Bow Glacier Falls – Icefields Parkway
Bow Glacier Falls is one of the many spectacular waterfalls on epic drive along the Icefields Parkway. You can see this massive waterfall from the Num-Ti-Jah Lodge on Bow Lake, but to really appreciate it, you need to go on a hike. This is not a long or particularly tough hike; But the views are glorious – both of the surrounding mountains and the 150m cliff that the waterfall drops off.
We visited the area when far-off wildfires had obscured the views with smoke. But this hike is still fab, even if it is smoky, or if the weather is not particularly good.
Bow Glacier Falls Map
It looks like the trail goes through water on this map. The edges of Bow Lake and the river change a lot, but there is a path that allows your feet to stay dry.
Bow Glacier Falls – The basics
Distance: 9-11km (depending how far up the road you need to park.)
Elevation gain: 300m
High Points: 2120m
Time: 2.5-3 hours
Cost: You need to have a discovery pass to enter Canadian National Parks.
Once you have that, it is free.
What to bring:
Water, snacks and your camera!
The 10 essentials. This walk is high in the alpine so you need to stay safe!
Bring bear spray
Facilities: There is a lodge (with a café and restaurant) as well as loos at the trailhead.
Dogs: Dog friendly if they stay on a leash
How hard is it? Easy/intermediate. The start of the trail is mostly flat and easy. The trail can be harder to follow (and rocky) as you get closer to Bow Glacier Falls.
Waterfall Type: Veiling Horsetail
(horsetail waterfalls keep contact with the bedrock behind them)
Bow Glacier Falls is the largest waterfall along the Icefields Parkway, in terms of height and volume. It’s just you have to get up close to appreciate how huge it is.
This gorgeous looking lodge was built by Jimmy Simpson in the 1940s-50s. Jimmy was a mountain guide, famous for his stories and his wife ran professional ice skating tours. You can read about it’s history here. It’s still possible to stay at the lodge, or to eat at their restaurant.
Bow Glacier Falls – Getting Started
Start by the Num-Ti-Jah Lodge at the north End of Bow Lake off the Icefields Parkway. The brown sign for the turn-off says “Num Ti Jah” and “Bow Glacier”. You might be able to park down by the lodge. If not, there is a second car park up by the highway (it’s only an extra 1km to hike down to the lodge.)
Walk along Bow Lake
The trail hugs the north edge of Bow Lake for the first 2 km. This is an easy walk, with incredible mountain (and lake) views.
Bow River Delta
At the far side of the lake, the trail turns southwest along the delta where the Bow River flows into Bow Lake. The trail was underwater in a couple of spots here; But you can climb up onto the gravel banks if the water is high along the delta’s numerous braided channels.
Next the trail climbs up about 30m, then runs along the Bow river. This (below) is the view looking back at Crowfoot Mountain.
This is the direction you’ll be walking. You can see Portal Peak (the pointy peak), linked to Mount Thompson. Bow Glacier Falls is on a ridge to the left of those mountains.
At the end of the gravel flats, you’ll reach a really cool gorge, with some large steps to the right. Climb up those steep steps (it’s about 60m elevation gain.) Half way up, there is a trail that crosses the gorge via a natural bridge made from a huge boulder. Ignore the turn-off, which leads to Bow Hut, and keep right.
This is the view back to the gravel flats from the steps. You can see how the trail is really obvious up to here!
Bow Hut vs Bow Glacier Falls
The trail that turns off left (to Bow Hut) looks amazing for a separate adventure. We chose to visit the waterfall because (as you can probably tell from my photos) it was quite smoky from wildfires. We saved the hike to Bow Hut for a clearer day.
The final kilometer
Now you’ve made it up into the valley, there is only one more kilometer until you reach Bow Glacier Falls. This is a view backwards to show the trail conditions. The trail becomes fainter as you get closer to the waterfall, but it is not hard to follow.
Bow Glacier Falls views
And this is the stunning Bow Glacier Falls with Marc for scale.
Isn’t this spectacular!?
You can hike right up to the base of the falls if you don’t mind getting a bit wet from the spray. Someone had built an inukshuk right next to the waterfall.
How busy is Bow Glacier Falls
This is an easy hike with a fantastic pay-off; So we expected it to be heaving. There were other people on the trail. However, we arrived at 5pm on a Saturday in August, and we had this incredible waterfall all to ourselves.
To return, you just need to retrace your steps back to Num-Ti-Jah lodge.
We may have visited on a terrible day to show off Bow Lake and the surrounding mountains at their best. But even on smoky days, the hike to Bow Glacier Falls was superb. If you can make it on a clear day with blue skies, this scenery will look even more magnificent.
The vistas along the Icefields Parkway are just so wide and expansive, that you can’t quite get the scale of it from my photos. I’ve included some panoramas so you can at least see how the scenery fits together.
Other Waterfalls along the Icefields Parkway
I have a whole post about the hikes and highlights of the Icefields Parkway There are sooo many fabulous waterfalls in this area! We visited Wapta Falls and Bear Creek Falls on the same day as this. I will add more to the map below as I create posts for them. In case you are looking for other waterfall adventures.
Please click on the pins below if you’d like to save the information for later.
42 thoughts on “Bow Glacier Falls – Icefields Parkway”
You’ve got some great photos of the falls – I really like the second pano that shows the entire amphitheatre! It’s a nice little hike and perfect for a dull day. I think we had the place to ourselves too when we did it (but that was much more likely back in 2009!) and I could’ve sat for hours just watching and listening to the falls.
Thanks Andy! We found scenery that was “close” like waterfalls or cliffs was the best bet for smoky days, but you’re right, the same would be true for cloudy days!
