Dog Lake is a pretty lake in Kootenay National Park in the Candian Rockies. It’s only 2.6km hike in each direction, but you get to cross the crazily blue Kootenay River and finish at a perfect picturesque mountain lake. If you like pretty suspension bridges, easy hikes and swimming in a beautiful lake, you’ll probably love this mini adventure. Also, if you are lucky, Dog Lake itself can turn into a giant mirror, reflecting the beautiful Mitchell Range of mountains that overlooks this area.
We visited here after hiking up to Stanley Glacier so it was a great way to make my muscles feel better after that workout. I think this is one of the most beautiful (and quiet) settings I have ever swam in; So I am excited to share it!
Dog Lake trail map
Dog Lake – the basics
Distance: 5.1 km
Elevation gain: 190m (333m cumulative gain)
Time: 1-2 hours
It took us 35 mins on the way, and 25 mins on the way back.
What to bring:
The 10 Essentials
Swimming things if you fancy a dip.
Bug Spray – Just no DEET if you plan on swimming.
There is a loo at the trailhead
Dogs: Yes (on a leash)
How hard is it? Easy. There is a bit of elevation gain, but you can bring your granny/toddler on this one if you take it slowly.
Extra notes: There is no cell service in Kootenay National Park. Download maps and details before you drive into the National park!
Getting Started – Dog lake Trail
Start at the McLeod Meadows picnic area on Banff-Windermere Highway (BC 93). It’s about 24km (18 mins) from Radium Hot Springs or 78km (55mins) from Castle Junction. There is a big sign on the highway, so you can’t miss it. The trail starts by heading to the McLeod Meadows Campground, then going over to cross the Kootenay River.
McLeod Meadows Campground
McLeod Meadows Campground looks like a really pleasant place to camp (we may have to come back and stay here in the future.) Each camping space was nestled in the trees with gravel bases. The loos didn’t look like they were in great shape, but you’d be able to cope with them if you like to camp in pretty areas! There was even a cute building that is a theatre.
Beautiful Suspension Bridges
This part of the valley is just after the Kootenay River and Vermilion River have joined up, so the river is quite wide. There is a small island in the middle of the river, so they have built two beautiful bridges to get you across.
I loove these bridges. They both wobble a bit as you walk, in case you are not a fan of wobbly bridges. The views of the Kootenay River are beeeautiful! It’s only 500m from the picnic area to these bridges, so even if you can’t walk the whole way to Dog Lake, come this far to take a peek at the views.
Kootenay River looking spectacular
If you have seen some of my other recent posts about hiking in the Kootenays, you’ll have noticed that the waters here are incredible colours! This is caused by rock flour (rocks are ground up by glaciers then carried off as the glacier melts.) As the colours are created by light refracting off these particles, it looks different depending on which direction you are looking at and where the sun is in the sky. This is the brightest of my photos – mad eh!?
The main trail to Dog Lake
The next bit of the trail is a little steeper, so this is the part where you have to expend a little effort. It’s less than 190m elevation gain though, so I promise you can manage it.
There are a few spots where you can look down at the Kootenay River and the surrounding mountains.
Once you’ve reached the highest point along the trail, there is a nice, rustic bench. From this point, it’s downhill all the way to Dog Lake.
Dog Lake views
The Dog Lake trail continues in a loop back to where you started; So watch out for a small path to your right if you’d like to reach the lake shore. The area where you’ll emerge is full of reeds, but the views of the Mitchell Range of mountains is perfect.
Just walk along the lake for a while to go beyond the overgrown section. Look how mirror-like this lake can be!?
Swimming at Dog Lake
Swimming in this ridiculously beautiful location is a treat! We were the only people around (again – Kootenay National Park really spoilt us!) Plus, the water here was pretty warm. I’ve swam in a few alpine lakes this summer (at the Flatiron, Lightning Lake and Falls Lake) and dipped my toes in others (Lake Annette and Consolation Lakes) and they can be so cold they take your breath away! This was totally different – I did squeal when I first dipped my shoulders under the water, but it only took a few seconds to get used to it.
The only bad thing about swimming here is the mud. The edge of the lake has a deep layer of mud that you sink into as you try to get in! I could feel bubbles beneath my toes, so I was a bit grossed out imagining what creepy crawlies I might be touching! It’s best just to swim straight away to avoid the muddy edges!
To return, you can either continue in a loop, or just go back the way you came. We were starting to get hungry, so we just ran back. The path is great if you fancy running here too.
By the time we got back to the Kootenay River, the mountains were starting to cast looong shadows. This was about 6pm – time to return to our tent!
My fail of the day
We went swimming at Dog Lake after an epic morning hiking (and scrambling) up to the toe of Stanley Glacier. So earlier that day I had navigated scree slopes safely. Then we’d run most of the way back from Dog Lake. I’d coped fine with that too. However after we had stopped running, and we were on the easiest, flattest path of the day… I tripped, faceplanted and smashed my knee. Sob!
I am glad it didn’t happen halfway up a mountain in grizzly bear country… but I did feel like a right idiot for hurting myself at the safest moment of our holiday! Ah well. It was all worth it for this gorgeous view, and for being able to swim in that scenery.
As long as you are not like me, tripping on the easy, flat section of the walk – this is a great little hike. The route is easy, the views are incredible, and Dog Lake is warm. Please click on the pins below if you’d like to save this for later.