One of the best off the beaten path places in Banff National Park with a pristine blue lake and a glacier above. Glacier Lake Trail is 18 km long, an ideal trail run, hike or even backpacking overnight trip for beginners.
Banff National Park has so many undiscovered lakes and we decided it’s time to explore more of them. Especially in summer, when popular lakes and trails are overcrowded, we aim to find hidden treasures such as Glacier Lake.
Because we’re both trail runners, this trail was especially exciting to try because of its ideal length and soft ground through the forest. The surprising ending at the ice cold lake was more than I wished for on a hot summer day. Needless to say, we’ll be coming back.
For more amazing trips in the Banff National Park, read these:
- Aylmer Lookout Bike & Hike Trip
- Johnston Canyon Hike to Ink Pots
- Rockbound Lake Hike
- Sulphur Mountain Hike
- Mount St. Piran Hike
- Healy Pass with Egypt Lake
- Boom Lake
Pros & Cons of the Glacier Lake in Banff
- Little known trail (no crowds)
- The soft trail through the forest & creek crossings for refreshing
- Views along the trail
- Scenic glacier lake at the end
- Optional lake (ice) dip
- Backcountry camp by the lake
- Quite far from both Jasper and Banff
Where is Glacier Lake
Glacier Lake is located in Banff National Park, around 136 km from Banff and about 44 km from the boundary with Jasper National Park.
How to get to Glacier Lake Trail
Take Icefields Parkway, the scenic road connecting Lake Louise and Jasper. Watch out for the sign ‘Glacier Lake’ when driving from Banff, it’s about 1 km pass the Saskatchewan River Crossing.
There is quite a big parking lot with a map but no facilities. The trailhead to Glacier Lake starts at the map stand. (This would be amazing bike trail if only it was allowed.)
Glacier Lake Trail, Banff National Park
- Distance: 18 km return (took us 4 hours running & hiking including a lake dip)
- Elevation gain: 507 m
- Maximum elevation: 1655 m
- Difficulty: easy trail and moderate only because of the distance
- Best time to go: May to October (I’ve heard the trail was surprisingly dry in May already)
- Gear: water bottle with filter (lots of creek crossings), windproof jacket, running shoes (the trail is easy and soft), bear spray
The trail to Glacier Lake starts easy and flat through the forest. After 1 km, there’s the first viewpoint – a wooden bridge crossing North Saskatchewan River. From here, it’s still flat for another 1 km to Howse River viewpoint with typical red chairs. It used to be an important spot for fur traders as we learnt from the sign.
We then continued to the right along the river before disappearing to the forest again. The trail continues gently up and down with a small ascent of about 200 m and then down to the lake.
There are a lot of creek crossings with bridges made of wooden logs which were welcomed refreshment as we dipped our heads and filled up a water bottle. Lifestraw water bottle with a filter that we use makes these runs so much easier when you don’t have to carry water with you and just fill up as you go.
Shortly after you descend the little hill, you will see a sign on your right carved into the tree from 1928. That is almost the end as you reach Glacier Lake. The water was freezing cold in June but that didn’t stop me. I undressed and jumped it, even though it was very quick, my body thanked me as it was overheated from the run already. And it actually made my return run even more pleasant.
There’s an option to continue to Lyell Glacier which feeds Glacier Lake. It would add another 20 km into our trip and we decided to tackle this one another time. Another option for extending the trip would be adding 8 km round trip to the end of the lake which seemed like a great idea but I somehow preferred swimming in the ice-cold lake instead.
I think the trail is perfect for newbie backpackers as it’s quite short and easy with a great reward at the end. We walked a few hundred meters further along the lake to take a look at the backcountry campground. There is an old log cabin with several flat areas for tents, picnic tables, fire pit, and an outhouse.
One group had a particularly great spot right on the shore of the lake. Even though it was windy, you can’t beat that view. The campground was also equipped with a bear pole where you hang your food so it doesn’t attract any wildlife.
We both just love running in the mountains and you can probably tell why.
What is better than stopping on your road trip on a hot day, deciding on going for a trail run while the forest shields you from the scorching sun and then dipping yourself in an ice cold lake while looking at a glacier?
This was the most enjoyable run in Banff National Park so far!
Know before you go
- National park entrance
When you enter Banff National Park, you’re required to pay an entrance fee. You have a choice of either a daily pass or a yearly pass.
As of 2020, the fees are:
- 10 CAD per person for a daily pass, 20 CAD for a group/family
- 69.19 CAD per person for a yearly pass, 139.40 CAD for a group/family
The yearly Discovery Pass is valid for all National Parks in Canada. You can purchase it at the gate when you enter the national park, in the Visitor’s Centre or online here.
Read our recommendation: Hiking packing list for summer in the mountains
- Staying in Banff National Park
To have the most freedom and enjoy nature to the fullest while staying on a budget, we always recommend staying in the campgrounds. Banff National Park has many with picturesque scenery. Read our comprehensive guide about camping in Banff National Park for all camping info and lots of pictures of the campgrounds.
- Road closure
For trail closures due to wildlife presence or avalanche dangers in Banff National Park, check out the report from Parks Canada.
Accurate road conditions can be checked here.
- Trail report
Before you head out, check current trail conditions on Trail Report from Parks Canada.
- Bear country
As always in the Canadian Rockies, you are in bear habitat. You should always carry a bear spray (can be purchased at Visitor’s Centre or outdoor stores), know when and how to use it and make noise while hiking and running (so you don’ surprise any bears)! Carefully read these instructions on how to behave around them.
Additional reading about the Canadian Rockies
More hiking ideas:
- 20 best hikes in Banff National Park
- Hiking in Jasper National Park: 17 best hikes for all levels
- Hiking in Yoho National Park
Plan your trip to the Rockies:
- Epic travel guide to the Canadian Rockies
- 100 things to do in Banff National Park
- Adventure travel guide to Banff National Park
- Adventure travel guide to Jasper National Park
- Complete guide to camping in Jasper National Park
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