searching for fish and diving down with a splash to catch them in their beaks.
While the Tern’s didn’t stay around very long there were ample other birds to watch and photograph, including the horrendously ugly baby Coots, and the tiny little Eared Grebe chicks riding around on their mothers backs. For the fist time that I’ve been to Frank Lake the light was better than just mediocre, and by the time the golden hour hit, it was just about the perfect way to spend a summers evening on the prairies.
(Pictures are in reverse orders… and it’s far to much of a hassle to rearrange them)
I took a trip down across the border to Glacier National Park in Montana to go camping for the weekend. My original plan was to stay at Many Glaciers, but after a three hour wait at the border, by the time I got there the only site still available backed onto the parking lot for a hotel or grocery store or something like that, so I decided to continued on to glacier. After driving over Logan’s Pass I ended up at Avalanche Campground which turned out to be a really neat area. The campground is in a area of rainforest right next to a grove of large cedars with a boardwalk hiking trail where I spent my first evening wandering around the river and forest (see map below).
I got up stupidly early the next morning and drove back up to the top of the pass in hopes of shooting some pictures. As beautiful as Going to the Sun road is it’s not very photogenic from the road, especially in the early morning when sun hasn’t made it up above the mountains and half the range is still in shadow. I almost hit a Mountain Goat with my car coming around one of the really tight corners near the top of the pass, and was able to snap a picture of it on the way day but with its winter fur still being shed it wasn’t a very pretty one.
After failing to get any good pictures up on the pass I thought I would try going the other direction. I ended up doing a lot of driving allover the place following the river out of the park and doing my best to get lost on some terrible gravel roads. I had been told by someone that there was a lot of wildlife in the park, which was my main reason for going down there, but other than the goat on the pass and a Snowshoe Hare in a parking lot I didn’t see a single thing.
Eventually I made it back to camp and feeling a bit defeated decided I had enough driving for the day. The campground I was staying at was also the trailhead for a hike to Avalanche Lake so I thought I would give it a try.
The hike up to the lake was a really nice change from all of the time I had spent in the car over the last couple of days.
The hike is a basic forest trail climbing steadily over the 4 kilometres and gaining about 200 metres in elevation to the mountain lake. The lake was quite beautiful and I was really wishing I had my fishing rod with me as the fish were jumping and surface feeding all over the lake. I didn’t get to stay at the lake nearly as long as I would have liked, but it was evening when I started, and completely dark by the time I got back.
On the way back I decided to go through Waterton in hopes of seeing some wildlife. I was not disappointed. Within a kilometre or two of crossing the border back into Canada I spotted a moose but didn’t have time to grab my camera, a couple kilometres after that a grizzly crossed the road in front of me, but was gone by the time I got there.
A bit further on I caught something moving out of the corner of my eye and pulled over to have a look. I spent a good ten minutes sitting in my car catching occasional glimpses of movement before I finally figured out what I was seeing. It was huge funny looking bird out in the tall grass, my first Sandhill Crane. Once I figured out it wasn’t a bear I climbed out of the car and went stalking through the grass and bushes to try and get a picture of it. It turned out there was actually two of them, and they move fast, seaming to disappear completely in one place and popping up in another a few moments later. I only manage to get one or two clear shots, but the sighting was enough to make me feel better about the previous lack of wildlife.
Once in the main part of Waterton I drove the Red Rock Canyon Parkway and spent ten minutes watching a cinnamon coloured black bear at a distance, then checked the flats looking for Elk but didn’t spot any. Leaving Waterton I opted for the slower route home through Glenwood so that I could make a quick stop at the windmill farms.
Hike to Avalanche Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana
- Distance – Return (with some walking along the lakeshore) – 8.1 km
- Elevation Gain – 227 metres
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Rainforest Boardwalk, Glacier National Park, Montana
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Random Driving Tour around Glacier National Park and Home to Calgary
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What a great weekend… Karl and I headed out to Jasper on Friday morning making quick time (especially for us) up Highway 93. We stopped briefly for a Mountain Goat on the side of a cliff overlooking the highway, but other than that it was a pretty uneventful drive with cloudy overcast skies not worth photographing.
We made it to the campground relatively early, we had reserved a spot at Whistlers Campground, and on the way in we passed a bunch of Elk with cute little spotted fawns, but were too lazy to change lenses and decided to come back after setting up camp. Big big mistake, we never saw them again.
Later on we had some great success on the Malign Lake Road spotting a bunch of Black Bears, although with overcast skies the light was lacking and faded quickly, but the road was quite and we were able to spend some time photographing them.
