Saturday, October 5, 2013

Waterton Lakes National Park – The Crown of the Continent

The following is a guest blog by Angie Picardo:

As a part of the Crown of the Continent ecosystem, the Waterton Lakes National Park covers 195 square miles in southwest Alberta, Canada. Featuring rugged mountains and panoramic prairie views, the park is home to incredibly diverse wildlife and plant life, and offers a wide variety of activities for visitors to enjoy.


Geological Significance

Located at the southern portion of the Rocky Mountains Natural Region, Waterton Lakes National Park is situated at the ancient mountain range’s abrupt end as they meet the prairie regions to the south. Because of the Lewis thrust fault’s geologic influence on the landscape, Waterton Lakes National Park boasts some of the oldest exposed sedimentary rock in the Canadian Rockies – some dating back as far as 1.5 billion years ago. The iron-rich rock layers – called argillite – create vivid green and red bands resulting from various levels of oxidation.

Plant and Animal Life

Waterton is especially important as a wildlife refuge due to its location and inclusion of a wide variety of ecosystems – prairie, Rocky Mountain, and coastal zones all overlap within the park’s borders. Forty-five different habitat types are represented, including grasslands, shrub lands, wetlands, lakes, spruce-fir, alpine areas, and pine and aspen forests. Many of the park’s thousand-plus vascular plant species are rare or threatened, and the vegetation provides homes for over 60 species of mammals and 250 species of birds. Large predators native to the park include wolf, cougar, coyote, grizzly bear, and American black bear.

Things To Do

Three campgrounds are operated by the Parks system within Waterton, including Townsite Campground, Crandell Campground, and Belly River Campground. A number of scenic parkways wind through the Park that can be explored by bike or by car. Red Rock Parkway offers some of the best views of Waterton’s mountains rising out of the prairie, lined with spectacular wildflowers in early summer months. Akamina Parkway cuts through mountain passes and ends at Cameron Lake, a beautiful destination that offers boat rental and interpretive exhibits. For visitors interested in seeing bison herds, Bison Paddock Loop Road cuts through the animals’ natural grassland habitat. Park rangers recommend that visitors stay inside their vehicle when bison are present.

A number of activities are available for the adventurous traveler. Waterton includes some fantastic opportunities for mountain biking, kayaking, tubing, canoeing, ice and rock climbing, horseback riding, and windsurfing. Hikes range from easy strolls to more strenuous climbs – an easy walk through Blakiston Falls is a favorite, as is the Alderson-Carthew Trail.

With its incredible range of wildlife, unique ecosystems, and stunning landscapes, Waterton Lakes National Park is well worth a visit. Spring brings beds of wildflowers, with over 30 species covering the hillsides and prairies. Bertha Trail is especially stunning for its variety and vibrancy of flowers. Late summer and fall are especially good wildlife viewing times, and birds are most numerous in late fall when large numbers of migratory birds pass through the park. For those looking to avoid the crowds, the park is busiest in July and August – but ample space guarantees a relaxing escape regardless of the season.


Angie Picardo is a staff writer, financial analyst, and content manager at NerdWallet.com, a site dedicated to empowering consumers to save money and make smarter decisions about their personal finances, travel plans, or higher education.


Jeff
Hiking in Glacier.com

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