Helen Lake and Cirque Peak hike
Hiking to Helen Lake and Cirque Peak is a local favourite. From Helen Lake up to Cirque Peak the hike provides incredible views. Be warned that this is a challenging day with steady uphill climbs, particularly the final push to the top of Cirque Peak, which also involves some scrambling.
Drive on Highway 93 north towards Jasper for 32.8km from the highway turnoff (or head 3.4km south from the Num-Ti-Jah Lodge turnoff). The parking lot is listed as “Helen Lake” and is on the east side of the road.
|When to do|
June through October
Out and back
Helen Lake and Cirque Peak
Route Description for Helen Lake and Cirque Peak
Start the hike from the signed point in the parking lot. Entering the forest, you follow a well-marked trail for roughly 4.5km, until you emerge from the trees and begin to get some stupendous views. Crossing Helen Creek, the route soon arrives at Helen Lake after roughly 6.0km and having gained approximately 380m of elevation.
From the lake, contour around the right-hand side of the water towards a headwall. The trail will take you to the right of cliffs. Follow the main trail here and don’t take shortcuts. From here you can scamper the remaining few meters to the viewpoint before turning left and walking across the plateau to the base of the main push to the top of Cirque Peak.
Walk across the marshy plateau towards Cirque Peak, eventually reaching a sandy, steep ascent. From here you have under 500m of elevation gain to complete in 1.3km of distance. The sandy section will lead to a ridge, where the consistency changes to small rocks and a bit of scree. Follow the trail to the left of the ridge, and make sure to steer clear of the edge.
Roughly 10m from the top, you will encounter a rock formation that will require a bit of agility. Ditch your poles here and use your hands to go up the notch towards the peak. Take care, as this scrambling can be intimidating to those without experience.
Reaching the top, you have outstanding 360 degree views – Dolomite Pass, Dolomite Peak and Lake Katherine to name a few. The submarine-like mountain to your right is Dolomite Peak, one of the most unique in the Rockies. Take great care at the top, however, as the drop off on the other side is enormous, and certainly fatal.
Those who are very adventurous can scramble to the second peak, though that is beyond our own capabilities, so only challenge this route if you’re very experienced. Please judge your own capabilities accurately and ensure you are safe.
Coming back down the rock formation is actually easier, provided your pants or pack don’t get caught on rocks and throw you off balance. Once down, you have a pleasant descent provided you’re comfortable moving on loose rock. Regardless of your abilities, coming down the black sand is a joy. If you are new to these descents, treat it like snow, step down with your heel first until you find a firm footing and then move your other foot. Keep straight downhill and be prepared to fall back on your bum. This takes some practice, but over time you can greatly improve your speed at descents.
Return the rest of the way you ascended, once again making sure you take the same route you took up. There are several game paths that look like trails that can lead you to the exposed cliff edge.
The steady route up through the forest is a welcome relief on the way down, as you coast easily back to your car. Just be sure to keep on the lookout for roots and make enough noise to ensure the bears stay away, as this is prime bear habitat.
Bring gaiters and poles for the scree and sand route down.
Do this in a group as you are in prime bear habitat and for support on the final push to the peak.
Stop for a snack at the iconic Num-Ti-Jah Lodge after the day. Better yet, get a jump on the crowds and book a night at the Num-Ti-Jah to be transported back in time.
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