The Ultimate Guide to Bow Lake: All You Need to Know

Bow Lake Banff

Bow Lake is one of the many beautiful lakes on the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93 N). On the north side of the lake you’ll find Bow Summit. The Bow River, running through the town of Banff, springs from this lake. 

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Height: 1,920 m (6,299 ft)
Deepest point: 51 m
Length: 3.2 km (1.99 mi)
Widest point: 1.2 km (0.75 mi)
Coordinates: 51°39′52″N 116°26′55″W

The lake is one of the largest lakes in the park and is fed by the meltwater of the Bow Glacier in the Sunwapta Ice Field. Bow Lake is the closest lake to the headwaters of the Bow River and has a total area of 3.21 km2 (1.24 sq mi).

Although the lake attracts the most visitors in summer, its area is open for snowshoeing and ski touring in winter. 

Like all glacial lakes in Banff National Park, the water in Bow Lake has a beautiful green-blue color. It is probably the first thing you notice when you stand at the edge of the lake. 

The water in Bow Lake owes its unique color to the so-called rock flour deposited in the lake by the glacier in the summer. The sunlight reflecting off of it creates the water’s beautiful green-blue color.


Bow Lake is 38 kilometers from Lake Louise Village and is the third lake (after Herbert and Hector Lake) on this breathtaking highway from Lake Louise Village. It lies south of Bow Summit and east of the Waputik Range and offers views of Wapta Icefield, Bow Glacier, Bow Peak, Mount Thompson, Crowfoot Glacier and Crowfoot Mountain. Furthermore, the lake is located west of Dolomite Pass, Dolomite Peak and Cirque Peak.


You can visit Bow Lake all year round. Although you often have to wait until June for the lake to thaw completely. Only then can you see the beautiful colors of the lake.

Therefore, the best time to visit the lake is between June and September.

The first and last month of this period in particular are very suitable for a visit. In June, the ice melts, there are considerably fewer tourists in the park than in the summer months and the first flowers bloom after a long winter.

In September, the peak of the high season is over and with a bit of luck you can enjoy a lovely warm Indian summer.


A special time to visit the lake is at sunrise and sunset. The rising and setting sun creates a special gloom over the lake, making the scenery even more stunning than it already is. Visiting at these times also increases your chances of seeing wildlife. Extra bonus: It won’t be crowded (yet).


If you’re there to see the scenery, take pictures, have a drink and a quick bite to eat, an hour at Bow Lake should be enough, in my experience. But it really depends on your desires and interests.

If you want to hike, you could easily spend a whole morning or afternoon at the lake, or even more. There are a number of trails around Bow Lake, ranging from easy to difficult, each with its own unique views and experiences.

You can also take a canoe trip on the lake to explore the lake and its surroundings from the water. You’ll need to bring your own canoe, though.

Bow Lake seen from a wooden bridge in Banff National Park


Like the nearby Peyto Lake and Hector Lake, Bow Lake is easy to get to. It’s located right on the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93 N). There’s a car park at the edge of the lake. To get to the lake shore, just scramble down a few meters.

Public Transport

There is no direct bus connection from Banff or Lake Louise to Bow Lake. You can take the bus from Banff to Lake Louise Lakeshore or Lake Louise Village North. There you can take a taxi to the lake.


Another way to get to Bow Lake is to take a sightseeing tour. Just sit back and relax while a guide tells you a thing or two about your surroundings.

Here’s a list of tours that’ll take you to Bow Lake (among other destinations):

Detailed information about these tours:


Bow Lake is quite busy in the high season; it’s one of the most visited lakes in Banff National Park. It’s very easy to get to as it’s right off the Icefields Parkway, making it a perfect stop to enjoy the mesmerizing views. There are also several worthwhile hiking trails that start at the lakeshore, adding to the lake’s popularity.


Bow Lake typically starts to melt in the spring, usually between May and June. It typically starts to freeze over in November.


