Banff National Park: Taylor Lake (2 days / 26 km)
If you want to camp beside a stunning glacial lake, hike through beautiful alpine meadows and be rewarded with 360-degree views with little effort, this is the backcountry trip for you. Although not the premiere Banff destination, this easy trip offers a big bang for its buck.
Trip Completed: July 2019
Starting Point: Taylor Lake Trailhead
Ending Point: Taylor Lake Trailhead
Total Distance: 26 km
Elevation Gain: 1700 m
Duration: 2 days
This route is located in Banff National Park and the nearest town is Banff.
Traditional Territory: This route takes place on the traditional territory of Niitsítpiis-stahkoii ᖹᐟᒧᐧᐨᑯᐧ ᓴᐦᖾᐟ, Ktunaxa ɁamakɁis and Tsuu T’ina (source).
Maps & Resources
Map: The Parks Canada PDF has mapped the entire backcountry trail system.
Permits and Campsite Reservations: Must reserve through Parks Canada. Select “Backcountry Camping”, and for the park choose “Banff, Kootenay and Yoho National Parks”. Then select “Taylor Lake” as your access point. You will need to purchase a backcountry permit which you can do in advance when reserving your campsites. You will also need to have a National Parks day pass which you pay as you enter the park. Print your passes out and place them at your campsite.
Guidebook: If you wish to climb one of the mountains in the area you can follow Alan Kane’s “Scrambling in the Canadian Rockies” which contains by far the most popular and best routes.
Outfitters & Shuttles
Shuttle: No shuttle is required as this route starts and ends in the same place.
Outfitter: There is no outfitter operating here, so bring your own gear (including bear spray).
Day 1: Trailhead to Taylor Lake (13 km)
We were looking for a quick 2 day, 1 night adventure and decided on Taylor Lake. I had seen the lake and the mountain camp at the far end of it from the summit of Mt. Bell the summer before. Taylor Lake is located just east of the continental divide and south of the famous Moraine Lake. You will need to pick up park passes from the toll gate as you enter the park near Canmore (if you don’t have the annual one). The drive from Calgary is about 1 hour and 45 minutes. The trailhead is just past Castle Junction and 20 minutes before Lake Louise.
We made it to the trailhead at 1 pm and started off on the 7km trail that would bring us up 610m in elevation to the lake. The trail is straightforward, easy to follow and not too rough. Although it is a constant slog up, it isn’t painfully steep. The entire hike up is in the forest so you aren’t graced with beautiful views to take your mind off the endless switchbacks.
After about 2.5 hours, the forest opened up into a small meadow alongside the creek where the lake empties. Up ahead we could see the campsite but first had to cross through where I could only imagine the trail should have been. It was mid-July, and the meadow was flooded. Accepting the fact that a soaker was inevitable we trudged the last 100 meters through the ankle-deep water. If you are headed here in June or July expect this meadow to be flooded.
We set up our tent in the small clearing by the lakeshore. There are no tent pads so you can set up anywhere on the clearing but there are tree-covered areas if you wanted. We decided to take a quick side hike to O’Brien Lake which is about 2km in each direction. This trail, though well trekked, isn’t maintained as frequently (or hadn’t been cleaned up since the season before) so there were lots of downed trees to get around. Much like Taylor Lake, there is a meadow before the lake where the trail gets lost so just take the path of least resistance. O’Brien Lake was very tranquil with another gorgeous view of Mt. Bell. We enjoyed a drink by the lakeside and hiked back to our campsite to cook dinner and relax for the evening. We packed it in for the night, falling asleep with the sound of a distant waterfall.
Campsite: Taylor Lake Campsite (Ta6) is a great little campsite on the shores of Taylor Lake. There is a thunderbox and bear hang for your food. Unfortunately, no fires are allowed in this area of Banff.
Campsite Coordinates: 51°17’52.54″N, 116° 5’21.27″W
Day 2: Taylor Lake to Panorama Peak and Trailhead
We were woken up by a choir of birds just before sunrise. Mt. Bell was shining in the golden morning light with the calm, smooth waters of Taylor Lake mirroring its beauty. This was definitely one of my favourite views to wake up to. We cooked breakfast and decided to head out for today’s summit hike which was the East Ridge of Panorama Peak.
We headed up past the thunderbox and bear hang towards Taylor Meadows. You will see a sign saying “No well-defined trail beyond this point”. At first there is a trail to follow but as you enter the meadows the trail is lost. We knew our objective was the ridge to the northeast (our right). Since we were there early in the season and there were rainstorms the days before, the meadow was flooded. We could have trekked through the creek, but we were trying to hold off on wet shoes for as long as possible. We hiked northwest until we reached a tarn and we were able to head right and bypass the creek. The first half up to the peak was a bushwack but the forest isn’t too dense. Eventually the forest opens up and the trail gets steeper. The ridge offers beautiful 360-degree views. The Bow Valley stretches for miles in front of you. To the northeast you can see the Lake Louise ski resort. To your east the epic Castle Mountain and Protection Mountain loom over the highway. To your west and southwest, across the meadows, the true summit of Panorama Peak. The sun was shining so we relaxed on the ridge attempting to dry our socks and shoes.
On our way down from the ridge to our campsite, we took a different route, following the ridge instead of going through the meadows. On the GPS track, this would follow the right path on the loop up to the ridge. I recommend taking this path on your way up as well unless you go during a drier season. The meadows are beautiful but not worth trekking through flooded lands. Although this path was still a bushwack, we found periodic areas of lightly trekked trail. This trail will meet up with the main trail to Taylor Lake (see the GPS track).
We made it back to the campsite and started packing up. Now that we were not busy hiking through the bush, we started to notice the mosquitos. I felt like I was back in Northern Ontario. We packed up and headed back to the car following the same trail that we took in. In no time we were back at the car and headed home.
This trip is the perfect one if you are looking for a peaceful escape. The trail to the campsite requires no technical skill and the views are amazing. This isn’t the premier hiking trip in the location and if you are only in the area for a few days there are better options to attempt. However, if you have finished those top-tier treks, this is a great easy alternative.
If you are not confident in your directional abilities, then maybe don’t attempt the hike up to the East Ridge of Panorama Peak. Although no technical scrambling is required, you need to be confident you are heading in the right direction. Unfortunately, there are no other campsites to hike to from this one, so this is best done as a 2-day trip. There are multiple day trips from the campsite including the ones described here: East Ridge of Panorama Peak and O’Brien Lake. If you are a technical climber and have a helmet you can also summit Mt. Bell via the Kane route (see linked guidebook). You will need to hike to O’Brien lake, bushwack around it and scramble up the couloir where you will intersect the Kane route up on the ridge above Boom Lake. Though I do recommend this summit, it is very technical and should only be done by those who know their skill and have appropriate equipment.
Sean Vandersluis is an outdoor enthusiast who loves exploring Canada’s outdoors. He always brings along his camera to capture some of Canada’s most beautiful locations. Mostly a backpacker in the mountains of western Canada, he has started to get into canoeing after moving to Ontario (but still prefers a good old fashion hiking trip). Follow his Instagram to follow along!
Instagram: @seanmarksluis and @seanmark_photography