Emerald Lake – Crowsnest Pass

Emerald Lake – Crowsnest Pass

Emerald Lake is pretty alpine lake (elevation is 1,330m) right next to Highway 3 near the Crowsnest Pass, on the border between British Columbia and Alberta. The lake is connected to the larger Crowsnest Lake by a stream. We decided to stop at the Emerald Lake side of the highway because we could see there was a short trail around the lake (whereas on the Crowsnest Lake side, you can’t really walk far.) It was a really pleasant place to stretch our legs during our road trip.

Emerald Lake – Crowsnest Pass – the basics

Distance: 1.8km
Elevation gain: 120m
High point: 1430m (at the parking area – the lake is 100m lower)
Time: Less than an hour
What to bring: You don’t need much – swimming things might be good on a hot day.
Facilities: Loos at the trailhead and picnic benches
Dogs: Dogs friendly
How hard is it? Easy

Emerald Lake mini hike map

Emerald Lake – Getting Started

There is an easy-to-find parking area on the south side of highway 3 here. From there it is only 200m walk down to the lake. You arrive at the west side of the lake, on the old Highway 3 (from before it was rerouted in 1978.) From there, you can follow a slightly dicey trail straight down the shale to the lake shore.

Is the trail easy to find?

There is a trail all around the lake, but it is not maintained, and can be a little dodgy in some places as you weave between trees and slide on the limestone shale. It’s not hard to follow, but don’t expect anything like the amazing maintained trails from nearby Waterton Park.

Amazing views

I think this might be one of the easiest alpine lakes I have ever visited. It’s not really a wilderness experience (because you’ll hear trucks roar past on the highway.) But the surrounding mountain scenery is impressive for so little effort. To the north (below left) you’ll see Whale Mountain. To the south are the enormous limestone cliffs of Sentry Mountain.

Emerald colours

The first thing you’ll notice about this lake is the beautiful colour. This is from the rockflour (teeny particles of ground up rocks, normally eroded by glaciers) suspended in the water. You can see the colour due to the way the light refracts off the water, so it changes dramatically depending on the direction of the sun.

Close up to Highway 3

On the north side of the loop you need to cross the stream under Highway 3. In the summer this was very easy, but I imagine the water might be higher in the springtime. From here, look back towards Sentry Mountain for these gorgeous views.

Crowsnest Lake

We went over to peek at the beautiful Crowsnest Lake. Apparently this lake is so deep it swallowed up some booze-filled train boxcars after they were was derailed during the prohibition era. Two divers went searching for the missing train and found a Chevrolet from 1929. Later they also found the train’s boxcars, but no booze.

Crowsnest Mountain views

My favourite part of the walk was on the west side of the lake, where you can see Crowsnest Mountain off in the distance. The rocky mountain on the opposite side of Crowsnest Lake is Whale Mountain. It looks more whale-y from here.

Crumbly rocks

The area around Crowsnest Pass is made up of limestone and shale, which often break down into crumbly, slopes of scree, that gather next to steep mountain slopes or in valleys. There is a massive scree slope between the car park and Emerald lake, as well as along the southeast side of the lake, so be careful.

Other things to see

In the summertime, someone had left some rock art on the old highway. But if you visit in early spring, you might get to see a seasonal waterfall – Lower Sentry Cave Falls at the southern end of the lake. If we go back, I’ll try to climb up to that cave.

I’ll finish with this lovely view of Crowsnest Mountain over Emerald Lake. Even if you don’t fancy walking around the lake, I think it’s worth stopping in the area just for this scenery.

Emerald Lake is a pretty area to stop and go for a swim, or to stretch your legs and see pretty views if you are on a road trip through the Crowsnest Pass. This lake is only a fraction as famous as the Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park, BC. Still, sometimes it is nice to see less famous places that are only really popular with locals. This is a good’un.

10 thoughts on “Emerald Lake – Crowsnest Pass

  1. Crowsnest Lake looks absolutely stunning. I can’t believe how clear the water is. Thanks for sharing all your recommendations and tips for visiting this place.

  2. Both Emerald Lake and Crowsnest Lake look incredible. It’s amazing how much natural beauty there is so easily accessible. I can’t wait to visit Canada next month and experience some of this spectacular scenery!

  3. Ah, one of my favorite hikes in the U.S. is also Emerald Lake (in Rocky Mountain Natinal Park! :] ). It looks so pretty here too! I love the color of the water — very aptly named!

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