My sister and I only had about three full days to spend in Banff National Park. But we knew from the get-go that doing a decently long day hike was one of our top priorities - so we reserved a whole day for just that. Prior to hopping on the plane to Calgary, I had done what must have been hours of research just to find the perfect hike. How far was the trailhead from our campsite? How much mileage would we cover? Were we hiking to a viewpoint? If so, of what? How much elevation would we gain? Would the trail be packed with tourists? I visited blogs, forums, and countless websites to find the perfect hike - and for us, that was the trail to Bow Glacier Falls.
The trailhead begins off a parking lot of an adorable mountain lodge on Bow Glacier Lake. The lake, which (as you might have guessed) is fed by Bow Glacier, which produces glacial runoff that turns from a trickle into a creek, then to a powerfully flowing river, which then happens to roll over a cliff's edge resulting in Bow Glacier Falls. To hike from the parking lot to the falls was about a 6-mile round trip, which is exactly what we had prepared for. But what we never could have predicted was just how beautiful the hike was - from beginning to end.
We followed the lake's edge for the first few miles of the hike. We marveled at the view - a robin's egg blue-colored lake that seemed to be surrounded on all sides by snow-capped mountains. The trail wove in and out of the sub-alpine forest that bordered the lake, delivering strong pine smells and delightful breaks from the sun with each turn into the trees. And then all at once the trail left the forest behind, and took us over the river delta. The delta was a wide expanse of tiny snaking streams making their way between deposits of rock flour, which looks like grey clay when it's wet. It's so fine - much finer than sand - that details of a thumbprint could remain.
As we hiked our way upstream, leaving the delta behind, we began to climb. Actual stairs were built into this section of the trail to make it more accessible for people to traverse. As we hiked upward and onward, we discovered that we were still following the river - but you'd hear it far before you'd ever see it. We were climbing alongside a deep canyon, water barreling through at terrifying speeds. We didn't go anywhere near it.
Again, the trail leveled off. Now we could see the waterfall in the distance; nothing but an expanse of rocks and boulders between us and our destination. We lost the trail several times, but I was never worried with the destination now in sight. As we got closer, the rocks below our boots began to glisten, and we eventually could feel the cool mist from the falls. We stopped short to eat our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and Clif bars in front of the view for which we had worked so hard.
We continued on to hike just about as far as we could without getting drenched. It was a marvel to see - aside from the sheer height and power of it, just knowing it was fed by a massive glacier that was just out of sight added a measure of mystery and awe that I'd never experienced at any viewpoint or mountaintop.
As we trekked back, we turned around a handful of times just to remember the view. Several times my sister said, "wait, I just wanna look at this lake one more time before we leave." The hike was stunning to say the least. But the best part of it all? That was watching my sister stand in awe of the views we encountered along the way. Seeing her follow my footsteps assuredly and fearlessly, hopping over streams and climbing up over boulders. I watched her discover not just a love for the outdoors, but also an appreciation for the journey. And while mountains and lakes and rivers are gorgeous and worth appreciating, watching a passion come alive in someone just isn't something you see every day.