Some of the best hikes in the Canadian Rockies can be found around Lake Louise and when we were camping there last summer we looked for a trail that would be easy for children and not overrun with people. We heard there was one on the edge of the Wapta Icefield starting from the Num-Ti-Jah Lodge off the Icefields Parkway. During the winter, this is one of the top backcountry ski areas in the world.
The trailhead is 36km (23 mi) north of Lake Louise. You take the Num-Ti-Jah Lodge turnoff from the Icefields Parkway and park in the trailhead parking lot just past the lodge on the north side of Bow Lake. We did the hike on July 1, Canada’s birthday, and my son, Aidan, acknowledged the occasion by wearing a shirt covered with Canadian maples leaves.
The hike is about 9 km (5.6 miles) round trip. A good part of the trail hugs the northern shoreline of Bow Lake and there is little to no elevation gain. Then there is a climb up 65 or so stairs to the base of the falls. The trail itself is open and well marked.
Bow Lake is beautiful, maybe even more than Lake Louise, with colours so gorgeous it seems like a painting. When you look across the lake, the Bow Glacier is easily visible on Crowfoot Mountain and below it the Bow Glacier Falls. The glacier is an outflow of the Wapta Icefield and supplies water to Bow Lake and the Bow River.
The trail takes you across streams and gravel bars and the water is so cold that you know where it came from. When you reach the bottom of the stairs you can already hear the sound of the falls. After we did the climb up to the falls, Aidan did a victory dance to celebrate. We were able to go under the falls and that’s where we ate our lunch. And for that hour we had the place to ourselves, which was pretty special. The weather was perfect that day but Parks Canada warns that you should be prepared for sudden changes in weather and for emergencies. Also, this is bear country so take precautions.
This is, for sure, one of my favourite easy, family hikes in the Rockies, a great destination. This interview with Andrew Sunter has been condensed and edited. Photo credits Andrew and Erin Sunter © Riding the buses 2014