July 17, 2020. A full-day hike in Banff to the summit of the most accessible Canadian Rockies peak above 2900 m.
Region: Banff National Park. Traditional Territory of the Ktunaxa, Tsuu T’ina, and Blackfoot First Nations.
Distance: 25-30 km round-trip (1 of my apps and my Garmin measured the trip at 30 km, another app measured it at 25 km. I have no explanation for the discrepancy).
Total Ascent: 1626 m
Elevation of Objective: 2906 m
Total Time: 7h 55m
Mount Bourgeau is apparently one of the most popular peaks in the Banff area – a 2906 meter summit accessible from a well-marked trail and requiring no scrambling, just legs that can handle the vertical. The trail is the Bourgeau Lake/Harvey Pass trail, which is just a short distance west of Banff. The lake is beautiful, but the approach is lack-lustre. Even moving at a pretty brisk pace, it involves almost 2 hours hiking along a mostly wooded trail. On that basis, the Copelands in Don’t Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies5thed. strongly encourage hikers to carry on to Harvey Pass – and I can confirm they’re giving good advice. Beyond the lake, things get steeper, but far more scenic.
Access is from Hwy 1, about 12km from the west end of Banff. There are signs marking the turn (if approaching from Banff, you turn onto a short road through the wide forested median, then drive across the eastbound lanes into the parking area). Ask Google Maps to drop a pin here: 51.168484, -115.730555. Pit toilet facilities and a map kiosk are at the trailhead. There’s a latched gate to pass through to get onto the trail – this is part of the wildlife barricade that stretches along the highway here.
The initial forested portion of the trail does occasionally allow for some nice views, but it’s mostly just something to endure at the start and end of your day. There are 2 creek crossings, one with a bridge and the other without. The second crossing is at the foot of a cascade flowing from the outlet of Bourgeau Lake. A bit of steep hiking beyond this crossing brings the trail to Bourgeau Lake’s hanging valley. The trail levels, and shortly thereafter reaches the lake itself.
The trail carries on around the north side of the lake, then begins a climb west to yet another hanging valley. The route goes past small cascades draining from a collection of tarns in the upper valley. Finally, the trail swings southeast and climbs steeply again to Harvey Lake, and Harvey Pass beyond. The first glimpses of the views beyond the pass will hopefully make it clear that the trip is worth the effort. On a clear day, Mount Assiniboine will be visible in the distance straight ahead. I didn’t visit on a clear day, so I didn’t realize this amazing natural framing until I looked over my should on the way back down. The clouds had moved during my descent and unveiled the “Canadian Matterhorn”.
The way to the summit is obvious from Harvey Pass. The boot-beaten trail isn’t official, but enough people use it that it’s very well defined. It’s another 500m elevation gain, but the views just keep getting better – both nearby and distant. Eventually the unusual sight of a large green propane tank comes into view (there’s some sort of weather station or something on the broad summit), welcoming you to the summit.
There’s only so much hyperbole I can wedge into this post, so I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. I’m not familiar enough with the region to point out the names of all the peaks. It was cloudy and unsettled on the day of my climb. I can only imagine how great the views would be without cloud cover.
Click on the pictures in the gallery below to access full-sized images.