Crowfoot Pass and Balfour Viewpoint
The hike up to Crowfoot Pass and onwards to Balfour Viewpoint provides serene solitude in the remote backcountry. Enjoy a river crossing, a high alpine pass and incredible view of a majestic waterfall. For the adventurous scrambler, the steep rocky Bow Peak Scramble can be added to this trail.
From Lake Louise, take the Icefields Parkway north towards Jasper and turn-around at the Crowfoot Glacier Viewpoint – roughly 8.9km north of Mosquito Creek Hostel turn-off. Go 1.0km south to a slight gravel pullout on the right-hand side of the road.
|When to do|
June through October
Out and back
This hike feels remote, as it doesn’t get anywhere near the traffic of the Helen Lake/Cirque Peak trail across the road. Why? The trailhead is harder to find and this is not an official route, although the path is clear except for the first 100m or so.
After parking your car considerately (to allow others to park here), walk on the side of the Icefields Parkway in the direction towards Lake Louise. After passing a culvert at 200m you will walk another 150m and you should see a slight path heading down the hill. There is typically some tape or other markers denoting the trail down. Continue on the faint path as it drops down through tight trees, eventually reaching a plain. A clearer path will now emerge moving away from the highway in a southern direction.
Continue on this trail for approximately 800m until you reach the outflow from Bow Lake and the start of the famous Bow River, you will cross literally where the river starts its journey. From here, change into your water shoes and cross the river. You can see the path on the other side. The water height varies, but typically is between the upper calf and lower thigh. The water here is clear, however, so there is great visibility of what you’re walking on. There will also be the pull of the current. Although it’s not that strong, poles help stability if you aren’t experienced with river crossings.
On the other side of the crossing, you can either stash your shoes/sandals or take them back in your pack for the remainder of the day.
The path from here roughly follows the Bow River through a forest for about 1.0km, until it starts to head up towards the pass for another 1.7km. Travel through the forest with multiple stream crossings. You will find your travel is typically a bit slower than other trails as it can be a muddy on this route if there has been a lot of rain. In addition, there are also a lot of fallen trees, which can be difficult to manipulate.
After approximately 3.9km from the car, you’ll emerge from the forest and climb up with the moraine of retreating glacier by your side. Continue on the path and come upon two small tarns just before the pass. These tarns can provide excellent photo opportunities for reflections with low wind and good visibility.
You’ll reach the pass at approximately 5.1km total distance from the car. Unlike many passes in the Rockies, this pass is long and broad.
To get to the viewpoint, which really is highly recommended, head down the valley and then re-ascend the shoulder on the right. To do this, follow the path south as it descends approximately 150m, eventually crossing a stream at 2238m, approximately 1.0kmfrom the pass. From here, continue along and you will gain 60m, eventually being blessed with a magical view through the trees of Mt. Balfour and the Waputik Icefield. This view also includes an enormous waterfall cascading down, eventually reaching the incredibly blue Hector Lake. Wander up and down the ridge to find the best viewpoint, taking care to note where you came up from the trail. Your total distance to here from the car is roughly 7.5km.
Return the way you came to Crowfoot Pass. At this point, there is the opportunity of ascending to Bow Peak to the east of the pass. This is a significant scramble of an additional 520m. The scramble is over large boulders, and can be very tricky and dangerous in wet weather. In fine weather, the scramble is still a noteworthy undertaking, with no defined path. Take care and go slow. Those who get to the top will have an incredible panorama as well as the opportunity to write their name in the summit book.
For those who don’t fancy a trip to the summit, climb to the base of the boulders on Bow Peak to gain additional perspective on not only the Waputik Icefield but also to look back on Bow Lake, Num-Ti-Jah Lodge and the peaks to the north/northwest.
When you’ve had your fill of the alpine (if that’s possible), return the way you came back to the car. Take care when crossing the river, as water levels can rise after the heat of the day.
Bring sandals or spare shoes and trekking poles to assist in the river crossing. A small towel is also a great help in drying feet and removing sand during the crossing.
The tarns just below Crowfoot Pass offer great photo opportunities.
Bow Peak is just east of the pass, and can be summited by confident scramblers. Take care if you choose to do this.
This hike is remote and not crowded, do this trip with a group.
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