Bow Summit Trail

Author: Dan Brewer

The Bow Summit Trail is a scenic hike along the Icefields Parkway which provides epic views of the Canadian Rockies and elevated views of two scenic Banff lakes.

Bow Lake as seen from the Bow Summit Trail in Banff National Park, Canada.

The Bow Summit Trail is a very enjoyable Icefields Parkway hike which provides some amazing views for a moderate amount of effort. It’s not often that a single Banff hiking trail provides elevated views of two amazing mountain lakes, but the Bow Summit Trail delivers. Along the Bow Summit hiking trail, you’ll first visit the Peyto Lake lookout before hiking to the Bow Lake lookout.

Bow Summit Hike Stats

Distance: 6.8 km / 4.2 miles out and back.

Elevation Gain: 287 meters / 941 ft.

Estimated Time: 2-3 hours.

Bow Summit Trail Map

Important Things to Know:

Parking at Peyto Lake Day Use is free, but it fills up fast.

Public toilets are located in the Peyto Lake parking lot.

On-leash dogs are allowed on the Bow Summit trail.

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

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Bow Summit Trail Highlights

Leg 1: Peyto Lake Lookout Trail

The Bow Summit Trail begins at the Peyto Lake Day Use Area, which at 2,115 m above sea level, has the distinction of being the highest point on the Icefields Parkway (one of the most scenic drives in Banff National Park, if not the world).

Being so high above sea level, it doesn’t take long for the hike to climb above the treeline, allowing hikers to enjoy epic vistas of the Canadian Rockies, with little effort required.

The first 600 m of this easy Icefields Parkway hike is along the Peyto Lake lookout trail. This extremely popular Banff hiking trail is paved and is slightly uphill through an evergreen forest.

a family enjoys an easy walk to the Peyto Lake viewpoint on the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Canada.
Celine and the kids walk to the Peyto Lake Lookout.

Before long, you’ll reach the Peyto Lake viewpoint. Peyto Lake is famous for being one of the most brilliant blue lakes in the world, so you can expect the large viewing platform to be very crowded. Get here as early in the morning as possible to have a less crowded experience on the Peyto Lake Lookout platform.

From the Peyto Lake viewing platform, you can see the entire of the lake. Some people think the lake is shaped like a wolf face – can you see it?

The brilliant blue water of Peyto Lake in Banff, Canada.

On the far side of the lake, Cauldron Peak (2,911 m) and Mount Patterson (3,197 m) stand guard, while to the left you can see Peyto Glacier, which is the source of water for this incredible Banff mountain lake.

Leg 2: Bow Summit Trail

Once you are done soaking in the views from the Peyto Lake lookout, turn left and follow the paved trail a while longer. You’ll reach an interpretive sign indicating you can do a short loop trail from here. Simply go left and follow the interpretive trail until you find the Bow Summit trail sign.

An 8-year old boy on a family hike in Banff National Park, stands next to the trail sign for he Bow Summit Interpretive Trail.

The forest starts to thin noticeably at this stage of the Bow Summit hike. Interestingly, despite the diminished amount of shade, there are a noticeable amount of large mushrooms growing here – an unusual sight for Banff National Park.

a cluster of large brown mushrooms grow along the Bow Summit hiking trail in Banff National Park.

1 km after leaving the Peyto Lake parking lot, you’ll reach the Bow Summit trail sign. The trail now becomes a 2-person wide gravel trail, which is nice when hiking with family or friends. The trail continues to be slightly uphill, but the incline is barely noticeable. The mighty Observation Peak (3,174 m) is visible on the far side of the valley through the trees on the left.

400 m later, you’ll encounter your first switchback – don’t worry, there are hardly any switchbacks on this easy Banff hike. With a whole new direction, Cauldron Peak is once again visible through the trees straight ahead.

Another 400 m later and you’ll reach a little clearing at the bend for the second (and final) switchback of the hike. With hardly any trees, the 360° views of the surrounding Icefields Parkway mountains are incredible. Observation Peak, Mount Patterson, Cauldron Peak, Peyto Peak and glacier (2,970 m) and some rocky spires from Mt. Jimmy Simpson (2,966 m) are all visible from here.

Mt. Jimmy Simpson as seen from the Bow Summit hike in Banff National Park.

There are several trails which lead away from the clearing – simply follow the direction indicated from the large rock arrow on the ground.

a directional arrow made of rocks on the Bow Summit hiking trail.

The forest is very thin now with mostly tiny ground cover shrubs. The lack of trees means the outstanding mountain vistas continue as you hike along.

At the 2.2 km mark of the Bow Summit trail, the view opens up so you can see a long ways south down the valley. It’s here that you’ll get the first glimpse of the jagged teeth of Dolomite Peak (2,782 m) poking out from behind a mountain in distance. The views of this distinctive Banff Rocky Mountain peak just keep getting better as you near the Bow Summit Lookout.

100 m later, you’ll get your first good look of the rocky alpine zone of Mt. Jimmy Simpson, the mountain you’ve been hiking on the entire time.

The alpine zone of Mt. Jimmy Simpson as seen from the Bow summit hike in Banff, Canada.

After a short descent into a little valley, you’ll cross a beautiful mountain stream glistening in the sun. The hill back up the other side of the valley is steep, but it doesn’t last long. The mountain views down the Icefields Parkway valley are so amazing, you’ll barely notice the effort.

You’ll reach a shoulder of Mt. Jimmy Simpson at the 3.2 km mark of the Bow Summit hike. You can see the Icefields Parkway highway from here, along with an incredible amount of mountains and glaciers. The Bow Glacier is the most prominent feature, with the Hector Glacier not far behind.