You know, as we visited in the smoke this summer, and during covid-19 last summer, I have still never experienced just how busy the Rockies can be.
What a beautiful hike! Waterfalls are some of my favorite vistas, but we so few natural ones here in Florida. This one looks glorious!
Thanks Cris! We grew up in the UK, so although I did see waterfalls when I was little, it was never anything like the ones you can find here in the Rockies!! They are epic in this part of North America!
We just got back from our trip to Western Canada. For a whole bunch of reasons, we did not plan enough time in Alberta. And we sure missed the Bow Glacier Falls on the drive along the Icefields Parkway. We did not go north when we hit Banff. I love the view that you got. I understand that you have to do the long hike to really understand how big the waterfall is! I am sure walking along the Bow River would have its own charm. We are hoping to go back in a few months and maybe we will make more time.
I hope you can go back Linda! This whole region is simply epic! This one wasn’t even too long a walk. 😉
Bow Glacier Falls looks like such a spectacular sight! I love any hike that features a waterfall! The surrounding landscape looks absolutely incredible! Your panoramas look so dreamy! I hope I get an opportunity to visit one day! Thanks for the great guide!
Thank *you* Hannah! You always leave the sweetest comments. I hope I get to follow some of your hikes in Yorkshire, and that you can do some of these hikes in Canada!
This looks AMAZING! It’s crazy how much it looks like Glacier NP (at least the US side). Even the lodge looks kind of like St. Mary’s Lodge at the park. I bet it’s GORGEOUS when there isn’t smoke (this summer was SO BAD for that in the western US too. We were up by Glacier and it almost looked like Kansas, you could barely see the mountains. 🙁 )
Yeah, I guess we’ll have to get used to the crazy fires/heat/flooding with climate change. It was so bad all over the West Coast this year. 🙁
I love the drive along here so much, and have always seen the lodge in the distance but never made it up close yet. What a spot to stay! Great looking hike too, and nice it’s not super difficult like many of the more challenging ones around here.
This was only the second time we’d done this drive (last time we saw everything at the northern end, but we didn’t stop much as we got closer to Banff…) Now I feel like we need to go back and do it all again without smoke!
It is an amazing area though. I find the hikes are a bit easier than anything on the coast, as the trails are so well built.
Lovely post, what an amazing spot! Waterfalls are just incredible in any size and shape, would love to see it!
Thanks Francesca! You would loooove this area for waterfalls then! We found sooo many good’uns.
Bow Glacier Falls looks amazing, what a great hike from the Icefields Parkway. You have so many wonderful walks in the area, absolutely brilliant photos.
Did you visit this area when you came to Canada Jonno? I am guessing you must have!?
What a great hiking trail. You can never go wrong with a waterfall hike combined with stunning views along the way. I saved this trail for when I can travel to Canada.
Thanks Kitti! I hope you make it out here. 🙂
What a beautiful part of that trail that follows the river and turns into a gorge! I love the views of the mountains as well.
Mountain views make everything better don’t they!? 🙂
Another beautiful adventure! I would love to hike to Bow Glacier Falls along the Icefields Parkway.
I can’t believe we missed this on our icefields drive! We were in such a rush to get from Jasper to Banff due to time constraints we only pulled off to see Peyto Lake. Next time!
I still never made it up to Peyto Lake! I think it opened the week after we drove through (It’s been closed for the last couple of years)
We’ll both just have to go back. 😉
Wow! What an incredible hike. I had no idea this place even existed. Adding this to the travel list. Thanks for sharing!
You’re welcome Meghan. Thanks for reading.
Waterfall hikes are the best hikes! This is definitely one of the most beautiful trails I have ever seen
Oooh you have to come and visit the Canadian Rockies! There are sooo many fab hikes like this. 🙂
This looks a lot like the glacier hike in New Zealand. So cool we have one in Canada too!
Oooh which Glacier did you hike to in NZ? We saw some from Mount Cook/Aoraki area (that was before we’d seen so many here in Canada!)
If you visit Banff/Jasper, we did a couple of hikes the day after this, that were amaaaazing for seeing glaciers. Parker Ridge and Wilcox Pass.
The trail looks so easy and the views are bloody amazing. I love that someone took the time to build an Inukshuk near the falls so you could add an extra element of coolness to your photos!
I’d definitely be heading into the spray to get close to those falls!
This looks like a stunning route – I’ve love to go hiking there!
What a stunning route!
Yes, definitely – I think that’s why I was underwhelmed by the Stanley Glacier hike last year, it just wasn’t the right day for it
Oh man, it was a tough summer for smoke, eh? Glad you were still able to get a great hike in. I love the distinctive appearance of the waterfalls and Crowfoot Mountain! I love that you were able to have the waterfall all to yourselves!
I’m always looking for another waterfall hike, and this one looks gorgeous! Interesting to read about what characterizes a “horsetail” waterfall!
I was just in Banff National Park last month and was able to check out Bow Lake. We didn’t make it up to the waterfall, but will add it to me list for my next visit.
Oooh it must have been beautiful last month! Was there a sprinkling of snow already?
You are finding so many fantastic spots, Josy! Not that I’m surprised. It’s making me want to get back to Canada though…
I have a book called “don’t waste your time in the Canadian Rockies” so I keep finding fabulous places to visit from there. You would love some of the trails we found last year Clazz!! <3
The Bow Glacier looks spectacular. Hiking at this picturesque location will be such a pleasure that one will not get tired or bored.
Thanks Rajkumar! I think it’d be even better normally when the air is not so smoky! I hope you can make it there to see for yourself. 🙂