During the summer, the weather in Banff National Park is often moderate and pleasant. But since you’re in the Rocky Mountains, this can change at any time, so it’s important to pack accordingly. Here’s a short list of things to pack for your visit to Bow Lake.

  • Sturdy hiking boots
  • Warm jacket for the cooler mornings and evenings
  • Long pants (in case there are too many mosquitoes, it varies from year to year)
  • Sunscreen
  • Sun glasses
  • Water bottle
  • Snacks
  • Bug repellent
  • Camera (or smartphone)


You can spend the night at the shore of the lake as you’ll find the Num-Ti-Jah Lodge right at the lake’s shore. The property has 25 rooms and is the only place to stay on the lake, so book well in advance to secure a room.

Num-Ti-Jah Lodge
Address: Mile 22, Icefields Parkway, Lake Louise
Phone: +1 403 – 522 2167

If the hotel is booked full, the nearest place to stay is Lake Louise Village, which has various good options. I listed three of them below:

#1 Paradise Lodge & Bungalows

✓ Horseback riding near accommodation
✓ Wheelchair accessible

Book it


The Paradise Lodge & Bungalow Hotel is located on the road to Lake Louise. The rates tend to be a little easier on your wallet than the nearby Fairmont Château Lake Louise, and the mountain views are stunning. Oh, and Lake Louise is just around the corner. So is Lake Louise Village.

Paradise Lodge & Bungalows
105 Lake Louise Drive, Lake Louise

#2 Mountaineer Lodge

✓ Hot tub
✓ Free breakfast

Book it


The Mountaineer Lodge is located in Lake Louise Village, just off the TransCanada Highway, so you’ll be quickly on your way to explore Banff National Park. The hotel’s amenities are outstanding.

Mountaineer Lodge
101 Village Road, Lake Louise

The premises of the Baker Creek Lodge in Lake Louise, where the lodges are situated amongst pine trees

#3 Baker Creek by Basecamp

✓ Pet friendly
✓ Gym

Book it


If you want a luxurious experience that’s not as expensive as the Fairmont Château Lake Louise, Baker Creek by Basecamp is a stunning option. The photo above speaks for itself.

Baker Creek by Basecamp
 Bow Valley Pkwy, Lake Louise

Camping at Bow Lake

It is not possible to camp at Bow Lake. However, there are several campgrounds nearby. The two closest campgrounds are Silverhorn Creek and Mosquito Creek. The use of a campground costs between 15 and 30 CAD per night. If you want to make a campfire you must have a permit. These are available at most campgrounds. 

Silverhorn Creek Campground

Address: Icefields Parkway, Improvement District No. 9
Phone: +1 780 – 932 6868 
Overnight stay: subject to availability
Number of sites: 67
Facilities: picnic tables, hand water pump, dry toilets (no flushing) and bins
Campfire permit: available  
Kind of accommodations: motorhomes and trailers, not for tents
Distance to Bow Lake: 10.3 km (6.36 mi)

Mosquito Creek Campground

Address: Icefields Parkway, Improvement District No. 9
Phone: +1 403 – 522 3833
Overnight stay: upon availability
Number of sites: 32
Facilities: drinking water, picnic tables, dry toilets (no flushing), communal kitchen, fire pits.
Campfire permit: available at the campground 
Kind of accommodations: motor homes and tents
Distance to Bow Lake: 17 km (10.49 mi)


Although Bow Lake is not nearly as touristy as Peyto Lake, you can easily spend a whole day or more at the lake and the surrounding area. Besides several shorter and longer hikes, you can also fish in the lake and do some nice snowshoeing in the winter months. 

Hikes around Bow Lake

Like every lake in Banff National Park, Bow Lake offers many great hikes. Some can be started right from the parking lot at the edge of the lake. Others start at the Num-Ti-Jah Lodge, which can also be reached by car.

