Bourgeau Lake/ Harvey Pass
Banff National Park
Time: 6 hours
Distance: 14.6 km (return) + 5 km (return) for Harvey Pass
Elevation Gain: 710 m + 300 m for Harvey Pass
How to Get There: Drive about 8 km west of Banff on Highway 1. Take a left at the first turn off after the sign for Bourgeau Lake. This is a very popular trail so try to get there early or the parking lot will be full.
So many people say that in order to get the full experience of this hike, you should hike past Bourgeau Lake and up to Harvey Pass. Let me add my name to the list of those people. Don't get me wrong- Bourgeau Lake provides nice scenery on its own. But climbing up to Harvey Pass allows for panoramic views and the opportunity to gaze upon gorgeous streams, lovely wildflowers and even more lakes. The added strenuous 2 kilometers from Bourgeau Lake is 100% worth it.
I had wanted to do this hike back in October of last year but the weather never cooperated and I ended up having to take a rain cheque. This weekend, I decided it was the perfect time to cash in said rain cheque (though that's obviously just an expression- we ended up getting extremely lucky with the weather as it was a lovely plus 18 in the mountains- while the clouds constantly bluffed they were going to rain on us, they never actually did). At 10:00 am, we reached the trailhead, which was already quite full. We managed to squeeze into a parking space and then were on our way.
A lot of people don't enjoy the first 3 kilometers or so of this hike because you're essentially just going up a gradual incline through a thick forest and thus there isn't much to see. But I love the smell of the trees and there were plenty of wildflowers and mushrooms along the way to keep the mind occupied.
Off to our right you could hear (and sometimes see) Wolverine Creek. At the halfway point, we reached a bridge which clears a Wolverine River tributary.
After that, the trail starts to open up a little bit and every so often we were presented with views of the mountains in the northeast.
We continued to make our way up the trail until we reached a beautiful waterfall that was being fed from a river running from Bourgeau Lake. There are giant rocks that act as a bridge across the stream that are tied up with wire so it's not as slippery.
Once we hopped across that, we were at the part of the trail where you gain the most elevation. The remaining 2 kilometers or so to Bourgeau Lake consisted of steeper switchbacks that get rockier as you go on. When you look behind you, you are finally rewarded with a constant beautiful view of the valley below you. A kilometer later, the trail finally levels out and then proceeds through a narrowing valley. This really was a beautiful area full of meadows and wetlands.
All around us were vast mountains and I couldn't help but feel like I was under their protection. The pathway itself was filled with sand at this point and it felt almost spongy on the feet, which was actually kind of amusing (or maybe I had just had too much sun at this point). At one point of the trail, there are boards on either side, keeping people from wandering onto the sensitive vegetation that surrounds the area.
For another 500 meters or so, we followed along the creek and wetlands.
Then Matt and I made our way through a thick brush of pine trees before popping out the other side and reaching a fork in the road. There is a sign in the middle that indicates turning left takes you to the lake and turning right takes you to Harvey Pass.
Once we turned left, we finally got a good look at our destination. Bourgeau Lake was a beautiful blue, made even more beautiful by the mountain wall behind it.
A perfect spot for lunch was at two giant boulders that sat right in front of the lake, allowing for an even more incredible view so we walked across the scree rockfall that surrounded the lake and then took a seat beside a couple with an adorable dog. After a few pictures were taken (at the chagrin of Matt), we finally sat down and ate or sandwiches, cheese, sausage and protein bars while watching as the dog attempted to make friends with a chipmunk.
After we were all finished, Matt decided to continue hanging out down by the lake while I continued on to Harvey Pass. The trail to Harvey Pass is on the north side of the lake and the first part consisted of me trying not to slip in the muddy sections as I tried to make my way through the dense forest.
After a short while, the trail begins to gradually ascend upwards. But it's not until you break through the trees that you realize how much elevation you're going to have to traverse. The trail quickly moves upwards into steep switchbacks, following along the waterfall that seeps into Bourgeau Lake below. Almost immediately you are treated with fantastic views of Bourgeau Lake and the valley.
After making my way up a very scree laden trail, I finally reached the first stop which is an unnamed lake.
After I took a few pictures of the beautiful surrounding wildflowers, I continued upwards until I reached the second unnamed lake. At this point, I had to cross a few small stream braids to continue towards Harvey Pass.
This part of the trail is absolutely stunning. When you look back towards where you came from, the views of the mountains and lakes below are incredible. The unnamed lake and gorgeous mountain wall to your other side only adds to the serenity of the location while the babbling creek I just hopped over almost brought joyful tears to my eyes.
Quite a few people seemed to decide that this was the end of their journey but I wanted to reach the top of the pass so I continued walking up to the south until I was beside Harvey Lake.
Apparently the snow in this area doesn't usually clear until middle of July. The lake itself was already half melted though because of the warm spring we had. Once I kept going past Harvey Lake, I reached the saddle of Harvey Pass and was immediately greeted with the most amazing view of Mount Assiniboine to the south, Sunshine Ski Village in the horizon and a multitude of other mountains and meadows below me.
It took my breath away (and so did the elevation gain)! To my left was Mount Bourgeau. I walked a few more yards in that direction to get an even better view around me (almost stepping on this cute little guy below).
I briefly considered trying to summit Mount Bourgeau but knew that Matt was still waiting for me down by the lake, so I begrudgingly left it for another day. After taking a moment by myself to enjoy where I was and also taking a multitude of pictures, I finally turned back the way I had come.
It was about 2:45 pm by the time I got back down to Bourgeau Lake and Matt, so after sitting together for a few minutes, we finally decided it was time to start the long hike home. On the way back, Matt managed to make a friend of his own!
By the time we reached the parking lot, I was absolutely exhausted! It's definitely a hike you can bring your dog on but is maybe a bit too strenuous for young children. Though I wish I had given myself the opportunity to summit Mt. Bourgeau, the hike itself was so beautiful that I know I will definitely be doing it again.