Crandell Lake

May 15, 2021. A quick and easy hike with kids to an old favourite in Waterton.

  • Region: Waterton Lakes National Park. Traditional Territory of the Blackfoot, Ktunaxa, and Tsuu T’ina First Nations
  • Distance: 1.7 km one-way from the Akamina Parkway to the south shore
  • Total Ascent: 90 m
  • Elevation of Objective: 1528 m
  • Time: 35 minutes to the south shore

The trails to Crandell Lake are among the many day hikes impacted by the fires of 2017. The lake is a small one, sitting in a low hanging valley between Ruby Ridge and Mount Crandell. Trails approach from the south and north – the northern one starting at the Crandell Mountain Campground (which remains closed at this time due to fire damage), and the southern one starting from a trailhead along Akamina Parkway. Ease of access and proximity to the campground made this a frequent objective for campers, groups with kids, or for people looking for a short hike. It’s perfectly safe to do in the rain, during the shoulder season, even as a snowshoe trip. The fire has changed the hike dramatically, but it remains a fun and easy outing.

Access from the south is via the Akamina Parkway, about 5.5 km from where it leaves the townsite. There’s a clearly marked parking area right by the start of the trail. The trail climbs gently to the lip of a hanging valley, then descends to the south lake shore. Another branch of the trail continues to the northern lake shore, where there is more of a beach. Along the western and northern shores there are exposed outcrops of white rocks that make for nice places to sit.

This hike used to be a journey through a very lush and dense forest. Now the forest is gone, so the character of the hike has changed pretty dramatically. The burned tree trunks make for a feeling of desolation, and there is now a complete lack of shade. On the bright side, the contours of the mountain are now visible. There are even some decent distant views. Wildflowers and low shrubs are growing among the burned trees. The forest will renew in due course, but it will be the work of decades during which time we get to watch how things change.

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

Route overview looking south. You can see that the trail is not too far up the road from the Waterton townsite. The track displayed stops at the south lakeshore, but the trail carries on around the west side of the lake.
The trail is an easy grade throughout. You can see how dense the trees used to be.
Roughly the same place, in 2015. Some of the same people, too.
Quality time in the mountains involves little adventures, like rock-hopping a stream.
Taking a look back along the trail. The contour of the mountain and the way the trail traverses it are very obvious now.
Some distant views to the south.
A closer look. The peak in the middle is in Glacier National Park in Montana. I can’t find a name for it. On either side in front of it are Vimy Peak and Mount Boswell, which are in Waterton.
It’s quite remarkable how the fire sharpened the stubs of branches into a point. The kids and I decided to refer to these as Ewok Traps.
Once the trail reaches the lip of the hanging valley it descends somewhat. Ruby Ridge is in the background.
Roughly the same spot in 2015.
The first glimpse of the lake. It used to be that you didn’t see it until you were practically on the shore.
Descending from the lip of the hanging valley towards the lake. Ruby Ridge in the background.
The same place in 2015.
The south shore of Crandell Lake. Mount Galway is in the background. You can see the areas of exposed white rock on the far shore. Similar outcrops abut the trail as it continues along the west shore.
The south shore back in 2015.
Mount Crandell. There are several scrambling routes to the top of that, including a relatively easy one that starts from this side of the mountain.
We had planned to go to the northern shore to sit and have lunch. Along the way, though, we were able to see some friendly-looking rocky outcroppings that came right down to the trail. We checked this one out and found ourselves on a nice level perch some distance above the lake.
Our lunch spot. It actually got very hot up here. We watched a few chipmunks scampering around in the brush while we ate.
From 2015, looking up the trail ascending away from the lake.
On our way back down.

2 thoughts on “Crandell Lake

  1. Par, I’m wondering if you have ever done the walk from Crandell Lake back to the townsite? Wondering what level of difficulty it might be and also if it’s scenic at all. I’m guessing the fire burnt this trail as well? I can’t seem to find much info about it online so I’m wondering if it’s not a great walk. Thoughts?

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    1. I’ve never done that one, though I’ve been aware of it as an option for hiking or biking. It strikes me as a good option for people camping at the townsite who want a mid-length hike that they don’t need to drive to. I think it would be quite scenic, since it basically parallels the road and the views from the road are quite nice.

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