Below is a table of hikes around and near the lake. You’ll also find a description of the four most popular hikes around Bow Lake.

Bow Lake3.4 km (2.1 mi)50 minutes2 m (7 ft)Bow Lake car park
Bow Glacier Falls8.4 km (5.37 mi)2 – 3.5 hours155 m (508 ft)Bow Lake car park
Helen Lake and Cirque Peak17.2 km (10.62 mi)6 – 8 hrs1,007 m (3,303 ft)Bow Lake car park, just before the Num-Ti-Jah Lodge
Bow Hut15.6 km (9.63 mi)4 – 6 hrs555 m (1,821 ft)South of the Bow Lake car park, by a small tree with flags
Bow Peak15.6 km (9.69 mi)6 – 9 hrs555 m (1,821 ft)South of the Bow Lake car park, by a small tree with flags
The Onion Scramble19.7 km (12.16 mi)6 – 9 hrs840 m (2,756 ft)Car park at the Num-Ti-Jah Lodge
Jimmy Simpson17.4 km (10.74 mi)5 – 8 hrs1,275 m (4,183 ft)Car park at the Num-Ti-Jah Lodge
Hiking trails around Bow Lake

Bow Lake Trail

The Bow Lake Trail is about 3.5 kilometers (2.1 mi) long, and it takes about an hour to complete.

The trailhead is near Num-Ti-Jah Lodge, and the trail begins by following the shoreline of Bow Lake. It’s well maintained and easy to follow. So without too much effort, you’ll be treated to stunning views of Bow Lake and the surrounding mountains.

The trail is relatively flat and there are several benches along the way where you can stop and take in the view. The trail ends at the bottom of a staircase that leads to Bow Glacier Falls. So if you want to continue here, by all means do so. You won’t be disappointed!

The mountains around Bow Lake reflecting in the water at sunrise

Bow Glacier Falls

The Bow Glacier Falls Trail is a moderate hiking trail that offers stunning views of the Bow Glacier and the Bow Glacier Falls. It’s a great trail if you’re looking for a bit of a challenge. The trail is 8.4 kilometers (5.37 mi) long, and it takes about 3 hours to complete.

The trailhead for the Bow Glacier Falls Trail is located near the Num-Ti-Jah Lodge, and the trail initially hug the Bow Lake shoreline. Later, it takes you through a variety of terrain, including a river, a wooden staircase, and a boulder field left by glaciers.

When you reach a river, keep traveling along the right side of the water. After that, you’ll find the set of stairs. Here you can turn left to reach Bow Hut or turn right to ascend to Bow Glacier Falls.

The falls are located at the end of the trail, and they offer a stunning display of water cascading down the rocks. The falls are fed by the Bow Glacier. If you ask me, a stunning place place to stop and take a break before making your way back down the trail.

Oh yeah, make sure you wear sturdy hiking shoes, as the trail can be rocky in places.

Bow Hut

The Bow Hut Trail is a challenging, hiking trail that offers stunning views of the Wapta Icefield and the surrounding mountains. The trail is approximately 15.6 kilometers (9.69 mi) long, and it takes about 6-9 hours to complete.

Like the other two trails, described above, the trail starts by following the shoreline of the lake before heading up into the mountains. The trail is well-marked, but be ready for a significant amount of elevation gain and rocky terrain. As you make your way up the trail, you’ll hike through rocky switchbacks and alpine meadows.

One of the highlights of the Bow Hut Trail is the Bow Hut itself. The hut is located at the end of the trail, and it’s a great place to stop and rest before making your way back down the trail. The Bow Hut is operated by the Alpine Club of Canada, and it’s a popular base camp for excursions onto the Wapta Icefield.

The Onion Scramble

The Onion Scramble is another challenging hike. It’s a great hike if you’re looking for a bit of a challenge. The trail is almost 20 kilometers (12.2 mi) long and takes about 6-9 hours to complete.

