Due to easy access thousands of tourists flock to the Peyto Lake Lookout during the summer months, but few people venture here during the winter. The lookout is located at the Bow Summit, this is the highest point along the Columbia Icefields Parkway at 2088 meters above sea level. In the summer months a short paved trail through the forest leads to the viewing platforms that overlook Peyto Lake.
In the winter the trail is not accessible, but you can make your way up the snow covered bus route. This road is used by the tour buses in the summer to bring tourists to the upper parking lot a short distance away from the lookout. As you can see by the speed limit sign sticking out, this area gets an abundance of snow during the winter.
Due to the Bow Summit’s high elevation it’s probably safe to say the area is snow bound from November through May. Our visit was at the end of March, there was at least four feet or more of snow cover. Your options of how to navigate the road will depend on the amount of snow cover and its condition. At this time of the year there was a compact base layer of several feet and then another lighter, less compact layer of another few feet. It made for perfect snowshoeing conditions, we also saw a few people on cross-country skis.
We had arrived with just out winter boots, but luckily we were able to follow a slightly compacted trail that had been created by other recent visitors. In a few areas we sunk down a foot or more with our steps, but for the most part it was fairly easy to navigate. If a trail had not been compacted beforehand it would have been quite difficult and time consuming to be punching holes with every step.
There appeared to be one set of tracks for cross country skis and another stamped out by snowshoes and hikers. Use backcountry courtesy, don’t ruin the ski track by walking in it with your feet or snowshoes.
The mountain views along the road are an inspiration to keep hiking upwards.
Access To Peyto Lookout And Bow Summit In Winter
At the far end of the lower parking lot there is a sign marking the trail head and a wooden washroom facility. Walk up past the washrooms for a short distance until you come out to the snow covered road area. Head to your right up the road until you reach the open area of the upper bus parking lot. It will take approximately 20 minutes to reach this area, longer if have to be making your own tracks.
A short trail to the right of the parking lot leads to the Peyto Lake Lookout. The trail had a deep lumpy trench dug out from recent visitors. We were able to get through in our boots, but if you find similar conditions with skis you would probably have to remove them.
We’ve come here several times in the summer, it was hard to relate to the area with so much snow cover. The top of the fence posts lining the trail to the viewing platforms were barely peeking out of the snow.
The entire trek is well worth it. You will be rewarded with views of Peyto Lake and valley bordered by soaring snow capped peaks. The viewing platforms had snow right to the top of the wooden fencing. It was a strange feeling to be standing up above the level of the railings.
Coming back down the road was a lot easier and a much quicker trip.
Jack sticks his hiking pole into the snow to see how deep it is. He stops when the stick goes all the way in, but sensed he could have kept pushing it in a lot further.
More Snowshoeing And Cross Country Skiing Opportunities At The Bow Summit
It’s not well known that beyond the viewpoint lies a vast area of thinly treed wilderness. It’s perfect for snowshoeing and cross country skiing. It can be accessed to the left of the upper bus parking lot for the Peyto Lookout. This is a backcountry area where precautions need to be taken. Make sure you check the current avalanche conditions beforehand.
Driving Directions To Bow Summit And Peyto Lake Lookout
The Bow Summit where the lookout is located is just 40km’s (25 miles) north of Lake Louise. It can be reached by traveling north on the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93N.) for approximately 30 minutes. Once you turn off the highway at the sign for the Bow Summit the parking lot is located less than a minute up the road on the right hand side. From Jasper the Bow Summit is located 190 km (118 miles) south, it is approximately two and a half hours drive.
The views along the Icefields Parkway are stunning at any time of year. The road from the Lake Louise area to the Bow Summit were in fairly good condition during our drive at the end of March. At this time of year the road conditions can vary dramatically. It can be anything from bare, dry pavement, to icy or compacted snow conditions.