Cirque Peak, Banff National Park

Cirque Peak might be my favourite day hike in the Rockies and maybe of all time. This was my second hike up to to the summit. My first was way back in September 20?? on a cold, cloudy day but luckily the clouds were above the peaks so I still had a great view. The second time was in August on the kind of perfect sunny day that you dream of.

Cirque Peak has a lot of ingredients that make for an awesome hike: easy access, not much time slogging through viewless forest, big epic views on the way up to the summit, interesting rock formations, lakes, meadows, wildlife…and did I mention epic views, an awesome 360 panorama from the summit. Here is a little piece of it! That’s Bow Lake and the Wapta Icefield. Bam!

Bow Lake and Wapta Icefield, from the summit of Cirque Peak

The trailhead is right on the Icefields Parkway, across the highway from Bow Lake. The trail climbs steadily but easily through some forest but along the way there is a great view of the Crowfoot Glacier across the highway.

Crowfoot Glacier

The forest section doesn’t last long and after passing through some burned trees and fireweed, you eventually veer left to enter into a wide valley leading through meadows to Helen Lake with Cirque Peak looming behind it.

As the trees thin out, the view opens up to an interesting looking mountain on the right. If you are there at the right time, wildflowers proliferate in the grassy slopes beside the trail.

Wildflowers en route to Helen Lake

Cross a creek and head up to Helen Lake, a great place to stop for a break before beginning the big climb. From here you can see the trail leading up the slope of Cirque Peak (look for the white meandering line on the tallest mountain in this photo below).

Helen Lake with Cirque Peak in the background

Walk around the right side of Helen Lake, then up the steep slope to reach a rocky area below Cirque Peak. There are several tarns here, so fill up your water bottle before tackling the peak, because this might be the last place to get some water.

A tarn at the base of Cirque Peak. Last place to get water!
Take the easier way, or you’ll end up doing this kind of thing…

From here, there are several routes to get up to the scree slope that goes all the way up to the summit. The easiest and recommended way is to go up the slope across the tarn. You should be able to see a trail cutting diagonally across this slope. The other option is to go to the far left and follow a route amongst rocky cliffs. This route is less obvious, has exposure sections, some minor scrambling and takes a lot longer, so it’s not recommended.

Once on the big scree slope, it’s a slog up loose rocks all the way to the top, with two steps up and one step down. It’s a bit of a grind but console yourself with the great views of the surrounding mountains and the prospect of even better views from the summit.

On the summit you might encounter some marmots that are not too shy around people. It seems like they have been fed by hikers, so keep an eye on your lunch or it might get nibbled on.

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