Banff and Canmore Hiking – Plain of Six Glaciers Trail and Grassi Lakes

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View point from the end of the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail in Banff National Park (credit: Florian Fuchs)

Trip overview:  We stayed in Canmore, Alberta for several days and visited Banff National Park and the surrounding area.  We did two hikes totaling ~13 miles and played disc golf at the Canmore Nordic Centre.  Highlights include amazing glaciers and peaks, blue lakes, and a great disc golf course. We completed this trip in September of 2016.

Preparations:

Permits and reservations: we stayed in a AirBnB in Canmore and did not need to make any camping or backcountry reservations. If you want to go backpacking in Banff you do need a backcountry permit, which can be reserved up to 3 months in advance by phone or in person (details can be found here). There is a $12 reservation fee and a $10 per night person backcountry camping fee. Normally you must also pay a fee to enter Banff National Park, but entry is free in 2017 as part of the 150th year anniversary for Canadian National Parks.

If you want to camp in Banff, there are a wide variety of campgrounds and campsites in the park.  You can reserves online or by phone (1-877-RESERVE (737-3783)). The fees vary by site but are typically around $20.

If you are driving into the park and just doing day hikes, as we did, you only need worry about the park entry fee (free in 2017).  Beyond that, you just park in a legal parking and can head off on your hike.

Transportation: we ended up renting a car at the Calgary airport and driving to Canmore and Banff.  This option was easy and gave us a lot of flexibility.  If you want to avoid renting a car, there is a $10 one-way shuttle from the Calgary airport to either Canmore or Banff. Once you are in the park, there are a number of options to get around including taxis and buses. Renting a car is a nice option though because it provides the opportunity to drive along the Icefields Parkway at your own pace.

Supplies: If you are doing a lot of hiking, it is wise to invest in some bear spray to protect yourself in case you come across a grizzly bear. Banff is known to be the home of many bears, and they can sometime be aggressive. A good bug repellent is also nice to have because the mosquitoes and flies can be a nuisance in the Rockies. Finally, a rain jacket is good to have since it occasionally will storm in the mountains during summer days.

Here are some suggested hiking clothes and gear:

 

Lake Louise and the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail: 9.7 miles; +/- 3,400 feet

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Map showing Lake Louise (the large lake) and the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail (red).

Plain of Six Glaciers Trail Map (pdf)

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Approximate elevation profile of the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail.

We starting this day off by driving from Canmore to Lake Louise in Banff National Park.  The drive was quite easy and provides some great views of the Rockies along Alberta’s Highway 1.  The drive takes just about an hour and along the way you will pass through the main entrance of Banff National Park where you will buy your entrance permit.

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It is a ~80 km and 1 hour drive from Canmore to Lake Louise.
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View along the drive from Canmore to Banff.
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View along the drive from Canmore to Banff.
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View along the drive from Canmore to Banff.

 

The parking lot at Lake Louise was full by the time we got there, so we had to park on the side of Lake Louise Drive near the intersection with Hwy 1A.  There was a hiking trail that went parallel to Lake Louise Drive, so the walk up to the lake was not bad.

Upon walking up to the edge of Lake Louise, you are immediately met with an expansive view of the turquoise lake.  The view is great and the colors are amazing.  We enjoyed these views and then set off on the Plain of Six Glaciers Hike.  Renting canoes seems like a lot of fun but it was a little too pricey for us and we were in a bit of a hurry because bad weather was coming in.

To reach the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail, you first follow the path the leads along the edge of Lake Louise.  The path starts near the Fairmont Chateau hotel and follows the edge of Lake Louise for roughly 2 miles.  Eventually you reach the end of the lake and start a ~2 mile climb along the trail up to the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House.  From the Tea House, you can hike a bit more to the end of the trail and get the best views of the glaciers. We then took the same trail back to our car.

Note that it was intermittently raining while we hiked the trail, so there were some gaps in my photo album.  I have used photos from other sources to fill in the gaps (hence why the sky changes from blue to cloudy and back).

