Galatea Lakes

We’re well into our fifth summer hiking with our boys, and if there’s one thing we’ve learned it’s that when you’re headed to the mountains for a dayhike with kids, it’s a good idea to have a plan and a back-up plan. Over the weekend we started talking about hiking the Cory Pass / Edith Pass loop in Banff National Park. At 13.8 km with more than 1300 meters elevation gain and a short rock band scramble, it looked like a challenging (but manageable) and scenic hike. Everything looked good with this plan until I re-read the hike description yesterday afternoon and noticed two little sentences at the end of the hike overview. “The worst aspect of this trip in noise. For a long way, you’ll hear the distressing racket of vehicles speeding on the Trans-Canada.”
Uh-oh! Time for plan B. The only problem was, we didn’t have a fallback, so we hauled out our hiking guidebooks and topo maps and took turns identifying possibilities, eventually deciding on Guinn’s Pass in Spray Valley Provincial Park. Although yesterday’s weather forecast for today was excellent (sunny with a high of 21), one appealing aspect to this choice was optionality. Our strong preferance was to hike the first section of the Galatea Lakes trail and then, at about the 6 km mark, turn north for a 2.5 km grunt up to Guinn’s Pass to the expected reward of excellent views of Galatea Lakes and Ribbon Lake. But if Mother Nature decided to throw a weather surprise in our direction, or the boys were lacking energy, we could countinue west to at least Lillian Lake, but more likely Galatea Lakes.
It rained hard in the night last night and we woke up to lots of grey clouds over the Rockies, but we’re well-equipped with rain gear, Gortex-lined boots, neoprene gloves, etc., so we loaded up the vehicle and finally pulled out of the driveway at 8:05 this morning. We were back home by 8:16, as I noticed that our youngest lad forgot to bring his fleece and we figured it might be a necessity today. After a bit of discussion, we came up with personal “to do” lists for each of our boys on hiking days. I’m not sure why we haven’t thought of that before now, but as they’re getting older we think they’re ready for some more responsibilities.
Despite a quick stop at the Barrier Lake Visitor Centre (to use the facilities and check for bear warnings at Galatea), we were on the trail at 9:30. Galatea Lakes trail is a great trail for families: there are 8 or 9 river and creek crossings via bridge; the first 6 km is pretty much entirely in the trees which would make for welcome shade on hot summer days; today we also had to cross a couple of streams without the benefit of bridges, which is always fun for the kids.
Confluence of two creeks
On the far side of a “no bridge” creek crossing
The wildflowers were in full bloom today: moss campion, columbine, white and pink heather, bunchberries, Richardson’s geranium, white mountain avens, pink and purple fleabane, elegant camas, cow parsnip and more. We also spotted a fushia Indian paintbrush, which was new to us…
At about the 6 km mark we reached the trail junction for Guinn’s Pass. By this point, we’d be walking in light rain for a good 30 minutes, so we stopped to assess the skies and talk through our options. As much as Mr. GeoK wanted to ascend the pass, the fast-moving heavy grey clouds, the wind direction and the fact that the top portion of the pass was in the clouds all contributed to our decision to head to Galatea Lakes instead.
The first lake you reach, about 600 meters past the trail intersection, is Lillian Lake. Compared to other mountain lakes we’ve seen while hiking over the years, it’s not very appealing. Because it’s so shallow, it doesn’t have the beautiful turquoise colour we love to see in high mountain lakes. And it sits in a very tight valley, with mountains surrounding 3 sides, so there’s no nice perspective to it either.
One thing Lillian Lake does have going for it a back-country campground, complete with very nice pair of composting toilets. Based on the condition of the lumber used to construct this backwoods facility, we’d say it’s a recent addition to the campground amenities and we hope to see more such pit stops installed on other trails in K-country.
Composting toilets
While we were at Lillian Lake it started to rain fairly hard. While Mr. GeoK made a successful search for GC15V0A, Mrs. GeoK supervised the boys while they put on rain pants and jackets. K also needed help tying his boot laces.
It’s a bit of a grunt from Lillian Lake up to the lower Galatea Lake – 200 meters gain over a bit more than 2 km. About 10 minutes into this stretch it stopped raining and the sun came out, so we stopped again, this time to remove our rain gear! We did the on again / off again thing two or three more times before we were back at the parking area.
We made it as far as lower Galatea Lake before stopping for lunch. This high valley reminded us all of Headwall Lakes, a hike we’ve done a couple of times. We had company for lunch – the four-legged variety – but we refused to share any of our lunch with the inquisitive critters…
After lunch,we took just enough time to find GCR7BZ, which was within 15 meters of the comfortable rock sofa K chose for his lunch seat! Then, with heavy clouds rolling in again, we took off down the hill at full speed!

Lower Galatea Lake, with Upper Galatea Lake hiding just behind the small ridge

Looking east towards Lillian Lake and Highway 40

We spotted some interesting flora on the way back down, including a public service announcement that this hike was brought to us by the letter P!

We reached the parking lot at 3:30, 6 hours after we departed. Total hiking distance = 14 km with 670 meters gained and 2 geocaches found. We will return, as we’d like to hike up Guinn’s Pass before this hiking season is over.


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