Cranbrook bills itself as the basecamp of the Kootenays as it offers easy access to…
The Helen Lake hike with the optional scramble up Cirque Peak in Banff National Park is one of the premier hikes in Banff National Park. Plan to hike to the ridge above Helen Lake for some of the best views in the Canadian Rockies.
While you’ll get fabulous Crowfoot Glacier views early on in the hike, if you get up to the ridge on the Helen Lake hike and scramble even part of the way to Cirque Peak you’re rewarded with a stellar view of the Wapta Icefields. In the summer the meadows around Helen Lake are also notable for their wildflowers.
The Helen Lake hike is a snap to follow
Initially head through woods filled with fantastic smelling fir and spruce. After only 45 minutes of hiking, you’ll be rewarded with superlative views of the Crowsnest Glacier. And when you turn left (north) Dolomite Peak shows up to the east.
Continue up the valley on a mostly gentle grade. Cross Helen Creek and continue on to Helen Lake. You can see the route up Cirque Peak from the lake.
It’s an easy walk around Helen Lake but the scramble up to the ridge might leave you short of breath. Many people stop here – or continue on to Dolomite Pass. We elected to go for Cirque Peak. From Helen Lake it’s another 493 metres (1,617 feet) of hiking…and scrambling to reach the peak.
The hike/scramble up Cirque Peak
The first part of the climb is easy. It’s up a sandy slope. Gain the ridge before it gets too steep or you’ll be in for more unpleasant scrambling. Trust me – I followed my husband and he did not take the easy route. Even if you don’t climb to the Cirque Peak summit I recommend gaining the ridge for the in-your-face views.
Climb steeply up scree slopes. Be prepared for fierce winds. Don’t forget to include warm coats and a hat in your pack; you may want to put them on here. Continue up the scree to the rockband. Head right as you face it and continue scrambling to reach the very tiny summit.
The summit itself is small and airy – with steep cliffs – but sensational views according to John. I didn’t go the last few hundred feet up. I figured I was pushing my luck with the dog. John said it was a wise move not to take her the last bit.
The descent is relatively easy. Plunge stepping in the scree returns you to Helen Lake in no time. Then it’s another 90 minutes of walking to return to your vehicle.
Finding the trailhead
The trailhead for the hike is just 32 km (20 miles) northwest of Lake Louise. It’s right across the highway from the Crowfoot Glacier viewpoint, a popular pullover for drivers.
Useful information for the Helen Lake hike and Cirque Peak scramble
You will need a day pass available to hike in Banff National Park. It’s $9.80 per adult or $19.60 per family – good for seven days.
It’s 14 kilometres return to reach the ridge above Helen Lake. The vertical to the ridge is 550 metres (1,800 feet). The total vertical to climb Cirque Peak is 1,043 metres (3417 feet). Count on at least another hour to hike from the ridge to the peak.
The total hiking time is roughly four hours return to the ridge and six to seven return for the peak.
Visit the Banff National Park website for information on any trail closures.
Interested in more great Rocky Mountain hikes?
- 5 Stunning Hikes You’ll Want to do along the Icefields Parkway
- 5 Hikes With the Best Views in the Alberta Rockies
- Banff Hikes: The Aylmer Lookout Trail
- 10 Breathtaking Lake Louise Hikes, Banff National Park
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