Carthew-Alderson Hike- Waterton Lakes National Park

Purchases made through links earn us a small commission, at no extra cost to you.

The Carthew-Alderson Trail has a reputation for being one of the most beautiful hikes in Waterton Lakes National Park. On this long day hike, the trail passes through various picturesque landscapes including subalpine forests and meadows, argillite scree slopes, a high ridge, and a pair of lakes nestled in a mountain-framed valley.

Carthew Alderson Trail leading towards the mountain-framed  Carthew Lakes.

Since the Carthew-Alderson hike is a point to point trail, starting at Cameron Lake and ending in the town of Waterton, two vehicles are required for transportation to and from the trailheads, or you can buy a ticket for the hiker shuttle to Cameron Lake and then walk back to your accommodations in town.

Carthew Lakes nested in a mountain valley.
Carthew Lakes

Carthew-Alderson Hike

Distance: 19.5 km

Difficulty: Strenuous (for the first half of the hike and because of the length)

Elevation Gain: 725 m

Surface: Dirt and rock

Trail Type: Point to point

Time: 7- 8 hours

Trailhead: Cameron Lake. You could also start at the other end of the trail in town by Cameron Falls, but this would make the hike steeper (the townsite is about 365 m lower than Cameron Lake).

Track log/map of the Carthew Alderson hike.
Track log/map of Carthew-Alderson Trail

Carthew-Alderson Trail Description

Most people start hiking Carthew-Alderson Trail from Cameron Lake since there’s a commercial shuttle bus that transports hikers to this trailhead. The driver will drop you off at the sidewalk that leads to the lake. To find the trailhead, turn left at the boat rental building. On GPS apps, the trail you want to follow is labelled the “Great Divide Trail”.

Red bear statue and signs at Cameron Lake.
Turn left here for the trailhead

To start off, you will be walking along a regular sidewalk. You’ll soon come to a wood bridge crossing Cameron Creek where you can get a nice view of Cameron Lake.

Sidewalk and picnic table at the Carthew Alderson trailhead.
Wooden bridge.
Cameron Lake surrounded by mountains.

After the bridge, the sidewalk ends and the path turns to follow along the lakeshore. There’s also a sign giving distances to points of interest along Carthew-Alderson Trail.

Sign with distances at the Carthew Alderson trailhead.
Trail beside Cameron Lake.

During the first segment of this hike, the trail ascends into the forest beside Cameron Lake, becoming steeper after the first switchback. The vegetation is quite lush at first, but later the trail passes through an area affected by the 2017 Kenow Wildfire.

Forested trail.
Lush plants crowding the trail.
Trail in the forest.

Now that the trail has gained some elevation, there are decent views of Cameron Lake and its surrounding mountains. Before the fire the views would have been more obstructed.

View of Cameron Lake and the mountains.
View of Cameron Lake through the trees.

As the trail continues uphill through the forest you’ll see a lot of shrubs and perhaps some wildflowers, depending on the time of year. There are also more views of the mountains and Cameron Lake to enjoy.

Plants and dead trees along the trail.
Small purple wildflowers.
View of Cameron Lake and mountains from Carthew Alderson Trail.

At the top of the switchbacks the trail levels out for an easy walk through an open forest. Here you’ll see plenty of dead, charred trees and distant mountain peaks.

Trail with a short bridge leading to an area of burned trees.
Trail in an open forest with burned trees and a mountain in the distance.

This part of the trail is also a good opportunity to see wildflowers, including creamy white bear grass which only blooms every 5-7 years.

Bear grass in bloom.
Bear grass in bloom
Pink wildflowers.

Following the trail, the next notable landmark you’ll come to is a large red rock wedged between a group of dead trees.

A red rock and burned trees.

Ahead the trail makes a descent and Summit Lake comes into view between gaps in the trees. Soon you’ll arrive at a signed junction and a short path that leads to the lakeshore. This is a good place to rest before the upcoming ascent.

Summit Lake with mountains in the background.
Path leading to the shore of Summit Lake.

Once you’re ready to continue hiking Carthew-Alderson Trail, head north from Summit Lake. The trail sign indicates that it’s 3.6 km to Carthew Summit, the highest point on this hike.

Trail sign with path.

The next segment of trail makes a lengthy, gradual ascent through more open forest. You’ll be able to see some peaks, but as you gain elevation more of the mountains will be revealed.

