Cirque Lake - Banff National Park - Hiking Alberta

 

Cirque Lake rests above Waterfowl Lake in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

Cirque Lake, Waterfowl Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

The clearly-signed entrance into Waterfowl Lakes Campground is north of Bow Summit/Peyto Lake and south of Mistaya Canyon along  the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, CanadaImmediately, after turning into the campground, a quick left turn leads to a cul-de-sac at the end of the short road with parking for the Chephren Lake (and Cirque Lake) trail-heads.  There is a half kilometer (¹⁄₃ mile) gentle, downhill hike on the periphery of the campground to the Chephren Lake trail kiosk at the end of the bridges crossing the Mistaya River. The hiking guide and Gem Trek map clearly document this as the location of the shared trail-head to Cirque Lake (and also Chephren Lake).

 

Cirque Lake, Waterfowl Lakes Campground, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada The trailhead to Cirque Lake (and Chephren Lake) near Waterfowl Lakes Campground along the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Cirque Lake, Waterfowl Lakes Campground, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada A view near the trail-head of mountains over Cirque Lake in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Cirque Lake, Waterfowl Lakes Campground, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada The trail-head kiosk at the bridges over Mistaya River for Chephren Lake and Cirque Lake at Waterfowl Lakes Campground along the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

The formal hike begins by crossing two quaint, wooden bridges over the milky, fast-running, turquoise water of Mistaya River.  The hike to Cirque Lake contains two components of 1.7 KM (1⅛ miles) from parking to the trail junction and 2.9 KM (1⅞ miles) from the trail junction to Cirque Lake for a total round trip distance of 9.2 KM (5⅞ miles).  Net elevation gain is published as 55 m (180 ft) to a maximum elevation of 1,795 m (5,890 ft).  Gross elevation gain is higher.  Trail conditions are challenging over rock, roots and sections of marsh but the hike is more than worth the effort.  In wet, slippery conditions, the trail could be considered treacherous.  Quality hiking footwear.

 

Cirque Lake, Waterfowl Lakes Campground, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada 
 
 
The trail junction to Cirque Lake takes off to the left on root-laden trail through beautiful, dense forest on a very gentle descent.  There are marshy sections and multiple streams with log bridges or stepping stones to assist in keeping the feet dry.  Sections of more aggressive ascent and descent, sometimes on old, dilapidated steps eventually lead to very root-laden, but incredibly beautiful, aromatic path along the raging white water of the creek fed by Cirque Lake, cascading aggressively downhill towards Mistaya River.  Careful foot placement is important.
 

Cirque Lake, Waterfowl Lakes Campground, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Root-laden path to Cirque Lake above Waterfowl Lakes Campground along Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Cirque Lake, Waterfowl Lakes Campground, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Rock hopping opportunities over shallow streams of marshy areas on the trail to Cirque Lake above Waterfowl Lakes Campground along Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Cirque Lake, Waterfowl Lakes Campground, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Old sawn log bridges over marshy areas on the trail to Cirque Lake above Waterfowl Lakes Campground along Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Cirque Lake, Waterfowl Lakes Campground, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Rocky and rooty trail ascent on the hike to Cirque Lake near Waterfowl Lakes Campground along Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Cirque Lake, Waterfowl Lakes Campground, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada The trail to Cirque Lake intermittently tracks cascading white water above Waterfowl Lakes Campground along Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

The surge of the water course from Cirque Lake mellows as elevation gain moderates.  Views of Midway Peak and Mount Synge behind Cirque Lake begin to open up on the approach.  It is fair to say the root-laden, rocky trail gradually and consistently degenerates from beginning to end.  At this point, individually careful footsteps are wise.

 

Cirque Lake, Waterfowl Lakes Campground, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Mountains behind Cirque Lake begin to consume the horizon above Waterfowl Lakes Campground along Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Cirque Lake, Waterfowl Lake Campground, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Spectacular streams and wetlands intermittently invade the trail to Cirque Lake above Waterfowl Lakes Campground along Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Cirque Lake, Waterfowl Lakes Campground, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Along the creek on the final approach to Cirque Lake above Waterfowl Lakes Campground along Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Cirque Lake, Waterfowl Lakes Campground, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Still water and log jams signal arrival at the outlet from Cirque Lake above Waterfowl Lakes Campground along Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

The final approach on poor quality trail is along the lakeshore.  Surrounding scenery and views over milky, emerald water are magnificent.  The trail intercepts a massive rockfall coming in from the right and further progress is made jumping along large, uneven boulders towards the north shore of Cirque Lake in a photographic paradise.  The warmth of the sun is tempered by a cool breeze from snow fields and the glaciated walls of surrounding mountains.  WOW!

 

Cirque Lake, Waterfowl Lakes Campground, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Snow fields and small glaciers hanging on mountains behind Cirque Lake above Waterfowl Lakes Campground along Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Cirque Lake, Waterfowl Lakes Campground, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Snow fields and small glaciers hanging on mountains behind Cirque Lake above Waterfowl Lakes Campground along Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Cirque Lake, Waterfowl Lakes Campground, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Snow fields and small glaciers hanging on mountains behind Cirque Lake above Waterfowl Lakes Campground along Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

On the return hike via the same trail there is a good opportunity to view the giant rockfall from an outlier of Mount Synge.  The rockfall clutters the shoreline of Cirque Lake for considerable distance and some of the larger boulders are hosting small trees as well as contributing to log jams at the outflow from the small lake.  The opportunity for artistic photography is virtually limitless.

