The Bear’s Hump is a fun hike on the edge of Waterton Park (in Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta.) The hike is short and steep, climbing up to a knob that juts out on the south side of Mount Crandell. This hike is close to town, not too difficult and finishes with spectacular views over Waterton Lakes; This makes it very popular! If you go early in the morning (or late in the afternoon) you may avoid the worst of the crowds.
Some adventures are popular for a reason and even if this trail is busy, the amazing effort-to-view-ratio makes it completely worth the steep steps up!
Bear’s Hump Map
Bear’s Hump – the basics
Elevation gain: 220m
High Point: 1520m just before the viewpoint
Time: 30 mins – 1 hour (to give you an idea, strava said we were moving for 40mins, not really rushing.)
What to bring: The 10 essentials, and bring bear spray
Facilities: No facilites, but it is on the edge of town where there are shops, loos and visitor information.
Dogs: Dogs are allowed (on leash)
How hard is it? Easy-ish. This is a great hike for kids and easy to follow. Having said that, it IS steep and will feel tough if you don’t hike regularly. Most people will be able to manage it – you may need to stop and rest on the benches as you hike up.
Extra notes: This trail had to be completely rebuilt after the 2017 Kenow Wildfire. Be prepared to see plenty of burned trees. The trail is in great shape.
Bear’s Hump – Getting Started
The trailhead is easy to find, just outside the Waterton Townsite. The parking lot is opposite the entrance to the Prince of Wales Hotel (on the west side of the road.) The trail starts from the center of the parking area.
The path zig-zags up 200m of elevation gain in just over a kilometer. If you are used to hiking on Canadas west coast, it’s steep, but not terrible. The switch-backs make it manageable, but expect your calf muscles to feel those steps.
Prince of Wales views
There are a few spots where the burnt trees open up to show off the Prince of Wales Hotel. This is a Canadian National Historic site, built in 1927 by the railway as part of a chain of lodges. I have heard this is a great spot for afternoon tea. We never made it there at the right time as we were too busy hiking every afternoon!
There are two benches on the way up. Each bench is 1⁄3 of the way up, so you can use it as a marker for how much further you need to go.
Wildlife on the Bear’s Hump
Considering this is such a short trail, we saw quite a lot of wildlife! We met a few deer as well as a ptarmigan with two chicks. This is one of the advantages to hiking early in the morning, before they get scared off.
Chipmunk vs Ground Squirrel
If you’re lucky you might get to see chipmunks or golden mantled ground squirrels. Chippies are smaller, move super fast and they have stripes on their faces (as well as their backs.) Ground squirrels are larger and don’t have stripes on their faces.
As always: “Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters their natural behaviors and exposes them to predators and other dangers.” (from leave no trace website.) If you hike here, please resist their fuzzy charms and don’t feed the critters.
Waterton Lakes is known in Canada as the National Park where the Mountains meet the prairies. The other hikes we did were all a little further into the mountains, but the Bear’s Hump is great for showing off just how flat Alberta grasslands are beyond the Rockies.
Bear’s hump views
Once you’ve made it up, there is an area of flat rocks where you can sit, eat and enjoy the gorgeous views south into Waterton Lakes and beyond into Galcier National Park (in Montana.) The mountains you can see below are Vimy Peak, Mount Boswell, Goat Haunt Ridge and Mount Cleveland (the highest peak in Glacier National Park – 3190m.)
If you go to the edge of the hump, you can look down to see the whole of the Waterton Park townsite. It’s pretty cool to see that half the town is a giant campsite.
This is the view looking west. That is the valley that we hiked down along the fabulous Carthew Alderson trail. Bertha Peak (left), Mount Carthew (middle) and Buchanan Peak (right.)
This is the view south to the west side of the lake. That is Mount Richards (left) and Mount Bertha (right). The hike to Bertha Lake goes up to the shoulder between those two.
Why is it called Bear’s hump?
Waterton Lakes is the traditional territory and a place of significance for the Blackfoot confederacy; Made up of the Siksika, Piikani and Kanai nations. Before indigenous people were removed from this land, to make way for the National Park, this area was known as Paahtómahksikimi. Mount Crandell was known as the Great Bear Mountain by the Piikani nation. They have a story about the origins of Waterton Lake being from a giant furious bear who dug massive trenches for the lakes and piled up earth and rocks to create the surrounding mountains. When the bear fell asleep, he was turned into Mount Crandell. You can read the story here. You can learn more about Piikani people here.
To return, just retrace your steps back down the switchbacks that you hiked up.
Breakfast at the summit, or waffles?
We considered bringing breakfast up to eat on the top of the Bear’s Hump BUT we were also keen to try some waffles (from the brilliantly named Waffleton restaurant.) In the end we decide to save ourselves for waffles. If you are hiking up early in the morning this was a perfect reward for this mini hike!
The Bear’s hump is such a fun mini hike! It is steep, and later in the day it will be hot, so I recommend giving this one a go early in the morning before the heat and the crowds. Even if you are not a hiker, this view is worth the steps!