If you’re looking to get away from the crowds for the weekend whether it be for just a day hike or an overnighter and you want to try something a bit more out there than car camping then this hike is for you! A rewarding intermediate hike up to an alpine hut will leave you feeling accomplished without sacrificing your sleeping comfort. Trail Name: Bow Summit or Bow Hut
Trailhead: The official trailhead is at Bow Lake along highway 93; 40km north of Lake Louise, about 2.5 hours from Calgary. This is also the site of Num-Ti-Jah lodge. When parking, make sure you are not in a lot dedicated to the lodge.
Elevation Gain: 530 meters total elevation gain, the majority of the gain occurring at the end of the hike.
Distance: ~16.5km return
Time Required: 4-5 hours one way, depending on how heavy your backpack is. If you’re planning to stay the night at the hut and you’re hauling up food and wine for that, then you’ll want to give yourself some extra time. Day hikers can plan to take closer to 3 hours one way.
Recommended Equipment: If you are planning on doing this route as a day hike, you don’t need anything other than your hiking boots, rain jacket and other daypack essentials. If you have bad knees or balance issues I would really recommend in investing in a pair of hiking poles. If you are planning on staying the night at the Alpine Club of Canada’s Bow Hut (highly recommended!) then you will need to make a reservation ahead of time and bring the following; a sleeping bag, change of clothes, slippers, toilet paper, headlamp, but most importantly wine and food. The hut has dorm style sleeping quarters (complete with mattresses) and a fully stocked kitchen (i.e.; pots, pans, cheese graters, can openers, propane stoves) making it really easy to spend a couple nights in the backcountry. With the short hike up, you may as well bring some luxury items for a glamping hut weekend! There is no electricity at the hut, so you can leave your cell phone charger at home. The hike from Bow Lake to Bow Glacier is special because this is the birthplace of the Bow River, the river that runs through Calgary. You start off by winding your way back along the edge of Bow Lake, until you reach a set of stairs that take you up the side of a canyon. At the top of the stairs the trail splits, with the option to continue straight to Bow Falls (another day hike option) or to turn left and traverse a wedged boulder to the other side of the gorge. Take the boulder and continue ascending along the canyon. Another great feature of the hike to Bow Glacier is how much the landscape changes. You make your way from a lush forest to navigating your way through a boulder field, remnants of a landslide long ago. Eventually you climb out of the tree line into a Mars like landscape. Once out of the tree line the trail is less distinct, so you have to make your way by following the cairns (piles of rocks that mark the direction of the trail). The general direction of the trail is towards the back of the main bowl. Look for the hut on top of a ridge to your right; unfortunately it is camouflaged extremely well. When making your way to the back of the bowl, be prepared to cross several streams. My advice is it is better to just get your feet wet, then risk slipping, falling and getting completely wet and potentially hurt. A little water never hurt anyone’s feet! It is also common for patches of snow to remain in the bowl till late summer. The last ascent up to the hut is a good one! When standing in the bowl, look for switchbacks up the ridge, they are well marked with cairns. Take your time; this is one heck of a grind! Upon cresting the ridge you’ll see the hut. The toe of the glacier is a few hundred meters up from the hut. **NOTE** Only those with certified glacier traversing experience/training should venture out onto the glacier. There are lots of hidden dangers on glaciers that most people are not aware of or prepared for and hence it is best to just admire. If you’re staying up at the hut, an excellent day hike is the Onion, it is the summit above the hut along the same ridge, characterized by the many layers in the rock, just like an onion. It takes about an hour to reach the summit. Remember to take your camera because the views are breathtaking from up there! I highly recommend this hike due to its excellent ratio between effort and reward. It’s also a decent drive from Calgary so you will be avoiding the summer crowds. On a hot day it’s not bad to finish off with a quick polar dip in Bow Lake! Happy hiking!