Canadian Rockies / Lake Louise / Banff National Park
3 Day Glacier Trek, Hut-to-Hut along the Continental Divide in Banff National Park
Hike the Wapta Icefields – North America’s Classic Glacier Trek
Remote Hut to Hut Trek with Glaciated Peak Ascent
Turquoise Mountain Lakes
Perfect Family or Corporate Group Trip!
Great Introduction to Mountaineering
Can be Customized for Longer Duration
This 3 day glacier trek will take you to some of the most scenic glaciated mountain terrain that Western Canada has to offer. We will take advantage of a network of back country huts run by the Alpine Club of Canada, all of which are spectacularly located high up on the Wapta Icefields along the Continental Divide of the Rockies. While the huts are well equipped with all cooking ware, stoves and fuel as well as bunks with mattresses, we still have to bring our own food and a sleeping bag.
“The Wapta Horseshoe Trek” starts at the turquoise waters of Bow Lake and ends at Peyto Lake, only 10 km north of our starting point along the world famous Icefields Parkway which connects Banff and Jasper National Parks.
En route, we will have the opportunity to summit some of the surrounding glaciated peaks, which rise to a maximum of 3300 Meter (10800 ft). The trip also offers a great introduction to mountaineering with glacier travel and an optional crevasse rescue and ice climbing exercise – the perfect family trip!
Meeting in morning with your guide either in Canmore, Banff or Lake Louise. Trip briefing, distribution of rental equipment and food. Drive via Icefields Parkway to the trail head at Bow Lake (20 min from Lake Louise). We start out with a gentle stroll on the lake shore trail along the turquoise waters of Bow Lake. After 1 hr we depart from the main tourist trail, cross a deep canyon on a spectacular natural rock bridge and head into the moraine landscape below Bow Glacier. A last steeper climb takes us to the Bow Hut, located at 2350m = 7700 ft just off the head wall of Bow Glacier, overlooking Bow Lake and other glaciers surrounding the Wapta Icefields. (6km = 3.75 mi, 550m = 1800 ft climb, 4 hrs walking). Should there be time remaining In the afternoon, we familiarize ourselves with the glacier equipment, brief you on glacier travel and take a short hike to the tong of Bow Glacier.
Early start for a spectacular day on the glacier. Roped together with your guide, we will ascend the gentle glacier towards the continental divide with magnificent views of the surrounding high peaks like Mount Gordon, Mt. St. Nikolaus and Mount Collie in the distance. En route, there will be the opportunity to drop our packs and climb either Mt. Rhonda North or Mt. Thompson, peaks around 3000m = 10 000ft with great views all the way to the Columbia Ranges and the Bugaboos. If the group is interested, we will also have time to practice some ice climbing or do a crevasse rescue exercise en route. A first gentle, then steeper descent takes us to the newly renovated Peyto Hut (a.k.a. Whyte Hut) located just of the glacier at 2560m = 8400ft. (6 km = 3.75 mi distance, 550 m = 1800 ft climb, 450m = 1500ft descent). For peak ascent of Mt. Thompson add 400m climb and descent, total walking time with peak ascent 7 hrs.
For really keen & fit group members, there is the option of an early morning ascent of Mount Rhonda south (460m = 1500ft up and down over 4 km = 2.5 mi distance, 3.5 hrs for a fast group in good conditions). After that, it is mostly downhill from the Peyto Hut. The route takes us down the usually barren Peyto Glacier past countless glacier creeks and glacier mills – vivid documentation of the glacial retreat in this area. After walking down the glacier tongue, we traverse through the moraine landscape (optional side trip to Cauldron Lake (2 additional hours), descent some steep moraines, cross the glacial outflow on a bridge and reach finally Peyto Lake, one of the postcard features of Banff National Park. As so often, the toughest part of the day comes in the end: A 300m = 1000ft vertical climb takes us back again into the real world: Hordes of tourists will be waiting for us when we top out at the Peyto Lake overlook. We usually deposit the guide’s car here in order to get back to the Bow Lake trail head. (370m = 1200 ft climb, 800m = 2600ft descent, 7km = 4.37mi)
This itinerary can be nicely combined with other mountaineering activities that we offer (rock climbing, scrambling, classic peak ascents) or other mountain sports activities (rafting, caving, horseback riding, mountain biking etc.) to make for an excellent introduction to mountaineering, family or multi-sport week. Please inquire for a custom trip proposal.
Detail and Logistics
Depending on our client’s preference, we can meet you on Day 1 of the trek either a) in Canmore or Banff at 7.30 or b) Lake Louise for 9 AM at Laggans’ Cafe for a trip briefing, distribution of group food and rental gear. From Lake Louise, a 20 minute drive takes us to the trail head at Bow Lake.
