The Hike to Peyto Lake Lookout
Just Getting Started in Banff
The temperature in Banff was about 42°F. Being from Chicago, it was not unusual for me to be wearing my flip flops. I usually did a not-so-smooth smooth transition from flippies to boots about the time the temperature reached freezing. My feet prefer the flippies and my boots make me feel like my dog when I put shoes on her. Today was no different. It was my first full day in Canada and had flown into Calgary late the night before. I was traveling alone for the 1st time and had several days of exploring ahead of me. I had witnessed the breathtaking blues of Lake Louise and Lake Moraine earlier that day.
It was around 7:30 p.m. but being that it was June, the sun would still be up for the next several hours. Next on my list was Peyto Glacier and lake. Peyto is more than an hour north of Banff, but was 7 minutes from my hotel for that evening.
Canada’s Blues – Bow Lake
I had seen pictures of the teal blue waters of Peyto lake and decided it was worth the 3.8 mile round trip hike.
The drive from Banff to Peyto was beautiful. Hulking grey mountains were all around me and every few miles unveiled another stunningly bright lake the color of blue kool-aid.
Ready for Action in the Canadian Pines
I pulled off and parked in the lot. There were 2 other cars parked there. I grabbed my camera, locked up and made my way up the paved path. Tall evergreens surrounded me. The air was brisk and smelled like Christmas. It felt good to be in nature in the crisp pine air.
I had been on the path for about 20 minutes and the incline was starting to wear on me. A young couple approached me on their way down.
“Hi…” they chorused.
“Hello,” I responded…trying not to indicate how hard I was breathing. “How much further to the top.?”
‘Act normal…breath normal,’ I willed myself.
“Oh you’re about halfway,” the hooded girl responded. “It’s so worth the hike.”
“Yeah, it’s amazing.” The man in glasses agreed.
“Ok, thanks.” I said.
As soon as they were out of sight, I resumed my tongue-out panting that I l’d been hiding. As I climbed, large patches of snow became visible in the tree area and my breath came out in little white puffs. I sort of wished I had grabbed my gloves but I was able to smush my hands up into my sleeves and they were mostly warm.
Nobody Said There Would Be Snow at Peyto
There was a spot ahead where there was a clearing in the trees and snow had blown over the path. There was no way around it. My brain briefly thought about hiking back to put on my boots.
“Mehh…I’m almost there now.” I reasoned as I put one tentative flip flop on top of the snow.
The cold hadn’t permeated my feet too much until they became submerged in snow.
“Oh momma!! That’s cold!” I announced loudly to myself as a wedge of snow compacted itself between my shoe and my bare foot.
I shook out the ice chunk and analyzed the scene ahead of me. There was a flattened down area with the icy remnants of hiker’s footprints that wove through the middle of the path. On the edges was ankle deep fluffy un-stepped-in snow, littered with pine needles. There was about a 20 foot patch of snow in front of me and then…clear path.
I opted for the not-so-much-snow-in-the-shoe, middle section. After one step on the glazed over packed snow, my foot tried to slide out from under me.
“Woah!” My arms windmilled around crazily and I caught my balance.
Sliding all Over the Peyto Lake Path
I did a kind of waddling penguin walk for several slidey steps and decided cold feet were better than a hard fall. I plunged my foot into the frozen white powder.
“Yeowwww!” I placed the other foot more carefully to avoid all the snow from packing in under my heels but the snow didn’t care whether I went fast or slow…it was going in my shoe either way.
I made a mad sliding run for it and emerged onto the clear asphalt, hopping around to thaw out my stinging feet. I grabbed my toes with my fingers…warming them enough to encourage them to continue.
I strode along the clear asphalt path, happy for that little ordeal to be behind me. After I puffed and panted up another incline, I followed the path around a bend and was faced with another field of impassable snow.
I found the non-icy side section and plowed through the deep snow, my toes immediately protesting. Near the end of the snow patch, one of my shoes suction cupped to a slushy area and I stepped right out of it and into a wet half frozen puddle.
“Well this is just ridiculous…” I thought as I snatched my shoe and balanced on one foot…rubbing my numb foot back to life.
Fortunately it was smooth sailing to the top after that. A couple areas were only half covered where I could navigate around on the asphalt.
I emerged from the tree path victorious and onto the empty wooden viewing platform.
The View That I’d Been Waiting For…Peyto Glacier Ahead
“Woahhh.” I breathed as I gazed around.
The shocking aquamarine lake against the grey backdrop of the hulking mountains surrounding it was stunning. I stood staring all around me, feeling my eyes prickle with tears at the overwhelming beauty of the scene. It hardly felt real and made me feel very small and immensely grateful to be a part of it for this moment in time.
The dirty grey mound of frozen glacier seemed to melt into icy fingers of arctic blue that reached down into the azure lake. I read that the bright color of the lakes in this area is caused by rocks grinding together as the glaciers move. The grinding rocks create a fine silt or rock powder that stays suspended in the water and reflects the sunlight.
I marveled at the moment and then asked a newly arriving group of tourists to take my photo.
Back on the Piney Canada Path
Reluctantly, I began the 30ish minute hike back down the piney scented path. Racing through the snowy bits, I made my way back to the car where I cranked up the heat, let out an extended string of swears and rubbed my feet for friction. I would never talk bad about my beloved flippies, but that was a hike I wish I had opted for the boots.
I drove seven miles down the mountain lined highway to Simpson’s Num-Ti-Jah Lodge where I was staying. I was yearning for a place with an amazing view when I booked my reservation. Seeing the photos online, I knew the lodge wouldn’t disappoint.
Simpson’s Num-Ti-Ja Lodge
I was surprised and happy to discover that the frozen teal lake where I had stopped to take photos on the way to Peyto, was the same lake on which the lodge was tucked, Bow Lake.
After I checked in, I had a surprisingly good falafel and vegetarian soup in the lodge restaurant. The server stopped at my table.
“Hope you enjoyed your dinner. Where are you from?” He asked as he lay down the bill.
“Chicago,” I responded.
“Very good, are you on vacation?” He inquired, as I dug out my debit card.
Yeah, I’m doing a road trip of hot springs and glaciers, are you from around here?”
“Oh no…I’m from Portugal in a work exchange program. You can live anywhere you want and work at a resort like this and your lodging is covered, because it is too far from town.”
“How long have you been here?” I inquired.
“Oh just a few months, they have an annual tradition here I was able to be a part of last week. The 1st day the ice breaks up in the spring, all of the staff puts on these red, half-body, old fashioned swimsuits with shoulder straps and jumps in the lake…it was crazy. Every year they do it and take a picture.” He laughed and handed my receipt.
“That is nuts! No way.” I laughed.
“I like it.” He said, “I have lived all over the world with the work exchange and have had such cool experiences…ok…have a good night.”
Relaxing With a Bow Lake Canada View
I then made it back up to my lake view room and jammied up for the show. I dragged the desk chair, a blanket and a Canadian stout up to the large window overlooking Bow lake. For the next several hours, I stared out the window at the shimmering aquamarine water.
The radiator pumped heat into the small room as I listened to Peter Green and watched the day slip into night. I was grateful for the things I was fortunate enough to have seen and for the current view out the window before me. I relaxed and thought about what the next day’s adventure would bring.