Waterton Lakes, Montana USA & Alberta Canada

Lake Locations:

Canada - Alberta - USA - West - Montana - Glacier Country -

Also known as:  Chief Mountain Lake, Knights Lake, Kootenay Lakes

“Where the mountains meet the prairies” is the motto of Waterton Lakes National Park, the home of three Waterton Lakes that straddle the Montana-Alberta, Canada border. This unique landscape is one of the very few places where the prairies meet the Rockies without the transitional foothills common in most areas. The cause was one huge geological plate over-riding another as the glaciers of the last ice age receded. This same action created the glacial trough that holds Upper Waterton Lake.

The three Waterton Lakes consist of large Upper Waterton Lake, the southernmost lake that stretches into Montana; Middle Waterton Lake, connected to Upper Waterton Lake by a narrow channel across a strip of land called The Dardanelles; and Lower Waterton Lake, a short distance downstream along the Waterton River. The three lakes have been known by several local names: big and deep Upper Waterton Lake was called “The North Big inside Lake” by the Blackfeet tribe. Others called it Chief Mountain Lake after a nearby peak. Lower Waterton Lake is also known as Knights Lake. And the group of lakes was locally known as Kootenay Lakes until recently. Because the area around the lakes became protected land early, very little farming or development has taken place in the area that is now the Waterton Lakes National Park.

There are similarities among the three Waterton Lakes: all are clear and cold due to their glacial origin. All have little plant life (oligotrophic) and support a wide variety of fish in limited numbers. However, their geology is much different. Upper Waterton Lake is the deepest lake in the Canadian Rockies, with some soundings showing a depth of 487 feet. The long seven-mile lake is narrow, only half a mile wide at its widest. Upper Waterton Lake extends across the international border into Glacier National Park in an area that can only be easily reached by water. This water access is provided by taking the tour boat from the Town of Waterton on the north shore of the lake. The cruise is popular with hikers who use it to reach either the trail head at Crypt Landing for the 5.4-mile hike to Crypt Lake or the Goat Haunt landing on the Montana end of the lake. Several hiking trails from Goat Haunt allow visitors to access spectacular sections of Glacier National Park and catch a later shuttle back to Waterton. Those planning such an excursion should be aware that they will need appropriate passports to enter the United States as a border checkpoint is located at the landing. Statistical information listed on the sidebar is for Upper Waterton Lake only, as information for the total chain in incomplete.

Once a basin of a much larger lake, 371-acre Middle Waterton Lake is more shallow, with a depth of only about 90 feet. It is separated from Upper Waterton Lake by a narrow finger of land, the result of silt from inflowing seasonal run-off. The natural channel, called the Bosporus by the locals, makes it easy for boaters to access both lakes. A campground is located along its seven-mile shoreline. The only two lakes in the park where any type of motorized boating is allowed are Upper and Middle Waterton Lakes. Both are utilized for limited power boating, water skiing and windsurfing. Water skiing is mostly limited to Middle Waterton Lake; wetsuits are recommended due to the cold waters, and skiers are warned to watch for floating logs. Because the lakes are regularly exposed to heavy wind gusts, paddle sports are not encouraged except in sheltered bays. Although the lakes are too cold for enjoyable swimming, scuba divers regularly brave the cold waters with the protection of wetsuits. A sunken paddle-wheeler in Middle Waterton Lake below the Prince of Wales Hotel draws many divers to the region. The extreme clarity of the water makes diving here an enjoyable adventure. A full-service marina on Upper Waterton Lake near the Town of Waterton provides fuel and docking facilities for boaters, along with bait for fishermen. Another lake within the National Park, Cameron Lake, rents kayaks and canoes for visitors to the park who enjoy paddle sports.

Little information is available on smaller Lower Waterton Lake. The lake is only 24 feet deep and has a shoreline of about three miles. Picnic facilities are provided on the lake, which lies along the access road to the bigger lakes. Lower Waterton Lake and Waterton River are known to be excellent bird-watching sites. Fish found in the Waterton Lakes include the following native species: lake whitefish, mountain whitefish, lake trout, bull trout (now protected), cutthroat trout, northern pike, ling (burbot), white sucker, longnose sucker, lake chub, flathead chub, spottail shiner, flathead minnow, longnose dace, spoonhead sculpin, deepwater sculpin, and pygmy whitefish. Rainbow trout, arctic grayling, lake trout, brown trout, eastern brook trout, Yellowstone cutthroat trout, and British Columbia cutthroat trout have also been introduced. Canadian 7-day fishing licenses can be purchased for a nominal fee.