The next morning we drove west to Mount Robson and encountered a grizzly on the side of Highway 16, but couldn’t really get into a decent position, until it crossed over the road in front of us. I managed to grab a couple of shots as we passed by on the busy highway, but it was so deep in the ditch that the angle made it almost impossible.
Back at the campground we met up with the Derkowski’s for lunch while they set up camp. After a bit more evening exploring and a ridiculously close encounter on foot with a black bear, we had spotted it from across the lake then parked and walked down to were it was heading and it popped up right in front of us, closer than we had expected.
After that it was dinner time and we feasted on some of the best ever Campfire Chili, and relaxed around the fire enjoying the all you can burn firewood that the campground offers.
The way back was slow with traffic. A washroom break was made amusing by the Parkway’s resident Ravens, and we spotted a beautiful bull Elk with velvet antlers on the Bow Valley Parkway in Banff.
I spent the afternoon fishing and chasing birds around at Sibbald Meadows pond…. (that’s really about all there is to say about that).
Headed out to McKinnon Flats southeast of Calgary to do some fishing on the Bow river. On the way there I made a quick stop off at the lake (which doesn’t appear to have a name so I call it McKinnon Lake) that is a little bit down the road and across Highway 22 from the turnoff to the flats.
Although I didn’t find anything especially exciting, the usual suspects (yellow-headed, and red-winged blackbirds) were out in full force and I was able to get a few worthwhile shots.
I wanted to try some fishing down on the Bow River south of Carburn Park near Douglasdale and the Deerfoot Bridge. It was a beautiful day to be out on the river, and although the fish weren’t biting at all I had a run-in with a porcupine on the way back, although the light was pretty much gone I was able to get a few shots in, and get close enough to use my flash.
Elk Island National Park is located 35 KM east of Edmonton on the Yellowhead Highway (Hwy. #16). It is one of Canada’s smaller national parks at only 194 square kilometres, and the only completely enclosed national park.
By the time I got to the park I was pretty sick of driving, so it was really nice to get to the slow and relaxing pace of the Elk Island Parkway.
Like I said, its a pretty small park, only about 20 km from north to south, and about half that from east to west, with the parkway running north/south through the middle of it with only a couple of offshoots from the main road. The first of these offshoots is the Bison Loop Road, a dirt track that travels in a loop through a mostly open field where the bison like to hang out. I spotted a coyote in the under-brush shortly after turning on to the loop, but it was too far of for decent photos. Towards the end of the loop I spotted my first bison of the trip, a mother and calf (but I’ll leave that for the next post).
Further up the parkway I found another coyote on the side of the road, this time I was able to get a couple of photos before it disappeared over the hill. Shortly after that I spotted a Ruffed Grouse in the grass along the roadside (my first ever).
After driving down most of the roads in the park I was in serious need of some time out of the car (and it was the worst possible time of day for wildlife) so I thought I’d go for a quick hike, and ended up at the Beaver Pond Trail.
It was a nice short (3.5km) easy walk through Aspen forests (one of Canada’s most endangered habitats), but not overly exciting, and to my dismay, there was no beaver ponds, and therefore no beavers or waterfowl to photograph, which was the main reason I chose this particular trail (It wasn’t until I got back to the car that I stopped to read the information marker which explained how the ponds had dried up a couple of decades ago, (I guess I should have taken the time to read it at the start)).
One thing that I noticed about the park was that there was bee or wasp hives hanging from trees all over the place (on more than one occasion I stopped the car thinking I’d spotted it an owl or other large bird up in the trees only to realize it was a hive). Despite all the hives, I never actually noticed a problem with bees or wasps, but it could have been because it was so late in the year. There did however seem to be an incredible amount and variety of damselflies (dragonflies) fluttering about the trail, so I stopped to shoot a few shots.
After the hike I was in need of a nap, so I headed in to Fort Saskatchewan (and was awed and disgusted by all the refineries there) to find a hotel and a rest. I made another trip to the park for sunset, and then again for sunrise the next morning before heading home.
I saw a whole lot of bison, as well as three coyotes, a couple of deer, only a few elk from a distance (which was surprising considering they estimate the elk population at over 1,000). Lots of ducks and geese, a couple of Trumpeter Swans from a long way off, and two moose, (one while I was outside the park driving along the fence-line, it was trying to get out of the park, the other from inside the park, it was on the outside of the fence trying to find a way in). One of the definite highlights though was a little black and white skunk running along the roadside (I was about to get a photo but one of the parks trucks came flying over the hill and almost ran over it).
I was actually really impressed with the park, and the amount of wildlife I saw (the bison alone were worth the drive). But the scenery was pretty none-existent which could have been largely to do with the time of year (everything was overgrown and turning brown), it was however a nice change not to have to switch lenses every five minutes, (I think I put on my wide lens once the whole time I was in the park).
