Optional pre and post trip accommodation packages are available from $80 per person per night for shared room lodging ($160 for single occupancy). Purchase with booking. Subject to availability.
How difficult is it?
How fit and experienced need you be?
This trip is rated moderate. Backpack weights are moderate, participants will be carrying personal clothing and mountain gear plus a fair share of food. By keeping personal gear light, pack weights need not exceed 14kg (30lbs). Please read our Traveling Light & Making Backpacking More Fun for information and suggestions for clothing and equipment.
This program is suitable for those with prior hiking experience. Being in good shape already will add to your enjoyment of the trip. Whilst we will be on glacier terrain often associated with mountaineering, you don't need any mountaineering experience. You will be using glacier travel equipment which your guide will show you how to use. Your guide will also show you how to walk on the glacier and will explain and interpret the terrain for you.
You need to have some confidence in your hiking skills as the hardest hiking is actually below the glaciers where we will travel on trails that are often rough and rocky. However there is no technical climbing of very steep ice or rock slopes involved. We will hike at a regular and steady pace that conserves energy but you must be in as good as possible hiking shape before you come. We cannot emphasize enough that training pays great dividends in enjoyment. We suggest you train by walking and/or cycling and/or hiking (ideally in hilly terrain).
North of Lake Louise in Banff National Park, a series of gentle Icefields stretch for miles across the Great Divide of the Canadian Rockies. Known collectively as the Wapta Icefields they provide a unique opportunity for fit walkers and hikers to enjoy amazing mountain scenery that is normally reserved for mountaineers.
In the course of this three-day traverse we start at Bow Lake and hike up to and over the Bow Glacier to the Peyto Glacier staying in well equipped alpine huts en-route. If you've never spent any time on a glacier, its an absolutely amazing experience. Our guides will show you this complex and fragile alpine environment in an up close and personal way.
Standing on an icefield is like being on the ocean where you'll quickly get a sense for the vastness of the glacier. Jagged peaks pop out of the ice to stand 10,000 plus feet above sea level. It is a surreal experience.
This trip is a Canadian Tourism Commission 'Signature Experience'.
"A truly once in a life time experience that brought the Canadian Rockies to life for us." Amy, July 2012
Day 1: Bow Lake - Bow Hut
Meet us at our office in Canmore at 8:00am for introductions, trip review and equipment issue / check. After packing up, it's an hour and a half drive north to Bow Lake where we commence the hike to Bow Hut.
We start on the "tourist trail" which follows the Bow Lake shoreline to the head of this turquoise coloured lake then up the river flats beyond. The "tourist trail" experience finishes partway up a steep trail next to a small but spectacular gorge the river has cut into the limestone. Here the gorge is bridged by a gargantuan boulder which we use to gain the other side where the mountaineer's trail starts.
This trail leads us past old moraines then up through the forest until we pass the treeline where it opens out into a massive alpine cirque surrounded by peaks and glaciers. We hike on a rough trail through the rocky flats until a final ascent brings us to the Bow Hut which is located at 2350m on a shoulder adjacent to the snout of the Bow Glacier.
The Hut has magnificent views of the surrounding peaks and glaciers as well as back down the canyon to the main valley. On a clear night, the sky is filled with stars.
This will take us between 3 and 5 hours. Distance 6km, elevation gain 550m.
Day 2: Bow Hut - Peyto Hut
We get up early to make the most of what will be a spectacular day as we cross the Icefields to Peyto Hut.
The Bow Glacier is the source of the Bow River which flows down valley through Lake Louise, Banff, Canmore and finally out onto the plains past Calgary to eventually join the south Saskatchewan River.
Today we climb its gentle slopes below the impressive crag of Mt. St. Nick to top out on the flat expanse of the Wapta Icefield. After a side trip to flat-topped Polaris Peak from where we can enjoy an expansive panorama with peaks in every direction, we continue west to where the Peyto Glacier drops gradually away. Peyto Hut being is on a bench inside the sweeping turn the Glacier takes as it drops now to the north. This is a fantastic spot, in every direction are glaciated peaks and colors in shades of rock and ice.
Hiking on the glacier we will be wearing a harness and be roped together for maximum safety. The glacier, like those everywhere, has many crevasses and whilst most are easily seen and avoided, we take maximum precautions. Your guide is certified, trained and very experienced on glacier terrain. We will also wear crampons (spikes that fit onto the soles of our boots) to give us firm traction on the ice. The glacial surface is not very steep. Walking with the crampons on is very easy. This will take between 4 and 6 hours. Distance 6km. Elevation gain 550m, loss 460m. Additional hiking may be available depending upon conditions.