How to get there / Closest airport
There are several private shuttle services providing hourly transport from the Calgary airport to the Bow Valley – Canmore, Banff and Lake Louise. Banffairporter.com
Driving times from the trail head at Bow Lake: To Calgary = 2.15 hrs, Canmore 1.15 hrs, Banff 1 hrs, Lake Louise 20min.
Rental cars are also available in Calgary, Banff or Canmore.
Climate, Weather, Temperatures
Temperatures can vary greatly on this trip. You might be able to start the hike in shorts at Bow Lake in temps around 30 C ( 86 F) and face subfreezing temperatures down to -15C (5 F) the next morning when stepping on the glacier. Fresh snow is also a possibility on this trip.
Best season for this trip is July – September. For earlier or later departures, we might have to carry snowshoes along. If you wanted to do this trip as a ski traverse, have a look at our Wapta Ski Traverse
Services Included in the Total Price
- Guiding by a certified (ACMG / IFMGA) and insured mountain guide, alpine guide or assistant guide under supervision
- All trip organization, reservations as well as assistance with all pre- and post trip preparations
- Breakfast and 3-course dinners for the 2 nights in backcountry huts
- Parks Canada wilderness overnight fee
- Rental of technical equipment: Ice axe, harness, carabineer, crampons and helmets for ice climbing practice
The following are not included, but can be quoted separately.
- Pre- and post trip lodging in Canmore, Banff or Lake Louise
- Airport pick up, drop off at Calgary International Airport
- Transport to and from the trailhead
- Lunch and snacks
- Any Special Meal requests will incur an additional fee of $10 / day.
- Any additional cost due to changes in the itinerary, may they be caused by weather, mountain/avalanche conditions or personal preferences.
Can I Do It?
Strenuous multi-day trek with a combination of hiking on trails (at times steep and gravel covered) and glaciers (at times snow covered). On the glaciers you will be roped with your fellow trekkers and your guide as a rope team. The crux of the trip are several creek crossings on the first and last day, which may require wading in knee-deep glacial outflow waters for short periods. The terrain is not technical and relatively gentle, however the use of crampons will likely be required, especially as snow coverage on the glaciers recedes later in the summer.
Unless you opt to hire a porter, your are required to carry a backpack sized 40 – 50 liters (180 – 210 square inches) weighing around 7 – 9 kg (15 – 20 pounds) depending on how much water you carry for the day.
We will go through an instructional session about glacier travel and crampon / ice axe use on Day 1 or 2. All in all, you need to be in good physical and mental condition, ready to be on your feet for about 7-8 hrs on some of the days. If in doubt, give us a call to make sure the Wapta Glacier Trek is right for you!
Additional days to extend the Wapta Icefields traverse are possible on a custom trip basis, and can include the following:
- One additional night at the Bow Hut would give you more time to include more instruction, like crevasse rescue or self-arrest exercises as well as an ascent of either Mount Olive or Mount Gordon, both around 3200 meters high and reachable from the Bow hut in about 6 – 7 hrs round trip.
- The entire Wapta Traverse takes 5 days and includes also the Scott Duncan and the Balfour Hut. The full traverse is more committing and adds more challenging terrain than our regular 3 day trip and we hence don’t recommend it for families with children under the age of 16.
- A great compromise that avoids a long first day hike into the Peyto Hut is the entire Wapta Traverse but starting at the Bow Hut:
Day 1: Drive along the Icefield Parkway to the trailhead at Bow Lake (30 min). We start out with a gentle stroll on the lake shore shore trail along the turquoise waters of Bow Lake. After 1 hr we depart from the main tourist rail, cross a deep canyon on a spectacular natural rock bridge and head into the morrainal landscape below Bow Glacier. A last steeper climb takes us to the Bow Hut, located at 2350m = 7700 ft just off the head wall of bow Glacier overlooking Bow Lake and other glaciers around the Wapta. 8km = 3.75 mi, 550m = 1800 ft climb, 4 hrs walking. Lodging: Bow HutShould there be time remaining In the afternoon, we familiarize ourselves with the glacier equipment, brief you on glacier travel and take a short hike to the tong of Bow Glacier.Day 2: Day trip from Bow Hut, Lodging Bow Hut: Today we have many options for peak ascents around the Wapta Icefields. Given that the next few days will see us heading south it makes most sense to explore the area to the north and west towards the Peyto Hut. Possible peak ascents are Mt. Rhondda or Mt. Thompson, both around 3000 meters (10,000 ft) high with awesome views along the glaciated Continental Divide. Mt. Thompson usually features a wind scoop that elnds itself for crampon training and crevasse rescue practice.Day 3: Balfour Hut. The most direct route to the Balfour Hut only takes about 3-4 hours (7 km = 4.3 mi horizontal distance, 580 m = 1900 ft vertical climb, 