Banff National Park (and Jasper, and Yoho, and Kootenay) is filled with incredible sights and a million things to do. From the great Louise and Moraine Lakes, icons of the park, to the beautiful mountain peaks like The Three Sisters. There’s (expensive) restaurants, museums, tours, really everything and anything you want to see. Obviously I’m a big fan of Alberta and am counting down the days when I get to go back, but there’s one spot in Banff that I had never heard of, was much more difficult to get to than other amazing spots in the Park, and was one – of if not the – most beautiful places I’ve ever been.
If you’ve been to Banff and have driven the Icefield Parkway, you actually may know what I’m talking about. Almost 20 kilometers from the Lake Louise Visitor’s Center there’s a pull out / viewpoint area of a gorgeous lake surrounded by these incredible peaks off to the west. While the streetview doesn’t nearly do it justice on Google Maps, here is a link that does give a little bit of the sense of grandeur (Thanks climbers)!
Just seeing it like that is honestly one of the greatest views on Earth, and in person it is quite literally breathtaking. The first time I saw it we were driving to Peyto Lake (another famous and absolutely beautiful area), and I knew from the moment I saw it I had to go see it up close. There had to be a hike to get to it, right?
Well, yes. But it’s not easy to find, and it certainly isn’t the stop-here-and-go-for-a-little-hike kind of thing.
The lake I’ve been talking about is called Hector Lake, and it is the most incredible place I’ve ever been.
So let’s talk about the hike! I hesitate to call it “difficult,” because that makes it seem like a long, tough, altitude gaining, hours of mindless walking kinda thing. And it’s not. What makes it semi-difficult is the fact that there really isn’t a trail. At least not in any paved sense. The hike can be split up into two parts: pre-river and post-river, so we’ll tackle them accordingly.
Pre-river is by far the more difficult part of the hike. Again, not difficult per say, but certainly not a walk in the park (heh… I thought it was clever). It involves walking over tree roots; following and sometimes walking through a creek that runs alongside you, wading through serious mud and stagnant water; and if you don’t want to walk through the creek you get to wade through overgrown trees, grass, and bushes like some 18th century Lewis and Clark wannabe who has an iPhone and apparently a phobia of mud. Also, if you don’t want to walk through the creek you outta just turn around becaaauuuuuse:
You get to walk through a river!!
No, seriously. Be careful about what time of year you’re attempting this hike. I’m not sure what it is like in the Spring, but it may be unfortunately impassable. The first time I hiked to Hector Lake, the river was about mid-calf deep (and I’m just under 2 meters tall, for reference), and that was in August. If you go back to that link to the Google Maps Street View of those Climbers, you can see the river. I’m not sure exactly what part of the river you cross while hiking, but I’m fairly confident it’s where it curves west toward the lake, or a few km north. Something like that.
In any case, wear shoes you’re ok getting wet. I wore huge hiking boots that were great for the creek leading up to the river and walking through overgrown bush and mud, but I did not want to get them wet. I managed to cross the river barefoot with my boots tied to my backpack, but it was slow and painful. So if you’re going to wear big boots, bring some water shoes too.
Huzzah! The hard part is over. The trail here gets a lot more simple, but still certainly isn’t paved. It is mostly just a dirt path, as you can see from this photo on the left. It’s really pretty though, so be sure to enjoy it! (Insert something here about how you need to EnJoY tHe JoUrNeY). Okay sorry, feeling a tad sarcastic today. This is what most of the post-river trail looks like. It’s probably half a meter wide usually, so… take that into account. I guess. If you have a phobia of small trails I’m very sorry for not telling you sooner. There are some small wooden plank/bridges kind of things occasionally, especially as you get closer to the lake. Don’t slip! That water is nasty.
As you get closer you’ll start to catch glimpses of the turquoise color of the lake through the trees, until you eventually round a corner and are greeted by what is, in my humble opinion, the best view in Banff National Park. The water is as blue as Lake Moraine (although much bigger, so not as silky and smooth), the mountains frame the lake with these incredible peaks, much like Lake Louise, it really is the best of both worlds. Make sure you take some time during your trip to Banff and head to Hector Lake!
As always, thanks for reading.