Waterton Wildfire-Two Years On

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Sep 22, 2016
Close to two years ago in late August, Waterton NP was swept by the out of control Kenow Wildfire that devastated the much of the park that we had come to know and love over many annual camping and hiking trips. We felt lucky to have been there only a few weeks earlier! At the end of July this year, we felt compelled to return for a look at the aftermath and recovery. Most of the hiking trails were still either partly closed, or relatively inaccessible due to closed roads. One thing about the closed roads though, is that they make for some great traffic free cycling.

Where the mountains meet the prairies on the road to Red Rock Canyon. One thing that makes Waterton special is the dramatic change from grasslands to mountains with very little in the way of foothills.

Other than the headwinds, it was a perfect day.

Ghostly aspens and charred conifers.

Fireweed living up to it's name.

The grasslands have recovered nicely, but the grey forests higher up bear witness.

Stunning wildflower displays just west of the burnt out Crandell campground.

Beauty amidst the devastation....


Promise of unscathed forest showing below the red slopes of Avion Ridge in the distance.

Yes, that's an e-bike. At 80'ish years young-our friends John and Betty have earned it after a lifetime of self supported cycle touring.

A nearly deserted Red Rock Canyon. Strange to see it without the tourist hordes.

Remember that headwind? Well, it made for a fast cruise back, especially when combine with the gentle downhill grade to much of the road. We are almost hoping that the road remains closed next summer for the height of the Waterton wildflower season at valley bottom, which we overshot by a couple of weeks.
After a peaceful night at the untouched Belly River campground, we hiked to Bertha Lake for the second instalment of this quickly hatched two day trip which was squeezed between two longer camping excursions.

As expected with limited options at Waterton, the 13 km round trip to Bertha Lake was very busy. Somehow I managed some shots with only my 3 companions in them.


Contrast between life and death.

Arnica doing just fine.

Jo and Betty higher up towards Bertha Lake, where switchbacks alternate between burnt and live forest. I took this while standing right at the transition.

Back into the burn.

Arriving at lakeshore to find things much as they were.

But it was close!

Most of the beargrass was done for the season, but a few stands were still prime.


Lazy flower pic, taken while sitting on a lakeside boulder eating lunch.

Lakeside flower glades. After wandering along the shoreline trail for a bit, we headed back down only to encounter even more people still heading up in the afternoon heat.

Wildflowers leading the way in nature's recovery.

Vimy Peak.

Waterton Lake stretching into Glacier NP, Montana.

Ghost forest above Waterton townsite, with the prairies beyond. Despite the sadness at seeing the scarred landscape, it was a great two days, especially so after seeing the resilience of nature. We'll be back next summer.

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Life really is better Here
Apr 20, 2013
Some of my childhood revisited albeit with skeletons surrounded by flowers.
Glad you shared and excellent shots. There are some real colorful gems there.


Feb 7, 2015
Wonderful trip report. Thank you for posting. Having kept the park essentially closed for two years it is great to get this peak into Waterton. We have envisioned that the fire melted the road thus the inability to get the park open. What do you know about the road to Cameron Lake? Seeing the rebirth of the forest after a fire is special!


Sep 22, 2016
The road to Cameron Lake reopened to non-vehicle use only on the day we hiked to Bertha Lake. If we had known that we may well have cycled it. It will close again in early September for construction, though.
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May 16, 2016
That looks like awesome cycling, are those roads closed to cars after the fire?

I love the fireweed photo next to the road, I fell in love with fireweed after driving to Alaska from Florida in 2006.

Stephanie B

Steph and Blake
Dec 7, 2017
Despite the burn, your photos really emphasize the beauty of the park. Nice job.


Sep 22, 2016
That's a lot of burn. Dang
Yes- 38,000 hectares. In American:)-148 square miles or 95,000 acres. We had been avoiding visiting as we have so many good memories of Waterton as it was, but I'm glad that we did. Change is constant in nature and fire has been part of the eco-system for millennia. The park is still beautiful- just different now. It will be interesting to see it evolve....

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