During my time exploring Alberta, Canada, I got the chance to visit the beautiful Bow Lake Viewpoint and Crowfoot Glacier. These two amazing spots, located along the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, are so close that they’re perfect for visiting together.
Famous for being a must-see pit stop along the Icefields Parkway, Bow Lake Viewpoint and its companion, the Crowfoot Glacier Viewpoint, offer some of the best views in the area without even having to throw on your hiking boots.
I’ll never forget pulling off the road in our white rental pickup truck, throwing down the tailgate and enjoying lunch with our group as we overlooked the incredible turquoise water that was perfectly framed by the mountains behind it.
While some visitors were dipping their feet in the refreshing icy water, there was only a single canoe out on the lake. I can only imagine how serene of an experience it would be to have a place like this all to yourself.
In this blog post, I’ll cover all you need to know about visiting the Bow Lake Viewpoint and nearby Crowfoot Glacier. I’ll also share with you some of my favorite moments that I captured during our visit.
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Where is Bow Lake Viewpoint located?
Bow Lake Viewpoint is nestled within the boundaries of Banff National Park, and sits adjacent to the popular Icefields Parkway. Although you can see the lake from your car while driving past, it’s worth pulling off to spend some extra time enjoying the views.
Most visitors will pull onto the Icefields Parkway from the south, near the town of Lake Louise. From here you’re looking at about a 30 minute drive to the pull off. The area is located shortly before the Peyto Lake Upper Viewpoint which is another can’t miss stop.
Even though the viewing area is likely to be busy, there’s a considerable amount of parkway and most visitors don’t stay for too long so you shouldn’t have any issues securing a spot if you’re patient.
Where is Crowfoot Glacier Viewpoint located?
The Crowfoot Glacier Viewpoint is located about two minutes south of the Bow Lake Viewpoint in Banff National Park. This means as you drive north from the town of Lake Louise you’ll see the pull off for the glacier on your left.
While you can certainly hit the Crowfoot Glacier Viewpoint on your drive north, we elected to wait and save this and the Bow Lake Viewpoint for our return drive back down the Icefields Parkway after exploring Peyto Lake.
The nice thing about hitting these stops when you’re traveling south is that you won’t have to keep making left turns to cut across the busy parkway.
Where is the best place to stay when visiting Bow Lake Viewpoint and Crowfoot Glacier?
Two of the best towns to consider for your stay in Banff National Park are Canmore and Banff. Both of these charming towns are located within a reasonable distance from the viewpoints and have lots to offer in terms of lodging, shopping and restaurants.
The town of Canmore is approximately 90 miles (145 kilometers) away from the viewpoints, a drive that typically takes just under two hours. Canmore is a more budget friendly option to consider relative to Banff. We were able to find an amazing VRBO in town that fit our group of 8 for four nights.
For anyone staying in Canmore, I also consider the short Three Sisters Viewpoint hike can’t miss since it originates in town.
If home sharing isn’t your thing, you can check out deals on budget friendly hotels in Canmore here.
Even though it’s slightly further away from most of the areas main attractions, you’ll hardly notice the difference since you’ll need to do a considerable amount of driving regardless.
The town of Banff, on the other hand, is located approximately 65 miles (105 kilometers) from the viewpoints, or roughly a 1.5-hour drive. While there are some great hotel options in Banff, they tend to be more expensive than Canmore.
We also spent two nights at Brewster’s Mountain Lodge which was one of the more budget friendly options in town and featured a great location in the heart of town. It’s directly across from my favorite restaurant called Three Bears Brewery.
Whether you choose to stay in Canmore or Banff, both towns provide decent access to the Icefields Parkway and Banff National Park. Consider using the strategy that we did and split your stay between the two!
Do you need to rent a car when visiting Bow Lake Viewpoint and Crowfoot Glacier Viewpoint?
When planning a visit to Banff National Park, one of the key considerations is transportation. Although there are some public transportation options and tour companies operating here I’d still suggest visitors rent their own vehicle.
Renting a car also allows you the freedom to enjoy unplanned stops and operate on your own schedule. Along the Icefields Parkway lie countless pullouts and picnic areas with magnificent views which you can enjoy at your leisure.
