Chephren Lake is a shorter, easier and more civilized hike with a different reward than Cirque Lake delivers. 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, Canada. Immediately after turning into the campground, a quick left turn leads 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, along the south and west 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 Chephren Lake (and also Cirque Lake). It all works out. Life is good.
The hike begins by crossing two quaint, wooden foot bridges over the fast-running, turquoise water of the Mistaya River. The hike to Chephren Lake contains two components of 1. 7 KM (1.1 miles) from parking to the trail junction and 2.2 KM (1.4 miles) from the trail junction to Chephren Lake for a total round trip distance of 7.8 KM (4.9 miles). Net elevation gain is published as 90 m (295 ft.) to a maximum elevation of 1,760 m (5,775 ft.). Gross elevation gain is higher. Trail conditions include roots and sections of marshy terrain. This is an exceptional and very popular, short, easy hike.
At the link trail junction for Chephren Lake and Cirque Lake, the trail takes off to the right on reasonable, rooty, relatively flat trail through beautiful, dense forest. There are marshy sections and occasional log bridges or stepping stones to help keep the feet dry. Incredibly beautiful, aromatic path has a middle section where forest on the left (west) opens to spectacular mountain views over a pristine marsh and meadow. Like a painting. The delicacy must be seen to be believed.
The trail is relatively flat with a short, moderate ascent near the end followed by a left turn at the large tree and a short distance to the brief, but steep, descent at Chephren Lake.
The visual impact at shoreline is stunning. The detail of delicate plant life along the shore is separated, in stark contrast to the powerful presence of 3,266 m (10,715 ft.) Mount Chephren on the far west side, by the nearly 2 KM (1.2 mile) long, milky, emerald lake. Glaciated flanks of majestic Howse Peak tower over glacier fed waterfalls and a perfectly pyramidal lateral moraine at the far end of the lake. A mild breeze neutralizes the warmth of intermittent sun and occasional cloud dances across and accentuates the incredible features of this place. The vision and sounds embrace and feed my soul. WOW! I take many, many photographs and somewhat of a miserable excuse of a video. No camera or talent of mine is any match for capturing this phenomenal vista. You need to stand here and turn your head with all senses on full alert. A few of the photographs follow. WOW!
The trail continues south along the lakeshore. My chosen alternative is to sit on a flat rock and enjoy my lunch in the presence of this incredible beauty. Soon, a very pleasant couple from London, England join me and we share conversation. During this time, a sleek, white and tan colored river otter ventures onto the log jam, then scampers over the driftwood in short spurts to the far side of the lake before entering the water. Our eyes are locked on the creature. It is a good experience.
The trail continues south along the lake shore towards the moraine, glacier and waterfalls. These appear small but, when compared to the 18.3 to 24.4 m (60 to 80 ft.) tall, evergreen trees nearby, they are relatively large. I am sorely tempted to hike down there but I will leave that extended mission for younger legs and allow the long lens of the camera to reach out for a better look.
Prior to leaving, I capture many more photos then reluctantly climb the short, steep slope to hike the Chephren Lake trail in the opposite direction.
On the return along Chephren Lake trail there are occasional, excellent mountain views to the west (right) above pristine marsh and meadows.
The final leg of the hike continues over familiar terrain to the trail junction, where Cirque Lake and Chephren Lake trails meet the link trail to Waterfowl Lakes Campground. The hike to Chephren Lake is 2.6 KM (1.63 miles) on easy, decent quality but rooty trail. The distance for combining both hikes (which is what I have done this day) is about 13.6 KM (8.5 miles). A left turn onto the link trail will continue the descent back to the bridges over Mistaya River and ultimately the beginning trailhead at the parking area for hikers.
This has been an excellent hiking day. Chephren Lake is easy-access and representative of hundreds of pristine, turquoise, sub-alpine lakes resting beneath magnificent glaciated mountains in Banff National Park. Each has unique features and beauty but every one I have visited has improved my life and left me awestruck. All seem too beautiful to be real. The senses are mellowed and appreciative of the effort to get out there. The spirit soars. Chephren Lake grants an advantage by allowing easy access to enjoy magnificent, powerful and peaceful beauty. Suggesting you get out there on a fair weather weekday.
Photographs and video for this hike were captured on Wednesday, July 9, 2014.