Bertha Lake – Waterton Lakes

Bertha Lake – Waterton Lakes

Bertha Lake is a relatively easy to reach alpine lake close to Waterton Park (in Waterton Lakes National Park, Canada.) We visited on a gloomy day, yet the colours of the lake were still amazing; The mix of turquoise glacial water and ruby coloured argillite rocks made it look like various shades of gemstones. The far end of the lake is dominated by an enormous limestone cliff between Mount Richards (south) and Mount Alderson (to the northwest). This is a colourful, wildlife-filled hike that will take about half a day. We chose it as a gentle introduction to hiking in Waterton Lakes, and I am so glad we did!

Bertha Lake Map

Bertha Lake – the basics

Distance: 16-17 km (if you do the loop around the lake) 12km (to the lake and back)
Elevation gain: 650m (with the loop around the lake) 600m (to the lake and back)
High Points
: 1800m (halfway around the lake)
Time: 5-6 hours (including the loop around the lake.)
What to bring: The 10 essentials, and bring bear spray
Facilities: Campground and facilities at the trailhead. Loos at the campground at Bertha Lake.
Dogs: Dogs are allowed (on leash)
How hard is it? Intermediate. It is easy to follow but might be hard if you are not used to hiking 15+km in a day.
Extra notes: This hike is often snow-free before others in the area. So if you are hiking in the late spring/early summertime, it may still be reachable.

Bertha Lake – Getting Started

The trailhead starts at the edge of the Waterton Park campground. You can read my description of the first part of the hike (3km) to Lower Bertha Falls here. After the waterfall; Hike up the switchbacks up the side of Mount Richards.

Time for switchbacks

The part of this hike that will get your heart pumping is between Lower Bertha Falls and the lake. You climb almost 350m in elevation over 2.3km. It’s not a technical path, and there are plenty of chances to look back down to Waterton Lakes while you catch your breath.

There are views of the spectacular Upper Bertha Falls through the trees as you climb up the switchbacks to the hanging lake.

Beautiful Bertha Lake

Once you make it up, Bertha Lake is lovely. The edges of the lake are quite shallow, so good for a paddle or a swim if you don’t mind the cold.

Hike around Bertha Lake

Once you’ve done the hard work of hiking up, I recommend continuing around the lake. There is a well-defined path around Bertha Lake (extra 4.5km) that will get you up close to the surrounding mountains and incredible cliffs.

The 500m high cliffs (Mount Richards) at the southwest side of the lake are magnificent.

We stopped for a snack at the far side of the lake, under the cliffs. It is a good spot to sit and wait to see pikas or marmots.

We met a marmot who had decided to relax on the rocks and watch us for a while. He was such a chilled dude.

Geology of Bertha Lake

As you hike up and around Bertha Lake, you can clearly see the layers and layers of sedimentary rocks. Waterton Lakes has some of the oldest exposed sedimentary rock in the Canadian Rockies. These were overturned in a giant thrust fault, called the Lewis thrust, that pushed up the ancient rocks (1.5 billion year old) and extruding them above the younger (75 million year old) Cretaceous rock.

Red Rocks of Bertha Lake

Once you reach the lake, you’ll notice that some of the rocks are a bright red/pink colour. This is argillite. It’s a sedimentary rock that is made from mud that didn’t have quite enough pressure or heat to turn it into slate. The red colour is due to oxidized iron as there must have been an overabundance of oxygen when these rocks were formed. You can read more about the cool geology of Waterton Lakes here.

What’s in the name?

Bertha Lake (and then Bertha Peak) were named after a local legend, Bertha Ekelund in 1914. A Land Surveyor, Morrison Parsons Bridgland, who was responsible for naming lots of mountains in Alberta, was stationed in Waterton. He became smitten with Ms Ekelund, so re-named it “Bertha Lake.” Bertha later became notorious for writing fake doctor’s notes prescribing alcohol during prohibition.

Original Blackfoot names

Waterton Lakes is the traditional territory and a place of significance for Niitsítapi (or Blackfoot) people. Before indigenous people were removed from this land, to make way for the National Park, this area was known as Paahtómahksikimi. The area was used for ceremonies but also for collecting berries, plants for medicine and animal meats (including bison). The Blackfoot name for Bertha Peak is Akiiohtaikiistakoo meaning woman spirit mountain. The Canadian government is starting to involve first nations in management and education within national parks, but there is still a long way to go for reconciliation.

