Hikers, bikers bird-watchers, campers, and canoeists cannot fail to be energized by the pristine landscape that aeaits their arrival at Waterton Lakes National Park, a three-hour drive south from Calgary. For this is where the Canadian prairies meet the Rocky Mountains, where jagged layers of Precambrian bedrock catch the sun in shimmering, mineralized red and green, and where gray crags soften to join gently sloping grassland and alpine meadows. It is also where glaciers have left their mark in a series of infinity-pool-like lakes cut high among the peaks. Named for the British naturalist Charles Waterton in the early 19th century, the park covers 195 square mile (505 square kilometers ), with lakes as deep as 492 feet (150 meters), and mountains topping 9,580 feet (2,920 meters).
When summer arrives, a profusion of wildflowers carpet the meadows, including bright yellow clumps of balsam root, lady slipper orchid, pink meadowsweet, and rock jasmine. Then, when a wintery hush descends on the park wrapped in a quilt of powdery snow, elk, mule deep, and Rocky Mountaine sheep wander through Waterton village as curiously innocent visitors, and winter-sports enthusiasts take to their snowshoes, skis, or ice-climbing gear, stopping for hot cocoa or hearty soup at the Prince of Wales Hotel, a lone rustic chalet built on a bluff in 1927.