8 Incredible Lake Hikes You Don’t Want to Miss in the Canadian Rockies
Did you know that many hikes in the Canadian Rockies would take you to a body of water, instead of a summit? Canadian Rockies’ Summits can be steep, dangerous and require more than two feet to carry you up. But the turquoise lakes are everywhere! And they are well worth it.
These are eight hikes all within the Banff area that will take you through incredibly beautiful scenery to an emerald lake at the end (or should we say middle?) of the trail. As Parks Canada puts it, you will have to “stop and pick up your jaw once in a while.” Start packing your bag, pick up a map, a camera and go hike. See you on the trails!
1. Grassy Lakes – Canmore – check our post Get your kids to ditch their iPod and Xbox with these 5 family outdoor activities around Canmore.
2. Bourgeau Lake – Banff National Park – it is a long hike (14.4 km return; 725 metres elevation gain; 6 hour round trip), moderate to difficult, but the lake and its surrounded peaks are breathtaking. The cliff face of Mount Bourgeau provides a dramatic backdrop, making it a picture-perfect spot for lunch.
The trailhead is located on the southwest side of the Trans-Canada Highway, 1.5km past the Sunshine Village Ski Resort exit. If you have time and energy, from Bourgeau Lake you can continue on to Harvey Pass, another 300m of elevation and 5km return to lake (total of 19.8km's return; 1025m elevation gain; 8 - 12 hours return trip).
Harvey Pass offers views of the meadows; Harvey Lake and the southwest mountain ranges are absolutely stunning. Mount Assiniboine can be seen directly to the south. It took me a good 12 hours to do it all.
3. Moraine Lake: This magnificent glacial lake and its Valley of the Ten Peaks were on Canada's $20 bill from 1969 to 1979. An easy walk (0.5km, 15-20 minutes of walking) leads to the Rockpile viewpoint. The Moraine Lake road is closed to vehicles from early October to late May; exact dates are weather-dependent.
Moraine Lake is located 15km southwest of Lake Louise town site, at the end of Moraine Lake Road. This area is absolutely stunning. Many consider Moraine Lake and the surrounding valley to be the best of the Canadian Rockies. It is another favourite of mine. The Lake itself is a stunning blue/green color that is created from glacial silt.
If you are planning to visit Moraine Lake, go early and expand your trip to Sentinel Pass and Larch Valley hike, specially if you are visiting it in September, as the larch trees get their gold colour. Unlike other coniferous trees, Larch trees shed their needles every fall. This is considered a difficult hike, with 720 m of elevation gain. Allow 6 hours return trip but go – it is well worth it.
When you reach Larch Valley, you will see remarkable views towards the southeast 'Valley of the Ten Peaks' - possibly one of the finest vistas you can access in Banff National Park! As you continue on, you'll pass through groves of larch trees, tundra ponds and beautiful alpine meadows. Several Hoary Marmots can't be missed as they whistle at your presence. At the base of Mount Temple and Mount Pinnacle there is a beautifully colored tarn lake. From the tarn lake you can view the switchbacks cut into the rock scree leading upwards to Sentinel Pass. At Sentinel pass, you can look down towards Paradise Valley.
4. Consolation Lakes Banff National Park: Consolation Lakes is located 3km southeast of Moraine Lake. The trailhead is located next to the Moraine Lake parking lot. This hike is very easy with little elevation gain, so allow just one hour to reach the lakeshore.
Both lakes are crystal clear with large boulders on the west shore of the lakes. These boulders are from a rockslide off Mount Babel. Views of the hanging Glacier situated on Mount Quadra are beautiful. In late June you can watch and listen to snow and ice break off the surrounding hanging glaciers.
Once you reach the first lower lake the going gets awkward. You'll have to work way over and through a large rockslide, more like a boulder slide. It’s well worth the effort to keep on going to the second lake. It is another spectacular hike for the fall, when the larches tint the valley in a gold yellow colour.
5. Lake O'Hara: This hidden gem is located at Yoho National Park and is home to exquisite hanging valleys, jewel-blue lakes and breathtaking vistas. You should reserve 3 months before if you wish to take the shuttle bus to visit this area. Some trails that would worth your visit: Lake Oesa, East and West Opabin, and Lake McArthur. Some of them you can do in one day if you are taking the shuttle bus. If you are walking all the way to Lake O’Hara, I suggest you book the campground or plan way in advance (a year, minimum) and book the Elizabeth Parker Hut.
6. Ink Pots: After experiencing the waterfalls along the Johnston Canyon trail, continue beyond its Upper Falls to reach a set of brilliantly coloured pools. Johnston Canyon is very popular but just only a small percentage of people will continue to the Ink Pots – a series of six green/blue pools filled with spring water.
This is an easy hike: 11.5 km round trip, with 210 m elevation gain; 3 - 5 hour round trip. Trailhead: 22km west of Banff on the Bow Valley Parkway (Highway 1A) – look for Johnston Canyon signs. When on the trail, there is only one intersection where you turn right.
7. Rockbound Lake - Rockbound Lake is located behind Castle Mountain near Castle Junction on the Bow Valley Parkway 31km west of Banff. The trailhead is located at the east side of the paved parking lot, a short distance SE of the Castle Junction highway intersection.
The trail is usually snow-free by late June; however expect lots of mud at the meadows in the early season. Tower Lake takes about 3 hours to reach on a series of switchbacks. Very steep switchbacks for about 15 minutes brings you to Rockbound Lake. A waterfall can be seen from the backside of the lake. If you walk to the right once you get to Rockbound Lake, you will get an awesome panoramic viewpoint.
This hike is considered moderate to difficult with a total elevation gain of 760M, 16.8K round trip; 7.7 km to Tower Lake, 8.4 km to Rockbound Lake; 6 - 8 hour round trip.
8. Lake Agnes – Lake Louise: relatively easy, this hike will take you to an impressive alpine setting. The lake is charming by itself, but to add to it you will find a teahouse serving refreshments and light snacks from mid-June to early October!
Mirror Lake is the first one you will find, with the Big Beehive looming above it. From here, you have two options: left or right. Both will get you to Lake Agnes, but the left is shorter and steeper and the right is the traditional one.
Continue 1.6 km around the far end of Lake Agnes and up switchbacks to the shelter at the top of the Big Beehive for views of the Bow Valley and Lake Louise. Allow 40 min one-way and do not attempt to shortcut down from the gazebo viewpoint, as there are dangerous cliffs all around it. To return, use the same trail you used to go up.
This is considered a moderate hike with a total elevation gain of 385m; 6.8 km round trip; 2.5 - 3 hours round trip. The trailhead starts at The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.
These were eight of our picks - now, if you have any other suggestions send them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or if you happen to hike one of them - tag your photos with #EUhike on Instagram and we’ll feature you on our account!