Hike around beautiful Bow Lake to Bow Glacier Falls, the largest waterfall on the Icefields Parkway.
With gorgeous lake, glacier and mountain views; an adventurous stair climb along a gorge; and creek crossings, Bow Glacier Falls delivers everything you’d expect from a classic Canadian Rockies hike. It’s one of those trails where the journey is just as eye-popping as the destination. Even my youngest, who claims to not like hiking, said “I would do this one again!”
Note: This is NOT Bow Falls in the town of Banff. Bow Glacier Falls is on the Icefields Parkway, north of Lake Louise.
Bow Glacier Falls Trail
The trail begins near the shore of Bow Lake, just past Num-ti-jah Lodge. We cross the footbridge and follow the narrow path around the northwest end of the lake. Paddlers dot the turquoise, glacial-fed waters and ravens soar overhead. As we round a corner, a marmot makes for the bushes.
Glacial lakes get their brilliant aquamarine color from particles of rock flour (created when rocks were scoured by glaciers and gravel) suspended in the water.
We are traveling towards Bow Glacier Falls, which are fed by the Wapta Icefield. Standing 154 metres high, they are the Icefields Parkway’s largest falls (source: World Waterfall Database). Can you believe the icy waters that cascade down the cliffs will flow through Banff and Calgary, and eventually make their way into Hudson Bay? First, we’ll enjoy the sparking lake though!
After traversing an avalanche slope, we take the trail through trees around the end of the lake. Later in summer, when water levels are lower, you can shortcut across the gravel channels. Where the mouth of the river narrows, we climb large steps along a gorge. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can cross the “Natural Bridge” or “chockstone”, a large boulder wedged in the canyon with a vertiginous drop below. Continuing on the other side of the canyon will take you to Bow Hut.
Back on the Bow Glacier Falls side, however, no boulder balancing is required. There is some loose rock on the ridge, but if you go to the end, there’s a less steep way down. At the bottom, stay to the right to keep your feet dry as you hop rocks over small streams in the outwash plain.
The ridge you are standing on is a terminal moraine, a huge pile of glacial till (rocks and sediment) left behind as the glacier retreated.
As you approach the falls, you can feel the mist on your face (and often a stiff breeze blowing off the glacier)! It’s super refreshing on a hot day, but if it’s cool out, you might want a jacket. We spent a good hour here basking in the sun and enjoying the views. There’s plenty of space to spread out!
Return the way you came and take your time on the steep stairs.
Bow Glacier Falls at a Glance
- Distance (one way): 4.6 km one way
- Elevation gain: 155 metres
- Nearest washrooms: Pit toilets at the trailhead
- Stroller friendly? No due to steep, rocky, and rooty terrain; creek crossings; and large stairs.
- When to go: July to October. Do not attempt in winter conditions; this is avalanche terrain! Check Parks Canada | Banff Trail Reports for current conditions.
- Parking: Turn left at the Simpson’s Num-ti-jah Lodge / Bow Lake sign on the West side of Highway 93 North, 40 km north of Lake Louise. Park in the parking lot by the outhouses. If the main parking lot is full, try the overflow parking lot close to the turnoff (350 metres from the lodge).
- Trailhead: Behind Num-ti-jah Lodge. Go towards the lake and follow the trail around to the right (west of the lodge).
Know Before You Go
- You are in bear country! Bears travel the trails too (easier than bushwhacking) and have been seen on busy trails in the mountain parks. Learn how to stay safe in bear country with our Bear Safety Tips for Hikers.
- The parking lot fills up on summer weekends, so plan to be there early or late in the day.
- If you need a snack before/after hiking, there’s a café at Num-ti-jah Lodge.
What to Bring
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Good hiking boots and a windproof/waterproof shell are must-haves. Trekking poles are recommended (your knees will thank you when you’re older).
You should also carry The Ten Essentials including: water, extra food, extra clothes, a headlamp, a GPS/compass and map of the area, bug spray (this one contains 20% icaridin and will repel ticks), sunscreen (this one is safe for babies), and bear spray. Carry bear spray in a Frontiersman Bear Spray Holster (attaches to your backpack or belt) or Scat Belt.
Where to Stay
Waterfowl Lakes Campground (First come first served), Silverhorn Creek, Mosquito Creek (First come first served), Lake Louise Tent Campground, Lake Louise RV Campground are some great options nearby, and of course you can’t get any closer than Num-ti-jah Lodge!
The Bow Glacier Falls Trailhead is located 40 km north of Lake Louise on the west side of Highway 93 North. Turn left at the Num-ti-jah Lodge / Bow Lake sign.