Lower Bertha Falls

March 16, 2019. A pleasant snowshoe trip on one of Waterton’s most popular trails.

  • Region: Waterton Lakes National Park, Traditional Territory of the Blackfoot, Tsuu T’ina, and Ktunaxa First Nations
  • Distance: 2.7km to the lower falls / 5.4km out-and-back
  • Total ascent: 209m
  • Elevation of objective: 1448m
  • Hiking time: 2h 30m round-trip (this included frequent stops to take test photos with a new camera)

Through the winter of 2019 much of the fire-damaged terrain in Waterton Lakes National Park remained closed to the public. Luckily, the Bertha Lake trail was open. Up to the Lower Bertha Falls the trail is clear of avalanche terrain aside from briefly crossing one slide path, and this short trip is a popular snowshoe outing for winter visitors to the park. I’d never been up there in the winter, so I took the opportunity to check it out on the last weekend of the season.

Access to the trail is straightforward – drive through the Waterton townsite to Cameron Falls. A short distance past the falls there will be a sign pointing to a spacious parking area and the trailhead. There was some recently fallen and wind-blown snow obscuring the trail in a few places, but overall it was very easy to see which way to go. Snowshoes were definitely worthwhile – I encountered some hikers with only boots when I was on the way back down and they were post-holing to their thighs. The grip from the snowshoe crampons was also quite welcome in a number of areas where the trail was fully buried in steep-sloping snow.

Before the fire, the trail to Lower Bertha Falls was not particularly scenic below the viewpoint at 1.3 km. It’s a lot different after the fire. The lack of dense vegetation opens up the views somewhat, leading to a much different experience. This was a very pleasant day out. There wasn’t much wind, and clouds didn’t start rolling in until I was almost back at my car. I made frequent stops along the way for photos. I’d just bought an Olympus TG-5 with the intention of making it my hiking camera. So, every now and then I’d stop and take a picture with my iPhone, then several with the TG-5 on various settings. This added a fair amount of time to the trip, but the day was so nice I was happy to draw it out a bit.

Click on the pictures below to access full-sized images.

Deep, side-sloping snow early on in the trip, with the burned forest all around.
Looking back down the trail before reaching the viewpoint. Snowy Mount Crandell and the burned forest.
The northeast spur of Mount Richards. Lots of burned forest visible, but many of the trees made it through unscathed.
Panorama from the viewpoint, just before the trail turns up the valley towards the falls. This one spot was wind-blown and had minimal snow. The rest of the way was buried deep.
Telephoto shot of Mount Cleveland, across the border in Montana.
Looking up the valley towards Mount Bertha, with the spur of Mount Richardson on the left.
Mount Bertha. The trail to the waterfall is on safe terrain, but beyond the falls the serious avalanche terrain begins. I heard the roar of a couple of avalanches echo down the valley.
The fire burned the bark from this tree, leaving the whorls of the underlying wood visible.
Avalanche path on Mount Richards.
The bridge at the lower falls. The creek in its little gulley was totally buried in deep snow.
Lower Bertha Falls…buried in the snow. The trickle of water was audible. A small pile of bluish ice visible in the mid-ground.
The roots of this distinctive tree have been a rest-stop for generations of kids. I’ve told my kids that a distinctive tree like this means there are hobbits or gnomes nearby. I was glad to see it still standing after the fire.
A pleasant snowy day in Waterton.

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