Waterton Lakes National Park is primarily a warm weather destination. Waterton Lakes National Park has an unusually rich and varied number of plants for its size; the area marks the meeting of several different ecological regions. More than half of Alberta’s plant species can be found in Waterton, many of them rare or threatened. The diverse selection of plants in the park draws photographers, artists and nature-lovers annually for the Waterton Wildflower Festival in June. And the Waterton Wildlife Festival each fall corresponds with the elk rut and offers great wildlife viewing, guided hikes and lectures by naturalists. The buffalo paddock is open year-round for viewing.

Many roads in the park only open in summer. A few cross-country ski trails are available off the main road in winter; there is no downhill ski area. Waterton Lakes is about 80 miles from Lethbridge and 150 miles from Calgary. The only settlement within the park is the Town of Waterton. Here visitors will find a variety of lodging choices, from lovely resort hotels to smaller rental cabins. A few hotels are available, along with restaurants, riding stables, and rental facilities for bicycles and motor bikes. From the town, several hiking and bicycling trails lead visitors to various scenic destinations in the surrounding area. One waterfall is actually at the edge of the town itself. Several designated camping areas are available in the park, with at least one near the water’s edge. Occasionally, housing is located for sale in the town on leased land. True real estate purchase opportunities are rare; however, property for sale is sometimes located just outside the park’s boundaries.

Waterton Lakes hold a unique place in the modern history of both the United States and Canada. The area now known as Glacier National Park south of the border was first discovered and inhabited by miners, oil explorers and railroad men. At nearly the same time, nature lovers in Alberta convinced the Canadian government to designate the area north of the border as Waterton Lakes National Park. Waterton Lakes National Park was established first in 1895, with Glacier National Park on the Montana side of the border formed in 1910. However, European settlers were certainly not the first to enjoy Waterton Lakes: archeological evidence of transitory settlement here stretches back 10,000 years.

The same Great Northern Railway that facilitated development in the Glacier area built the Prince of Wales Hotel on the north shore of Middle Waterton Lake as a stop-over for visitors traveling to Jasper National Park. This hotel increased visitors to Waterton Lake National Park and in 1932, the Calgary chapter of the Rotary Club invited other Rotary chapters in the region to the hotel to discuss the possibility of a collaboration between the two countries regarding their adjoining parks. Largely through the efforts of Rotary International of Alberta and Montana, the US Congress and the Canadian Parliament in 1932 established the first international peace park – Waterton/Glacier International Peace Park. On June 18, 1932, this partnership was dedicated to world peace by Sir Charles Arthur Mander on behalf of Rotary International. The park symbolizes the bonds of peace and friendship between the people of the United States and Canada. In recent years, Waterton Lakes National Park was also listed as a biosphere reserve as part of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme in 1979. The Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A trip to Waterton Lakes is sure to delight nature lovers. It will take several days and a sturdy pair of hiking boots to see everything Waterton Lakes National Park has to offer. Call for your reservations early; the park is gaining in popularity every year. Make Waterton Lakes the centerpiece of your next holiday; the bears, the buffalo and the Bosporus await!

Things to do at Waterton Lakes

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Water Skiing
  • Scuba Diving
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Picnicking
  • Cabin Rentals
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Downhill Skiing
  • Waterfall
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • National Park

Fish species found at Waterton Lakes

  • Brook Trout
  • Brown Trout
  • Bull Trout
  • Burbot
  • Carp
  • Cutthroat Trout
  • Grayling
  • Lake Trout
  • Northern Pike
  • Pike
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Sculpin
  • Sucker
  • Trout
  • Whitefish

Waterton Lakes Photo Gallery

  • Boat Ride, Upper Waterton Lake

Waterton Lakes Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 2,496 acres

Shoreline Length: 18 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 4,199 feet

Maximum Depth: 487 feet

Trophic State: Oligotrophic

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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