Glacier Lake - Banff National Park - Hiking Alberta


The Glacier Lake hike on Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.




David Thompson, Canada's pioneer surveyor and fur traderwas recorded as the first white man to view Glacier Lake in June, 1807Glacier Lake was named by Sir James Hector of the Palliser Expedition in 1858.  The Glacier Lake trail-head is located along the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park about a kilometer north of Saskatchewan Crossing
Following a very early start from Calgary, the hike begins at 9:20 AM on a cool, overcast day.


Glacier Lake - Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada
The downstream view of the North Saskatchewan River from Pony Bridge on the Glacier Lake trail in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada


Good quality trail travels through predominantly lodge-pole pine forest on rolling terrain with a relatively gentle descent.  At 2.3 KM (1⅜ miles) there is a Pony Bridge crossing over the North Saskatchewan River with beautiful views of emerald water contained by canyon walls and surrounded by forest and towering mountains.  Past the bridge the trail deteriorates moderately with distance.


Glacier Lake - Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada
The view from House River Viewpoint across the plains to glaciated mountains looming over Glacier Lake in Banff National Park, Alberta Canada. 


Glacier Lake is actually about 10 M below the elevation of the parking area.  About 1.2 KM (¾ of a mile) past the bridge is the Howse River viewpoint.  David Thompson camped here for 2 weeks in 1907 while guiding a group past Glacier Lake.  The Glacier Lake trail descends to a bend at the Howse River before heading inland through forest on the sustained climb to the ridge hosting Glacier Lake.
Near the 7 KM (4⅜ mile) mark the trail attains maximum elevation of 1,645 M (5,400 ft) before descending to Glacier Lake on a descent trail littered with tree roots.  Also, at about the 7 KM mark, the trail passes a unique plaque carved into a tree by the 1928 Topographical survey team.


Glacier Lake - Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Names of participants on the 1928 Topographical Survey carved on a tree along Glacier Lake Trail in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada 

At 9 KM (5⅝ miles) the hike arrives at the shore of Glacier Lake which is about 3 KM (1⅞ miles) long and one KM (⅝ of a mile) across.  Following a short break the hike continues along and above the shoreline of Glacier Lake on 5 KM (3⅛ miles) of rustic trail to arrive at the end of the lake.
This trail offers a number of wilderness camping sites as well as a couple of off-trail canyon access points that beg for exploration but there is no time for recreational scrambling and discovery on this day.  Parts of the lakeside trail wander through stands of juniper bushes, bountiful with baby-blue berries.


Glacier Lake - Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Reflective ponds past the end of Glacier Lake with Mount Lyell in the background


At the end of the lake there are excellent views of the Lyell Mountain Glacier.  Many of the surrounding mountains have remnants of glaciers on them.  Lyell Glacier ice is turquoise.


Glacier Lake - Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Glacier Lake - Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Glacier Lake - Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Glacier Lake - Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada


Melancholy sky is overcast with brief interruptions of periodic sun on distant peaks.  Glacier Lake is surrounded by magnificent mountains.  Following a leisurely meal at lake-side, and local discovery, the return hike follows the reverse route taken in for a total hiking distance of about 27 KM (16⅞ miles).


Glacier Lake - Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Glacier Lake - Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Glacier Lake - Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Views along the Saskatchewan River from Pony Bridge and a group photo at the end of the hike into Glacier Lake in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada


Another spectacular wilderness adventure in the mountains, rivers, lakes and forest of Banff National Park west of Calgary in Alberta, Canada.








I have not hiked out of Red Deer specifically but if you make the Hwy 11 drive west from Red Deer through Rocky Mountain House into the Rocky Mountain Forest and through Bighorn Wildland Recreation Area, you will enter Banff National Park at Saskatchewan River Crossing. That will make Glacier Lake as viable a candidate as the same drive to the trailhead from Calgary. It is a good hike with reasonable elevation and excellent features. Glacier Lake can be as long a day hike as you choose to make it. The hike to the toe of the Sakatchewan Glacier is also an excellent hike. Once you arrive in Banff there is a multitude of possibilities. I recommend you purchase a hiking guide for trails in Banff National Park. The one I use most often is 'Backcountry Banff' by Mike Potter. I also like 'The Canadian Rockies Trail Guide'. I have used both of them many times over many years. A Gem Trek map is also invaluable.

I recently moved to Red Deer from the east coast where hiking and camping was an every weekend activity.....Would this be a good hike for someone just learning the trails on Canada's west coast.....Beautiful pics by the way.

The wilderness campground is about 9 KM (5.6 miles) in from the trailhead near the east end of Glacier Lake. At the east end of Glacier Lake there is an off-trail route to the 2,665 m (8,740 ft) summit cairn on Signal Peak. I have not done this trail but 'Backcountry Banff' by Mike Potter suggests it should be attempted only by well-equipped and experienced off-trail hikers. Mike Potter is one, so best to pay attention. Route finding, bushwacking and scree slopes are in play. We spent most of our relaxation time at the west end of Glacier Lake on the flat alluvial plain between Glacier Lake and the Lyell Glacier. I have not hiked beyond but my understanding is there is faint path that continues about 7+ kilometres (4.4 miles) further to the toe of the Lyell Glacier. The valley which feeds Glacier Lake is rife with running water so weather and seasonal choice may be very important considerations. The short answer is 'Yes'. I believe the backcountry, primitive campground at the east end of Glacier Lake would be an an excellent staging point for several days of on and off-trail day hiking. It is an incredibly beautiful place. Thank you for your comment, Ernie.

Would this be a good place to base camp for a few days and day hike around the area? Are there other trails?

Love your blog and Facebook pages. Are there any campsites located in the random camping area that are easy to find other than the Park maintained sites on the East side of the lake? My friend and I were hoping for a two nighter but I could only grab a reservation for the one night at Glacier Lake campground, so we may have to find a random campsite heading west around the lake, but I don't want to veer too far off trail. While I have been exposed to multiple backcountry overnights, not sure about random camping quite yet, but this may be an option for us if it's not too complicated to still get our two nights in.

Thank you for your kind words, Chandra.  It has been many years since I have been into Glacier Lake and I do not know the answer to your question.  I wonder if 'Hike and attraction central' at The Crossing could offer some advice or perhaps a reader who has recent backcountry experience in the area can place a helpful comment here.  Good luck and best wishes on your adventure.  The area is incredibly beautiful. I wish you fair weather.