That is not a typo. International boat tour. I’m not sure how many places in the world let you take a boat tour on a freshwater lake between two different countries (Niagara Falls, I guess?). But the Waterton Shoreline Cruise Company has the unique ability to offer just that. They’re based out of the little harbor at the Waterton townsite that Elizabeth and I had parked at when we first arrived in town. Unfortunately, when the two of us arrived back at the dock, a bunch of people were already ahead of us in line to board. Maybe we weren’t going to get to sit up on the second deck of the boat after all. Elizabeth took this loss of prestigious position better than I expected, striking up a conversation with a friendly Canadian family next to us in line who couldn’t fathom how we managed to live in our country politically (they had a point).
And so it was that Elizabeth and I found ourselves on the first level of a double-decker tour cruise, seated against the left side in the back of the boat. But only after a bit of a panic, though – somebody (an idiot) had left the Canon inside the bathroom back on shore and needed to run their in a tizzy to make sure they didn’t lose their fiancee’s fancy camera inside a foreign national park. Thank god it was still there. If I’d had a minor nervous breakdown that morning, *this* would have led to a massive one. But now I could heave a sigh of relief and enjoy a sunny day on the lake.
The boat pulled out right on time. An old man with an extremely Alberta accent came over the mic to lead us through our tour. The boat pulled out through the sheltered cove the Waterton townsite is built along, which was clotted with recreational lake users who were paddleboarding, windsurfing, kayaking, or enjoying the sun on the shore (our tour guide noted the kayakers who weren’t wearing life jackets with disapproval. It was a poor choice in his eyes given the “dangerously cold waters” of Upper Waterton Lake.
Perched high above the lake on a bluff at its northern terminus was the Prince of Wales Hotel. I’m going to continue to defer going deeper into the hotel’s history for a later post (spoiler: we visited it), but its location dominating the lake really gave a sense of how much of a cultural touchstone the Prince of Wales must be to the community. It’s like the Many Glacier Hotel on steroids.
And then the boat had exited the shallow water and we were cruising through a stiff breeze on the open, brilliant blue Waterton Lake. Along the way, our tour guide kept up a steady stream of interesting information. You could learn a lot if you wanted to. You could also tune him out if you wanted, look out of the boat, and watch acres of pristine lodgepole forests pass by, along with craggy cliffs and tumbling creeks.
The whole tour lasted a little over an hour, and I honestly wouldn’t have even guessed it was that long just going purely by memory. That’s not a knock on it – the Waterton Cruise Company did a fantastic job. It just seemed to fly by.
We took the left bank (east side of the lake) southward from the townsite toward the international border, about 2/3 of the way down the length of the lake. The boat began to slowly bob as we approached the boundary. If you looked directly east or directly west, there was a noticeable scar in the otherwise pristine, unbroken pine forest – the international boundary, which by law needs to be defined even within remote stretches of some of the most beautiful national parks in North America. Human political geography at its finest.
Every so slowly, the boat drifted past the 49th parallel. I like to imagine there was some kid or oilfield worker or something who came all the way down to Waterton from Edmonton or Dawson’s Creek, and this was their first time actually entering the United States. What a funny way to say you’d traveled internationally!
The cruise no longer goes all the way to the end of the lake. Previously, it ended up near the Goat Haunt region at the head of Waterton Lake, where you could see a glacier on the north face of one of the remote peaks of northern Glacier Park. Unfortunately, tighter border regulations and the disappearance of that glacier have taken that off the board. So instead, we cruised from the east shoreline to the west shoreline just on the other side of the American border toward an obelisk planted on the shoreline of the International Peace Park.
And after our brief 5 minute sojourn, we were back into a country with free healthcare.
Up on the top of the cruise boat, employees tried to get people to give up their seats so that everyone who wanted to could take a chance up top. Understandably, most people up top were unimpressed by the pleas to give up their obviously superior seats, but a steady trickle of one or two people managed to get up top. By some chance, a person happened to come down without a replacement and an employee asked me if I wanted to go up top. I couldn’t possibly abandon Elizabeth though, right? She saw right through my half-hearted altruism and told me to go up top. The wind whipped through my hair as I sat in the crow’s nest, treated to an even more panoramic view of the beautiful Waterton Valley and colorful mountains around.
The boat brought us back with the wind toward the Waterton townsite, hugging the western bank of the lake. This gave me a close-up view of the burn scars from the raging fires of previous years. It was stark – instead of a lush green carpet, these mountains were purple with barren rock covered in pimply dead trees. It was an interesting perspective on the natural cycle of burning and regrowth in the northern alpine woods. Are we doing more harm than good to the ecosystem by protecting these swaths of land and preserving the lush views for our own vainglories viewing? It’s a troubling thought – that maybe national parks, far from protecting, are only serving the enjoyment of the people. I think this will be a big question over the next two decades out west as the parks get more overcrowded.
My introspection was brought to an end by the boat arriving back at the Waterton harbor. I linked back up with my fiancee and we walked off the boat together to go to the car. Today’s lunch spot was exceeded in fame only by the funniness of its name – Wieners of Waterton.