Cirque Lake – Banff National Park – Hiking Alberta

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 me to a cul-de-sac at the end of the road with parking for the Chephren Lake (and Cirque Lake) trailhead.  There is a half kilometre (0.3 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.  I am not concerned.  My hiking guide and Gem Trek map clearly document this as the location of the shared trailhead to Cirque Lake (and also Chephren Lake).  It all works out.

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 trailhead of mountains over Cirque Lake in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

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

The trailhead 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 (1.1 miles) from parking to the trail junction and 2.9 KM (1.8 miles) from the trail junction to Cirque Lake for a total round trip distance of 9.2 KM (5.8 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.  It is more than worth the effort.  In wet, slippery conditions, the trail could be considered treacherous.

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

The bridge over Mistaya River on the trail link to the junction for Cirque Lake near the Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

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

Good forest path on the link trail for Cirque Lake from Waterfowl Lakes Campground along Icefields Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

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

Old log steps along the link 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

Old log bridges over marsh on the link 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

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

At the trail junction the trail to Cirque Lake takes off to the left on rooty 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 rooty, but incredibly beautiful, aromatic path along the raging white water, of the creek fed by Cirque Lake, cascading aggressively downhill towards Mistaya River.  It is a good experience.  Careful foot placement is important.

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

Rooty 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 rooty, 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.  It is 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 trailhead.  The roar of 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 (1.63 miles) on easier, not great but better quality, rooty trail.  The distance for combining both hikes is about 13. 6 KM (8.5 miles).  Or, a right turn onto the link trail will continue the descent back to the bridges over Mistaya River and ultimately the beginning trailhead.

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 trailhead where my 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.  Each is unique and I have never met one that did not improve my life and leave me awestruck.  It seems too beautiful to be real.  The senses are mellowed and appreciative of the effort to get out there.

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

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5 Responses to Cirque Lake – Banff National Park – Hiking Alberta

  1. Pingback: Chephren Lake - Banff National Park - Hiking Alberta

  2. Absolutely spectacular views! Definitely a must-do!
    Sheryl @ Flowery Prose recently posted..Alberta snapshot: Canola fields and sky.

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