Mt. Bourgeau

Rising above the Bow Valley, Mt. Bourgeau’s 9,616-foot (2,931 m) summit is one of the most recognizable peaks near the town of Banff. Part of the Massive Range, Bourgeau’s prominent silhouette can be seen from Banff’s town center as well as the Vermilion Lakes and Trans-Canada Highway. Bourgeau’s long but easy summit approach (7.5 miles one-way) makes for a beautiful day hike.

We hiked this one back in 2014, and absolutely loved it. Consequently, despite having an ever-growing list of trails we have yet to explore, we found ourselves repeating this old favorite. With jewel-toned lakes, scurrying marmots, and panoramic peak views, Mt. Bourgeau was just as good as we remembered. It was even more fun to be able to return with Sanchez. She also seemed to have a particular fondness for this one, and managed to make it through all those rodent-filled, alpine meadows without a Thai dog time-out… just barely.

The trail begins from the Bourgeau Lake Trailhead, about 8 miles (13 km) west of Banff off the Trans-Canada Highway. Its proximity to town makes it an easily accessible outing, yet its relatively small parking area and longer approach seem to keep the foot traffic to a reasonable level.  From the trailhead, the trail climbs moderately through a thick forest for about 4.5 miles (7.3 km) until it reaches the lake. Because of this, the views en route to the lake are quite limited, save for a small waterfall on Wolverine Creek and quick peeks at Mt. Cory and a southeastern bump of Mt. Brett.

If you can stand the bugs, Bourgeau Lake is a great place to pause for a snack or enjoy a picnic lunch if that’s your stopping point for the day. It was kind of crazy to be swarmed by as many mosquitos and horse flies as we were this time around. When we hiked in 2014, there were very few bugs. Of course, that may have been due to the fact that we were bundled up in long-sleeve base layers and winter coats for a good portion of the hike. Daytime highs on our 2014 hike topped out around 20C (68F). On this trip, almost eight years to the day (31st July vs 26th July), the temperature hovered around 31C (88F) and we were dripping with sweat. If I hadn’t remembered every bit of scenery with such vivid clarity, I would have sworn we were hiking two thousand miles further south.

From Bourgeau Lake, it’s another 1.5 miles (2.4 km) to Harvey Pass with an additional 1,000’ (300 m) of vertical gain. Aside from a short, somewhat steeper section of scree, the grade to the pass is fairly moderate. As you make your way up the one steeper section of ridge just west of the lake, there’s a gorgeous view looking back down at the sapphire pool with Bourgeau’s summit block towering above toward the east.

As the trail approaches Harvey Pass, it winds past a couple of small tarns and through meadows teeming with wildflowers and marmots. Given a choice, Sanchez never would have left this stretch of trail. With every hoary marmot whistle, her ears would cock and you could watch her brain shut off just a little bit more.

If you’re not interested in the final slog to the summit, Harvey Pass makes a nice stopping point. On one side of the pass, you get beautiful views looking out toward Sunshine Meadows with The Monarch and Scarab Peak looming in the distance. On a clear day, you can even get a glimpse of Mt. Assiniboine, the ‘Matterhorn of the Rockies.’ Along the other side of the pass, you can enjoy the scenic shores of Harvey Lake, a gorgeous little turquoise tarn.  As unassuming as it is, Harvey Lake might be one of my favorite spots in Banff. For whatever reason, I just love it up there.

From Harvey Pass to Bourgeau’s summit, the trail climbs fairly steeply, gaining an additional 1,700 vertical feet (520 m) over 1.5 miles (2.4 km). It seems some people technically classify it as a scramble, as it traverses a scree-covered slope from Harvey Pass to the summit. However, if it is indeed a scramble, we’d certainly rate it as one of the easiest ones in the area in terms of both grade and terrain.

Atop Bourgeau’s summit, the views are sweeping. The only real flaw with the scene is the repeater station that kind of mars the natural landscape (on the plus side, though, it does make for a nice wind break). To the northwest, you can look out at neighboring Mt. Brett and Pilot Mountain. To the northeast, beyond a large snow cornice, you can see the Bow River winding its way toward the town of Banff. And to the south, Mt. Assiniboine’s iconic, 11,870-foot (3,618-m) crest completely dwarfs all other peaks of the Southern Continental Ranges.

The views to west-southwest are perhaps the most scenic, looking back down on Harvey Lake and out to the Pharaoh Peaks and Mt. Ball. Mt. Ball’s snow-capped summit is particularly impressive, with the 10,863-foot (3,311-meter) mountain absolutely dominating everything else around it.

If you’re interested in a longer day hike around Banff, we think Mt. Bourgeau is a really good one. The trail seems to have a bit of everything: lush forests, a cascading waterfall, alpine lakes, wildflower meadows, abundant wildlife, expansive mountain views, and a steep summit approach to cap it all off. The trip was just as nice as we remembered from eight years ago, and one we’d probably still revisit if we were to once again find ourselves in the area.

Total distance:  15.0 miles (24.1 km)
Elevation gain:  5,029 feet (1,535 m)

Alternate options

If you want to check out some of Bourgeau’s beautiful scenery but don’t feel like pushing all the way to the summit, you can choose to stop at either Bourgeau Lake or Harvey Pass. The former clocks in at 9 miles (14.5 km) out-and-back with 2,300 feet (700 m) of vertical gain. The latter is a 12-mile (19.5 km) return with 3,300 feet (1,000 m) of elevation gain. If you’ve got the time and energy, we’d really recommend going up to the pass. Harvey Lake is such a beautiful spot, and the views from the pass are pretty nice.

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