On top of the world

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Canada - JIM BY­ERS

I am gasp­ing for air on a late morn­ing hike up what’s called Bear’s Hump, a 245m rise that seem­ingly goes straight up an im­pos­ing piece of Rocky Moun­tains stone out­side the town of Water­ton in Al­berta.

There are glo­ri­ous rock faces, tiny yel­low flow­ers and deep green, aro­matic Pon­derosa pines. But there’s also a se­ries of switch­backs and steep, rough-hewn stairs to climb and knotty tree roots to watch out for as I strug­gle up­wards on this per­fect day. I pass a fam­ily whose son, who looks to be about six, is run­ning out of pa­tience and cry­ing for the hike to end. But com­ing the other way are sev­eral fam­i­lies with kids about as young as four. My age­ing knees aren’t in the shape they used to be, but I’m not about to let a four-year-old whis­tle his way down the hill while I try to catch my breath. So I clam­ber on.

Af­ter about a half-hour of steady climb­ing, I scram­ble out on to a mas­sive form of pale white-grey rock. And then I truly gasp. Be­low is a dark blue lake that stretches to the south into Mon­tana and be­yond. On both sides, jagged black peaks, still pock­marked by win­ter’s snow, rise into the sum­mer sky.

Water­ton Lakes Na­tional Park, only two hours south of Cal­gary, doesn’t get nearly the at­ten­tion of its high­pro­file cousins to the north, such as Banff or Jasper. Over af­ter­noon tea at the Prince of Wales, a ho­tel that sits high on a bluff com­mand­ing a stun­ning view of the lake, I ask gen­eral man­ager Bill Young about the park. “We have 20 or maybe 30 res­i­dents in win­ter,” he says, “and there’s no Gucci and no Prada.”

I also take two spec­tac­u­lar drives. The first is a quick trip through a tran­quil canyon on the Akam­ina Park­way, flanked by mas­sive moun­tains to check out Cameron Lake. It’s a beau­ti­ful body of wa­ter backed by the zigzag peaks of Mt Custer. A cou­ple of kids are swimming, oth­ers are fish­ing or zip­ping about in kayaks. Next day I opt for a moped and take the road to Red Rock Canyon. I pass ex­posed walls of red­dish stone, tow­er­ing moun­tains and shad­owed forests where thin rib­bons of wa­ter tum­ble from melt­ing snowcaps. The val­ley floor is car­peted with bril­liant laven­der and yel­low wild­flow­ers, and cars roll past me ev­ery few min­utes. The canyon, about 30m deep, is filled with rock that’s been smoothed by years of run­ning creek wa­ter and is shaded by tall pines.

Next morn­ing I ven­ture to Water­ton Lakes Golf Club; I don’t have a tee time but that doesn’t mat­ter. It’s $C70 ($72.80), in­clud­ing a cart, and I’m told I can play 18 holes now, then come back af­ter lunch for another 18 if I feel like it, and at no ex­tra cost. I tell the woman be­hind the counter in the pro shop that I don’t have proper golf at­tire. She laughs. “We only have two rules here … no mus­cle shirts and no vis­i­ble butt cracks.”

I get in a quick 18 on a course that has sev­eral chal­leng­ing holes, great moun­tain views and lots of coun­try charm. Even more scenic is a ride on one of the Water­ton Shore­line Cruise Com­pany boats that ply Water­ton Lake. I choose the sunset cruise, which in­cludes a stop at a cus­toms fa­cil­ity (closed for the night) on the US side of the lake in this In­ter­na­tional Peace Park where both Cana­di­ans and Amer­i­cans have a say in man­ag­ing things. It’s a stun­ning ride, glid­ing along a nar­row lake be­low snow-capped moun­tains of an­cient stone in the gath­er­ing dusk.

Prince of Wales Ho­tel of­fers stun­ning views of Water­ton Lakes Na­tional Park

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