Day 3: Peyto Hut - Peyto Lake
It's mostly down hill today as we drop back down to the Glacier from the Hut and follow it almost to its snout. Hiking on mostly white ice we pass mill holes down which glacier streams drop noisily into the bowels of the ice. We will see how glaciers preserve elements of the past, the exposed ice being hundreds of years old and bringing not only rocks to the surface but also spruce needles and twigs from long ago fires and the occasional bird or rodent long ago caught on the ice by early winter snows. It is usually hard to visualize the effects of global warming, not so on the Peyto Glacier which is in full retreat. Your guide will show you where the glacier only recently was! You will leave the glacier with a deep respect and appreciation for the frozen alpine environment.
We leave the Glacier just before the snout and descent a short distance on old moraines to a rather ramshackle research station from which research on glacial retreat is carried out. From here we traverse to the top of the lateral moraine which descends into the lower valley. If we have the energy we can take a side trip to Cauldron Lake which occupies an adjacent hanging basin. With it's still black waters surrounded by tundra, rock and ice it is at the same time serene and wild!
Back to the main trail we now start down the moraine wall track which leads us down into the lower valley to the raging torrent issuing from the Peyto Glacier now far above (in 2010 the bridge was washed out so we may have to cross the river in our boots). We follow river flats and a bit of forest until we reach the gravel flats above Peyto Lake. One of the signature lakes of the Canadian Rockies with its beautiful turquoise waters, Peyto Lake marks the end of our traverse. From its shores we hike up through mature forest to where we suddenly emerge once more on a "tourist trail" it being the paved path taken by thousands of tourists as they hike to look over Peyto Lake. They will undoubtedly be envious of what you just experienced.
From here we return to Banff and Canmore to head off on our own trails.
Meeting Place and Time
We will meet you at our Yamnuska Mountain Adventures office at 8:00am the morning of Day 1.
Our office is located at 200 - 50 Lincoln Park, Canmore. See this map for location.
For your greater convenience we offer a pre-meeting shuttle service within Canmore. Please let us know in advance where you will be staying if needing this service. Pickup will occur between 7:30 and 7:50am.
Please ensure that you have your hiking equipment packed and with you.
Guides and Group Size
Because this hike takes place on glaciers your guide will be a certified ACMG guide who is trained and qualified to lead you across glaciers. The guide is also licensed by Parks Canada.
Minimum group size will be 4 people. There will be a maximum of 6 guests per guide and no more than 12 guests per trip.
Backcountry Accommodation and Meals
During the trip we stay in alpine huts operated by the Alpine Club of Canada. Sleeping areas are communal and facilities basic but very sufficient. The Huts are equipped with propane stoves, pots, pans, plates and cutlery. There is no running water. We gather water from nearby streams and lakes for drinking, cooking and washing.
Accommodation and Meals
Accommodation in Canmore is not included. For your convenience we can arrange hotel accommodations in Canmore for $160 per night. Accommodation can be booked with the trip online or by calling us. Subject to availability.
You can also make your own arrangements. Check our links page for a range of Canmore accommodations.
Excess luggage can be left at your hotel or our office.
We supply all meals and trail snacks from lunch on Day 1 to lunch on Day 3.
Trail cuisine is constructed from lightweight ingredients including our Yamnuska custom-made dehydrated dinners. Please specify any special dietary requirements you have on booking so we can incorporate them into our menus. A dietary surcharge will apply.
Getting to Canmore and Transportation
Canmore is situated 100km (65miles) west of Calgary on the Trans-Canada Highway. It is well served by scheduled bus lines both from Calgary (airport and downtown), Banff (20km west) and points further west. Calgary International Airport is well connected to major cities throughout North America and Europe. We can arrange your airport ground transportation at time of booking at a cost of $55 each way.
We will supply transportation from Canmore to the trailhead.
Clothing and Equipment
We supply harnesses, crampons and all necessary mountain gear plus a full emergency and first-aid kit. You will need to bring personal equipment (backpack and sleeping bag) and clothing.
In particular it is important that you have good, waterproof hiking boots that are broken in for this trip. If you don't have these we have plastic mountaineering boots you can rent for the glacier component.
Yamnuska Mountain Adventures does have rental and retail equipment such as sleeping bags, mats, and backpacks. Rental Gear List. Contact us in advance to reserve.
There are two basic types of insurance that most travelers need to consider: Medical and Cancellation/Trip Interruption Insurance. We offer our guests coverage for both and highly recommend you purchase it.
Emergency Medical Expenses Insurance:
It is wise to ensure that your health plan will cover you in case of illness or accident during your trip. Obtain extra coverage if necessary. There is no charge for rescue in the National and provincial Parks, however costs such as air or ground transportation, long term care and other services are not covered.
Cancellation/Trip Interruption Insurance:
We recognize that our guests’ schedules may change for many reasons; business, family, flight delays, injuries and other unplanned events. For these eventualities the Trip Cancellation/Interruption insurance is a great way to protect your investment.
For all your travel insurance requirements we recommend the Simpson Group. This agency offers a wide range of travel insurance options including Trip Cancellation/Interruption, Travel Medical and Personal Effect Loss for Canadian and International Travelers. We highly recommend purchasing this insurance. For more information and to purchase a plan, visit the Simpson Group’s website.