Dead trees beside a path going uphill toward a mountain.
Burned trees with mountains in the background.

Once you get higher up, it’s worth stopping every so often to enjoy the surrounding mountain views. Don’t forget to look back, because the scenery is especially pretty in this direction.

Path with dead trees and mountains in the background.
The view when looking back
Path with mountains in the background.
Looking back higher up on the trail

Keep following the path until the barren ridge of Carthew Summit comes into full view. That is where you’ll be heading next via a trail that runs below Buchanan Ridge.

Carthew Ridge between two peaks.
Dead trees in the valley below the ridge.
View of the trail below the ridge

The path now heads north toward Buchanan Ridge. A word of caution- even in late July there can be a significant amount of snow at this part of the hike. 

Snow on the trail.

If snow is overhanging from the small hill beside the trail (a cornice), it’s best to make a wide detour staying above the snow line, then descend to rejoin the trail once you get beyond the snow.

Snow on the trail.
Snow bank with a trail and dead trees in the background.
Here you can see the trail you’d need to get back on
Hikers on Carthew Alderson Trail walking toward a mountain.
Looking back at the main trail below the snow-covered hill

Now begins the long journey across the slope of Buchannan Ridge toward Carthew Summit. First, you’ll pass through an area with some dead trees and exposed rocks. Watch for marmots as they sometimes hang out here.

Trail with Carthew Ridge in the background.
Rocky trail going through an area of dead trees.
Hoary marmot on a rock in the forest.
A marmot on a rock

Further ahead there are fewer trees and the trail crosses a scree-covered slope of red argillite. There’s no shade from the heat of the sun, but the views are wonderful, especially of the small turquoise lake in the distance. 

Trail crossing a slope toward Carthew Ridge.
Hiker on a scree covered slope.
Mountain with a turquoise lake at its base.

Next, the trail switchbacks up a rocky slope between two peaks on the ridge. Extra paths have been created by people shortcutting up the hill, but it’s best to stay on the switchbacks to prevent unnecessary erosion. You’ll notice yellow/orange posts marking the correct trail.

Trail going up the red rock slope below the ridge.
A trail marker indicates the way

Again, it’s worth it to stop once in a while during the ascent to appreciate the diverse alpine scenery.

View of a distant alpine lake and mountain range.
Trail with a meadow and mountain range in the background.
Trail crossing a slope below a ridge with mountains in the background.
View of the trail on the slope you just crossed

At the top of the switchbacks, you’ll have reached Carthew Summit/Carthew Ridge, the highest point on the Carthew-Alderson hike. From here you can enjoy 360-degree views of peaks in Waterton Lakes National Park and the nearby Glacier National Park.

Colourful rocky mountains as seen from the ridge.
Mountains seen from the ridge.
Ridge with mountain peaks in the background.

It can be really windy on the ridge, so most hikers continue down to the Carthew Lakes before stopping for a lunch break. 

Follow the trail that goes left along the ridge (watch for markers) and soon you’ll get a nice view of the Carthew Lakes framed by multi-coloured mountains. Way off in the background you can see the prairies. 

Hiker walking along the red-rock ridge.
Trail on the ridge.
View of the Carthew Lakes in a mountain-framed valley.

The rest of the hike is literally all downhill from here, so although it’s long, it’s not difficult as the elevation gain is behind you.

Keep on the trail as it descends toward the Carthew Lakes. On a hike with so many pretty views, this is one of the best.

Carthew Lakes nestled between mountains.
Carthew Alderson Trail leading down towards a mountain and the Carthew Lakes.
Carthew Alderson Trail leading towards the Carthew Lakes.

At the first Carthew Lake, the trail proceeds across a grassy area then along the far shoreline. As you hike along the shore you can see different shades of blue in the lake.

Trail crossing the grass near the shore of Upper Carthew Lake.
Trail on the rocky shoreline of Upper Carthew Lake.

At the end of the first lake, the trail passes through an area with grass, short trees, shrubs, and rocks. You’ll also pass a small waterfall and stream linking the Carthew Lakes. 

Trail leading through a grassy area toward a mountain.
Waterfall framed by rocks.
Lower Carthew Lake with mountains in the background.
Lower Carthew Lake

If you haven’t seen a marmot on the hike yet, this part of the trail could be another opportunity as they like to hang out in rocky areas.

Hoary marmot on a rocky ledge.