As with all the other trails described here, the trailhead is located near the Num-Ti-Jah Lodge, and the trail begins by following the shoreline of Bow Lake before heading up into the mountains.

As you make your way up the trail, you’ll be treated to stunning views of the surrounding mountains and Bow Lake.

Once you’ve reached a set of stairs, take the left trail to Bow Hut at the fork in the trail (the right trail leads to Bow Glacier Falls).

Eventually you’ll reach the Bow Hut. Continue past it to the base of The Onion and the toe of a glacier. Although this section takes some time, it’s pleasant, beautiful, and not much more challenging than an off-trail hike.

It will take you another hour to reach the summit plateau. You’ll be rewarded with stunning views of the valley and surrounding glaciers!

Fishing on Bow Lake

Fishing is allowed on Bow Lake. You do need a national park permit. This is available at the two visitor centers in the park, most sporting goods shops in the park, and online. A national park pass is also required. A fishing license from the province of Alberta is not sufficient. 

Any angler younger than sixteen may fish in the lake without a license if accompanied by someone under sixteen who holds a national park license. The maximum number of fish to be caught is then equal to the limit of the license of the person holding a license.

There are two types of permits: 
Day Permit: CAD 9.80 
Annual permit: CAD 34.30


– It is mandatory to put back caught fish to the place where it was caught.
– The use of natural bait is not allowed in Banff National Park.
– In addition to a fishing license you must also have a National Park Pass.

Fish Species in Bow Lake

Fish species present in Bow Lake include rainbow trout, yellow perch, brown trout, northern pike and whitefish.

Panorama of Bow Lake during late fall with the surrounding mountains covered in a thin layer of snow

Snowshoeing around Bow Lake

Even in winter Bow Lake offers plenty of opportunities to enjoy beautiful nature. One of the best ways to do this is through snowshoeing. It allows you to walk with relative ease over the thick snow in the coldest months.

4 km (2.47 mi)1 hour5 m (16 ft)Bow Lake car park, just before the Num-Ti-Jah Lodge
8 km (4.94 mi)2 hrs80 m (262 ft)Car park at the Num-Ti-Jah Lodge
Snowshoeing trails around Bow Lake


The history of man’s activity in the Bow Lake area goes a long way back, but the most significant occurrence is undoubtedly the constructing of a lodge near the lakeshore in 1937. English emigrant Jimmy Simpson (1877-1972) built it during the construction of the Icefields Parkway between Lake Louise Village and Jasper. He is a well-known mountain guide and outfitter (entrepreneur who sells specialized equipment for certain activities).

One day in 1898 he Simpson was camping by the lake and he enjoyed the beauty of the location so much that he vowed that one day he would ‘build a hut here’, as can be read on the lodge’s website.

At first, he financed the hotel’s construction with the proceeds of his two daughters’ figure skating careers. In 1940, the year the highway between Lake Louise and Jasper was completed, Simpson opened the hotel. He named it the Num-Ti-Jah Lodge, after the Stoney Plain word for pine marten. At the time, it had only six guest rooms. Over the years Simpson extended it to its current size.

The accommodation is located at the foot of Mount Jimmy Simpson and is easily accessible from the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93 N).


Banff Visitor Centre
Opening hours (daily): 9 am – 5 pm
Address: 224 Banff Avenue, Banff
Phone: +1 403 – 762 1550

Lake Louise Visitor Centre
Opening hours (daily): 9 am – 5 pm
Address: Samson Mall, 201 Village Rd, Lake Louise
Phone: +1 403 – 522 3833


Do I need a Canada park pass for Bow Lake? 

Yes, you need a valid park pass to enter Banff National Park, which includes Bow Lake. You can purchase a pass online or at various locations throughout the park, including the Banff and Lake Louise Visitor Centres.

Can I swim in Bow Lake?

Yes, you can swim in the Bow Lake, but the water is freezing and normally doesn’t get much warmer than 4˚ Celcius (39˚F). You can only swim for a short time, usually about 15 minutes, before you become hypothermic.

