Bow Lake. Banff NP

Hiking at Bow Lake: A Perfect Day in Banff National Park

Using Canmore as a base during one of our vacations in Banff National Park, we drove through the park daily. After exploring the Bow River Parkway, and the vicinity of Banff town and Lake Louise, we set off on a road trip on the Icefields Parkway.

We planned to drive to the Columbia Icefields before turning around. We didn’t make it all the way. When we stopped at Bow Lake, we couldn’t leave, but ended up spending all day there.

A Change of Plans

Our original plan included a short stop at Bow Lake, a few minutes of hiking around the lake, a picnic, then getting back in the car to keep going. We still had a long stretch of road ahead of us.

However, one look at the pristine lake changed our plans for the day. Not only did we walk around the lake, but hiked up to the Bow Glacier Falls.

Bow Lake

A close look at crystal clear water of Bow Lake made me want to drink from it (which I probably could have). A glimpse of the whole lake revealed a bright turquoise shade of blue I have rarely seen in nature before. This surreal color is due to the runoff from the Bow Glacier.

Banff National Park. Bow Lake
Surrounded by volcanoes. Bow Lake

The mountains and the glaciers surrounding the lake, and their reflections in it, make it even more spectacular.

We walked around the lake a bit, admiring the scenery, and the beautiful purple flowers growing in clusters on the shore.

Finding a Trailhead

Then we arrived at a trailhead. The sign said it was 4.5 km to the destination, a viewpoint of the Bow Glacier Fall, halfway around the lake. We didn’t want to get back in the car yet, so we set off on the trail. We planned to walk a few minutes, then turn around.

Bow Lake in Banff National Park
Bow Lake with its crystal-clear glacial water.

But once on the trail, we kept walking. It was a pleasant stroll, the trail flat and easy to walk on, the trees around the lake offered the perfect shade… We stopped often, to smell the flowers and the pine trees around us, and enjoy the beauty of the lake.

We had the perfect day to enjoy this hike, with clear weather and sunshine. We’ve seen it on a rainy day before when you could not see the glaciers.

Walking Around Bow Lake

The view of the lake was changing with every cloud that passed by and each turn the trail took. I couldn’t get enough pictures. My daughter wanted to swim in it, the water looked so inviting. But after getting her hand in the water, she realized why no one was swimming: it was ice cold!

After a while, the trail opened up and we were walking on pebbles, in the open. In fact, it didn’t even seem like we were on a trail at all, just walking across an area of the lake.

On the shore of Bow Lake. Banff NP Canada
Bow Lake. On the shore.

After traversing this area, the trail led us back into the forest.

Choices – Two Trails Diverged in the Woods

At this point we had two choices, we could walk by the lake, or in the forest, a bit higher up. Since neither looked busy, and we had a return trip to think of, we knew we could walk on both.

For now, I let my daughter decide, and she chose the trail by the lake. The water was mesmerizing, we couldn’t leave it even for a green, dense, shaded forest. We left the forest road for the way back.

We were walking by the rushing river now, following it to its origins. The trail eventually led to a view of the Bow Falls.

Bow Falls. Banff National Park, Canada
Bow Falls, with the river bringing glacial water and sediments to Bow Lake

Out in the open again, we kept going until we reached a few stairs. We climbed them and at the top the most spectacular views of the glacier and the waterfall greeted us.

The Hike Back to the Road

We were in no rush to get back to the road. By now, we realized that the Columbia Icefields would have to wait for another day.

We stopped on a ledge where the water was rushing under us and enjoyed the pristine scenery with the glacier, waterfall, tall mountain peaks and the lake around us.

We took the forest trail at the fork for a change and enjoyed the cool green of the Canadian woods.

Though we didn’t make it to our original destination that day, it was one of the most enjoyable days of our trip.

Where is Bow Lake?

Bow Lake is in Banff National Park, on the Icefield Parkway (Hwy 93), about thirty minutes North of Lake Louise.

How does it get that gorgeous crystal-clear turquoise blue color?

The lake gets its color from the Bow Glacier in the Wapta Glacier Field. Glacier-fed lakes get this color from the mineral deposits in the meltwater.

Bow Lake pin
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