It’s also worth noting that driving along this route is considered one of the most scenic drives in the world, an experience you shouldn’t miss out on doing for yourself.
Unless you’re spending a day exploring the town you’re staying in, be prepared to drive at least an hour in each direction to reach popular hikes and activities during your trip.
Also keep in mind that rental cars out of Calgary (home to the nearest major airport) can sell out or be expensive during peak summer season. Your best defense is to book your rental vehicle early, as soon as you’ve got your dates figured out.
What are some interesting facts about Bow Lake Viewpoint?
Nestled within the Canadian Rockies, Bow Lake sits at an altitude of about 6,300 feet (1,920 meters) above sea level. The massive lake encompasses an area of over 3 square kilometers.
The lake is fed by meltwater from the nearby Bow Glacier which is part of the Wapta Icefield. Bow Lake is part of the headwater that helps form the beautiful Bow River which you’ll spend plenty of time driving parallel to during your time in Banff.
Mt. Jimmy Simpson and Mt. Thompson are two of the most prominent mountain peaks that reside just behind Bow Lake and help create the incredible panoramic view that visitors flock here to enjoy.
What are some interesting facts about Crowfoot Glacier Viewpoint?
The Crowfoot Glacier sits high in the Canadian Rockies at around 8,500 feet (2,600 meters) above sea level. It descends towards Bow Lake, creating a dramatic and captivating visual spectacle.
Today the glacier is estimated to span an impressive area of nearly 1.5 square kilometers, though all of this isn’t visible from the viewpoint.
The glacier was originally named in part due to it’s resemblance to a crow’s foot. However, in recent years one of the ‘toes’ have since melted away and due to climate change that trend is expected to continue. It’s estimated that western Canada could lose over 70% of its glaciers within the next century.
While it’s a sad reality, I strongly believe that being able to see places like Crowfoot Glacier up close, in person, is the best way to continue raising support and awareness for the issue.
Is there cell phone service at Bow Lake Viewpoint?
Due to its remote location, visitors should not anticipate reliable cell phone service while at Bow Lake Viewpoint, Crowfoot Glacier or anywhere along the Icefields Parkway for that matter.
Services is so non-existent in this part of Banff National Park that it can be difficult to rely on your cell phone for navigation. We had a difficult time plugging anything into our cell phone GPS once we got far into the Icefields Parkway.
Visitors should prepare themselves by having physical maps or downloading offline maps prior to embarking on this journey. You may also want to pre-plan your route and familiarize yourself with the major points of interest and landmarks along the way.
How much does it cost to visit Bow Lake Viewpoint?
Accessing Bow Lake Viewpoint and Crowfoot Glacier Viewpoint doesn’t require individual entrance fees. Instead, visitors will need a Parks Canada Pass, which covers admission to all national parks, national historic sites, and national marine conservation areas operated by Parks Canada.
You can check out current pricing on the Parks Canada website. They offer a variety of pass types to suit different trip durations.
You’ll need to purchase a pass preemptively, which can be delivered by mail, or as you cross the border into Banff National Park. To avoid waiting in line at the entrance, I’d suggest buying your pass in advance.
Once you reach the official starting point for the Icefields Parkway, there’s an additional queue where your pass will be checked.
There isn’t much in terms of restaurants, shops or gas stations along the Icefields Parkway. It’s important to fuel up your vehicle before entering and not a bad idea to pack a lunch and snacks ahead of time.
Are dogs allowed at Bow Lake Viewpoint and Crowfoot Glacier Viewpoint?
Dogs are permitted at both these locations within Banff National Park, which makes either pit stop a great area for your furry friend to get out and stretch their legs.
In general most of the trails and park spaces throughout Banff National Park are pet friendly. Just be sure to keep your dog on a leash and pick up after them along the way.
Can you swim at Bow Lake Viewpoint?
Visitors are allowed to swim at Bow Lake. However, given the frigid temperatures, actual swimming in Bow Lake is usually brief, even for the hardiest of adventurers.
Prolonged exposure to such frigid water temperatures can be risky and lead to hypothermia. As a result, many people opt for a quick dip approach, spending just a few moments in the water before hopping out and warming back up.
Even during the warmest summer months, the water temperature remains just above freezing.
