Hut to Hut Hiking Across Glaciers!
North of Lake Louise in Banff National Park, a series of vast but 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 natural 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, it’s an absolutely amazing experience. Our guides will show you this complex and fragile alpine environment in an up-close and personal way. With no cell service or other modern distractions, you will be left to explore Banff National Park as it existed near the last ice age.
Standing on an icefield is like being on the ocean where you’ll quickly get a sense of 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 lifetime experience that brought the Canadian Rockies to life for us.”, Amy
Day 1: Bow Lake – Bow Hut
Meet us at our office in Canmore at 8:00 am 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 tree line 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 7km, elevation gain 400m.
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 the 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. Nicholas 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 sits on a bench above the Glacier where it takes a sweeping turn to the north. This is a fantastic spot, in every direction are glaciated peaks and colours 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 the conditions.
Day 3: Peyto Hut – Peyto Lake
(Summer 2019 – Our Wapta Ice Hike will return from Peyto Hut back through the Bow Lake exit as Parks Canada is working on improvements to the Peyto Parking area and has closed the access trail for the summer. This will give us more travel time on the ice.)
It’s mostly downhill 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 wells 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 deep respect and appreciation for the frozen alpine environment.
We leave the Glacier just before the snout and descend 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 its 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 the 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.
**Depending on conditions and water levels it may be necessary on Day 3 to retrace our steps across the icefields and back out to Bow Lake. In 2012 a bridge near Peyto Lake was washed out.
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 8:00 am on 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 7:50 am.
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.
The 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. A variety of accommodation options exist in both Canmore and Banff, including campsites, hostels, all levels of hotels as well as condo-style accommodation with kitchens or suites. We recommend that you book your own pre and post-trip accommodations well in advance as all levels of accommodations in the Bow Valley fill quickly.
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 prepared from lightweight wholesome ingredients including our Yamnuska custom-made dehydrated dinners. For guests with dietary restrictions, we are able to modify the program food pack to meet your individual needs. As food pricing and preparation for these diets is more costly, we have implemented the following surcharges. For vegan, gluten-free, lactose-free, soy-free, nut-free, or any similar type of single restriction menu requests, there will be a $17/day surcharge. For a diet requiring any 2 restrictions a $26/day surcharge will apply. For any 3 restrictions, a $31/day surcharge will apply. Vegetarian meals will not be surcharged. For more complex diets our kitchen staff will assess the restrictions to inform you if the diet can be accommodated and what surcharge would 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 will supply transportation from Canmore to the trailhead.
Frequent shuttles connect Calgary International Airport and Canmore. Banff Airporter is the best way to get between Calgary Airport and Canmore/Banff. When you book with Yamnuska Mountain Adventures you will receive a 15% discount on Banff Airporter Scheduled Services.
Equipment and Clothing
The equipment and clothing you bring to this course will play a large role in the quality of your experience. Read the following suggestions and lists carefully. If you have any questions or need clarification, don’t hesitate to call or email.
Yamnuska provides the following personal technical gear. Please feel free to bring your own items if desired:
- Mountaineering ice axe
- Climbing harness
- Climbing helmet
- Prussic cord, slings, carabiners
We recommend you bring:
- Mountaineering Boots* (must be crampon compatible)
- Multiday pack* (60–75 litres)
- Sleeping bag*
- Water bottle
- Sunscreen, SPF lip balm
- Headlamp (with fresh batteries)
- Blister kit
- First aid items (Our guides carry a first aid kit, but you may bring your own Band-Aids and anti-inflammatory medication if desired.)
- Personal Toiletries including hand sanitizer– Keep to a minimum with no scented items.
- Trekking pole (optional)
- Music player and lightweight reading material (optional)
*These items are available for rent. Please advise us in advance.
When mountaineering, it is important to be able to adjust to the changing conditions. We recommend bringing clothing that can be layered to achieve comfort as you change from periods of activity to periods of rest. We discourage cotton clothing as it causes rapid heat loss when wet.
We recommend you bring:
- Long underwear top and bottoms (light weight synthetic or wool)
- Socks (synthetic/wool, at least two pairs)
- Light synthetic shirt
- Softshell pants and jacket
- Midweight synthetic or down jacket
- Waterproof hardshell jacket with hood
- Waterproof hardshell pants (should have a full-length side zip so they can be put on without taking off boots and crampons)
- Gaiters (big enough to fit over large boots)
- Waterproof mountaineering or ice climbing gloves, at least two pairs
- Warm hat that fits under a helmet
- Sun hat
- Running shoes or sandals
Additional gear info:
- Sleeping bag: We recommend a three-season bag rated at approximately -7 Celsius. A down bag will be lighter and more compressible for the weight than a synthetic bag. A compression stuff sack is recommended to reduce the volume
- Boots: A good pair of boots is essential. They need to be warm and crampon compatible. You are welcome to try the Scarpa Mont Blanc boots that Yamuska rents.
- Crampons: Mountaineering crampons should have anti-snow-balling plates, and need to be compatible with your boots. We use the Petzl Vasak.
- Mountaineering ice-axe: Your ice axe should be 55-75 cm, and should be equipped with an adze. Yamnuska provides the Petzl Summit Axe.
- Climbing harness: Should be sized to fit over your cold-weather clothing. It is recommended to have a harness with a belay/rappel loop.
- Helmet: A comfortable, all-around climbing helmet that can fit over your winter hat.
Please book as early as practical to avoid disappointment. A 35% deposit CDN (including GST) is required at the time of booking. The final payment is due eight weeks before the start of the trip.
For detailed Booking Instructions and Conditions, click here.
Please note that you will be required to sign our waiver before commencing the trip. Click here for a waiver copy.
There are two basic types of insurance that most travellers 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, 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 Travelers. We highly recommend purchasing this insurance. For more information and to purchase a plan, visit the Simpson Group’s website.
Please note that this coverage is for Canadian residents only. For guests who are not from Canada and who are interested in the ‘Visitors to Canada’ insurance package please contact the Simpson Group directly at JSimpson@simpson-group.com and reference your Yamnuska Mountain Adventure trip.
Includes the guide, hut accommodation, meals, glacier travel gear, Park ‘Wilderness Pass’ and local transfers.
Not included: Canmore accommodation, Gratuities for guide & 5% Goods and Service Tax (GST).
Trip Cancellation Insurance is available through the Simpson Group.
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 hiking or walking in hilly terrain with weight on your back (use flights of stairs if in the city)..