Nope, that photo isn’t edited. Peyto Lake really looks like that even on an unusually overcast, snowy day in September (we’d come out expecting a sunny autumn day and ended up in a winter wonderland instead!)
Peyto Lake is considered one of the most beautiful views on the Icefields Parkway in Alberta, Canada. The spectacular shade of blue is caused by rock flour – fine grains of rock as fine as flour, ground by glaciers over the course of time and deposited into the mountain waters as the glaciers in the area melt.
Peyto Lake is also very heavily trafficked by tourists throughout the late spring, summer and early autumn – even when the weather isn’t as nice as anyone expected it would be. But! I’m going to try to give you some tips on how to enjoy the views and hike at Peyto Lake (and similar attractions).
Learn to Love Mornings!
First off, for us the key to tourist attraction success is to embrace the morning hours. By rolling out of bed between 7 and 8am, grabbing a “to go” snack like containers of dry cereal for the drive and heading straight out to the area closest to where we’re staying we usually manage to miss most of the crowds and we definitely manage to miss the bulk of the tour buses full of people.
Throughout our many years travelling as a family we’ve always had a lot of success getting an early start. We get to park the car without a struggle, enjoy the area without unreasonable crowds and then we head back to wherever we’re staying for lunch (maybe even a picnic), a swim, some playground time or maybe a short rest break. In the mid afternoon we typically try to tackle a slightly less popular attraction or one where reservations are possible.
Basically, we tend to spend noon to 3pm at the hotel or a park in the area!
These Boots Were Made for Walking…
I’m a big fan of comfortable footwear. Gym shoes or hiking boots are an absolute necessity for everyone in the family if we’re going to spend the day exploring new territory because I like to walk!
Banff National Park did a survey and estimate that 90% of tourists don’t travel more than a kilometer (about half a mile) from the parking lot.
While some stops only warrant a short stroll, most have an option to explore just a bit further out.
Peyto Lake is no exception! While the wooden overlook is a mere 50 feet from the tour bus parking lot or a ten minute walk from the car parking area the really spectacular views are to be found at the natural rock formation – the Upper Peyto Lake Viewpoint.
Exploring Peyto Lake
Assuming you’re arriving by car, walk towards the toilets and you will see a sign pointing the way up to the wooden viewpoint along a gently climbing, paved trail. Honestly, unless you come at sunrise you needn’t worry about finding your way. There should be a steady stream of people coming and going from this trail – just head towards the toilets and you’ll find it!
Spend about 10 minutes climbing this path (a little more if you’re battling icy conditions like we were!) and you’ll be rewarded with a (very busy) man made platform looking down at Peyto Lake. It’s a pretty stop but I recommend you continue your journey.
Take a few photos, enjoy the international nature of the crowds and then continue on the pathway past this lower overlook. In a short distance (about 250 meters or so), you’ll find a sign that includes a map of the rest of the pathway.
At this map, there are three directions you can go (four if you count the trail you just walked up).
To the left is a short walk to the tour bus parking lot.
The middle and right paths are the start and end of a loop that leads through a pretty forest area and to the branch that goes to the upper viewpoint.
You can do this loop clockwise or counterclockwise… it doesn’t really matter. We were eager to get to the viewpoint so tackled it counterclockwise and assume you will too.
Enjoy the forest walk and veer off to the right on the smaller path toward the upper viewpoint when you reach the fork in the road.
Along the walk you’ll enjoy periodic peeks of the lake through the trees, so take your time and enjoy the journey.
About a quarter of a kilometer along this trail you’ll find yourself at a natural rock outcropping that looks down from high above at Peyto Lake.
Darren and I were alone there for about 20 minutes taking photos and chatting about how strange crowds were – always seeming to cluster together at the start of a journey leaving us to explore the rest of the pathways alone. At that point a group of four young people showed up – they looked a bit surprised to see a couple of middle aged folks cuddled together on the rocks (hey, it was cold *grin*!). We took our leave so they could enjoy the space on their own.
We wandered back down the viewpoint path to the loop and finished walking around it. When we got back to the sign we took the path to the tour bus area and then walked down the road to the car parking lot, just to walk somewhere we hadn’t walked before (we could have backtracked down to the wooden viewpoint and out the way we came in but Darren always likes to explore the path not yet taken!)
A Bit of Information About Peyto Lake
Peyto Lake is fed by the melt waters of Peyto Glacier which is one of the glaciers that branches off from the Wapta Icefield in Alberta, Canada.
Icefields are large accumulations of permanent ice in the mountains that have glaciers flowing off of them.
Peyto Glacier and Peyto Lake were named after “Wild Bill” Peyto, a colourful character and mountain guide who first came to western Canada to work for the Canadian Pacific Railway in the early 1900’s. He soon became an expert guide who enjoyed taking adventurous tourists into the Canadian Rockies on horseback.
Before heading out on a hike with young children, consider putting together a scavenger hunt list for them to complete.
Peyto Lake Scavenger Hunt:
- Evergreen Tree
- Tour Bus
- Blue Water
- Big Rocks
- A fork in the trail
- Tree roots
What you’ll need
- Write down a number of items for the kids (and adults) to find on the hike. I have suggested ten that are appropriate to this trail but you can add or subtract depending on the season you’re visiting (frosty branches is a good one to add on snowy days!)
- Explain to the group that you’re all going to work together to try to find the items on the list during your walk.
- Use a pencil or crayon to check off the items OR take turns photographing the items as you find them.
- Consider bringing a “prize” for the group to share if they complete (or get 80% of) the scavenger hunt list. I suggest a recommend a favourite hiking snack like trail mix or hot chocolate in a thermos.
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.