During your trip to Banff National Park you’ve got to try swimming in at least one alpine lake. While we didn’t swim in Bow Lake, we did take a dip in Emerald Lake which is in nearby Yoho National Park.
While not technically a part of Banff, many activities in Yoho are just as easily accessible. Don’t forget to read my guide on visiting Canada’s second largest waterfall, Takakkaw Falls, which is something that should be on every visitors itinerary.
What is the best time of year to visit Bow Lake Viewpoint and Crowfoot Glacier Viewpoint?
Summer is generally regarded as the best time to visit Banff National Park and the Icefields Parkway, including Bow Lake Viewpoint and Crowfoot Glacier Viewpoint. During this period, the weather is relatively warm and the roads are clear of snow and ice.
While exploring the Icefields Parkway can also be a popular activity during other seasons, including winter, it can occasionally be closed due to heavy snowfall and ice. While winter presents magnificent snowy landscapes, it’s crucial to check road conditions and closures before setting off.
Keep in mind that some years wildfires can affect air quality and visibility throughout Banff National Park. There’s little you can do to mitigate this risk, especially if you visit later in the summer when conditions are drier.
During our visit we faced a fair amount of hazy days due to wildfires occurring in other parts of Canada.
For tips on planning your trip to Canada or elsewhere in the world, don’t forget to brush up on my favorite tips for planning a trip abroad. It’s full of useful advice I’ve put together and used extensively during my travels!
How long does it take to visit Bow Lake Viewpoint?
Visiting Bow Lake Viewpoint is a relatively quick experience due to its direct access and relatively compact parking area. Most visitors will only spend 15-30 minutes enjoying the view and walking down to the lakeshore.
If you plan to take a quick dip in the icy waters or enjoy a packed lunch from the parking area be sure to budget additional time.
Since we stopped here for lunch and to take photos we spent closer to 45 minutes at the viewpoint.
How long does it take to visit Crowfoot Glacier Viewpoint?
Given its quick access as a roadside stop, spending about 15 minutes is usually sufficient to take in the sights at Crowfoot Glacier Viewpoint. The viewpoint is designed in such a way that visitors can step out of their cars, stretch their legs, and immediately start taking in the views.
Since there’s a little bit less to this viewing area than what you’ll find at Bow Lake, there isn’t much reason to stay here any longer than for a quick photo op.
Check out these activities available in the area
Looking for more ways to fill out your trip itinerary? Be sure to check out the list of activities below from GetYourGuide.
Is visiting Bow Lake Viewpoint worth it?
After spending the better part of a day exploring stops along the Icefields Parkway, I can say with confidence that visiting both Bow Lake Viewpoint and Crowfoot Glacier are well worth the time.
Bow Lake Viewpoint is renowned for offering some of the most spectacular lake views within Banff National Park. Its striking, turquoise waters, set against the rugged mountain backdrop, create an unforgettable scene that will stay with you for many years to come.
Similarly, Crowfoot Glacier Viewpoint presents an incredible opportunity to witness one of the most viewed glaciers in the Canadian Rockies. Its accessibility as a roadside stop makes it a no brainer spot to stretch your legs and capture some memorable photos.
After getting a taste of the beauty these two viewpoints offer, I can’t wait to drive the full length of the Icefields Parkway from Banff to Jasper on a future trip. There’s so much to do and see between Banff and Jasper that you can’t possibly fit it all into a single trip.
If you’re still looking for ideas on how to spend your time in Banff National Park be sure to check out some of my favorite hikes. The first originates at Lake Louise and takes adventurers from the Lake Agnes Teahouse to the Big Beehive.
Another favorite hike of mine originates at Moraine Lake and takes you through Larch Valley to Sentinel Pass. This one is especially great if you’re visiting in the Fall when the Larches change color.
You should also consider the Johnston Canyon Ink Pots Hike. It’s another medium difficulty hike that approaches some unique geological formations (the Ink Pots) plus some water falls along the way.
And chances are, if you’re visiting Banff you’ll be doing quite a bit of hiking. Be sure to check out my complete day hike checklist which covers all of the essential items you’ll want to pack for a safe and comfortable hiking in the Canadian Rockies.
Thanks for taking the time to read this blog post and I hope it was helpful in answering your questions about the Bow Lake Viewpoint and Crowfoot Glacier in Alberta, Canada!