Distance: 3 km to Bow Summit Lookout, 0.5 km to Peyto Lake Viewpoint, 1 hour to lookout
Access: The Bow Summit parking lot is 41 km north of Lake Louise on the Icefield Parkway, and around 2 hours south of Jasper.
Tip: Don’t forget your camera! This trail is very touristy and can be overcrowded especially at the viewpoint. I recommend hiking early morning or late afternoon to avoid the crowds. Not many people go past the Peyto Lake viewpoint.
Peyto Lake is one of those lakes that you can’t help but gawk at. Sure the trail and the viewpoint are overcrowded, mostly by people who just want to get their photo and leave, but it’s worth it to go further and explore some more after you get your famous shot.
The hike to the viewpoint is an uphill, paved walk. It leads to a wooden boardwalk that overlooks Peyto Lake; this is where most of the tourists will conjoin. Everyone will be fighting to get to the edge where they can get the best photo advantage, it’s mayhem. I have a recommendation that will get you a better photo than all of them and help you avoid all of the craziness.
Instead of hanging around the official viewpoint waiting for a hole to stick your camera through, continue along the paved path and keep an eye out for a gravel path that extends off the main trail. It will be on your right side. Follow this dirt trail about 0.5 km until it ends at an opening in the trees. There are giant rock formations that form a kind of cliff where you will get the best viewpoint of the lake. When I accidentally found this spot there was only one other person there. The noise of the crowd is unheard; the only sound is that of the wind blowing off Peyto Glacier (to your left) and the chirps of chipmunks and birds. Take your time and enjoy the solitude and the view.
Once you’ve had your fill of Peyto Lake and the Mistaya Valley, work your way back down the gravel trail until you meet with the paved one again. Turn right and continue up the paved trail until an old fire lookout road appears on your right. Follow this trail as it switchbacks up with more views of Peyto Lake. The trail climbs steadily along a slope and the terrain slowly turns into beautiful alpine meadows. If you’re hiking during July and August the meadows are filled with wildflowers; the higher you go the smaller the flora becomes.
At 2.5 km the trail descends into a basin-like area and crosses a small stream. A short steep climb leads to the alpine knoll where the highest fire lookout in Banff once stood. This is a great lookout spot but if you continue for another 200 m you will find an even better viewpoint for Bow Lake and the peaks that surround the southern part of the valley. Take it all in and enjoy. There is a lot of history behind this trail and the area that you are in.