Bourgeau Lake Trail

Author: Dan Brewer

Last Updated:

The Bourgeau Lake Trail features a beautiful alpine lake and one of the most impressive waterfalls in Banff National Park.

The emerald green water of Bourgeau Lake in Banff National Park, Canada.

We love so many things about the Bourgeau Lake Trail. It’s a hike that is close to the Town of Banff, it’s a moderate length and difficulty, and it features a beautiful forest and a breathtaking waterfall. At the top of the Bourgeau Lake hike, you’ll be rewarded with a stunning alpine lake, with even a few golden larch trees to enjoy in fall. The Bourgeau Lake Trail is one of our favourite moderate-to-challenging hikes near the Town of Banff.

Bourgeau LAke Hike Stats

Distance: 13.8 km / 8.6 miles out and back.

Elevation Gain: 910 meters / 3,000 ft.

Estimated Time: 4-6 hours.

Bourgeau Lake Hiking Map

Important Things to Know:

The parking lot is pretty small with room for ~20 cars.

Porta potties are located in the parking lot, but not on the trail.

There is a watercraft self certification station at the trailhead.

On-leash dogs are allowed on the Bourgeau Lake Trail.

Click to browse even more Banff Hiking Trails of this same difficulty!

Bourgeau Lake Trail Highlights

The forest on the east facing side of Mount Bourgeau (2,930 m) is a magical place; it’s dense with spruce trees and a playful carpet of vibrant moss and small forest plants. The hiking trail to Bourgeau Lake begins through this forest as a nicely groomed, 2-wide trail. A welcome beginning to an enjoyable Banff hike.

The beginning of the Bourgeau Lake hiking trail is nicely groomed.

After 300 m the Bourgeau Lake Trail turns a corner and suddenly the groomed trail stops. There’s now a few rocks and roots on the trail, but overall not so bad.

From here, the hike to Bourgeau Lake begins its steady uphill ascent. The hiking trail winds its way slowly uphill via a series of small, tight switchbacks. These are not gruelling switchbacks like you’d see elsewhere in Banff, but instead, are quite manageable by any regular hiker.

At the 0.7 km mark of the Bourgeau Lake trail, you can hear the sound of a stream down below on your right. This stream runs all the way from Bourgeau Lake itself and will be your steady companion all the way up.

moss covered rocks along the Bourgeau Lake trail.

A few hundred meters later, when the switchbacks come back near the stream, you’ll get a glimpse of how deep the river valley is below. There’s a towering rock cliff on the opposite side of the valley.

One especially pleasing element of the Bourgeau Lake Trail is that much of it is along a side slope. I love hiking along side slopes as it brings the micro details of the forest floor close to my face on the uphill side, while also affording nice open forest views on the downhill side.

There are nice views of the Canadian Rockies on the Bourgeau Lake hike in Banff National Park.

After 2.1 km of hiking along the Bourgeau Lake Trail, the switchbacks end. Soon enough you’ll see Massive Mountain (2,435 m) appearing through the trees on the right (Massive Mountain is actually its name, not a description). As you continue hiking along this stretch watch for breaks in the trees to enjoy mountain views all the way up the Bow Valley towards Lake Louise.

You’ll reach a wonderful clearing from a former avalanche or rockfall at the 2.6 km mark of the Bourgeau Lake hike. Here, small shrubs (with amazing colors in fall) compete for sunlight with a patch of small evergreens. The opening affords excellent views of Massive Mountain, Mount Cory (2,802 m) and The Finger (2,545 m).

the leaves on a shrub have turned bright red along the Bourgeau Lake hike.

Shortly after leaving the clearing, the trail turns sharply left and Mount Bourgeau (2,930 m) appears ahead through the trees. One criticism you often hear about of the Bourgeau Lake hiking trail is that it’s all forest, with no views until you reach the lake. In my experience, these people didn’t pay attention – there are plenty of amazing mountain views along the way – you just need to look for them.

800 m after the clearing, I found myself thinking how beautiful this forest was. I was admiring the moss covered nurse trees on the forest floor, when I noticed a small patch of tiny ferns growing out of the spongy moss.

The hiking trail crosses the creek after 3.8 km of hiking up Mount Bourgeau. The hiking trail continues to get more natural the higher you go, with more tree roots to contend with.

Celine Brewer, owner of Travel Banff Canada, crosses a bridge on the Bourgeau Lake hiking trail.