430 m = 1400 ft descent) but we try to climb some of the glaciated peaks along the divide on our way.We reascend the head wall underneath the steep walls of Mt. Saint Niklas onto the crest of the Wapta Icefield. Options for peak ascents are Mt. Gordon (3200 m = 10505 ft), which offers great views of the remainder of the traverse and further south all the way to the Bugaboos. A short climb leads us to the Olive – St. Nicholas saddle from where we have the option to climb Mt. Saint Nicholas or Mt Olive, although a little lower than Mt. Gordon, they offer fun ridge scrambling and more challenging mountaineering. From Nicholas Olive Col the descent along the mellow Olive Glacier takes about 2 hrs to the newly renovated Balfour Hut at 2440 m = 8000 ft.Depending on which options taken, expect 15 km = 9.4 mi horizontal distance, 1100 m = 3600 ft vertical climb and 1000 m = 3280 ft descent.Day 4: Balfour Hut – Scott Duncan Hut: The steep ascent on the heavily crevassed Waputik Icefield underneath the north face of Mt. Balfour make this day the most exciting of the whole traverse. From a backpack cache at Balfour High Col at 3020 m = 9905 ft, we have an option to climb Mt. Balfour, at 3270 m = 10725 ft the highest peak on the Wapta Traverse. This requires a bit of a scrambling section when descending from Balfour High Col towards the long, southern aspect summit slope as well as the last 10 minutes to the summit along the low angle summit ridge. We retrace our steps back to the Balfour High Col to grab the backpacks. A long, mellow descent gets us to the Scott Duncan Hut (2710 m = 8900 ft), the highest and smallest of the Wapta Huts.14 km = 8.75 mi, 1030 m = 3380 ft vertical climb, about 600 m = 2000 ft ski descent if Mt. Balfour is climbed en route.Day 5: Home Run: Niles Col – Sherbrook Lake – Kicking Horse Pass / Transcanada Highway. We traverse from the hut into Niles Saddle where a long, adventurous descent leads us to Sherbrook Lake where we pick up the maintained hiking trail along the lake shore. A narrow and windy forest trail eventually spits us back out into civilization at Great Divide Lodge, close to Kicking horse Pass on the Trans-Canada Highway. We usually arrive there around 3 PM. Depending on driving arrangements, we might still have to pick up a vehicle at the Bow Lake trailhead. Return time to Banff / Canmore is usually around 5 PM For those with a tight schedule, an Airport drop off in Calgary can be arranged for the same evening.
Wapta Icefields Trek
We will gladly put potential clients in touch with previous participants of each trip in order for interested guests to get personalized references and their questions answered from a more objective point of view than what our office could provide.
References of prior guests
“The trip was very good, my second trip with OnTop.
Guide: Joe was great and we enjoyed all his stories. He knows the area very well and no doubt about his vast experience in mountaineering. Though I love my boots wish I had rented higher quality boots and I get what Joe was harping on about. I am inspired to save and buy some really really good ones.
Communications/Trip planning: I have been on many organized trips and your team is by far the best communicators.
Itinerary: was great, last day was long for me, a middle of the roader. I would have liked a second day at Peyto hut or campsite on way to Peyto lake after the ridge but that would involve carrying tent and cooking gear.
Lodging/Food: Food all good and the huts were great.
10/10″ Cynde, S., GA, USA
Guide: Pete was a great guide – one of the best we’ve ever had. He was fun, extremely knowledgable and amazingly good natured about having to punch through deep snow for miles on end.
General trip organization / communication from our side: Communication was great. Thank you for all of the quick responses to our many questions.
Itinerary: We loved the Wapta trip – one of the best backing trips of our lives. The views were spectacular and the huts super comfortable and well-equipped. We were really happy with our itinerary and would have had trouble doing anything more than simply going hut-to-hut given how long it was taking us to get anywhere in the deep snow conditions, but I think if the trails had been clear we might have been disappointed that many of the peak climbs mentioned in the On Top website itinerary weren’t really an option. I assumed we couldn’t do them because of the conditions, but Pete told us that climbing the mountains mentioned in the online itinerary is never really an option, even when deep snow isn’t a factor. Again, this wasn’t a problem for us, but I could see over-selling the peak opportunities on the website might be a problem for others.
Lodging/Food quantity and quality: The food was plentiful and really good quality. Thanks for catering for our vegetarian diet. Our only (slight) complaint was that the food seemed really heavy for backpacking. Don’t get me wrong – we loved having things like a whole container of real cream cheese and bagels to eat, but things like that are not usually what I think of as light-weight backpacking food. Our packs were really heavily loaded that first day.
