Connie has always wanted do the Lake Minnewanka trail in Banff National Park. I know it’s a stunningly beautiful place, but I have been reluctant to go on account of the throngs of tourists that are always at the starting point. I just don’t fit in well with them. However, I do know that a couple kilometres in at a scenic canyon, most turn around. I reminded myself that of the twenty plus kilometres we would do that day, only a couple of them would be unpleasant. I can accept those odds.
The trail is paved, or mostly paved until the gorgeous Stewart Canyon. It’s here the Cascade River enters Lake Minnewanka and you can view it all from a foot bridge. Soak it up for a while, it’s nice.
Right after the the trail almost immediately gain some elevation. But it’s not much for any hiker worth his salt, 100 metres or so I think. And as side bar, this hill acts like a magic barrier keeping the flip flop wearing tourists away. From here on in your only company will be like minded hikers, backpackers, bikers and the always present Bighorn Sheep (we see a couple females and a young one). I can live with these as company.
Moving along the trail traverses across a high slope and through a forest fire burn are before descending back to the lake level and it stays that way for the most part for the rest of the trip. You’ll cross a number small side streams and creeks along the way.
For the next few kilometres the Lake Minnewanka trail itself is unremarkable, but the views are superlative and some of the best around. The deep blue of the lake is amazing and across the waters the massive Mount Inglismaldie dominates the view.
At the 8km mark there is a side trail to Alymer Pass. If you go up that trail you are required to travel in large groups due to the grizzlies that hang around the area. The LM8 campground is also at this point. It’s not the nicest one in the area, and the campgrounds further on, particularly LM11, are much nicer (IMO). LM by the way, means Lake Minnewanka and the number refers to the distance from the start of the trail in kilometres. LM8 is closed at times, when bears are about.
Our intentions were to scope out the best of the three hike-in campgrounds in the area, so we could return the following year. However, that nasty car crash in the spring of 2011 prevented us from doing much heavy carrying for the next few years. Who knows when we can do it now, if ever.
Also following the Aylmer Pass trail heading of to your left, at least for the while, is the route to the old Aylmer fire lookout. The views there are quite nice I am told, as they should be given the height. And for the ambitious types, you can even scramble to the summit Mt Aylmer from either the lookout or pass. Mount Aylmer is the tallest mountain in the area and the previously mentioned Mount Inglismaldie across the lake is second.
This trail can be busy with tourists as I mentioned, early on that is, but even past that there is a fair amount of traffic. There are lots of bikes to watch out for out and hikers like us. One thing I noticed, everyone was pleasant, friendly and very courteous. Who wouldn’t be in a good mood given the wondrous surroundings.
We went as far as the LM11 campground, again the nicest one in the area in my opinion – there is an LM9 nearby and of course LM8 mentioned earlier. If you wish you can go further up the lake and valley, passing many more campsites along the way, until you emerge in the Ghost River area. That’s a many day expedition on foot, but perhaps the round trip could done on a bike in one very looooong day.
After a nice lunch and with some wine we return the way we came, dreading the hoards of tourists we know that await us at the end.
The Lake Minnewanka trail head is located at the namesake day use area just north of Banff. Park at the south lot away from the tourists, many who are super lazy and fight for the closer in parking spots. In the south lot you will be among friends. You will need a park pass to use the trail here.
There is a tourist boat that travels the lake and you’ll catch occasional glimpses of it. It also seems to be a popular lake for fishing with many boats to be seen up and down it. And it’s famous for storms that whip up without warning, catching everyone off guard. This day it was calm as can be.
If you have time, it’s worthwhile visiting the nearby the location of a former town and coal mine, just down the road from Lake Minnewanka. To see a report we did on it, click this link…
Bankhead Alberta ghost town.
If you wish more information on this trail, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: July 2010.
Location: Banff National park.
Distance: 22km return. You can go further up the lake and valley for another 20+kms.
Height gain from start: 100m.
Height gain cumulative: 230m.
Technical bits: None.
Notes: Tourists by the bus load, at the start.