Paget Lookout & Sherbrooke Lake
We love the combination of hiking to Sherbrooke Lake and Paget Lookout. Start with a classic Yoho leg-burning hike up to Paget fire lookout with stunning views. Then come down and take the mellower hike to Sherbrooke Lake, a beautiful alpine lake. You can also do each of these hikes for a shorter day.
From Banff, go west on the Trans Canada Hwy. 14.4km past the Lake Louise overpass is Wapta Lake. Park at the Great Divide Lodge. The trailhead is at the back of the parking area. There is another parking lot if you drive 200m past the Great Divide Lodge, which has an outhouse.
|When to do|
June through October
Yes, at trailhead
Out and back
The trail begins at the back of the Great Divide Lodge parking lot, marked by a Parks Canada trail sign and a large square plywood sign, its contents long ago faded away.
After about 100m you’ll pass a junction leading to an alternate trailhead. Continue hiking uphill. The first 1.4km ascends steadily uphill through a heavy forest, offering glimpses of Cathedral Mountain across the valley.
At 1.4km you’ll reach the junction with the Sherbrooke Lake trail. Take the right trail signed to Paget Lookout and continue your hike through flat, open forest for a few hundred metres – a great place to spot wildflowers. Eventually, the trail turns sharply to the left and begins a steady ascent. Eagle eyed hikers may spot insulators on some of the trees. These are leftovers from the days when the fire lookout was connected to the warden station in the valley below via a telephone line.
As you climb higher the vegetation turns more to the subalpine type: drier and more open. Shade from trees becomes an uncommon but welcome relief on a hot day. The trail starts to switchback as you reach the cliffs of Paget Peak. You’ll get glimpses of the turquoise of Sherbrooke Lake 200m below. At this stage, you’re not far off the destination, but you still have a steep 200m of elevation to go.
At the 5th switchback a tiny side trail takes you to a cliff top lookout, giving you a hint of the views waiting above. This is a nice spot to take a quick break, cooling off in the cliff top breeze. Look up to see the pale pink cliffs of Paget Peak. In front of you is the saw-like ridge of Mt Ogden.
After the sixth switchback you’re on the home stretch, and the simple white fire lookout appears suddenly from behind a tree. We love the look of the Paget Fire Lookout, and the views from here are sublime.
Fire lookouts are relics from a different era in national parks management. Large forest fires were considered destructive and ugly, damaging the tourist reputation of the parks. Fire lookouts were constructed where they commanded unrestricted views of major valleys and had direct line of sight to other lookouts in the area. The Paget Fire Lookout was one of three constructed in Yoho National Park. It was staffed until the 1970s. Today, fires are understood to be an important part of the mountain ecosystem, and Parks Canada conducts prescribed burns at regular intervals. The fire lookout is now utilized as a day-use shelter, making this a good option if the weather is rainy or windy.
From Paget Lookout you can see west, over Kicking Horse Pass and into the Kicking Horse Valley. The little town of Field is visible 10.0km away and almost 900m below. Here the Kicking Horse River slows in it’s decent from the glaciers of Yoho, depositing the heavier gravel, and creating the braided river flats you see from the lookout.
To the east you can see the peaks – many over 3000m tall – around the Lake Louise and Lake O’Hara region, as well as the Bow Valley and the Bow River. The Bow River has a much gentler gradient. It flows, turquoise green, away from view.
Once rested, fed, and hydrated, return down the trail the way you came until you reach the Sherbrooke Lake junction. There is still a little uphill section to get to the lake, but it’s at a much easier gradient. The colours at the wildflower meadow here: evergreen violets, calypso orchids and yellow columbines.
The wetlands near the end of Sherbrooke Lake make excellent habitat for the orchid family. Boardwalks cross the small streams draining into the lake and creek, and you pass through a natural blowdown area. Shortly past this, a trail to the left leads to the shore of Sherbrooke Lake, the third largest lake in Yoho National Park. Here you can take in the massive slopes of Mt. Ogden from top to bottom, 900m total. The open vegetation areas are avalanche slopes, the snow and debris from these slides helping keep the lake frozen until late June.
To extend your outing you can hike the trail another 1.1km to the end of the lake; although, the views are much of the same and the route can be wet after rain. Return to the trailhead the way you came.
For the adventurous, the scramble to the summit of Paget Peak is another 430m of elevation gain beyond the fire lookout.
Pack lots of water or have the ability to treat water. Only one small stream is passed very early in the trail up to Paget Fire Lookout. After that it is dry and often hot.
Watch the cliffs and open slopes of Paget Peak for mountain goats.
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