Bow Peak Scramble
The scramble up Bow Peak takes you on an adventurous river crossing with an incredibly scenic forest walk to an isolated alpine pass. Giving way to incredible views of peaks and the icefields, The Bow Peak scramble is a classic Canadian Rockies adventure!
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|
July - September
Helen Lake trailhead, a few kilometers north on the Parkway.
Yes - On Leash
Out and back
Route Description for Bow Peak
Park in a gravel pullout on the west side of the parkway to the north of Bow Peak. Hike a few hundred meters south along the parkway to a small tree bearing some flagging marking an obvious and good trail. Follow the trail down to the outlet of Bow Lake and the Bow River crossing.
With an optional change into sneakers, you will be faced with crossing the Bow River. Many are pleased to find that what looks to be freezing cold water is actually rather pleasant. More importantly, the current is usually light, and it is rarely more than 1m deep. Many hikers and scramblers avoid this trip due to fear of crossing the river. While the river crossing isn’t challenging, if you fall with a heavy pack it could become dangerous, especially if you aren’t comfortable in the water. Leave your wet sneakers by the river, awaiting your return.
Once across the river, follow a good trail all the way to Crowfoot Pass, which is approximately 5.1km from the car. Be sure to make lots of noise on this quiet trail, as the streams provide enough sound for one to startle a bear.
The old growth forest, several gorgeous streams, and carpets of wildflowers along the trail made the walk to Crowfoot Pass one of the more beautiful trails in Banff National Park. Bow Peak often will block the sun on the moderately steep ascent and will keep the path completely shaded – a real treat on a hot day.
You can see marmots along the way, before being greeted by two tarns in Crowfoot Pass, roughly 2 hours from leaving the car.
This is one of the more beautiful passes we’ve visited. Even if you have no intention of scrambling Bow Peak, a trip to the Crowfoot Pass is definitely worth it. In fact, many people consider aborting the ascent of Bow Peak and just wandering around the pass instead.
If you do persevere with the original ascent plan, from the highpoint of the pass turn left and start up the grassy lower slope of Bow Peak. This soon transitions to quartzite boulders and loose rubble that gets steeper and looser the higher you go. Be careful on this section as the large boulders tend to shift unexpectedly.
The going gets a little tougher on the summit ridge to Bow Peak. The crumbling ridge is nothing but huge boulders and you will have to haul ourselves over dozens of them. It’s not really difficult, but it is rather tedious. Saying this, this is very much a scramble rather than a hike and if moderate scrambling involves the use of hands for hauling your butt up boulders, then this is moderate scrambling. Thankfully any exposure to the northeast can be easily avoided.
The terrain improves as you approach the actual summit of Bow Peak. At a good pace, it will take approximately 3.5 hours after starting out and 1.5 hours from Crowfoot Pass to get to the top. The views were spectacular and if the weather co-operates, this is a perfect spot to enjoy a long and relaxed lunch.
On the decent you can decide to follow a rough trail down a scree gully much closer to the summit than where you’d gained the ridge previously. Although it is incredibly loose, and on many occasions mini scree avalanches are likely to occur, it can be much easier than hopping down the boulders of the ascent route.
Continue down through Crowfoot Pass and then enjoy the serenity of the forests and the streams on your way back to your car. Take care crossing the Bow River and you’ll soon find yourselves back at your vehicle.
If you can, build in some time to explore the pass after your scramble, it is stunning! The route out to the Balfour viewpoint gives a great view of the Waputik icefield.
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. Exploring Bow Lake before breakfast or as an after-dinner stroll is delightful.
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