Monday, July 15, 2013

Waterton NP, Alberta, CA/Border Crossing Fiasco

Right across the border north from Glacier National Park in Montana, USA is Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada.  Although they are each administered quite separately, they are together known as the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.  We are not quite sure what that international designation actually accomplishes, but hopefully it is a good thing.

But Waterton is an equally spectacular to park to Glacier.  And it houses the historic and iconic Prince of Wales Hotel opened in 1927.  In order to show the aerial view of the hotel on its hill overlooking the lake and mountains, we had to borrow a shot from their website, but the rest are ours.

prince of wales100_7221


We had a splendid day touring this park.  We saw mountains, lakes, waterfalls, canyons, moose, bear and wildflowers.



But the real excitement occurred on the way back from Canada.  We cleared Canadian Customs earlier in the day quite easily going North, but we did notice that Customs station closes at 10pm.  This is a very remote border crossing that is only open for the tourist trade in the tourist season.  About the only cars that cross here are ones traveling between the two parks. So on the way back we pull up toward the US Customs station. There were no cars up ahead at all.  There are only three lanes.  One seems to be for trucks, RVs and taller vehicles, another lane goes under a roof of a building and the through lane going toward the Canadian booth.  We pull up to the under-roof lane.  At the stop-here point, we see there is a cone ahead right in the middle of the lane.  So we back up a bit and approach the truck lane. There is a cone in the middle of that lane too.  There is no sign of anyone at the booth.  Did the US side close earlier than the Canadian side?  So there is a space to the left out of the truck lane and into a through lane and that is where we went, out and around the Customs station and on our way back in the States toward our campground as we still wonder how the station could have been deserted.  Well, about three miles down the road, we see the red flashing lights roaring up behind us.  One Customs officer approaches each side of the car.  They confiscate our passports and tell us to return to the station, as they follow up lights flashing where they have told us we may be arrested.  We explain everything and anything we can without giving them a blast that if anyone had been in any kind of sight, we would have stopped.  After interrogation, inspection of our car, the arrival of two other officers in green uniforms who cased the car and us for awhile, with the approval of someone up the chain of command in some other location, and an hour and half of sitting in the uncomfortable chairs, we finally were released without arrest and allowed to continue on our way with only a warning NEVER to do that again.

We had been debating whether to go on up in the motor home to the all the Canadian Parks west of Calgary, but this episode made the decision for us.  Gary asked the officer if we now were more likely to be inspected anytime we might leave the States and come back in through US Customs.  He wouldn’t directly answer that question, but he did say, “you should always be prepared for an inspection whenever you return".  That was enough for us, we could pretty much figure that we now are flagged for inspection anytime we try to clear US Customs.  No way are we going to sit through the motor home pulling the toad all being torn apart with us having to put it all back together.  We decided to turn south from Glacier and we will be on our way to Yellowstone instead of Lake Louise.

Yes, what we did was dumb and we should have perceived that at the time, but sometimes after a day of driving and hiking you just want to get back and make a snap decision even if it is a very bad one.  We paid for this one.


  1. wow, what a lousy experience. Glad you didn't get arrested. We had a lousy experience at that crossing too, but nothing like that!
    We had a bed FULL of firewood, realized we would have to dump it if we went to Canada, so Canadians let us turn around, They even called the U.S. side to tell them we were coming back. We get to the U.S. side and get a lecture about moving firewood as she tells us in no uncertain terms that we WILL dump the firewood. I think she thought be brought it from Texas, but as you said, you don't argue with them, but it soured us, for sure!

    1. When we went into Canada, there was a fifth wheel beyond the booth unloading their firewood on the Canadian side; they weren't sent back.

  2. Sounds like a terrible experience, but in your defense, they should have made it obvious what you were supposed to do. The hotel looks magnificent.

    1. Or, the guy who should be manning the booth should be in the booth, not inside with the rest of the crew, or at least made some move to come outside and be seen as I was moving through three different lanes, But again, wasn't about to say that, especially after caught running a border.

  3. What a shame you had to go through that. We once had a problem going into Canada, but the return was always a snap. Where was the custom's agent?