Incredible beauty at the beginning and at the end, a gorgeous streamside stroll and an elevating walk in a park like forest describe this trail. There are few campgrounds in the Rockies that can be characterized by one single feature, and Glacier Lake Campground is one of them. The sight across the lake, with looming peaks to the far westerly edge, is worth planting yourself on the beach to focus on this one single vision of lake and mountain. Exploring the far reaches of the west end of the lake is a day trip that sees modest traffic. Discovered in the spring of 1807 by David Thompson, the lake was named by Dr. James Hector of the Palliser Expedition 51 years later.
Distance: 8.9 km
Elevation gain: 189 m
Trailhead: GPS: N51 58 23.9 W116 45 34.5
Elevation: 1446 m
Summit of trail: GPS: N51 56 18.3 W116 49 14.8
Elevation: 1622 m
Glacier Lake Campground: GPS: N51 55 38.6 W116 50 14.1Elevation: 1433
Drive north on the Icefields Parkway for 78 km from its junction with the Trans-Canada Highway, or 1 km north of Saskatchewan Crossing. The trailhead parking lot is on the west side of the Parkway. The trail begins innocuously enough, planting you in the midst of a classic Rocky Mountain forest of lodgepole pine and spruce trees. At the 1 km mark, as the trail crosses the North Saskatchewan River, the forest suddenly opens to display an instant view of the Howse River Valley and its surrounding peaks. This is quite a staggering sight when it is not expected. Another 1.4 km places the trail at the Howse River lookout. A host of peaks awaits your viewing, including Mount Murchison to the far left, Mount Erasmus to the near right and Mount Outram straight ahead.
Travelling down to this valley bottom places the trail on the north side of the Howse River for about 1.5 km. This walk alongside this glacial silt river is exhilarating, as the vistas of the surrounding peaks become captivating. Sadly, though, within 20–25 minutes the trail leaves the Howse to pursue a lesser tributary and re-enters the narrower views within the forest. In the mountains, what goes down must go up, and the trail begins to ascend to 1622 m. After leveling off, the path roams through the lovely forest for 20 minutes before dropping sharply down to 1433 m to Glacier Lake Campground. The sharp descent is occupied by exposed roots and rocks, making it somewhat treacherous.
The decline ends just before the lake, and the trail forks with signage directing hikers to the campground. It is almost impossible to make your way to the campground without checking out the beach first, since the sight of the lake and surrounding peaks draws you like a magnet. The day trip will take you around the north end of Glacier Lake to the far west end. The lake is 3.8 km long and 750 m across, making it the fourth largest lake in Banff Park. A coarse trail parallels the water’s edge to the end of the lake where it becomes less visible as it reaches the flats of the braided glacial runoff stream feeding Glacier Lake. Continue to follow the main branch of the Glacier River for 4–5 km farther to approach Southeast Lyell Glacier. Climbing moraines on the right side of the river offers even more amazing views of the glacier.