Bow Glacier Falls Trail isn’t one of my top five hikes for families but it’s pretty darn close. What I love most about it is that it’s beautiful and photo worthy from the moment you set foot on it so you can spend anywhere from ten gorgeous minutes to ten beautiful hours exploring it — however long you have the energy and inclination to give it.
The trailhead starts beside the Num Ti Jah Lodge parking lot, just up the road from the tour bus parking. Stop in at the lodge’s gift shop to pick up sandwiches, drinks and light snacks if you need to, then walk out of the gift shop toward the lake where you’ll see the sign marking the 4.6 km Bow Falls Trail and the Bow Hut Trail.
If this seems like too long a walk for you, don’t be daunted! The first 3.5km of the trail follow the lake’s edge on a fairly easy pathway.
There are a few roots and stones to step over and since it was snowing but warm we had a few puddles to navigate, but on most days it’s about the easiest, prettiest (and least busy, shhhh) stretch of trail in the area. This was supposed to be a warm, early autumn hike but mountain weather is unpredictable and it ended up being a day full of fluffy snowflakes!
In the first minute you end up at a wooden bridge over gurgling water flowing down from the glaciers into the lake. It’s a pretty place to stop and take a photo of Bow Lake with the Crowfoot Mountain in the background.
On sunny days, the water of the Bow Lake are bright blue – on cloudy days like ours, the water is more grey. We’ve seen the blue mountain lakes quite a few times and this time it was actually quite neat to experience the monochromatic world the fresh fallen snow and overcast skies seemed to bring to the mountains.
The spectacular colour of the mountain lakes in the area comes from the rock flour. Glacial ice grinds rocks up over time into rock silt as fine as flour. As the glaciers melt, this rock flour is carried down into the lakes. Depending on the flour to water ratio in each lake, they show the most unreal shades of blue, turquoise or emerald green.
About ten minutes into the walk (with lots of stops for photos), stop for a minute and just listen. That roaring noise you hear is the Bow Glacier Falls. If you look up into the ridge straight ahead of you, you can see the white line of the waterfall cascading down into the river below. I love the sound of waterfalls!
And with that it’s up to you how far you walk. We went about 2.5km before we turned back.
In that time we saw a merlin (a small bird of prey), a really big raven, a fish jump out of the water and some frosty looking ducks.
We passed a couple of little rock beaches where we were able to reach down to feel how cold a glacier fed lake is... yup, it’s really cold. Darren couldn’t resist splashing me a little with the icy water and I later sought revenge with an impromptu snowball fight.
We made it past an old avalanche area where many trees had been tumbled down the avalanche chute onto the shoreline of the lake before we decided to turn around after saying, “just 5 more minutes 4 or 5 times”.
If we’d had more time that day we would have continued up to Bow Glacier Falls. The trail is flat and follows the shoreline for about 3.5km before climbing up about 100 meters into the forest to the falls. There are stairs at the end that lead to great views of the falls, the alpine wilderness and the Bow glacier. The Bow Glacier Falls hike is a great walk for families.
Walking another 10km further in is Bow Hut, one of the many huts maintained by the Alpine Club for hikers and climbers to use. You can contact the Alpine Club of Canada to book a night’s stay at the cabin if you’d like but the hike all the way to Bow Hut isn’t family friendly.
If you continue for about 10 km past the hut, you summit “The Onion”, a common hike for young adults working in the area to tackle on their day off. We saw three small groups of young people heading off to The Onion, excited to spend some of their downtime exploring the parts of the park few tourists take the time to visit. When you summit The Onion, you’ll have a good view of the Wapta Icefield.
Returning to the lodge seemed to come too soon, but we’ll be back someday (maybe when there isn’t snow!)
So! By all means, visit the gift shop. But save a few minutes to head out on Bow Glacier Falls trail. You’ll likely be surprised how hard you find it to turn around and head back to the car!
About Bow Lake
An icefield is a large “lake” of permanently frozen ice, captured by the topography the mountains. Off the edges of icefields, there are “rivers” of permanently frozen ice that branch off in different directions. These rivers of ice are known as glaciers.
Icefields are smaller than the ice sheets and ice caps found in the arctic and antarctic.
The Wapta Icefield is one of the icefields along the Icefields Parkway in Alberta, Canada. The Bow Glacier flows down off the edge of the Wapta Icefield and as water melts from the glacier it feeds Bow Lake.
Bow Lake sits at the base of Crowfoot Mountain, about 2km east of the Continental Divide. Because it’s east, water from Bow Lake eventually ends up flowing down the Bow River into the Atlantic Ocean. If it was on the west side of the Continental Divide, its waters would flow into the Pacific.
Bow Lake sits at the headwaters of the Bow River which is part of Western Canada’s largest watershed. To put the phrase “Western Canada’s largest watershed” in perspective, keep in mind that one fifth of the fresh water on earth is in Canada!
Salt Water Snowflake Art Project
What you’ll need
- Coffee mug
- Paint brush
- Hot water to fill the mug (with help from an adult)
- 4 Tbsp salt (pickling salt or table salt work fine)
- Black cardstock or poster board (construction paper isn’t thick enough)
- Put 4 Tbsp salt into coffee mug
- Fill coffee mug with boiling water (with help from an adult)
- Use your paint brush to stir until salt is dissolved and then stir repeatedly throughout the project
- Use paint brush to paint snowflake shapes onto black cardstock
- Set aside to dry overnight
- The salt will show up on the paper after the water has evaporated!
Disclaimer: As always, my opinions are my own.
You might also enjoy visiting these sections on DLTK's Sites:
- Winter Crafts and Activities
- Forest Animal Crafts and Activities
- About Alberta Canada (including worksheets)
All photos in this blog post are copyright Leanne Guenther or are used with permission.
Wife, mom and the woman behind the scenes of the DLTK's Crafts for Kids websites. The websites are a terrific hobby -- run by (me) Leanne, a mom with two girls as my official craft testers and my husband as my technical support. DLTK are the first initials of each of the people in my family (I'm the L!). Whenever we send out little cards or whatnot, we sign 'love DLTK' ... when I started the website I used the initials. Had I known the website would get actual strangers visiting it, I would have picked a less mysterious name but we're all stuck with it now!
You can view my other blog posts here.