10/10 for sure. You were all fantastic. ” Chris P., CA, USA
“The trip was great! Guide: Tom was great. He really encouraged us to get the most out of each day on the trip. Organisation/communication: Excellent organization. You were all very responsive. Itinerary: Good itinerary. Thank you for your recommendations on the first two nights on the Bow Hut. Food & Lodging: Great food quality, but too much! 10/10 for anyone interested, but it’s not a popular activity in Halifax unfortunately!
Thanks again for a wonderful trip. We hope to work with you guys again at some point.” Sean R., Halifax, Canada
“Pete was great. Patient and clear with everyone. Managed expectations and conditions really well. Was fun and included all guests in conversations etc. We really enjoyed ourselves and would recommend it to others.”
Bridget I., New Zealand
” Jordy was fantastic. He handled my wife’s allergic reaction well, cooked great food, got along well with everyone, kept us safe, and was fantastic building the rope handline to cross the river in a safe fashion. Trip was organized and communicated very well. Itinerary was perfect.
Lodging and food were better than expected and fantastic. I read the packing list but neglected to bring ear plugs. Given that there happened to be 16 males between the ages of 19-30 in Bow Hut with us, I wish I had had those and it might be worthwhile to include some in the toiletries bag provided to the group in the future. Absolutely would strongly recommend Jordy and OnTop to any friends going up toe Banff ”
—Kareem M., MO, USA
HIGH LEVEL GLACIER TREKS with OVERNIGHT IN HUTS
1. Technical Equipment
• Mountaineering boots* or sturdy, waterproof hiking boots
• Backpack (minimum 40 liters) with rain cover if possible.
• Rain Cover or garbage bag as an inside liner to waterproof contents.
• Ice axe for glacier travel (50-75cm, classic pick)**
• Crampons that fit your boots or can be easily adjusted**
• Anti-balling plates for your crampons (usually integrated in modern crampons)**
• Collapsible ski poles** (recommended, at least one pole)
• 1 harness**
• 1 locking carabiner**
• Crevasse rescue equipment, if you are familiar with it.
(Prusik slings, webbing, pulleys, auto-locking device). Your guide will bring a full set.
All items marked ‘*’ can be rented from a rental shop locally.
All items marked ‘**’ can be provided by OnTop.
Please bring your own equipment if you have it.
We suggest using the ‘layer system’: Light technical clothing that doesn’t take much space in your backpack and dries quickly if sweaty or wet.
Layers can be put on and taken off fast if weather conditions change during the day.
• Wind and waterproof shell jacket with hood (Gore Tex or similar)
• Wind and waterproof over pants with side zippers (Gore Tex or similar)
• Mountaineering pants
• Fleece, puff or light down jacket
• Medium weight fleece sweater
• Long underwear or running tights
• Undershirt – preferably long sleeves
• Warm socks for mountaineering or hiking boots (wool/synthetic outers)
• Warm hat, covering your ears
• Lightweight gloves (fleece or leather)
• Warm, waterproof pair of gloves
• Gaiters (unless pants lock tightly to your boots)
• Sun hat or baseball cap
• Bandana or Buff (optional)
3: Hut lodging
• Spare underwear, socks, light hut slippers
• Sleeping bag * – Three season sleeping bag sufficient. Outside temps are rarely below freezing in summer.
• Light stuff sacs or zip lock bags to keep your backpack organized (optional)
• Very light hut slippers or down booties (optional, socks or boot liner work too)
• Toiletries (keep to a bare minimum – washing is usually limited to a hand and face rinse, brushing teeth)
• Ear plugs (optional)
Wapta Icefields Glacier Trek
- Up to 7 hrs/day hiking
- Requires stamina!
- Roped glacier travel
- Gravely trails
- Wading through cold creeks
Wapta Icefields Glacier Trek
June – October
Custom trips anytime
June (lots of dates available)
Jul. 05 – 07
Jul. 12 – 14
Jul. 19 – 21
Jul. 26 – 28
Aug. 02 – 04
Aug. 09 – 11
Aug 16 – 18
Aug 23 – 25
Aug. 30 – Sep.01
September (dates available)
Wapta Icefields Glacier Trek
CA$ 790 / Person
Groups of 3: CA$ 960 / Pers.
Groups of 4: CA$ 790 / Pers.
Groups of 5: CA$ 720 / Pers.
Groups of 6: CA$ 660 / Pers.
Groups of 7: CA$ 610 / Pers.
Certified guide, guide expenses, 2 x ACC huts, 2 x dinner and breakfast, use of glacier and avalanche safety gear, Parks Canada wilderness fee
Extra: Transport to trail heads (can be arranged and quoted separately), lunches and snacks