Distance: 24 km
Elevation gain: 1530 mView mapDownload GPS track
Mt. Bourgeau is a popular and demanding hike that has somehow managed to defeat us three times. The first time
, in 2007, we were simply unfamiliar with the mountains and were turned back by about a foot of wet snow just above Bourgeau Lake. The second time
, in 2011, I randomly got very sick on the approach trail, leaving me with zero energy to ascend beyond Harvey Pass. The third time, just a few weeks ago, thick cloud descended to Bourgeau Lake just as we arrived, giving us little motivation to continue. This time, despite freezing temperatures and unforecast cloud and snow, we made it!
Despite our difficulties, reaching the summit of Mt. Bourgeau is little more than a hike requiring a lot of energy and motivation. While the need for energy is obvious - it's 24 km round trip and over 1500 m of elevation gain - a good dose of blind motivation is also necessary as fully 16 km of the hike is in forest. It's unbelievably dull and monotonous, leaving me surprised it has a "Premier" rating in the popular "Don't Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies" book. Perhaps it's because I've now hiked it 4 times and only reached the summit once, but I don't imagine I'll be returning here anytime soon, especially with so many other hikes beckoning.
Regardless, the signed trailhead is located to the west of Banff, just west of where the highway becomes divided by a small forest. Highway signs will guide you right to it. Arrive early, as it seems to be on Banff tourism's list of places to send people and the small parking lot fills up quickly.
Initially the trail is wide, hard-packed, and slippery, ascending 700 m at a gentle to moderate grade to reach Bourgeau Lake after 7.5 km. At a good pace it takes about 2 hours to get here. From here the trail heads up through the obvious gap to the west, passes another lake, then heads to the left to crest Harvey Pass, 2 km further and 300 m higher than Bourgeau Lake. From the south end of the lake in the pass (often called Harvey Lake) the route up Mt. Bourgeau to the east is obvious, but the summit is still over 2 km distant and 500 m higher. A reasonably obvious trail guides you all the way to the top.
Views from the top are quite nice, but were obscured today by snow squalls in every direction but east. It was also -5 and breezy on top so we didn't manage to hang out for very long before descending, but after 3 unsuccessful attempts it's nice to have this one finally off the to-do list!