Winter means the Icefield Highway is blanketed in snow and ice as early as October, which means smaller crowds and an intense need for mitts. There really isn’t a better way to walk in the fluffy white powder then overlooking Peyto Lake.
As you get to the highest point on the highway you veer off onto a small road that leads up to a parking lot, that feels frozen in time. A small wooden shed appears under a thick layer of snow with a fence leading you to start the walk. At over 2000m above sea level, you get increased snowfall, colder temperatures and a higher density of pine and spruce trees here. The air is the perfect mixture of mountain fresh and bitter cold.
The path starts off with steep inclines, and you definitely need shoes with warmth and grip that are higher than ankle height or you’ll have a boot full of snow. Small animal tracks can be seen tracing through the snow, so it’s a good idea to keep your eyes peeled. The first part of this ‘hike’ is around 400m and involves tramping through the snow.
Exiting through the frosty trees you arrive at the Peyto Lake lookout, in the summer this is packed with tourists and you are lucky to get a spot to take a photo at the fenced area. In the winter however you can arrive at the place empty, like we did. It is surreal looking over Peyto Lake all alone and the blanket of snow around the valley is the perfect view.
This is where most people will stop, they get their picture with Peyto Lake and will head back to the car to warm up. However, this is where the real beauty and winter adventure begins. Instead of heading back to the left where you came from you head right along the ridge until you get to a sign posting showing the hiking loop. Here you will walk right. You can tell the break between the trees and follow the snowy path.
As you walk the trees with sag with the weight of the snow and you will hear puffs as the snow falls all around you. Around 300m or so you will see a tall sign post on the right. This is the beginning of my favourite bit of the walk. The sign post will tell you where you are and the route you can take up.
You start straight past the sign post, winding your way through the trees and up a ridge. The ridge is quite steep but it is easy to see the trail that has been made through the many people walking through it in the summer, there is a clearing through the trees even though it is blanketed with fresh snow.
This trail involves a lot of up and down and ducking under some low hanging branches. This is mainly because of your added height in the snow.
As you come to a clearing you will again see Peyto Lake, but this time it isn’t blocked by fences, you are instead standing on the edge of a cliff and looking over the entirety of the lake. Even if the weather is bad and it’s snowing, it still takes your breath away looking down at Bow Valley.
You continue onto a seemingly empty hill face before turning back. This offshoot gives you the best view of the lake. After this head back the way you came and continue to do the loop through the trees and enjoy the serenity of the mountains.
All in all, this hike will take 2.5-3 hours depending on the depth of the snow and walking pace and you won’t be disappointed. I never am.
NOTE: I caution anyone doing this hike to stay well away from the edge, which is fairly easy to see, with the snow and ice you have an increased likelihood of either slipping of not knowing exactly what is under you. Thus stay right along the tree line. You will walk past a large grouping of boulders as well, which is the winter shouldn’t be trusted to walk on as you don’t know the crevices between them. As well as winter hiking means the necessity of bringing a few extra supplies and wearing layers and winter gear. Also always tell someone where you are going.
By Bradlyn Wilson.