Not many ‘hikes’ involve glacier travel – this one does. North of Lake Louise in Banff National Park, a series of vast but gentle Icefields, known as the Wapta Icefields stretch for miles across the Great Divide of the Canadian Rockies. 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 Wapta Icefield Traverse Hike, we start at Bow Lake then 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. Our glacier climbing program is a surreal hiking experience.
This glacier hiking tour in Banff 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 to Bow Hut
Meet us at our office in Canmore at 8:00 am for introductions, trip review, and equipment issue and 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 lakeshore to the head of this turquoise-coloured lake and 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 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.
This will take us between 3 and 5 hours. Distance 7 km, elevation gain 400 m.
Day 2: Bow Hut to 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 then 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 gain 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 while 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 6 km. Elevation gain 550 m, loss 460 m. 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 be an excellent resource to show you where the glacier was only recently. Opportunities to see glaciers up close may not be as abundant in the future. Come experience this amazing phenomenon like few people ever do.
We leave the Glacier just before the snout and climb a short distance on old moraines to a rather ramshackle research station from which research on glacial retreat is sporadically carried out. From here we traverse to the top of the lateral moraine which descends into the lower valley.
Back to the main trail we now start down the moraine wall track which leads us down into the lower valley. 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 in the creek it may be necessary on Day 3 to retrace our steps across the icefields and back out to Bow Lake.
Instructors and Group Size
Because this hike takes place on glaciers your guide will be a certified guide who is trained and qualified to lead you across glaciers. Our guides are also licensed by Parks Canada.
The minimum group size will be 4 people. There will be a maximum of 8 guests per guide.
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 with you.
Participants are responsible for their own transport to Canmore which is a 1 hour (100 km) drive west of Calgary.
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.
We will supply transportation from Canmore to the trailhead.
Please note that program venues may be within National Parks and/or Kananaskis Country. For programs where transportation is not provided by Yamnuska/Canadian Rockies Hiking by Yamnuska, guests will be required to purchase their own pass.
National Park passes are available both online at https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/voyage-travel/admission and in-person at National park gates and some information centres.
Kananaskis Country conservation passes are available online at https://www.alberta.ca/kananaskis-conservation-pass.aspx
During the trip, we stay in alpine huts operated by the Alpine Club of Canada. Sleeping areas are communal and facilities basic. 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 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 constructed from lightweight 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 surcharge. For a diet requiring any 2 or more restrictions, an additional surcharge will apply. 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. Vegetarian meals will not be surcharged.
Please let us know the details by filling out a Food Questionnaire when you sign up for the program.
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 – Please see notes below regarding boots)
- Multi-day pack* (60–75 litres)
- Sleeping bag*
- Water bottle
- Sunglasses (wrap-around style to protect from the glare of snow and ice)
- 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 (visit the travel section for small sizes – view our Intro to Mountaineering video for ideas about toiletries)
- Trekking pole (highly recommended)
- Music player and lightweight reading material (optional)
*These items are available for rent. Please advise us in advance.
When travelling at altitude or on a glacier, 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. Cotton clothing is not appropriate as it causes rapid heat loss when wet.
We recommend you bring:
- Long underwear top and bottoms (lightweight 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
- Lightweight running shoes or sandals for hut use
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. Boots either need a rigid sole supported by a full-length shank or boots that have a semi-rigid sole supported by ¾ length shank. You are welcome to try the Scarpa Mont Blanc boots that Yamnuska 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 (including GST) is required at the time of booking. The final payment is due eight weeks before the start of the trip. We accept Visa, Mastercard, Canadian Cheques, Money Orders, and Bank Drafts. Credit card payments are easiest, especially for international travellers.
We ask that you familiarize yourself with our detailed booking instructions and conditions.
Risk is an inherent part of all mountain activities. We strive to manage and reduce it however, it is impossible to totally eliminate. Learn more about our safety and risk management approach here. Please note that you will be required to sign our waiver before commencing the program. Please view our sample 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.
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 guides, hut accommodation, meals, mountaineering gear, Park ‘Wilderness Pass’, and local transfers.
Not included: Canmore accommodation, Gratuities & 5% Goods and Service Tax (GST).
Trip Cancellation Insurance is available through the Simpson Group.
Please note you will be required to sign the Yamnuska Release of Liability, and Waiver of Claims prior to commencing the program. Please review the sample waiver prior to booking and call us with any questions.
Is it for you?
This program is suitable for those with prior hiking experience. Being in good shape already will add to your enjoyment of the trip. While we will be on glacier terrain often associated with mountaineering, you don’t need any mountaineering experience. You will be using basic 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. However, expect to wear crampons and be ‘roped up’ when hiking the glacier.
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 steep ice or rock slopes involved.
You will be carrying a backpack with your personal gear and a share of the group’s food. On the initial approach and on the final part of day 3 you will also be carrying your harness and crampons. The pack will likely weigh around 30 lbs (15 Kg) when we start.