Warden Lake hike
The Warden Lake trail is an easy, family-friendly hike through an area that was recently affected by wildfire. With open views of the North Saskatchewan River and the surrounding peaks, this trail is a fun hike for the whole family.
From Saskatchewan Crossing (80.0km north of Lake Louise), drive 2.0km south on highway 93N. Cross the river, and look for a gravel road on the west side of the highway, opposite the Saskatchewan Crossing Warden Station. Park in the gravel at the end of the short road.
|When to do|
May to October
Out and back
Route Description for Warden Lake
From the parking lot, cross the highway and walk a little less than 200m south along the shoulder. A tall post with a small wooden sign marks the start of the Warden Lake trail. Hike across a large, grassy meadow, past a fenced-off weather observation station. The hiking trail will skirt the edge of the Saskatchewan Crossing Warden Compound.
The oldest building at the compound was constructed in 1939, and is recognised as a Federal Heritage Building. The whole compound narrowly avoided being consumed by fire during the 2014 Spreading Creek wildfire; in fact, the trail follows the edge of the burned area. Sparked by lightning in July 2013, the fire consumed approximately 9,000 hectares in Banff National Park and the Rocky Mountains Forest Reserve. Today, the area is an excellent example of the ecological change brought on by fire. Fireweed grows in a spectacular purple carpet among the standing tree trunks, benefiting from the recycled nutrients and open canopy.
The narrow trail passes along the edge of the burned area, which extends all the way up to the tree line of Mt Murchison, (3333m). This typical montane (valley bottom) habitat contains an abundance of vegetation popular with the wildlife: kinnikinic, buffalo berry, juniper, wild rose, and wolf willow. Bears, moose, elk, and deer all frequent this area.
The trail widens into a primitive road as it comes alongside the North Saskatchewan River, its cloudy turquoise waters creating different braided channels with the rush of glacial meltwater. Steep riverbanks in sections hint at erosion from flooding in recent years. Across the river, the slopes of Mt Wilson (3261m) remain untouched by fire, creating a stark contrast. The trail follows the river for approximately a kilometre. After that, you’ll make a 90 degree turn to the right, back into the burned area.
Stepping off the trail here sends puffs of ash into the air. The fire burned 90% of the smaller branches and needles on trees here, recycling nutrients from the trees back to the soil. The grass – growing up to chest height alongside the trail – is making the most of the extra sun and nutrients.
To the left is a verdant wetland area. In the evenings the chorus of the abundant amphibian life is clearly audible, seemingly unaffected by the surrounding devastation. A short distance away from the river, the old Warden Lake trail sign has been salvaged from the debris and propped up on a tree, reassuring you that you’re on the right track.
After hiking up a small hill and crossing an overgrown creek bed, you suddenly emerge on the north shore of Warden Lake – a tranquil oasis amongst the devastation. Warden Lake is an excellent spot to sit and watch for waterfowl, or go for a quick dip on a hot day.
Return the way you came.
This is an excellent hike for the evenings. It’s short and relaxing, with plenty of opportunities to listen for amphibians and birds, or even catch a glimpse of a deer or moose grazing along the shores of the North Saskatchewan.
Although the views of the massive Mt Murchison and Mt Wilson are excellent from this hike, it is also a great trail for an overcast day, as most of the interesting features of the hike will not be obscured by cloud.
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