I’d really love to go back at a different time of year when the animals are more active, and the migrating birds are coming through, but I would definitely plan to spend more time, although the park is small there’s enough to see and do to keep me busy for at least a few more days.
One of the main reasons that I wanted to go down to Waterton National Park was for the wildlife.
I found the first bear of the day a short ways up the canyon parkway across a ravine eating berries on the hillside that sloped down from the golf course. Although I had a nice clear view of it, it was a long way off and there wasn’t enough light to get a decent shutter speed with my 2X-TC. I shot a few photos, and watched for a while before it disappeared into the bushes.
Further down the parkway I passed a car pulled over on the side of the road, the people in it were looking at something in the trees and I caught a glimpse of movement, but didn’t stop (the road is really narrow).
Just after I passed by, the car pulled away, and I couldn’t resist the urge to go back for a second look. On my second pass I saw nothing, and another car came rushing up behind me, so I passed by again and turned around to head back towards the canyon. On the third pass I again saw some movement, and was finally able to stop for a closer look.
At first glance I thought it was a coyote, but then It walked out of the trees and right up beside my car. It was coloured like a coyote, and about the size of a coyote, but it was obviously still a puppy (most noticeable by it’s massive paws). Suddenly it occurred to me that it was actually a wolf pup.
Then I got really excited, and started shooting away, completely forgetting to check my camera settings and ended up with a lot of motion blurred photos shot at f6.3 (idiot)!!!
Anyway, the wolf pup walked right passed my car and onto the road (there’s nothing more frustrating than watching an animal especially a wolf walk around ten feet in front of the car with all possible shots blocked by a bug splattered wind-shield). It was walking down the middle of the road up a blind hill, I was further back, and could just barely see a car speeding towards us before it went out of view behind the hill, and had to make a really quick decision. I revved the engine, and laid on the horn (foregoing all chance at taking more photos), chasing the wolf off the road just in time for the car to crest the hill and speed by (I’m sure they were doing at lease 30km over the 50km speed limit), completely clueless of how close it came to hitting the puppy.
After the wolf I didn’t really have much other luck with any wildlife. I spotted another (it may have been the same one from earlier) black bear, but it was far back in the trees eating berries, and on the main road just outside of town so I only had time to snap a couple of shots while traffic piled up behind me.
Later on a huge brown grizzly bear crossed the road in front of my car a few kilometres from the US border, but it was way too fast to get any photos.
I tried photographing some Herons in the lake, but they were too far out in the water for a decent shot.
I drove around the flats looking for rutting elk (this was one of the main reasons that I had decided to come down), but I never even caught a glimpse of one.
I ended the day at the Buffalo paddocks (the other main reason for my visit), this was also a pretty big disappointment as they were a long way off the road, and the light was absolutely horrible, so I finally gave up and headed home.
By the time I made it down to Waterton I was in desperate need of some breakfast (the A&W in Alderside doesn’t open until five in the morning, I missed the one in Claresholm, and my route never took me into Fort Macleod). So unfortunately I was stuck wasting my time sitting down to possibly the worst $20 breakfast I’ve ever eaten in my life.
After breakfast I headed to Cameron Lake to shoot some pictures, while the lake was nice, (apart from the tour bus full of people walking into all my shots), the drive there was a bit of let down with very few places to stop for photos, and poor scenery at the places you could stop. After that I headed up the Red Rock Canyon Parkway, which was pretty great the whole way up to the canyon (although the open meadows where looking pretty dry and brown and windblown). I did a little bit of hiking around the canyon and shot some long exposures of the river (not very long, because I left my ND filter in the car and didn’t want to go back and get it, but long enough to get some motion blur).
I tried shooting some more pictures around the park, but the weather was getting increasingly worse, and by the time I headed down to the lake it was so windy at the hotel that I could hardly open the car door, and almost got blown off the hilltop. To make things worse there were foot high white-caps on the lake, and it was so hazy I couldn’t even see the mountains on the far side.
I had wanted to go for a short hike, but it was just too windy (and I was getting pretty tired), so I just ended up driving all over in and around the park, making it all the way down to the US border, but had little success.
Eventually I decided that It probably wasn’t worth staying the night because the weather forecast wasn’t looking very good, and the weekend crowds were flooding into the park (when I left through gates there was 30 or 40 cars lined up to get in the park). Waterton is not very big, and you could probably drive down every road in the park in little more than an hour, so I figured that by Saturday morning it would be way to crowded for my liking.
By the time I got home I had pretty much been in the car for 16 hours straight (except for maybe an hour spent at the canyon) which made for a pretty painful drive home, but all and all it was a pretty great day!