Distance: 3.2 miles round trip. Elevation change: 6,627 ft to 7,610 ft
Time to Parker Ridge: 1 hour
Total hike with stops: 2 hours 30 minutes
We left our room at Deer Lodge in Lake Louise early to watch the sun rise at Bow Lake, about 33 minutes north. It was a beautiful, crisp, calm morning. Unfortunately no clouds in sight, but I still managed to find a couple interesting compositions along the shore. After visiting Bow Lake, we made a stop at iconic Peyto Lake. I’ll post photos from both in a later post. From Peyto Lake we continued following the Icefields Parkway north, making a couple of roadside stops along the way. We saw a large area by Saskatchewan Crossing that had recently burned. Haze from the recent and ongoing fires seemed to follow us wherever we went on our trip. Even with the haze, the entire drive was beautiful, especially the further north we drove. You really begin to feel like you are in the middle-of-nowhere Canada. The Parker Ridge trail parking lot is about an hour north of Peyto Lake or about 1 hour 45 minutes north of Lake Louise. We arrived mid-morning and there were several cars in the parking lot but still plenty of space left.
Steep switchbacks led us 1,000ft up the mountain-side. The road noise from the highway began to quiet down and we were entering the alpine life zone. A few families with young children were pushing their way to the top. Some of those kids didn’t look like they were going to make it. It seemed to get steeper as we approached the top of the ridge and we left the trees behind.
We reached the top of the ridge and the trail became much wider. This trail is often closed through mid-July. Because it’s in the alpine zone, the meadows are very fragile and the trail doesn’t open until it’s snow free. The trails get wider with heavy foot traffic and hikers that do not want to stick to the single narrow trail.
Near the crest of the ridge we had a choice to take the left-hand fork or the right-hand fork. Our trail book listed this hike as 1.7 miles (2.7km) one-way with an elevation gain of 820ft, but we weren’t sure which path that was for. We took the right-hand fork instead of the left-hand fork. We wanted to explore that area first before deciding if we wanted to check out the left-hand trail. The left-hand trail looked like it went quite a ways and climbing up 1,000ft in a short distance had left us a bit tired. Turns out, the book was describing the left-hand fork.
Being in the alpine zone in Colorado (>11,500ft) is amazing, but up here on Parker Ridge you feel so far away from everything. The alpine zone here starts at lower elevation (7,200ft), so it’s much easier on the lungs. From Parker Ridge, we could see the Saskatchewan Glacier and hear glacial waterfalls thundering off the massive cliffs across the valley.
As we went further up the ridge we came across a couple of rock shelters. Then we descended down the mountainside a bit on some rock scree to see if we could get a better vantage point of the glacier. No such luck. From there it looked like the best vantage point was from the left-hand fork of the trail up above. We were starting to get hungry and more people were coming up the trail, so we thought it’d be best to start hiking back down.
The Parker Ridge trail is easy to get to and was one of our most rewarding hikes. The trail was short but steep and the views were amazing. Next time we hike this trail, I would like to get there a little earlier and take the left-hand fork. Tour buses were parked in the parking lot when we got back to the Jeep. We relaxed a bit, took a lunch time timelapse of clouds forming above Mt Athabasca and then went on to the Athabasca Glacier tourist trap. Everyone should see it once! But really, overall, we highly recommend the Parker Ridge Trail and will visit again someday.