Are dogs allowed at Bow Lake? 

Yes, dogs are allowed at Bow Lake but they must be on a leash at all times and you must clean up after them.

Can I fly a drone at Bow Lake?

No, flying drones is not allowed in Banff National Park, including at Bow Lake.

Can I picnic at Bow Lake?

Yes and no. There are no designated picnic areas on the lake itself. However, you can easily picnic anywhere along the shore by putting your stuff on the ground. Just expect a lot of tourists at the lake, so I’m not sure if you’ll feel comfortable picnicking here.

Can I rent ice skates at Bow Lake?

No, you can’t rent ice skates at Bow Lake in the winter. However, Wilson Mountain Sports in the Samson Mall, Building A, in Lake Louise Village rents skates. The store is located at 101 Lake Louise Drive.

Can I hike around Bow Lake?

No, but you can get close. You can hike along the east, north and west shores of the lake. They’re easy and nearly flat hikes, although the hike that takes you along the west shore eventually takes you into the mountains.

Can I bike around Bow Lake? 

No, you can’t bike around Bow Lake. But you can ride along the east shore of the lake by following the Icefields Parkway, and you can also ride close to the north shore of the lake on the access road near Num-To-Jah Lodge.

View over Bow Lake from a wooden bridge that leads up to the lakeshore

Can I bike to Bow Lake? 

Yes, you can bike to Bow Lake. It’s actually quite easy to get there on the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93N). Just be careful, as it’s a busy highway.

Can I canoe, kayak or SUP on Bow Lake?

Yes, you can canoe, kayak, or SUP on Bow Lake. Non-motorized boats, including canoes, kayaks, and SUPs, are allowed on all lakes within Banff National Park, including Bow Lake. There is a boat launch on the beach on the north shore of the lake at Num-Ti-Jah Lodge.

Can I drink from Bow Lake?

It is not recommended to drink water directly from Bow Lake, as it is not treated for consumption.

Can I get altitude sickness at Bow Lake?

Bow Lake is located at an elevation of 1,920 meters (6,299 ft), which is considered high altitude. You may still experience symptoms of altitude sickness such as headache, nausea, and fatigue. To avoid these symptoms, stay hydrated, avoid alcohol and strenuous activity, and acclimate slowly to the altitude.

CanI see the northern lights at Bow Lake?

While it is possible to see the northern lights (aurora borealis) at Bow Lake, it is not a common occurrence. The best time to see the northern lights is typically in the winter months, when the nights are longer and darker.

Do I need bear spray at Bow Lake?

Yes, bear spray is recommended at Bow Lake and all areas of Banff National Park. Bears are common in the park, and can be unpredictable. 

You can rent or buy bear spray in Banff as well as in Lake Louise.

In Banff, it is available at the Visitor Centre (224 Banff Avenue) and at most sporting goods stores, such as Atmosphere (124 Banff Avenue), UNLTD Skate & Snow (319 Banff Avenue), and Monod Sports (129 Banff Avenue). 

You can also visit the Visitor Centre in Lake Louise (201 Village Road) and Wilson Mountain Sports (101 Lake Louise Drive). 

To keep bears at bay, make noise by talking, singing, or clapping your hands. Bears are more likely to avoid you if they hear you coming. 

And always hike in a group. As Bow Lake is busy there will always be other people on your trail which makes a bear encounter less likely.

Other articles you might be interested in:
How to Make Sure Mosquitoes Don’t Ruin Your Stay in Banff
Plan Your Banff Itinerary – Know the Distances
How Much Does a Banff Vacation Cost in 2023? (Crazy Numbers)


As a former Banffite, I love writing about my favorite part of the world. I keep coming back to enjoy the park's mesmerising beauty. It never fails to impress me. With my extensive knowledge of the area, I aim to provide you with the best information on Banff that you can find on the internet.

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