If you are looking for an absolutely stunning hike in Banff National Park, this is really the trail that has it all – forests, lakes, a waterfall, abounding wildlife, meadows rife with beautiful wildflowers, a scenic mountain pass and an alpine summit. The round-trip, out-and-back hike to Mount Bourgeau’s summit is just over 15 miles (24 km) with 5,000 feet (1,500 m) of elevation gain, so be sure to plan to dedicate a full day to the trek (7-10 hours). The parking area for the Mount Bourgeau trailhead is well-marked along the southbound side of the parkway between Lake Louise and the town of Banff (27 miles (25 minutes) southeast of Lake Louise; 8 miles (10 minutes) northwest of Banff).
In addition to being incredibly scenic, this hike is also versatile – you can hike to Bourgeau Lake, Harvey Pass, or all the way to the summit and still enjoy some nice scenery. For a shorter, easier hike through the forest, do the round-trip to Bourgeau Lake (9 miles). To take in some amazing views of the Canadian Rockies, lengthen the trip and head to Harvey Pass (12 miles round-trip). And for unbelievable mountain views, make the scenic climb to Mount Bourgeau’s summit (1,600’ (500 m) additional elevation gain, 3 miles (5 km) round-trip from Harvey Pass).
The trail begins by ascending through a vast spruce forest en route to Bourgeau Lake. A small, wooden footbridge crosses Wolverine Creek near a slight waterfall, cascading gently down the forested hillside. The trail continues to rise gradually, eventually entering a small clearing at Bourgeau Lake, a charming little lake with curious ground squirrels scurrying about its shores. We stopped here for a quick snack and promptly made a furry friend. Even though we refused to feed the little one, she (he?) still seemed quite happy to visit with us and explore our gear. I was instantly in love.
From here, the trail twisted and turned through some scrubby brush before heading up to a rocky ridge. The path was reasonably stable, although quite narrow and sandy, hugging the rim of the steep embankment. After this exposed section, we climbed into the scenic meadowlands where we were able to look back at Bourgeau Lake, now shimmering in the mid-morning sun beneath the striated summit of Mount Bourgeau. As we traversed the alpine meadow, we spotted a couple of marmots chasing each other about; as we are constantly entertained by any wildlife, we stopped to watch for a bit. Eventually the amorous pair bounded over to a shady nook under a small evergreen tree, stood on their hind legs, and gave each other a kiss, a habitual greeting for the social critters. Continuing through the lush meadows, still dotted with patches of enduring snow and ice in late July, we passed two small lakelets, the first with particularly mesmerizing, iridescent, blue water.
After ascending one last ridge beyond the second lakelet, we finally arrived at Harvey Pass at an elevation of 8,025’ (2,446 m), and marked by yet another shimmering azure pool, Harvey Lake. The views here were even more incredible than we had imagined, and we were fortunate for some stunningly perfect weather. During our week-long trip to the Canadian Rockies, we completed some absolutely gorgeous hikes, but the landscape here was just unbelievable. Thankfully, we had an impeccably clear day, and the views stretched for miles across Sunshine Valley and Lost Horse Ridges, out to the distant Continental Divide.
As we stopped for a well-deserved lunch at the scenic spot, three or four small groups reached the pass behind us, each equally taken with the mountainous countryside. And while the landscape at Harvey Pass was spectacular, we wondered just how amazing it must look from the summit. Surprisingly, only one pair of hikers headed up the rocky ridge ahead of us, while the other groups all contentedly headed back down from the pass. We grabbed our packs and eagerly headed for the top. It was about 1.5 miles (2.5 km) and 1,600’ (500 m) of elevation gain from Harvey Pass to the summit, along a steep slope of packed dirt, large rocks, and a bit of loose scree. When we finally reached the top of the 9,616-foot (2,931-meter) summit, we were certainly not disappointed. The views were just jaw-dropping, with 360° panoramas of the expansive Rockies in every direction. There were layers upon layers of craggy, snowcapped peaks, sliced intermittently with vibrant green valleys. To the northwest were the hefty, imposing peaks of the Massive Range (which includes Mt. Bourgeau). To the east we looked down on the Bow River, twisting and turning toward the town of Banff, with the Trans-Canada highway, curving around the base of the neighboring mountains. Some twenty miles to the south-southeast, the summit of Mt. Assiniboine, the “Matterhorn of the Rockies” (11,870’ [3,618 m]), rose majestically into the clouds. Our last (and probably favorite) hike of the trip, Mount Bourgeau truly wowed us with its diverse terrain and sweeping vistas.
Pros – Gorgeous lakes, unrivaled views from Harvey Pass & Bourgeau’s summit
Cons – Did we really have to leave?