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Lake Louise in Banff National Park.
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The outlet at the bottom of Lake Louise.
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Start of the path (right) that leads around Lake Louise.
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Hiking along the path towards the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail.
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Walking along Lake Louise. (pictured: prAna Stretch Zion Pants)

 

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View looking across from the opposite side of Lake Louise (credit: Wingchi Poon)
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Looking back across Lake Louise. (pictured: Down Vest-Gray)
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Continuing on to the trail into the valley behind Lake Louise. (pictured: Natural Speckled Canvas Backpack)
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View along the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail (credit: mzagerp)
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View along the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail (credit: David Wilson)
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View along the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail  (credit: mzagerp)
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View looking backwards towards Lake Louise (credit: LPeezy)
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Along the trail getting closer to the end and the Tea House (credit: Jasonwoodhead23)
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First nice view of the glaciers and peaks that reside near the end of the trail.
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Continuing forward on the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail towards the Tea House.

 

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Panoramic view along the trail.
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A across the valley while on the trail.
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Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House (credit: Florian Fuchs)
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View of the peaks and glaciers from the Tea House area.
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View at the end of the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail. (credit: learningis1st)
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Heading back to Lake Louise.

 

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Continuing down the trail back to the car.

Overall this was a great trail.  The views of Lake Louise and of the glaciers are fantastic.  There are picnic tables at the Tea House, so this makes a great place to have a snack.

 

Grassi Lake Trail: 2.7 miles; +/- 1,100 feet; Grassi Lake Trailhead

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Map of the Grassi Lake Trail (purple)

Map of the Grassi Lake Trail (pdf)

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Approximate elevation profile of the Grassi Lake Trail.

On this day we did a short hike just outside of Canmore.  The Grassi Lake Trail starts at the parking lot alongside the Rundle Forebay on Ken Richie Way.  The trail was quite short, but provides some nice views of the colorful Grassi Lakes.

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Grassi Lakes Trailhead (credit: Raymond Wong)
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There are two routes to the lakes.  One involves a steeper climb, but provides a better view of the waterfall along the way (credit: Raymond Wong)
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The first section of the trail goes through a forest (credit: Raymond Wong)
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After the initial climb, you are treated to a view of the Rundle Forebay and Canmore with the Grotto Mountain in the background.
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View of the waterfall and part of Mount Lawrence Grassi.
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Close up view of the waterfall.
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The first of the Grassi Lakes.
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The first of the Grassi Lakes.
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The first of the Grassi Lakes.

 

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The second Grassi Lake. (credit: Dan DeBold)
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Looking at some climbs across the second Grassi Lake (credit: Raymond Wong)
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Blue-green water in the second Grassi Lake.
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View of Grassi Lakes from above.

This trail was short and sweet.  The Grassi Lakes are great for photos because they are super colorful.  However, we mainly chose to hike this trail because of its proximity to the disc golf course at the Canmore Nordic Centre.

 

Canmore Disc Golf: 18 holes; 6,500 feet long; fair amount of elevation change

After the hike to Grassi Lakes, we drove over to the Canmore Nordic Centre to play disc golf.  The drive was easy and only took 5 minutes.

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The Canmore Disc Golf course is right near the Grassi Lake Trailhead.

The course gets great reviews and we all thought it exceeded our expectations. The views surrounding the course are amazing.  There are mountains on either side of the course and they provide a great backdrop.  The course itself was challenging and had a good amount of variety.

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The field at the Canmore Nordic Centre.
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The Rundle Peaks provide a great backdrop on the West side.
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Mountains on the East side also provide good views.
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Watch out for bears while playing.
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Panoramic view along the course.
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Panoramic view along the course.

 

Here are some similar trip reports:

Yosemite Hiking – Clouds Rest and the Lembert Dome

Grand Canyon Hiking – South Kaibab and Bright Angel Trails

 

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