You’ll reach another avalanche clearing at the 5 km mark of the Bourgeau Lake hike. This clearing must be more recent than the last as the trees and shrubs are all much shorter. Looking uphill, you’ll enjoy nice views of the rocky summit of Mount Bourgeau, while Massive Mountain continues to impress across the valley.

Over the next several hundred meters you’ll alternate between forest and clearings, with towering rocky cliffs on all sides. At this stage of the hike, it really starts to feel like you are nearing the cozy amphitheatre of Mount Bourgeau.

a clearing near the top of the Bourgeau Lake hiking trail in Banff, Canada.

At the 5.6 km mark of the Bourgeau Lake Trail, you’ll be walking through a clearing, enjoying the mountain views, when you’ll turn a corner and BAM! You’ll be struck by the view of an incredibly beautiful waterfall.

I was so instantly taken aback by such a tall, beautiful waterfall – I just wasn’t expecting to see one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Banff along this trail.

Celine Brewer, of the Travel Banff Canada blog, takes a photo of a beautiful waterfall along the hike to Bourgeau Lake.
Celine stops to take a picture of the Bourgeau Lake waterfall.

Water flowing down this towering, cascading waterfall will flow over many tiers on its way down. The many tiers of this waterfall make it especially beautiful. It’s a great place to stop, take a swig of water, and revel in the natural beauty of Banff National Park.

the cascading waterfall on the Bourgeau Lake hiking trail.

The Bourgeau Lake hiking trail becomes noticeably steeper as you start climbing the steep slope adjacent to the waterfall. You’ll hike up a series of switchbacks to help make the elevation gain a little easier, but you’ll still get your heart rate up in this section.

Halfway through the switchbacks, the trail flattens enough to make you think you’ve reached the end, but you haven’t. It’s just a short break before the steep ascent continues. Take a few breaths here and admire the amazing view of Mt. Cory to the left across the Bow Valley.

The hiking trail to Bourgeau Lake finally flattens out at the 7 km mark. You’re really in the heart of the Mount Bourgeau amphitheatre now, with the summit just overhead on your left and a massive rock wall straight ahead.

As you approach Bourgeau Lake, you’ll walk through a large meadow of dogwood shrubs. Flagstone steps on the trail help with some of the more mucky spots.

Flagstone steps help hikers cross muddy spots on the hike to Bourgeau Lake, Canada.

In this meadow, the 180 degree views of the Mount Bourgeau amphitheatre are breathtaking. If you look ahead to the right, you can see where the Harvey Pass hiking trail continues past Bourgeau Lake higher up into the mountains.

You’ll reach Bourgeau Lake after 7.5 km of highly enjoyable hiking. The setting for Bourgeau Lake is stunning with towering, vertical rocks cliffs all around. As you stand by the lakeshore, you’ll be amazed at the crystal clear waters of the Banff alpine lake.

Mount Bourgeau stands behind Bourgeau Lake in Banff National Park.

Bourgeau Lake Larch Tree Hike

In mid-to-late September, the Bourgeau Lake hike becomes a very popular larch tree hike in Banff National Park. For those who don’t know, larch trees are a special type of tree – in spring and summer, they look like normal evergreen trees, but in late September, their needles turn a beautiful golden color, before falling to the ground for winter.

If you are lucky enough to hike Bourgeau Lake in fall, you’ll be greeted by your first golden larch tree at the 7 km mark of the hiking trail. There’s a few larch trees interspersed with other evergreens in this section of hiking trail.

a single golden larch tree seen on the Bourgeau Lake hiking trail in September.

The next patch of larch trees is found closer to the shores of Bourgeau Lake, and then ever more if you follow the Parks Canada trail sign towards Harvey Pass.

The Bourgeau Lake Trail features a decent amount of larch trees in fall, but unlike the mega-popular Larch Valley Trail, it doesn’t feature a large stand of larch trees to walk through.

Celine Brewer, of TravelBanffCanada.com, stands next to a golden larch tree while hiking to Bourgeau Lake in September.
Celine next to a golden larch tree.

The Bourgeau Lake Trail is a great Banff fall hike for those looking to enjoy fall foliage and some golden larch trees, without the crowds found at many of the best larch hikes around Banff.

Read More

Want to know more about larch hikes in Banff? Check out our post on the best larch hikes in Banff National Park.

Bourgeau Lake Trailhead

The Bourgeau Lake parking lot is just 12 minutes from the Town of Banff and 90 minutes from downtown Calgary. Simply take the TransCanada Highway 1 west, and look for a left-hand turning lane not too far past the Sunshine Village exit.

