Carthew-Alderson {Waterton National Park}

Carthew-Alderson {Waterton National Park}

Carthew-Alderson

  • Distance – 20.5 km
  • Elevation – 824 meters gain, 1,187 loss
  • Type of Hike – Shuttle hike
  • Difficulty – Moderate
  • TrailheadCameron Lake
  • LogisticsShuttle required

The Carthew-Alderson hike is found in the hidden gem of Waterton National Park. The town of Waterton is snugged up against Waterton Lakes and the mountains tower all around the lake. Whenever I drive into Waterton, my blood pressure drops and a smile spreads across my mouth. The vibe of the town is quiet, happy, and storybook-esque. Kids ride around on bikes and don’t need to lock them up, deer come up to sniff you and having ice cream after dinner while walking along the lake is something you just do without question.

  • Happiness seems to be the default setting in this town.

Waterton isn’t easy to get to from where I live, so we rarely go. With Kananaskis, Banff, and Jasper closer, it doesn’t end up on the adventure plan that often, but it really should! There is basically nothing around Waterton other than glorious mountains and then Alberta prairies. In fact, the closest grocery store is about 40 minutes away in Cardston or Pincher Creek, so make sure to gather up supplies before you arrive in town! The campground is usually booked on the weekends and finding a place to stay that doesn’t cost the same as a month of mortgage payments isn’t always the easiest thing to do. This summer, I was lucky enough to land a cancellation for a tent site on the weekend, so we made the trek south to explore one of my favourite places.

First on our list was Carthew-Alderson. The last time we did Carthew-Alderson was before the 2017 Kenow Wildfire. Everything looks different as the Cameron Valley and the Akimina Parkway literally went up in smoke. It took a few years for the road to reopen and for hikes in this valley to be accessible. If you are wondering if the valley is too desolate to be beautiful after the fire, do not worry! It is extremely gorgeous and the result of the fire is that you can see more, which is a surprising benefit from the burn.

If you are looking for a wonderful hike that is visually stunning and net downhill, put Carthew-Alderson on your list. With lakes around every corner and iron-rich land that is a stunning red colour, you would have to be dead to not enjoy this day of hiking.

 

Hiking Logistics

 

In order to fully enjoy Carthew-Alderson, you should take the shuttle from the Tamarack Outdoor store. Booking is easy as you can book at the store in person or online. In 2021, the cost of the shuttle is $18+gst per person. I would highly suggest booking ahead as there is only one shuttle at 9:30 and seats do book up in advance. The great thing about doing the shuttle is that you get to see the whole valley and you end up right back in town at the end of the hike. With the town being so small, you can leave your car basically anywhere and you will be about a 10-minute walk from your car.

The shuttle for the Carthew-Alderson hike takes you up the Cameron Lake road and deposits you at the shore of Cameron Lake. Take a few moments to enjoy the beauty as you will only be by the lake for a short amount of time.

 

Hiking Details

 

Start on the trail from the lakeshore and head left around the lakeshore. You will start up switchbacks that take you up the valley wall until you reach Summit Lake.  Previous to the fire, these kilometres were in dense forest. Now due to the burn, you are able to enjoy views of the lake and the valley that were obscured before.

Cameron Lake in the morning
This is the start of the hike. The morning we started, the mountains were shrouded in clouds. Luckily, it lifted as we hiked. Take time to enjoy the lake before you start!
Carthew Alderson Hike after the wildfire
The upside of the wildfire is that you can see things now – views you never had before!

At Summit Lake, you will see a sign that restricts you from continuing around the lakeshore as that path takes you across the border and into the United States. Continue on the path that takes you away from the lake. With the lake at your back, you will start to ascend towards a ridge that will give you amazing views of Mount Alderson. Follow the well-designed trail across the valley wall and up to the red ridge. When you reach the summit of the ridge, you can go both left and right. Choose to go right first and climb up to the small peak. Incredible views surround you on all sides. The view back to the valley that you just climbed out of will most likely make your jaw drop. Views of Mount Alderson with its red, brown, and blueish stack that is unlike any mountain in the area and Carthew Lakes lie ahead. Summit Lake and what I assume to be Bertha Lake and some other tarns are behind you, as is the United States.

Summit Lake
At 4.25 km and not even 300 meters of elevation, you reach summit lake. The climbing begins after this lake.

 

Carthew Alderson Hike
Just after Summit Lakes, you get amazing views of the valley and the mountains that lead to the states. Keep climbing up the ridge for views of Carthew Lakes and Mount Alderson.
Carthew
This is the ridge that you climb up to for amazing views of Carthew Lakes and Mount Alderson. Make sure to explor both directions on the ridge.
Mount Alderson
Mount Alderson. I love the stacks of colours.

I don’t need to say it, but take a lot of pictures!

Once you’ve had a snack and drank in the views, head back along the ridge to where you first came onto the ridge and continue on the trail and start descending. Carthew Lakes are straight ahead of you as you descend.

Carthew Lakes
View of Carthew Lakes from the ridge.

 

The views continue for many more kilometres.

 

Once your feet find the shore of the first lake, you will hike around it clockwise and continue to descend and enjoy the remaining two of the three Carthew Lakes. After Carthew Lakes, you start a rocky decline. The lake below you is Alderson Lake and your final views before you plunge into the trees. To reach the shore of Alderson Lake, you have to take a small side trip. It is worth the small addition of distance (less than a kilometre round-trip, depending on how far you go around the lake).

Take the opportunity for a snack if you are hungry and to use the outhouse if you need to. There is another 6 km of rather boring terrain to finish off the day, so soak up as much of the beauty as you want before the final push back to town. The last few kilometres are completely downhill and in the trees. Due to the fire, there are a few more views, but expect to be tired and somewhat unimpressed with the final leg of your journey.

Carthew Alderson Hike
When you are about 1 km from town, the burn gives way to amazing views of Waterton Lakes and the townsite.
Cameron Falls
The end of the hike lands you at Cameron Falls. Not a bad way to end a glorious day!

With only one kilometre left, views of Waterton Lakes and the town will emerge from the burned forest. The final destination of the hike is Cameron Falls. If you want to be extremely efficient, park your car here before you start and then walk over to Tamarack Outfitters for the shuttle.

Carthew Alderson Hike
A completely full day of happiness and amazing views. Put this hike on your list of hikes to do. You won’t be sorry!

 

  • I give Carthew-Alderson 10 out of 10 stars.

It is a beautiful day and worth lingering in so many places throughout the day. The only small wrinkle is the last 6 km of the hike that is mostly in the trees. But the rest of the hike definitely makes up for it!

Note: If you want to do Carthew-Alderson as an out and back, start at Cameron Lake. Hike up to the ridge and enjoy the views of Mount Alderson and even hike down to all three Carthew Lakes, but do not go farther before turning around. From my quick estimation, this will be about 20 km roundtrip with more elevation than what I have listed above and you will descend to the lakes and then have to climb back up. But also a very beautiful day!



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