Continue following the path toward the second Carthew Lake. Soon you’ll come to another waterfall beside the trail. At this point, it’s a little confusing where to go because there’s an obvious trail that crosses in front of the waterfall, but also a less obvious path on the left going down toward the lake. 

Carthew Alderson Trail leading toward Lower Carthew Lake.

If you’re following a GPS hiking app, it’ll show the trail veering left toward the lake. If you end up keeping straight at the waterfall, you can still make your way down to the lake.

Heading left to stay on track, you’ll go downhill through an area of trees before reaching the second Carthew Lake. Here there’s a junction with the Mount Alderson Route and a sign welcoming you to the Carthew Lakes at 2156 m elevation. 

View of Lower Carthew Lake from the trail.
Trail sign that says "Carthew Lakes 2156 m".
Trail descending a hill.
Looking back at the descent from the waterfall

At the junction, turn left to stay on the Great Divide Trail that hugs the shore of the lake. 

Trail on the shoreline of Lower Carthew Lake.
Lower Carthew Lake backed by a mountain.

After walking down the shoreline, the path passes through a small area of trees and comes to a clearing with mountain views. 

Rocky trail leading toward an area of small trees.
Trail in a clearing on a hill.
Carthew Alderson Trail leading downhill toward a mountain valley.

From this spot look right to see a gorgeous view of Alderson Lake, the next destination on this hike.

Distant view of Alderson Lake at the foot of Mount Alderson.

Follow the steep, rocky trail downhill. It will make a sharp turn then Alderson Lake comes into view in the distance. 

Rocky trail going down a steep hill.
Trail going down into a mountain valley.

The trail continues downhill into the valley and eventually comes to a towering waterfall splashing down a wall of rock. Its height is quite impressive!

Trail in a valley surrounded by mountains.
Tall waterfall flowing down a rock wall.

Beyond the waterfall, the path keeps going towards Alderson Lake at the foot of Mount Alderson. Closer to the lake the trail swings left and descends to an alpine meadow with more fantastic mountain views.

Trail leading towards Alderson Lake and Mount Alderson.
Carthew Alderson Trail crossing a meadow toward a mountain range.

After the meadow the trail heads into the forest, offering a final elevated view of Alderson Lake before moving into a denser area of trees.

Trail beside Alderson Lake.

As the trail descends through the treed valley, you’ll have a nice view of a mountain straight ahead. It won’t be long until you arrive at a marked side trail that goes to the backcountry campground at Alderson Lake, if you want to detour for a closer look at the water.

Trail in the forest leading toward a distant mountain.
Trail in the forest.
Sign for Alderson Lake and Waterton.

Keep straight to make your way back to the Waterton townsite. This last segment of the Carthew-Alderson hike is a long walk in the forest, but occasionally there are good views of mountains on the way.

Stream in the forest.
Trail in the forest with mountain views.
Yellow wildflowers beside the trail.

At some points along this stretch of Carthew-Alderson Trail, the vegetation has really crowded the path. While you don’t have to “bushwhack” to find your way, it can be uncomfortable to have plants rubbing against your arms and legs.

Plants growing over the trail.

Eventually, the trail once again passes through a part of the forest that was burned by wildfire. A lot of new plant life has sprouted up bringing colour to the landscape.

Hiker on Carthew Alderson Trail with mountains and dead trees.

Nearing the end of the hike, Akamina Parkway comes into view, and later so does Upper and Middle Waterton Lake and the townsite. 

Trail with burned trees and a mountain.
Akamina Parkway across the valley
Trail heading toward the town of Waterton and Upper Waterton Lake.

Once you reach the part of the trail with a fence blocking people from going down to Cameron Creek you’ll know the hike is almost over. 

Fence beside the trail.

After one last set of descending switchbacks, you’ll arrive at Cameron Falls at the edge of town. From here it’s a short walk to the townsite campground and hotels.

Cameron Falls.

Review of the Carthew-Alderson Hike

Carthew-Alderson Trail is definitely deserving of the high praise it receives, so it’s easy to see why it’s a favourite hike of Waterton locals. 

Carthew Alderson Trail with dead trees and mountains in the distance.

There’s so much scenic variety to keep things interesting during a long day, including lakes, waterfalls, forests, wildflowers, mountains, and colourful rocks. The trail’s diversity makes it far more visually rewarding than the famous Crypt Lake hike.

