Winter Hiking Banff National Park – Peyto Lake Viewpoints

With another week left in our spring break, we researched options for short winter hikes a little farther afield. After narrowing it down to two options, we headed northwest, to the Icefields Parkway.

Option 1 – Bow Glacier Falls, an easy half-day hike we enjoyed last summer

Option 2 – Peyto Lake, where there’s a very easy/short walk to Peyto Lake Viewpoint and the possibility of a longer (but still easy) extension to Bow Summit Lookout

We got a late start. We backed out of our Canmore parking spot at 9:30 and it was 11 o’clock by the time we had to choose between the two. We stopped briefly at the Crowfoot Glacier Viewpoint. Although far less crowded than in the summertime, there were quite a few cars in the small parking area. Mr. GeoK took the time and care to set up his tripod and took enough photographs to create this panorama view across the valley…

Crowfoot Glacier and Crowfoot Mountain

Given our late start and that it was new-to-us, we opted to carry on five minutes past the Bow Glacier Falls parking area to the lower parking area for Bow Summit/Peyto Lake.

Snow cap on information board

Still in the parking lot, we chose MICROspikes and crampons over snowshoes. The snow depth was well over one meter, but looked fairly well packed. So after donning gaiters and adjusting our trekking poles, we headed out in search of the official Peyto Lake Viewpoint.

From everything we’ve read, this location is an extremely popular summer stop. In fact, there’s a separate parking area for tour buses. But at this time of year it’s far less busy. We saw just 10 other people all day – 2 back-country skiers making their way up the shoulder of Mount Jimmy Simpson and 8 visitors who only went as far as the wooden-railed viewing platform.

Guidebooks and maps aren’t that helpful in the winter. The paved paths are buried under snow and trail junctions are hard to decipher. Fortunately, there is a self-guided nature trail (loop). By following the best-packed trails in the snow and keeping an eye out for signs poking out of snowpack, we made quick work of the 750 meters to the official viewpoint.

While we were stopped, enjoying the expansive view up the valley and the mountains all around us, we heard at least 6 avalanches. The sound seemed to be coming from the backside of Peyto Peak, Caldron Peak and Mount Patterson. And we continued to hear avalanches during our lunch break. So we weren’t very surprised to learn that the Parkway was closed for part of the afternoon for avalanche control, with more closures expected this week. Fortunately, we made it back to Lake Louise before avalanche control measures got underway.

From there, route-finding was a little more challenging. There were lots of braided trails through the snow and about a kilometer later we found ourselves at a higher viewpoint where we settled in for lunch.

After scouring the interweb and various maps, I’m pretty sure we stopped just off the second big switchback on the Bow Summit Lookout Trail, which means we stopped about 1 km short of the Bow Summit Lookout (perhaps a reason for a return visit during wildflower season).

And here’s another of Mr. GeoKs’ panorama photographs…

From left to right: shoulder of Mount Jimmy Simpson, Mount Thompson, Peyto Glacier, Peyto Peak, Caldron Peak, the Mistaya Valley and then another group of mountains on the other side of the valley. Peyto Lake is covered in snow and ice.

After lunch, we decided to have some fun on the descent, freewheeling as much as possible in our MICROspikes. Here are a couple of photographs. If I figure out how to edit and upload video, I’ll add that later.

The rest of the trek back to parking was challenging. With the temperature up around 12C, areas in the sun were quite soft. We’d be walking along just fine and then suddenly one leg would plunge deep into the snow! We expended a fair bit of energy wriggling back out and more than once I found myself wishing I hadn’t left my snowshoes in the vehicle. Fortunately, the tough slogging lasted less that a kilometer and then we were back in the shade with more solid snowpack underfoot.

Total hiking distance = 3.6 km (would be about 5.6 km if we made it to the Bow Summit Lookout)

Elevation gain = 150 m (235 m to the Bow Summit Lookout)

This is an easy hike. Snowshoes/poles recommended if you go in winter. Summertime photos of the area suggest this might be a good destination for wildflower season. A high driving to hiking time ratio, so we’ll probably make a return visit to Bow Glacier Falls or try somewhere else next time we venture this way.

One thought on “Winter Hiking Banff National Park – Peyto Lake Viewpoints

  1. Pingback: Planning Tips for the 2017 Hiking Season | Out and About with the GeoKs

Leave a Reply