In a region where every turn of the road brings an even more beautiful view, it’s hard for me to pick favorite spots in Banff National Park. I've recently grown very fond of the area near Castle Junction, off Highway #93 on the road to Kootenay National Park and Radium Hot Springs. The ascent of Hwy #93 from the Bow River Valley gives grand views of the mountains and forests, brings you near the treeline and hanging glaciers, and provides easy access to some great high altitude trails, such as that to Boom Lake.
So that will be today's featured hike. Boom Lake’s trailhead is located behind the Boom Creek picnic area parking lot a few kilometers west of the TransCanada highway. The trail crosses a bridge over Boom Creek and begins a relatively gentle climb uphill towards Boom Lake. The trail is broad over most of its length and ascends gradually, gaining only 170 m (560 ft over 5.1 km -- 3.2 miles). The hike is through a thick lush forest of spruce, pine and fir trees as the area is just east of the Continental Divide and receives a lot of precipitation. The trail offers some views of the Stanley Glacier and is pleasantly cool on a warm day. There’s a large assortment of wildflowers in late spring and summer so be sure to take some time to stop and look at their blossoms, or some mushrooms, or one of the many small creeks gurgling down the mountain — don’t just do a military march up to the lake! The journey there is a big part of the experience.
Direct access to the lake at the trail’s end involves a bit of a scramble over a lichen covered rocks and boulders -- quite easy really, but you need to be careful -- then you’re at the eastern shore. The views of the lake and surrounding peaks of the Continental Divide — Boom Mountain, Chimney Peak and in the distance, Mount Quadra — are stunning!
If you’re like me, you’ll want to sit on one of the boulders by the lake and spend a lot of time just drinking it in with all of your senses. The pine scented breeze, the sunshine, the jagged peaks, the distant hanging glacier, the numerous logs submerged in the clear turquoise water, and the ripples of cutthroat trout feeding on insects (remember to bring your fly rod and fishing license if you’re so inclined). It’s all just absolutely beautiful! I’m not sure if there’s a better spot for a picnic lunch anywhere.
The lake fills a hanging valley, is set almost 1900 m (6235 feet) above sea level and is glacier-fed — hence it’s turquoise color (but the water is extremely clear and not at all murky like, say, Lake Louise). It’s 2.7 km (1 2/3 mile) long, 30 m (100 ft deep and 366 m (1/4 mile) wide. There are large numbers of trees deposited within the lake, mostly by avalanches, and the lake was named for the natural log jam at its south end where it drains into Boom Creek. The cold water and prolonged winter does little to decay the submerged trees and they’re actually quite lovely lying there below the surface of the lake. The cutthroat trout like to use these underwater logs to hide behind before darting out for bugs, all of which you can clearly see.
As the lake is high up, the trail usually takes until late June or so to clear of snow and even then there are often muddy wet areas so be sure to bring good hiking boots (and gators in spring) and leave the flip-flops at home. As with any trail in the area, be alert for bears and use appropriate precautions. In the winter the Boom Lake trail is popular with cross country skiers.
When you consider how relatively easy the hike is, and what a great destination this beautiful subalpine lake is, Boom Lake’s really hard to beat as a day’s hiking destination.