Bourgeau Lake is an alpine gem in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.
The forecast is unattractive but mountain weather follows no rules. So, the early morning drive west, from Calgary, Alberta on the TransCanada Highway proceeds through storms into progressively improving weather. Mountains are mystically shrouded by slow motion cloud.
By arrival time at the parking area for the clearly marked Bourgeau Lake trail-head just 2.8 KMs (1¾ miles) past the exit to Sunshine Village, the sky is overcast but there is no rain. Sunshine Village hosts the trail-head to Healy Pass and connecting trails. The clouds have an intimidating posture, however, the planned shall proceed with the expectation rain gear will likely be employed. Nothing ventured: nothing gained. No guts: no glory.
At the trail-head, the entrance proceeds past chain link fence on three metal steps up, through a self-closing gate, and down to the trail. This access mechanism keeps animals away from traffic on the nearby TransCanada Highway.
The hike to Bourgeau Lake continues on good trail to an objective consuming 7.5 KMs (4¾ miles) of distance one way, with elevation gain of 710 meters (2,330 ft) to a maximum elevation of 2,155 meters (7,070 ft).
Recent precipitation has left the excellent, moss-bordered trail easy on the feet and amazingly aromatic.
The hike tracks above the Wolverine River and intervening dense forest keeps the river occasionally heard and seldom seen. There are periodic views of adjacent mountains with summits shrouded in mist gradually lifting as the sun reluctantly warms the day.
At 3.7 KMs (2¹⁄₃ miles) we cross a newly replaced wooden bridge over the white water of a tributary feeding Wolverine River. Substantial and unusually prolonged snow pack at higher elevations keeps running water fast and plentiful.
Along the trail there are waterfalls on both sides of the valley. A large avalanche chute is easily identified by a forest break, damaged and stunted trees, and dead fall swept up the opposite side of the valley bottom.
At the 5.5 KM (3⅜ mile) mark, the approach and crossing of the Wolverine River is complicated by the bridge being taken out by voluminous, tumbling water but the rock-bundle base remains largely intact so jumping across keeps feet relatively dry. The crossing on the return hike may be complicated by increased water flow from melt above as the day warms.
Later in the season, when water flow subsides, the crossing will be easier even if the bridge is not replaced. Cascading water falls above the bridge and huge snow bridges soon conceal the flow below the crossing location.
On the far side of Wolverine River, the rocky trail steepens over switchbacks. As elevation gain becomes more aggressive, phenomenal views begin to unfold.
A kilometer (⅝ mile) later, the trail straightens and levels as the hike proceeds into a narrowing valley beneath surrounding mountains on the final approach to Bourgeau Lake. Sand pathways, constructed through a brief wetland area, keep the feet dry and protect this delicate and quite beautiful environment.
Visually stunning Bourgeau Lake pops into view from forest at the trail junction. A quick hop on partially submerged rocks across the lake's outflow onto scree rockfall navigates near two very large enticing boulders which will serve as an ideal location for lunch.
Two chipmunks scurry back and forth to share lunch. The beauty of Bourgeau Lake motivates a continuance to Harvey Pass above but this extension will be covered in a separate, subsequent post.
Bourgeau Lake is named after Eugene Bourgeau who was a French-born botanist who served with the Palliser Expedition in 1857 - 1859. The beauty of the location is stunning. Photographs cannot do justice to the overall experience.