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Looking Down At Helen Lake

Helen Lake Hike in Banff National Park

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.

Views of Crowfoot Mountain & Glacier - 45 minutes into the Helen Lake hike
Views of Crowfoot Mountain & Glacier – 45 minutes into the hike
Reasonable grade most of the way to the lake
Reasonable grade most of the way to Helen Lake

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.

View of a small lake above Helen Lake
View of a small lake above Helen Lake
Hikers perhaps headed for Dolomite Pass
Hikers perhaps headed for Dolomite Pass

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.

Looking steeply down to the lake
Looking steeply down to Helen Lake

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 scree covered slopes to Cirque Peak
The scree covered slopes to Cirque Peak

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.

Views of the Wapta Icefield and Bow Lake
Views of the Wapta Icefield & Bow Lake
Looking down to Bow Lake and Num-Ti-Jah Lodge
Looking down to Bow Lake and Num-Ti-jah Lodge

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. 

The view as you walk back to the trailhead
The view as you walk back to the trailhead

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?

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

The hike to Helen Lake & Cirque Peak in Banff National Park


Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. Looks like a really great hike. Lovely vistas! Worth all that effort. Too bad you couldn’t get up the summit yourself. Brave dog you got there too. I don’t think our dog would have managed even a third of the way.

  2. Hello,
    I am looking to do my very first scramble, would you recommend this one? It is early December, how would you guess the snow and Ice will be up there?
    Thank you for any input.

    1. @Sue I don’t know what the avalanche risk is like on that peak – so I would definitely check in with Banff National Park to get their take on safety. It’s certainly a marvelous hike in the summer and fall. Prairie Mountain in Kananaskis Country will at least give you a workout.

  3. This is such a beautiful place to hike! I would love to hike here and so would my husband! My husbands name is John too!

  4. Would the first hour of the trail (to the beautiful views of Crowfoot Mountain and Dolomite Peak) be suitable for kids aged 9 and 11? And how much would it challenge someone with height issues? (I.e. exposure +steepness). Thank you!

  5. Hi,
    love you blog! I ordered the book Don’t Waste Your Time In The Canadian Rockies
    unfortunetly i already need to get a move on planning my hiking trip and the book isn’t here yet.
    would you be so kind to write down the premier day hikes from the book? . i understand that Helen lake is in number 8.
    thank you in advance


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