Banff National Park, Part 2: Parker Ridge and Helen Lake/Dolomite Pass Trails
The Parker Ridge and Helen Lake/Dolomite Pass Trails were two of my three favorite hikes in Canada (with The Great Glacier Trail in Glacier National Park being the third). Parker Ridge is a 5km trail that switchbacks over 800 feet up to a mountain ridge. The views from the switchbacks are incredible – and get better as you ascend, of course. At the top the trail emerges onto a rolling alpine landscape; when crossed views into the deep glacial valley below come into focus as does the mighty Saskatchewan glacier. We crossed back and forth across the hills for about an hour, even coming across a herd of bighorn sheep (!) before descending. The sight of the glacial emerging from the snow clouds is an image I will not soon forget.
As incredible as the views of the glacier across the alpine tundra were from the Parker Ridge Trail, the sights on the 9 km trail to Helen Lake and Dolomite Pass were even more spectacular. The trail began ascending through the characteristically-lovely fir trees of the Canadian Rockies but after the first couple miles as we neared the ridge, we got some pretty amazing views of the turquoise Bow Lake below. Once we reached the high point of the ridge however, a whole different landscape opened to the east: arctic tundra, glacier-scoured mountains, and jaged rocky outcroppings, all under expansive blue skies. Wildflowers appeared on the rolling sub-alpine hills and with them hundreds of pikas, much to Abby’s delight – she basically just ran in circles amongst the chattering little fellows in their dens. At 6km we reached the cute Helen Lake and then began the last 3 kilometers of trail and 100 meters of elevation of rocky ascent up the mountain to Dolomite Pass. The landscape was even more harsh and dramatic atop the pass and below to the east around Katherine Lake – and one of the most amazing I’ve ever seen. Cue excessive picture-taking.
The hike to Dolomite Pass was our last in Canada though it took us more than a day to reach our border crossing into Washington State. On our overnight stop in Vernon, BC we discovered the industrially-designed Marten Brewing Company which supplied us with a pint of the excellent house-brewed lager and IPA after our obligatory sampler.