Bow Glacier in 2023.

As you near the end of this easy Icefields parkway hike, Bow Lake comes into view. From this vantage point, Bow Peak (2,868 m) is reflecting in the lake water.

And finally, after 3.5 km of very enjoyable, scenic hiking, you’ll reach the Bow Summit Lookout. This area is a small, flat clearing rewarding hikers with epic mountain views in all directions. There are not many easy hikes in Banff National Park which offer this much scenery for such little effort.

A vista of Bow Glacier and Bow Lake as seen from the Bow Summit Trail in Banff, Canada.

Bonus Peyto Lake Viewpoint

When you return back to the interpretive loop trail, go back to the Peyto Lake Viewpoint by taking the part of the loop you haven’t hiked yet. Look for a blue interpretive sign with the title “A Step Beyond”.

An 8-year old boy stands near the sign which marks the spur trail to an alternate Peyto Lake Lookout point.

The interpretive sign is the trailhead for a relatively unknown viewpoint for Peyto Lake. Just follow the trail into the forest, and after an easy 5 minute walk, you’ll arrive at a rocky clearing with an outstanding view of Peyto Lake.

The electric turquoise water of Peyto Lake as seen from a viewpoint along the Bow Summit Interpretive Trail.

Bow Summit Trailhead

The Peyto Lake Day Use parking lot is 75 minutes from the Town of Banff and 2 hours and 30 minutes from downtown Calgary. Take the TransCanada Highway 1 west, just past the Lake Louise interchange. Shortly after Lake Louise, take the exit onto the Icefields Parkway.

The Peyto Lake parking lot 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.

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Bow Summit Hike Stats

How Long is the Bow Summit Trail?

The round-trip distance of the Bow Summit trail is 6.8 km (a one-way distance of 3.4 km) from the Peyto Lake parking lot just off the Icefields Parkway.

Celine Brewer, of TravelBanffCanada.com, enjoys a family hike with her kids on the Bow Summit hiking trail.

How Hard is the Hike to the Bow Summit Viewpoint?

Due to its average length and moderate elevation gain, we rate the Bow Summit hiking trail as “moderate”.

As an additional reference point, Parks Canada classifies this hike as “easy”, which is weird as we almost always think that hikes are easier than Parks Canada says. So… the truth is likely somewhere in-between – Bow Summit is an easy-to-moderate hike in Banff.

With a relatively short round-trip distance of 6.8 km and only 287 m of elevation gain, almost every hiker will be able to manage the Bow Summit Lookout hike.

It is a pretty consistent uphill on the way up, and there are a couple of short, steep sections, but if you are in reasonable shape, you shouldn’t have any trouble.

Celine Brewer, of the Travel Banff Canada blog, walks a steep section along the Bow Summit hiking trail.
Celine hikes a steep section near the top of the Bow Summit Trail.

How Long Does the Bow Summit Trail Take?

It should take a typical adult roughly 2 hours to hike to the Bow Summit Lookout. We recently enjoyed this hike with our kids (aged 8 & 10) and it took us 2 hours and 20 minutes. This included some time to visit the bonus Peyto Lake viewpoint.

Bow Summit Trail Map

The Bow Summit 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.

the Brewer kids, from the Travel Banff Canada blog, enjoy a conversation on the Bow Summit hike in Banff.

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 download the Bow Summit trail map before leaving home.

Enjoy map downloads and many more premium features with a 7-day free trial of AllTrails+!

Hiking Bow Summit Trail with Kids

If you are visiting Banff with kids, the Bow Summit trail is an excellent hike for the entire family. It’s reasonably short, and just a little challenging, with a great scenic payoff at the end. Even kids can appreciate earning a view like the one you get of Bow Lake.

Our kids, who are 10 and 8 years old, are decent hikers and they really enjoyed this hike. They were able to hike side-by-side for most of it, allowing them to talk the whole way up. As usual, they would stop to look at furry critters, climb rocks, etc.

An 8-year old boy has fun while on a family hike to Bow Summit in Banff National Park.

Read More

If your kids love hiking or you want to find more great Banff hikes with kids…Don’t miss these other best Banff day-hikes with kids.

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 Bow Lake down below.

Celine Brewer, of the Travel Banff Canada website, takes pictures of Bow Lake while her kids eat lunch.
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Bow Summit Hiking Safety

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

That being said, it’s still important to educate yourself on Bear Safety in Banff National Park. This should entail carrying bear spray, hiking in a group and making plenty of noise on the way up.

Cougars also live in Banff National Park. Learn more about Cougar Safety in Banff National Park.

Chances of a dangerous wildlife encounter while hiking in Banff are very low, but you never know what will happen with Banff wildlife, so be prepared.

We recommend you check the Parks Canada trail report for the current Bow Summit Lookout trail conditions, wildlife warnings and possible closures before you head out.

Dan Brewer hikes with his kids on the Bow Summit trail in Banff, Canada.

Bow Summit Trail Logistics

On-leash dogs are allowed on the Bow Summit Lookout hiking trail, but mountain bikes are not. There are toilets in the Peyto Lake 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 Bow Summit

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.

Read More

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

Bow Summit Footwear Recommendation

The Bow Summit Lookout trail is in decent shape for most of its length, but you will be most happy hiking in proper hiking shoes or hiking boots.

An 8-year old boy in hiking shoes enjoys his family hike on the Bow Summit Trail.
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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.