Let's be honest. You don't really need an excuse to make it to Waterton Lakes National Park in the South Western corner of Alberta, Canada. The scenery there is so breathtaking, the air so fresh, and the water so spectacular that you have to make at least one pilgrimage in a lifetime to this place. It is a "bucket-list" visit.
The Two Cowboys had an excuse. We came for the breathtaking scenery. But, it was the food and the people that made us want to stay.
In 1858 Lt. Thomas Blakiston, originally a member of the Palliser Expedition, embarked on an expedition of his own looking for a railway pass through the mountains. On his journey, he encountered members of the Kutenai tribe who told him of the South Kootenay Pass. Taking their advice, Blakiston re-crossed the divide, traveling along what would later be called Blakiston (Pass) Creek and out to a chain of three large lakes.
On September 6, 1858, he wrote: "After two hours traveling on level ground along Red-stone creek (Red-Rock) we emerged on the Saskatchewan plains, just six geographical miles north of the 49th parallel and camped at the lakes... The scenery here is grand and picturesque...."
Blakiston named the lakes "Waterton", after British naturalist Charles Waterton, although the locals continued to call them Kootenay Lakes for many years after.
The Waterton Park Chamber of Commerce hosted the second annual Food Festival for the town. The Cowboy News Network managed to get an invite. It all happened on the last weekend of May and the first of June, 2016.
For a town with less than one hundred permanent residents, we found Waterton surprisingly busy for late Spring. Locals tell us it is because they've had less snow this year. The warm weather drives people to make the trip. Wait until July to September, and you will have to share it with 600,000 other motivated visitors.
The business owners, many who don't overwinter in Waterton, usually open their doors beginning May to prepare fresh coffee, wieners, pie, ice cream and great Alberta fried chicken. This year it was no exception, and the Food Festival added incentive to get the cobwebs out, and the systems working early for when the really big crowds arrive. It all shuts down in October again.
The town was already bustling with tourist from all over North America and Europe when we arrived. A fair amount of people from Lethbridge, the nearest "big town", made it out for the festival too. "Local knowledge" dictates that you have to get your Waterton fill in June, else risk being stampeded and trampled during summer.
What more do you want in a holiday place that nature, friends and food? Waterton has plenty of it all. For our trip, the food was definitely outstanding. The Pie Cruise stood out as the highlight. You get to sample creative baking from local establishments, while cruising on the lake towards Montana. Even the eateries that don't serve pie baked for this trip.
We were glad to finally make our first trip to Waterton Lakes National Park. Rest assured, we now have a good excuse to do many, many more. Now, we know the locals...
Hendrik van Wyk
Waterton Pie Enthusiast
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