The Bourgeau Lake parking lot is pretty small and will fill up fast, especially in the peak summer months. If you are visiting Banff National Park in the summer, we recommend that you arrive before 9 am even on a weekday.

The parking lot for the Bourgeau Lake hiking trail in Banff, Canada.

The Bourgeau Lake trailhead is at the back of the parking lot heading into the forest.

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Bourgeau LAke Hike Stats

How Long is the Bourgeau Lake Hiking Trail?

The round-trip distance of the Bourgeau Lake trail is 13.8 km (a one-way distance of 6.9 km) measured from the parking lot just off the TransCanada Highway.

Celine Brewer, walks the final section of the Bourgeau Lake trail.

How Hard is the Hike to Bourgeau Lake?

Due to its higher-than-average distance and an elevation gain over 900 m, we rate the Bourgeau Lake hiking trail as “difficult”.

As an additional reference point, Parks Canada classifies this hike as “moderate”, so it’s likely somewhere in-between.

With a healthy round-trip distance of 13.8 km and a glute-killing 900 m of elevation gain, we would only recommend that experienced hikers in good shape enjoy the hiking trail to Bourgeau Lake.

How Long Does the Bourgeau Lake Trail Take?

It should take a typical adult roughly 4 – 6 hours to hike to Bourgeau Lake. Celine and I recently enjoyed this hike without our kids and it only took us 3 hours and 45 minutes.

shrubs with brilliant fall colors line the hiking trail to Bourgeau Lake.

Bourgeau Lake Trail Map

The Bourgeau Lake hiking trail is popular and reasonably easy to follow. Even when a hike is easy to follow, I like to have a copy of the map on my phone. This allows me to track my hiking stats, and is a nice backup plan for the times I take a wrong turn.

When I go hiking in Banff National Park and around the world, I use the AllTrails app. You won’t have reliable cell service on the hike, so click here to download the Bourgeau Lake trail map before leaving home.

A recent App of the Year winner, AllTrails is also one of the best apps for visiting Banff! Enjoy map downloads and many more premium features with a 7-day free trial of AllTrails+!

Celine Brewer, of the Travel Banff Canada blog, enjoys the views from a clearing along the hike to Bourgeau Lake in Banff, Canada.

Where to Stop for Lunch or a Break

The best place to stop for lunch on this hike is at the top where you can enjoy views of Bourgeau Lake and the beautiful rocky amphitheatre all around.

the views along the shoreline of Bourgeau Lake make it an ideal spot to stop for lunch.
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Bourgeau Lake Hiking Safety

There are relatively few hiking hazards along the Bourgeau Lake hiking trail. The trail is reasonably well maintained and easy to follow up all the way to the end.

Wildlife Safety

When hiking in Banff National Park, you are responsible for your own safety. Before hitting the hiking trails we highly recommend you read our 10 Essential Banff Hiking Tips for information about bear safety, trail conditions, wildlife warnings and possible closures.

a long exposure photo of the waterfall on the Bourgeau Lake hiking trail.

Bourgeau Lake Trail Logistics

On-leash dogs are allowed on the Bourgeau Lake hiking trail, but mountain bikes are not. There are toilets in the parking lot, but none on the hiking trail.

You won’t get any reliable cell service for the entirety of your hike, so don’t count on it for your safety.

What to Bring for Hiking to Bourgeau Lake

As with any Banff hike so you should be prepared with layers and proper hiking gear. Check out our list of Banff hiking essentials with the hiking gear and clothing we recommend to get the most enjoyment out of your hike, regardless of the variable Banff weather and trail conditions.

Celine Brewer, owner of TravelBanffCanada.com, carries her hiking gear in a day bag while on the Bourgeau Lake hiking trail.

Read More

Don’t go hiking in Banff without reading our post about essential hiking gear in Banff National Park.

a section of the hiking trail to Bourgeau Lake has a lot of protruding roots.
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Dan Brewer, a life-long Alberta resident, calls Canmore home along with his wife and two kids. He is the co-owner of Travel Banff Canada, where he gets to share his passion for the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Dan, along with his family, love being outdoors doing one of the many activities they enjoy in the mountains: hiking, mountain biking, paddleboarding, skiing, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

When he's not in Canmore enjoying one of his favourite local hikes, you can find him hoping on a plane to explore a new country with his family or working on one of their other two travel sites: Family Can Travel and Baby Can Travel.