Glacier Lake Backpacking Trail

Difficulty
This reflects the 10Adventures difficulty rating for each route. We aim to keep ratings consistent across regions.
Easy
Duration
This reflects the estimated time the majority of users will take on this trail. If you are slower, add time to the top-end figure. If you are fast, then you may complete this route faster than this time range.
2 days
Distance
This reflects the return distance of this route as measured by the GPS file.
17.0 km
Elevation
This reflects the total elevation gained throughout this route as measured by the GPS file. This includes all ascents and descents, and is higher than what is quoted in most route guides, which simply measure the distance between the starting-point and high-point of the route.
210 m
User Ratings
These ratings are completed by users who have completed this trail and not subject to reviews by 10Adventures.
Overall Rating
This is the average user-submitted overall rating on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest.
9.3
Physical Difficulty
This is the average user-submitted rating on the physical difficulty of this route. In general, green is beginner, blue is intermediate, black is advanced/most difficult and double-black is expert-only. It is recommended that users build up to black and double-black routes.
Easy (Circle)
Suitable for beginners, families, young children, and those looking for a casual adventure.
Technical Difficulty
This is the average user-submitted rating on the technical difficulty of this route. In general, green is beginner, blue is intermediate, black is advanced/most difficult and double-black is expert-only. It is recommended that users build up to black and double-black routes.
Easy (Circle)
Suitable for beginners, families, young children, and those looking for a casual adventure.
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Directions to Trailhead
Panorama from Glacier Lake backpacking trail in Banff National Park

A backpacking trip to Glacier Lake is a great early-season objective as well as being popular with novice and intermediate backpackers. Visit one of Banff’s largest lakes on this pretty backpacking route, which can also be squeezed into a long day hike. Located on the Icefields Parkway near Saskatchewan River Crossing.

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Route Description for Glacier Lake Backpacking Trail

Day 1: Glacier Lake Trailhead to Glacier Lake Campground

The Glacier Lake backpack on the Icefields Parkway in Banff is a great choice for the early season. The low elevation means the area will be snow and ice-free in late spring, and the gentle, rolling trail is a good option for a “warm up” backpack to boost your fitness early in the season!

From the Glacier Lake parking lot, head out on the signed path, traveling through the forest on a good trail. After approximately 30-45 minutes (it’s only 2.4 km but the heaviness of your backpack will slow you down) cross a bridge over the North Saskatchewan River. There are fine views from here.

Continue on the path and you’ll soon come to the Howse River. There are some excellent views of the braided Howse River with Mount Murchison providing an imposing backdrop. The trail descends to a bend in the river before heading back into the trees.

The rest of the trail is primarily in the trees, with large patches of buffalo berries (take great care in July and August when bears are out looking for them). This part of the hike is not the most scenic.

While Glacier Lake is almost the same elevation as the trailhead, the trail takes you up and over a small rise, a shoulder of the nearby Survey Peak, so you gain and lose approximately 210 m along the way. Further along look out for a survey marker from 1928 carved into a tree near the end of the trail.

After 8.9 km you arrive at the Glacier Lake and the Glacier Lake Backcountry Campground (GL9), which you can book through Parks Canada. This campground has 5 sites, and they are close to the lakeshore, so you can enjoy incredible views from your tent. There are picnic tables and a communal fire pit, but you’ll need to bring your own wood, as none is supplied, and deadfall is picked pretty clean.

If you get there early enough, then a day hike along the lakeshore is a great way to spend a couple of hours. A path goes along the right-hand (north) side for 3.0 km towards the end of the lake.

Glacier Lake Campground

Glacier Lake is a hidden gem of a campground, though it’s not as well-known as other backcountry campgrounds in Banff. Perhaps put off by the distance to the trailhead, or the relative “easiness” of the hike in, this campground is a true piece of backcountry paradise. What is nice is that you can drive to the trailhead and hike into the campground in a day, so this is a great weekend option.

Overall, this is one of our favourite backcountry sites because the sites are right on the lake and fires are allowed. Snuggling around a cozy fire, with a glass of wine or hot chocolate and looking out over a stunning lake in the Banff backcountry should be on your bucket list.

Glacier Lake Campground Information

The Glacier Lake Campground is a great place for an overnight stay on this fantastic easy backpacking trip. The campground has pit toilets and food storage facilities, and fires are permitted in the campfire ring provided you take appropriate safety measures. However, if you plan to make a fire you may wish to bring wood with you as there is very little deadfall in the surrounding area. Make sure to book your pitch in advance by visiting the Parks Canada website.

  • Tent pads: 5.
  • Site Fee: $10.03
  • Ground cover: Forest floor.
  • Fire pit: Yes.
  • Dogs allowed: Yes.
  • Campfire allowed: Yes.
  • Maximum stay: 3 nights.
  • Maximum group size: 10.
  • Allowed per tent pad: 1 tent.

Day 2: Glacier Lake Campground to Glacier Lake Trailhead

You’ll probably enjoy a lazy morning and return the way you came back to your car. If you’re energetic, wake up early and then hit one of the wonderful nearby day hikes on the Icefield Parkway

Sample Itinerary:

  • Day 1
    Glacier Lake Trailhead to Glacier Lake
    Distance: 8.5 km
    Elevation gain: 210 m
    Campground: Glacier Lake Campground
  • Day 2
    Glacier Lake Trailhead to Glacier Lake
    Distance: 8.5 km
    Elevation gain: 210 m
    Campground: n/a

Insider Hints for Glacier Lake Backpacking Trail

  • This is a great early-season hike as it’s relatively flat and on the valley floor. Sometimes you can do it as early as May, though we usually go in June.
  • Bring some firewood as there is a rare firepit at this campground.
  • Watch out for bears and bring bear spray, there are lots of berries on this hike!

Getting to the Glacier Lake Backpacking Trail Trailhead

To get to the Glacier Lake Trailhead, head north from Lake Louise on Highway 93, the Icefields Parkway. You'll drive for just over 75.0 km to the Saskatchewan River Crossing. Pass the turnoff for Highway 11 and continue North for 1.1 km (~1 minute) and take the signed turn-off for Glacier Lake on your left.

Route Information

  • Re-supply points

    None

  • When to do

    Mid June - September

  • Mountain Huts

    No

  • Backcountry Campsites

    Yes

  • Toilets

    Trailhead

  • Pets allowed

    Yes - On Leash

  • Accommodation Type

    Tent

  • Family friendly

    No

  • Route Signage

    Average

  • Crowd Levels

    Moderate

  • Route Type

    Out and back

Glacier Lake Backpacking Trail Elevation Graph

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Glacier Lake Backpacking Trail Reviews

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