Heading back

Once you are ready to return, take the same switchbacks down to Bertha Falls and beyond to Waterton Park.

Burned trees

As I mentioned in my previous post about Bertha Falls; Waterton Lakes National Park was severely affected by the Kenow Wildfire in 2017. The fire burned 35,000 hectares, including over 19,000 within Waterton Lakes National Park. This means you’ll see plenty of skeleton-like white trees as you hike back down the trail.

After the wildfire, lots of new archeology was discovered around Waterton Lakes. If you are interested in it, you can read more here. For hikers, although it is sad to see so many trees destroyed – it’s also very cool to see how quickly nature bounces back.

I’ll finish with a couple of panoramas of the beautiful Bertha Lake. Gorgeous eh!?

It was such a dreary day when we woke up, that I wasn’t expecting to be too impressed by Bertha Lakes. I expected the trail to take us into mist and be very gloomy. Instead, Bertha Lake was enchanting and simply gorgeous. On sunny days it must be even more spectacular!

28 thoughts on “Bertha Lake – Waterton Lakes

  1. I was just in Waterton last week! I hadn’t visited Water since the fire and was astonished to see all the burned trees. Bear Hump use to feel like it was deep within the woods, and now, barren (yet beautiful). I will check out this hike next time I am in the area.

    1. Oooh I have only been after the fire, so I had never seen the bear hump through the trees – it must have been so much more lush! I’ll write about that walk soon too. 🙂

  2. This is quite a walk with the altitude change but I think I’d love to do it for the chance of seeing a marmot.

  3. Wow, Bertha Lake is beautiful! I can’t believe how clear the water is, even on a gloomy day! I would really like to hike this to experience the stunning view.

  4. Wow – Bertha lake is absolutely stunning, even with the not-so-perfect weather. The altitude would be a challenge, but it looks like the views are absolutely worth it.

    1. Thanks Pam! There was a bit of elevation gain, but not enough to get anything like altitude sickness. At worst, you might end up with tired legs.

  5. I’m so bummed we missed Waterton Lakes on our national park road trip in Alberta/BC. I think we’re going back next summer – this hike is just incredibly beautiful.

    1. I think most people skip it; It was MUCH quieter than Banff, and even Jasper. I hope you make it next time. It’s a fabulous area…

  6. Spectacular Canadian nature! I haven’t made it to the Alberta area yet. Now I must! Nice wildlife capture of the marmot. 🙂

  7. Oh! Turns out I have done this hike, ages ago! With the burnt trees it looked so different. Lovely guide

  8. This scenery is absolutely stunning! The way the rocks reflect off of the lake is just gorgeous. Going to definitely add this to my hiking bucket list! 🙂

    1. It’s really cool the way the reflections mix with the blues of the glacial water and the reds of the rocks eh!? I’ve never seen anything like it. <3

  9. These are stunning photos! After reading all your recommendations I’ll have to add these to my travel bucket list. Thank you for sharing!

  10. I grew up camping in Waterton Park every summer but haven’t experienced this hike. The next time I go home to visit my parents, this hike is on my list!

    1. Oooh I’d be really interested to hear what your favorites hikes are in the area Jolayne? We loved Rowe Lakes/ Mount Lineham and the Carthew Anderson Trail as well as Bertha Lakes. But there were several others I was really keen to see (like Crypt Lake…) It seemed like the whole area is stunning!

  11. this post came at the perfect time! I just booked a trip to the area..while we only have one day at Waterton, I might try for part of this hike.l don’t love the switchbacks..but you’ve convinced me I have to find a way to make it work! thanks!

    1. Oooh nice! If you only have a single day and you don’t have time for this, the bears hump might be a good option too. It’s only about an hour and it has amaaazing views.

  12. Wow, those reflections are simply out-of-this-world!! There’s something about glacial water that is simply pristine and stunning, and combined with the colours of those rocks.. beautiful!

  13. Ahhh, your photos look magical!! <3 That's awesome that it was this beautiful even on a dreary day! I'm adding this to my "someday" list too (legit will need multiple-multiple trips up there to get to all the places I wanna go, haha — I need more vacation time!!).

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: