A backpacking trip to Glacier Lake is a great early-season objective as well as popular with novice and intermediate backpackers. Visit one of Banff’s largest lakes on this pretty backpacking route, which is also a long day hike. Located on the Icefields Parkway near Saskatchewan River Crossing.
Head north from Lake Louise on Highway 93, the Icefields Parkway. You'll drive for just over 75.0km to Saskatchewan River Crossing. Pass the turnoff for Highway 11 and continue North for 1.1km (~1 minute) and take the signed turn-off for Glacier Lake on your left.
|When to do|
Mid June - September
Yes - On Leash
Out and back
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 & ice-free in late spring, and the gentle, rolling trail is good for a “warm up” backpack for your early season fitness!
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.
From the Glacier Lake Parking Lot, head out on the signed trail travelling through forest on a good trail. After approximately 30-45 minutes (it’s only 2.4km but the heaviness of your backpack will slow you down) you cross a bridge over the North Saskatchewan River. There are fine views from here.
Continue on the path and you soon come to the Howse River. There are some excellent views of the braided Howse River with Mt 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 buffaloberries (take great care in July & 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 & lose approximately 210m along the way. Further along look out for a survey marker from 1928 carved into a tree near the end of the trail.
After 8.9km you arrive at the Glacier Lake and the Glacier Lake Backcountry Campground (GL9), which you can book on through Parks Canada. This campground has 5 sites, and they are close to the lakeshore, so you get 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.
Overall, this is one of our favourite backcountry sites because the sites are right on the lake and fires are allowed. Snuggling around a cosy 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.
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 3.0km towards the end of the lake.
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
Day 1: Glacier Lake Trailhead to Glacier Lake (8.9km, 210m)
Day 1: Glacier Lake to Glacier Lake Trailhead (8.9km, 210m)
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!
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