For the magnificent views, alpine flowers and sapphire waters, Bourgeau Lake and Harvey Pass make for a day trip from Calgary that’s well worth the effort. The 7.5 km Bourgeau Lake trail is a popular summer’s hike up to an exquisite mountain lake. Summer through fall is typically the best time (but check with Banff National Park for current conditions).
Elevation gain to the lake is 670 metres, in a gradual ascent through forest, with occasional glimpses of the surrounding mountains and Wolverine Creek. Canada Jays (gray jay or whiskey jacks), Clark’s Nutcrackers, and juncos are some of the birds you might see along the way.
Lunch stop by the lake
At Bourgeau Lake, a good place to stop for lunch, you’ll see friendly golden mantled ground squirrels; as well as chipmunks, which are much more shy. If you’re lucky, you might spot a pika (rock rabbit) scurrying among the boulder fields.
In his book, Banff- Assiniboine: A Beautiful World, author/photographer Don Beers sums up this hike as ‘steep trail, lakes, high pass.’ ‘If you go on to Harvey Pass, you get good views back to Bourgeau Lake. The route takes you through a large verdant amphitheatre dominated by a giant outlier of Mt. Brett,’ writes Beers.
Harvey Pass is another couple kilometres beyond the lake, with 430 metres in elevation gain. This is an effective workout if you’re looking to burn some calories.
What makes it all worth it, are the views: of mountains, lakes, streams and alpine meadows. On the day of our hike, we saw half a dozen hoary marmots, including young of the year, lounging in the sun. Their clear whistles sound intermittently in the distance.
Once at the pass, on a clear day you can look south across Harvey Lake to spot Mt. Assiniboine, ‘Matterhorn of the Rockies,’ the highest peak in Banff National Park at 3,618 metres. You are also looking towards Sunshine Meadows, a spectacular hiking destination and a highlight in Banff National Park.
Sunshine is accessible by the gondola/ Standish chairlift in the summer and early fall (June 28 – September 8 in 2019). This is a good choice for people looking for a shorter, much easier way to view alpine meadows and lakes. It’s a good option for older people, and for families with small children. Reserve your seat on the shuttle here. (Nearby Sunshine Village is an excellent all-round family winter destination for skiing and snowboarding.)
On this summer’s day, we continue above Harvey Pass, following the gentle rocky trail toward the summit of Mt. Bourgeau along the mountain’s west ridge – but with the clouds darkening and thunder nearby, turn around a couple hundred metres from the goal. No matter! There’s always a next time to return to this enchanting place.
Mt. Bourgeau and Bourgeau Lake were named by James Hector for Eugene Bourgeau, botanist with the Palliser Expedition (1857 – 1860).
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Useful information for the hike to the lake and Harvey Pass.
Trailhead: The Bourgeau Lake parking area is located on the west side of the Trans-Canada Highway, 11.8 km west of Banff.
For hiking: Good things to bring along include a hiking pole, water, bear spray and the 10 essentials for hiking.
You can buy bear spray here.
Park entry: For visitors, there’s an entry fee to Banff National Park (daily): $9.80 adult, $8.30 senior 65-plus, and $4.90, youth ages six – 16.
- Banff Lake Louise Visitor Information
- Banff – Assiniboine: A Beautiful World, by Don Beers
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This post was written by Jacqueline Louie, a Calgary-based freelance writer.