You’ll find Crypt Lake on page 113 of Don’t Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies, the Opinionated Hiking Guide. It’s Trip 22. You’ll also find it on the agenda of every visitor to Waterton Lakes National Park who has any interest in hiking. It’s by far the most popular trip in the park, and among the best known hikes in Canada. We re-hiked it recently. Perhaps our observations and commentary will help you decide if it should be on your agenda next summer.
Crypt Lake itself is very impressive, as is the valley through which you’ll reach it. The second half of the trail is particularly enjoyable, granting constant views of steep mountainsides and a great cascade. What distinguishes Crypt, however, is the final 20 to 30 minutes of the approach: a narrow ledge, a dark tunnel, and an even narrower ledge where you can cling to a cable for assurance and safety. That, plus the compulsory boat trip across Waterton Lake to and from the trailhead, is the basis for Crypt Lake’s popularity.
Crypt is especially popular with families. We’ve seen more families hiking to Crypt Lake than we’ve seen on any trail, anywhere. And we’ve been impressed with how brave and adept children are on the airy, final approach. Kids seem not to fear it. They relish it. The world needs more hikers, and Crypt Lake is a recruitment campaign unto itself. We applaud.
Bear in mind, during the first hour along the trail to Crypt Lake you will see nothing of note. At a swift pace, the scenery does not open up for precisely one hour and ten minutes. For many hikers, that means one hour and thirty minutes. Add it up. That’s three hours total. This is not unusual in the Canadian Rockies, or most other mountain ranges. Actually, for a hike to be scenically engaging within one hour and thirty minutes of departing the trailhead is significantly better than average. But if you’re not accustomed to hiking, and/or you’ve brought kids who have the approximate attention span of a gnat, three hours can be excruciatingly long.
Crypt Lake’s fame all but guarantees you will be hiking among a crowd. If you cannot tolerate smiling at and chatting with your fellow hikers, and either passing them along the trail or constantly being passed by them, forget it. Crypt is a social experience, not a wilderness experience.
Likewise, nowhere at the lake itself is it possible to escape the incessant chatter of your fellow hikers. A trail rounds the lake. Most hikers decline to circumambulate the water, opting instead to plop at the beach where the trail arrives. But even if you continue to the far shore, you’ll see and hear them. And a few of them will pass you and perhaps even opt to sit astonishingly close to you, regardless where along the lakeside trail you sit, and regardless how blatantly you glare at them.
So, yes, there are drawbacks to Crypt Lake. It’s by no means the Canadian Rockies’ premier hike. But it is an outstanding hike.
You want to see what all the clamor’s about? We certainly did when we first visited Waterton. You want to introduce your family to hiking? The Crypt Lake trail is rife with rare diversions that kids find irresistibly compelling. You want to hike where other people, lots of other people, will help calm your fear of bears? Crypt Lake is for you.
Our description has quelled your interest in Crypt Lake? Waterton Lakes National Park offers many, excellent alternatives. You’ll find them all in Don’t Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies, the Opinionated Hiking Guide.