To be honest, trail conditions also factored into our decision to hike to one of the most accessible hanging valley lakes between Banff and Lake Louise. The posted distance of 12.6 km and 585 m elevation gain seemed like a nice progression from our 10 km / 450 m hike to Stanley Glacier earlier in the week. And if we reached Taylor Lake with time and energy to spare, we’d have the option to extend our hike by visiting Lake O’Brien or exploring a wildflower/larch meadow along the trail to Panorama Ridge.
Trailhead: Trailhead parking is at the Taylor Creek day-use area, about 7 km southeast of Lake Louise on the Trans-Canada Highway. You can access the parking area travelling either direction. Amenities include a few picnic tables adjacent to the parking lot, a small building with a couple of pit toilets and a bear-proof garbage bin. A small set of metal stairs provides access to the trail through the wildlife fencing.
Trail: Most of the trail is not particularly scenic, although we appreciated hiking in the shade of the thick forest for most of the day. At the first bridge over Taylor Creek, the double-wide trail narrows to a single track that’s still wide enough for two to walk side by side, making conversation easy. We also kept a lookout for early season wildflowers and spotted Heart-Leaved Arnica, Calypso Orchids and Brachted Honeysuckle at lower elevations.
The trail gained elevation quite steadily, over a series of 8 or 10 well-spaced switchbacks. For much of the hike, we heard plenty of birdsong over a background of rushing water. Although the snow was off the trail the first week of July, there were extensive muddy sections downstream of the second bridge across Taylor Creek. We were surprised to encounter three large culvert pipes across the trail that we had to step over. In some sections, the trail served as a very shallow creeklet draining the last of the snow melt.
Just past the trail marker for O’Brien Lake, the trail gave way to a marshy, subalpine meadow covered in white and yellow Globeflowers, with a few Western Anemones sprinkled into the mix. At this time of year, the last 250 meters or so to the shore of Lake Taylor will reveal whether your waterproof boots are truly waterproof. Mine were not quite! I had wet toes on both feet and I think water was getting in at the seam between the toe caps and uppers on my boots.
We spent about 45 minutes at Taylor Lake – enough time to eat an early lunch, check out the back country campsite and picnic tables, admire the fish swimming in the crystal clear water and make plenty of photographs. We were careful not to tramp around too much; the ground was so saturated that it wouldn’t take much to cause significant damage. One of the things we noticed during our stop here is that the forest around the lake is a mix of spruce, fir and larch, so we’ve added Taylor Lake to our list of hikes to do in September, when the larch turn golden.
It was only just past noon when we were ready to leave Taylor Lake, so we decided to extend our hike with a side trip to O’Brien Lake.
O’Brien Lake Extension: From the trail marker just downstream of the Taylor Lake outlet, we crossed another bridge made of some of the largest pressure-treated beams we’ve ever seen. A nearby sign warned “No Well Defined Trail Beyond This Point” but we found the trail to be quite well-established.
Note that well-established does not equate to well-used! We encountered so many spider webs across the trail that Mr. GeoK developed a special web clearing technique – holding his trekking poles horizontally out in front and swinging them up and down. After a while, his arms got tired, so K and I each took a turn being “web master”. We came up with an easier technique, which involved holding a trekking pole vertically out in front, with the handle just above head height. K spotted so many spider webs that he thought we might have accidentally entered Mirkwood!
Over a distance of about 2 km, the O’Brien Lake trail looses a bit of elevation as it heads southeast from Taylor Lake and then gains 100 meters for a net gain of 55 m. Once we crossed the broken log bridge over the outlet creek from O’Brien Lake, we spotted an old mileage marker. Canada’s metrication took place several years in the 1970s, so this sign is several decades old.
Every step of the last half mile was wet! I could feel the dampness in my leaking boots creep slowly past my toes, until finally my boots were as wet inside as they were outside!
Overall, it was worth the effort (and the wet feet). O’Brien Lake is considerably smaller than Taylor Lake and we found a trail that took us around the corner to the southeast arm where we could look across the lake and glimpse a huge waterfall in the forest.
Crossing the broken log bridge was somewhat tricky, requiring careful foot placement and prudent use of trekking poles for additional stability. K ended up slipping on the return trip, but his waterproof boots did what they were supposed to and he ended up with just a bit of water coming in over the top of one boot.
Overall, the hike back to the parking lot went quickly: about 40 minutes from O’Brien Lake to the trail intersection near Taylor Lake and then another 90 minutes to reach the parking lot. We passed only 4 other hikers all day, one with a fishing pole in hand and no doubt thinking about all those cutthroat trout we saw earlier in the day (Note – we are not fisherpeople, so if I’ve mis-identified the fish in the photo above, please share your greater knowledge by leaving a comment). Fishing regulations and license information are available online and through a number of shops including Fish Tales Fly Shop (full disclosure = there’s a close family connection).
Total hiking distance = 18.1 km including 4.3 km extension to Lake O’Brien and back
Total elevation gain = 863 m (665 net)
Total hiking time = 6 hours including about an hour for lunch and photography
This is a great conditioning hike and since so much of the trail is in the forest, it’s also a good choice for a hot day. We’d consider a return visit during larch season or maybe a late July visit to try the wildflower meadow extension on the way to Panorama Ridge.