Helen Lake - Banff National Park - Hiking Alberta

 

Helen Lake trail access is on the Icefields Parkway across from Crowfoot Glacier.

 

Helen Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Helen Lake is a 6 KM (3¾ mile) hike one-way just south of Num-Ti-Jah Lodge.  This popular and scenic trail gains 420 m (1,380 ft) to an elevation of 2,370 m (7,775 ft).  The well-signed parking area is nearly full on Canada Day across the Icefields Parkway from the Crowfoot Glacier Viewpoint in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

Helen Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. Bow Glacier hangs over Bow Glacier Falls behind Num-Ti-Jah Lodge along the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

Helen Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. Crowfoot Glacier on Crowfoot Mountain above Bow Lake along Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

The Helen Lake trail-head provides access past Helen Lake at 6 KM (3¾ miles), to Katherine Lake (8 KM), Dolomite Pass (9 KM), then north past Isabella Lake at (22.5 KM) to the trail junction at Dolomite Siffleur (26.5 KM) via the Dolomite Pass Trail.  Initially, the wide gravel trail, inundated with rocks and large roots, is fairly steep through lush forest before the grade moderates and the trail narrows.  The trail, heading up and east, crosses several picturesque snow runoff streams which are easy to ford.

 

Helen Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. The trail-head for Helen Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

Helen Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. Lots of rocks and roots on the Helen Lake trail above Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

Helen Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. Several small stream crossings along the trail to Helen Lake above Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

Another steep section through forest arrives at a small burn section before transitioning to a smooth section of gravel with incredible views of the Crowfoot Glacier on the other side of the valley.  As the trail swings around the end of the ridge, expansive views of the valley open up.  A short, side trail to the left ventures into a large rockfall area with incredible views and photographic opportunities.

 

Helen Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. A small forest fire area along the trail to Helen Lake above Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

Helen Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. Valley view on the trail to Helen Lake along the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

Helen Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. View of Bow Lake and the Crowfoot Glacier on Crowfoot Mountain, from the massive rockfall along the trail to Helen Lake above the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

Helen Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. Valley view of Bow Peak and other mountains on the trail to Helen Lake above Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

The sweep up and around the end of the ridge brings the multiple peaks of Dolomite Peak into commanding view as the hike continues northwest on good, relatively flat trail through spectacular scenery directly towards Cirque Peak.  The landscape is saturated with wildflowers including glacier lily whose roots are a favorite food for grizzly bears.  Spring runoff continues at this altitude.  There is a lot of running water.  The air is pure.  The intermittent, subtle and aromatic breeze is heavenly.

 

Helen Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. The Helen Lake trail aims at Cirque Peak above the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

Helen Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. The castellated summit of Dolomite Peak dominates the horizon to the right on the trail to Helen Lake above Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

Helen Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. Initial view to the left. Meadow at treeline is saturated with Glacier Lilies along the trail to Helen Lake above Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

Helen Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. There is a lot of spring runoff water along the trail to Helen Lake above Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

Helen Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. The trail to Helen Lake dips into and across a small valley above Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

The trail dips into a shallow draw with patches of snow and a cascading stream running over shale surfaces, then continues flat through beautiful scenery to the crossing of a robust Helen Creek.  A rocking hopping effort keeps the feet dry.

 

Helen Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. Cascading white water over shale in a draw along the trail to Helen Lake above Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

Helen Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. Approaching Helen Creek on the trail to Helen Lake above Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

Helen Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. Helen Creek along the trail to Helen Lake above Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. Cirque Peak is on photo right.

 

The final approach to Helen Lake, beneath Cirque Peak, is over wet meadow and the occasional patch of slushy snow.  Winter reluctantly lingers here on Canada Day, July 1, on this warm, sunny, early-summer day. 

Tiny Helen Lake is still frozen over with shoreline evidence of thaw.  There are a few people here but they are widely scattered about.  A seat-height, flat boulder provides support for an excellent lunch in the sun. 

The trail continues along the right side of the lake to the top of the ridge.  The initial decision is to be content with Helen Lake as today's final objective.  The beautiful blue surface of Helen Lake, backed by Cirque Peak, combined with warm sun and gentle cool breeze makes this one of the finest dining establishments on the planet.