Upper Carthew Lake in the alpine valley.

Another nice thing about the Carthew-Alderson hike is that the trail is not as busy as others in the park. You’ll mainly see people at the summit and Carthew Lakes, but the trail is not crowded so you should be able to experience some solitude on this hike.

The ridge and highest point on the Carthew Alderson hike.

Pictures of the Carthew-Alderson Hike

Here are some more photos taken while hiking Carthew-Alderson Trail.

Boardwalk in the forest.
Trail through the forest beside Cameron Lake early in the hike
Mountain seen through a gap in the forest.
Mountain views through the trees
Trail in a forest of dead trees.
Gaining elevation during the climb beside Cameron Lake
View of Cameron Lake and mountains.
View of Cameron Lake and the parking lot at the trailhead
Trail in a forest of dead trees.
Trail begins to level out as it passes through an area affected by the forest fire
Summit Lake with mountains in the background.
Summit Lake
Rocky trail in an open forest of dead trees.
Ascending from Summit Lake
Trail crossing a patch of snow with a view of Carthew Ridge in the background.
Snow on the trail in late July
View of a turquoise lake at the base of a mountain.
Distant alpine lake
Trail surrounded by dead trees.
Hiking toward the ridge
Trail with dead trees.
Trail crossing a slope with a mountain range in the distance.
Looking back at the view
Trail on a red rock slope.
Ascending up to Carthew Ridge
View of mountains and Carthew Lakes from the ridge.
View from the ridge
Carthew Ridge and a peak.
On the ridge
Trail leading down to Carthew Lakes.
Upper Carthew Lake
Chipmunk beside the trail.
Wildlife on the trail
Lower Carthew Lake and mountains.
Lower Carthew Lake
Tree-framed trail leading toward a mountain.
Tree-framed path on route to Alderson Lake
Shrubs and mountains.
Stream below the waterfall near Alderson Lake
Stream with fallen trees in the forest.
Stream in the forest
Hiking Carthew Alderson Trail.
Hiking the final stretch back to the Waterton townsite

Tips for Hiking Carthew-Alderson Trail

Location: Carthew-Alderson Trail is in Waterton Lakes National Park. The trail links Cameron Lake with the town of Waterton.

Getting to the Carthew-Alderson Trailhead: The most convenient way to get to the Carthew-Alderson trailhead at Cameron Lake is to take the hiker shuttle operated by Tamarak Outdoors. This way you don’t need to have two vehicles- one left at end of the trail in town and another to get to the Cameron Lake trailhead.

Carthew-Alderson Trail Shuttle: The hiker shuttle to the Carthew-Alderson trailhead (called the Cameron Express) operates daily during the hiking season. Tickets for the shuttle can be booked in advance online or in person at Tamarak Outdoors. Many people buy tickets on the morning of their hike, but if you don’t have flexibility on dates you may want to book ahead to avoid disappointment.

  • Prices, departure times, and tickets can be found here.
  • The shuttle is pet friendly.

Best Time to Hike Carthew-Alderson Trail: The Carthew-Alderson hike is best done in the summer. Due to the trail’s high elevation, there can still be some areas of snow in July.

Facilities: There are outhouses by the Cameron Lake parking lot, at the Alderson Lake backcountry campground, and across from Cameron Falls at the end of the trail.

Visitor Guidelines and Safety: This trail is in bear country so bring bear spray and know how to use it. 

  • There are lengthy sections without shade, so wear sun protection.
  • Weather changes quickly in the mountains so come prepared with layers and rain gear.
  • Leave no trace by packing out your garbage.

Gear and What to Bring: Wear hiking boots with sturdy soles and good grips. Hiking poles are nice to have.

  • Bring plenty of water, snacks, and a lunch to enjoy at the lakes.
Snow on a slope beside Upper Carthew Lake.

Accommodations in Waterton Lakes National Park

For your convenience, here is a list of hotels in Waterton Lakes National Park. Please consider booking your Waterton accommodations through the included link. It costs nothing extra and helps support this website. Thank you!

Shop for Alberta & Adventure Themed Merchandise

Visit our store for more Alberta, nature, and adventure inspired products.


At Adventure Alberta, you’ll find locally written guides to Alberta’s outdoor recreation areas. From national and provincial parks to lesser known conservation sites, we’re busy discovering the best places to hike, bike, paddle, ski, and explore so you can plan your own active, Alberta Adventure!