Peak season on the Icefields Parkway can be incredibly busy and it’s understandable based on the world class views. The places you’ll feel the crowds the most are at the popular viewpoints, such as Peyto Lake and the Toe of Athabasca Glacier. It doesn’t help that these are also the stops the tour buses makes, especially the Chinese ones — I know how my people travel.
However, this also means the crowds are gathered mostly at these outlooks and a short hike will take you to an equally impressive view without the traffic.
This is the tenth entry of our Canadian Rockies trip series covering our tenth hike. You can navigate to the other parts in the index below as they are posted.
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- name: Bow Summit Outlook & Peyto Lake
- type: in and out
- distance: 3.9 miles (6.3 km)
- elevation change: 1037 ft. (316 m)
- time: 1:58 hours (1:41 moving)
- location: Bow Summit parking lot, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada (google map directions)
- 2020 NOTE: The Bow Summit parking lot is closed for the season for construction (Parks Canada)
other hikes on the Icefields Parkway
From the Bow Summit Outlook parking lot, you can also access the trail to access some of the mountaineering routes around Wapta Icefield (Alpine Club of Canada). This includes a couple of alpine huts, Peyto Alpine Hut and Bow Alpine Hut (requires reservations).
Otherwise, there are numerous hikes (Parks Canada) and routes for the different outlooks and peaks along the parkway. The number is so vast, it is way beyond the scope of this trip report series. For the typical road trip through the Icefields Parkway, Parks Canada publishes a nice guide for the drive.
We had finished our first hike of the day to Wilcox Pass a little bit after noon. So we resumed our drive down the Icefields Parkway making a few stops along the way. We were looking for another short hike on the day and remembered that the Bow Summit Outlook and Peyto Lake was recommended to us. We pulled into the very busy parking lot just after 2pm. The first third of a mile was all on a busy paved trail with a 8.1% average grade.
The end of the paved section brought us to a very busy viewing platform overlooking Peyto Lake. Plenty of tourists also hopped over the fence here in attempts to get their own views of the lake. There is an upper parking lot here just for tour buses, so that contributes to the crowds here. I suspect this outlook might look a little different after the constructions during 2020 summer.
We didn’t stay long at the first outlook and continued along the small loop here. We passed the trail heading to Peyto Glacier shortly after the outlook. The crowds didn’t follow us once we left the platform.
We passed a few unmarked offshoot trails on the right, which we’ll return to later, until we came to junction for the Bow Summit Outlook another third miles from the platform. Turning right onto the wide trail, there was immediately there was a straight uphill at a 27.7% grade.
At the top of the first uphill was another junction. The left option would have looped back to loop we had came from. So we took the right option to continue on the wide dirt road at a 10.5% for the next third of a mile. Then there was a slight dip passing a stream and continuing on for roughly another third of a mile at 11.5% grade. The dirt road ends here, but there is a little bit more trail you can follow for a higher view.
The view southbound is down the Icefields Parkway out toward Bow Lake. Of interest from right to left are Crowfoot Mountain to the right of Crowfoot Glacier, Bowcrow Peak on the left edge of Crowfoot Glacier, Bow Peak, and Mount Hector with Hector Glacier on it.
Look north toward on the Icefields Parkway, we could see the raining weather we had driven through. There was no view of Peyto Lake from there however.
There is a nice 180 panorama options here.
From here we retraced our steps back to the lower loop around the Peyto Lake viewing platform. When we reached the junction to the loop, we turned left to continue retracing our steps. However, we took one of the unmarked trails here off the loop. The trail continues through the forest and we could see Peyto Lake when there would be an opening between the pine trees. A bit further was a few boulders, providing for several grand view of Peyto Lake
and Caldron Peak behind it. There were a few people hanging around here and plenty of space for everyone to find their own outcrop. This goes to show a few steps can make a big difference.
Lastly through the a few more trees, we there was one last outlook. From there, we were able to get a nice look at Peyto Glacier and Peyto Peak.
We retraced our steps once again afterwards to return to our car.
final impressions & ratings
The rating below are based on an unevenly distributed scale of 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest). For full description of the ratings and the categories, see the explanation here.
views/experience: 3. Peyto Lake is an world class view, which explains why main view point and platform is so popular. If you are willing a walk a few steps further, you can find your own boulder to sit upon. It is definitely one of the most instagrammed spots out there. The view for Bow Summit Outlook is a nice 180 view along the Icefields Parkway and worth the hike up. Plus, you’ll look forward to getting away from the crowds. And that’s where the downside of the hike is, lots and lots of crowds.
difficulty: 1. The hike and elevation profile is pretty mild. The most difficulty is having to deal with people on the paved section up to the first viewpoint platform from the parking lot.
technical: 1. The trail isn’t the best marked I’ve seen going up to Bow Summit Outlook or the second viewpoint for Peyto Lake, but it’s not hard to figure out either. It is also well trafficked, so you can ask around.
day 20 end in Canmore & day 21 zero in Golden, B.C.
After our second hike of the day (day 20 of the trip), we were ready for a shower and dinner. Our housing for the night was at the Holiday Inn in Canmore (tripadvisor). We had to use a IHG free night certificate because it was expiring (Deals We Like). It wasn’t the best use of the certificate from the old Chase IHG credit card (Frequent Miler), but I had to use it and we still got more value than the USD$49 annual fee I paid for the certificate.
Dinner that night was at the Wild Orchid Bistro & Sushi Lounge (tripadvisor) located in the Silver Creek Lodge. We were in time for their happy hour, so we had a small plate tapas like dinner with drinks. It was definitely a splurge dinner, but it was good.
The next day (day 21), our only real goal was to set ourselves up to day hike into Lake O’Hara, especially since we had hike 5 days in a row. We had left the housing open as I kept on trying to see if any last minute campsites at Lake O’Hara opened up, it was a no go (more details regarding Lake O’Hara to come). We ended up looking for a hotel in Golden, B.C. as it was closer to the trailhead and much cheaper than staying in Banff. We ended up at the Super 8 for USD$113.25.
In Golden, we first visited the Whitetooth Brewing Company (tripadvisor). The beer was decent, but I don’t remember any that really stood out. None of the beer were bad. I might have gotten a little drunk.
Afterwards, we visited the Golden Taps Pub for luner (tripadvisor). I was a bit drunk so I don’t remember the food too much other than it hit the spot. It was located in the small downtown area of Golden. We didn’t stay there for long and turn in early. We would have a long day of hiking ahead of us the next day.
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2 thoughts on “trip report: Banff National Park – Bow Summit Outlook & Peyto Lake, August 2019”
Lovely photos! The Icefield Parkways is my favorite place in the world. So glad you enjoyed it
Thanks! I agree with you in that I can’t think of another drive more impressive than the Icefield Parkway, at least i’ve been on. There is also so much to do at the many spots along it that I think most driving though only see a small portion of what’s there. That includes me for sure.