 

Cirque Lake, Waterfowl Lakes Campground, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Rockfall to the shore of Cirque Lake above Waterfowl Lakes Campground along Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Cirque Lake, Waterfowl Lakes Campground, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Unlimited opportunities for artistic photographs at Cirque Lake above Waterfowl Lakes Campground along Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Cirque Lake, Waterfowl Lakes Campground, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Unlimited opportunities for artistic photographs at Cirque Lake above Waterfowl Lakes Campground along Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Cirque Lake, Waterfowl Lakes Campground, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Unlimited opportunities for artistic photographs at Cirque Lake above Waterfowl Lakes Campground along Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

There is the psychological advantage of knowing what to expect on gradually improving trail back to the trail-head.  The roar of nearby crashing, white water is relaxing and visually pleasing.

 

Cirque Lake, Waterfowl Lakes Campground, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Rugged, sketchy trail near the retreat from Cirque Lake above Waterfowl Lakes Campground along Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Cirque Lake, Waterfowl Lakes Campground, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Cirque Lake trail near the cascading on the return to Waterfowl Lakes Campground along Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Cirque Lake, Waterfowl Lakes Campground, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Cirque Lake trail near the cascading on the return to Waterfowl Lakes Campground along Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Cirque Lake, Waterfowl Lakes Campground, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Cirque Lake trail near the cascading on the return to Waterfowl Lakes Campground along Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Cirque Lake, Waterfowl Lakes Campground, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Pristine, shallow ponds along the trail from Cirque Lake above Waterfowl Lakes Campground along Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Cirque Lake, Waterfowl Lakes Campground, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Cirque Lake trail near the cascading on the return to Waterfowl Lakes Campground along Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Cirque Lake, Waterfowl Lakes Campground, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Cirque Lake trail near the cascading on the return to Waterfowl Lakes Campground along Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Cirque Lake, Waterfowl Lakes Campground, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Cirque Lake trail near the cascading on the return to Waterfowl Lakes Campground along Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Back at the trail junction, where Cirque Lake and Chephren Lake trails meet the link to Waterfowl Lakes Campground, there is an option to continue straight and hike both trails on the same day.   The hike to Chephren Lake is shorter at 2.6 KM (1⅝ miles) on easier, not great but better quality, root-laden trail.  The distance for combining both hikes is about 13.6 KM (8½ miles).  Or, a right turn onto the link trail will continue the descent back to the bridges over Mistaya River and ultimately the beginning trail-head.

 

Cirque Lake, Waterfowl Lakes Campground, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada The junction where the trail to Cirque Lake meets the trail to Chephren Lake and the link return to, Waterfowl Lakes Campground, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Cirque Lake, Waterfowl Lakes Campground, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Familiar terrain on the link trail from the Cirque Lake junction to Waterfowl Lakes Campground along Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Cirque Lake, Waterfowl Lakes Campground, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Familiar terrain on the link trail from the Cirque Lake junction to Waterfowl Lakes Campground along Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Cirque Lake, Waterfowl Lakes Campground, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Familiar terrain on the link trail from the Cirque Lake junction to Waterfowl Lakes Campground along Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

There are magnificent mountain views at the wooden bridges over Mistaya River.  A right turn past the small bridge at the trail kiosk leads to the trail-head where the car is parked.  There are impressive displays of wildflowers along the trail which skirts Waterfowl Lakes Campground.

 

Cirque Lake, Waterfowl Lakes Campground, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

The wooden bridge over Mistaya River with mountain backdrop on the trail to Cirque Lake near Waterfowl Lakes Campground along Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Cirque Lake, Waterfowl Lakes Campground, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada The small wooden bridge and trail kiosk for Cirque Lake at Waterfowl Lakes Campground along Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Cirque Lake, Waterfowl Lakes Campground, Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Wildflowers at Waterfowl Lakes Campground along Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Cirque Lake is representative of hundreds of pristine turquoise sub-alpine lakes resting under glaciated mountains in Banff National Park.

Photographs for this post were taken on a sunny, summer day on July 9, 2014.

 

 

 

 

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Comments

Absolutely spectacular views! Definitely a must-do!

Thanks for sharing, Rick at besthike.com

Awesome!!!

Excellent report, great pictures! My girlfiend and I are off to Banff in 2017 and websites like this are so helpful. Can you tell me something, how many of the trails do you need to be in a group of 4 because of bears?

Thank you, Patrick.  Banff National Park is a world class location and I am sure you will enjoy your experience.  Trails requiring groups of four vary by season and situation.  Occasionally a trail will be closed.  There is some evidence very popular trails are limited to reduce traffic.  The logic is not always clear.  It is best to check in with Parks Canada with plans for the upcoming day.  They can recommend alternatives which will often be equally or more spectacular than your original plan.  On popular trails with restrictions, it is often easy to make a group of four.  The issue of pace and similar plan can be an issue.  Enjoy your trip.  It is wise to acquire the Banff NP Gem Trek map for excellent hiking recommendations.  The map will serve you well throughout your visit and serve to remind of adventurous times for many years beyond.  An excellent hiking guide like 'Canadian Rockies Trail Guide' will be an outstanding planning resource and working document.  Parks Canada can also provide excellent support documentation.  It is always best to make plans with some contingency for unexpected circumstance.  Enjoy your visit.  Perhaps we shall cross paths on a trail.

Thank you for your response, very helpful info. Could you tell me the likelihood of us encountering a bear during early September if we are staying for around 2 weeks (and hiking most days)? I know its impossible to say really, but maybe you have some tips or experiences to share?

It is impossible to say.  If you are practising bear awareness protocol, it is highly unlikely you will see a bear.  You might see one roaming along the inside of the fence as you are driving along the highway.

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