 

Helen Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. The final approach to Helen Lake above Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

Helen Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. Iced over Helen Lake beneath Cirque Peak above Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

Helen Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. The outflow from Helen Lake to source Helen Creek above the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

Helen Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. The trail continues to the ridge above Helen Lake and beyond at the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

Following a wonderful lunch in the sun, packing up for the return hike is completed.  Strangely, the hike proceeds spontaneously in the wrong direction towards the top of the ridge, knowing full well this will add at least another 2 hours and about a kilometer (⅝ miles) with 100 vertical meters (328 feet) of elevation.  It is like a magnetic force, or complete stupidity.  The inner child needs to see what is on the other side of the ridge.  The trail is initially intermittent mud combined with patches of slushy, and sometimes, fairly deep snow until the hike proceeds to drier, sun-exposed trail higher above Helen Lake.

 

Helen Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. Hiking the trail to the ridge above Helen Lake along the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

Helen Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. Hiking the trail to the ridge above Helen Lake along the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

Helen Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. Hiking the trail to the ridge above Helen Lake along the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

Helen Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. Hiking the trail to the ridge above Helen Lake along the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

Helen Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. Hiking the trail to the ridge above Helen Lake along the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

The trail is fairly steep on primarily rocky but good path.  The view is worth the effort.  There is an opportunity to go higher for a view over Katherine Lake but vertical aspirations for this day have been satisfied.  There is some lateral left and a lot of down so the hike proceeds laterally across the ridge for a short distance to expand views before returning for the descent to the Icefields Parkway via the same route taken on ascent.

 

Helen Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. The first view from the top of the ridge above Helen Lake at Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

Helen Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. Hiking a lateral on the top of the ridge above Helen Lake for better views at Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. Eventually the option is deep snow or more elevation.

 

Eventually the only options remaining are deep snow or gaining more elevation.  The decision is to call it a day and return the way I came.  On descent, there is an excellent view of the southeast face of Cirque Peak.  Scree is slippery.

 

Helen Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. The southeast face of Cirque Peak above Helen Lake along the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

Helen Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. View down to Helen Lake from the ridge near Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

About half way down, a faint side trail branches over scree to the left.  In the near distance a small knoll could be an ideal viewing location so the short jaunt is executed and proven worthy of the time to get an expanded view of the approach valley to Helen Lake.

 

Helen Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. View down to Helen Lake from the ridge near Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

Helen Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. A faint trail about halfway down the descent above Helen Lake leads to a scenic knoll above Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

Helen Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. The view across the valley from the scenic knoll towards Bow Peak above Helen Lake along the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

Helen Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. View down to Helen Lake from the ridge near Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

The descent from Helen Lake provides a whole new perspective of the incredible non-stop scenery experienced on the hike in.  There is more ground water running on the return as the warm day melts residual snow.  The crossing of Helen Creek is a bit more challenging due to increased water volume.  Interesting and wispy cloud formations are forming in the predominantly blue sky above the formidable surrounding mountains.

 

Helen Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. The parting view of Helen Lake above the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

Helen Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. Scenic views on the return hike from Helen Lake to the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

Helen Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. Helen Creek on the return hike fro Helen Lake above Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

Helen Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. Wispy clouds over scenic views on the return hike from Helen Lake to the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

Helen Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. Scenic views on the return hike from Helen Lake to the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

Helen Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. Scenic views on the return hike from Helen Lake to the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

The turn around the end of the ridge presents views enjoyed on the hike up but the later afternoon light changes color and shadow significantly.

 

Helen Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. Crowfoot Glacier on Crowfoot Mountain above Bow Lake on the return hike from Helen Lake above Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

Helen Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. A long lens view of Crowfoot Glacier from the Helen Lake trail above Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

Helen Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. A different mountain view through the small burn area on the descent from Helen Lake above Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

Helen Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. Again, crossing small streams over rocky and root-covered trail on the descent from Helen Lake above Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

Helen Lake, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. The final stretch of trail to the Helen Lake parking area at Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

Canada Day crowds are expected for this grand hiking day in Banff National Park, enjoying the isolation with Mistaya Canyon in early morning and attempting to tolerate the crowds at Bow Summit and Peyto Lake Lookouts prior to the relaxing and beautiful hike to Helen Lake and beyond for the major part of this exceptional day along the Icefields Parkway.

Photographs for this hike to Helen Lake were taken on Canada Day, July 1, 2014.

 

 

 

 

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Comments

What a spectacularly awesome day and hike to celebrate Canada Day.

Thank you for your comment, Margaret. I hope to have an opportunity to hike in the unique and spectacular beauty of Australia. I hope you will have a chance to hike in Banff National Park.

Thank you. The pics are beautiful. I live in Raymond, Australia, so I may not ever hike there, so did enjoy your report of the lake.

Lived in these mountains for 50 years now, still love this short scenic hike when the alpine flowers are out, do this hike if you can!

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