When it comes to hiking, I’m all about bang for your buck. Meaning it’s more about the scenic rewards that await than it is about the challenge of the journey to get to them. Which is why the Valley of the 5 Lakes Trail in Jasper National Park, Alberta was one of my favourites: this one hike brought us to not one but five jewel-coloured lakes, and it wasn’t even that difficult, which is my idea of a perfect trail. Here’s what you can expect if you go.
Lakes 1 – 5: What Order to Hike?
I’m one who really likes to be organized, and I figured whoever named the lakes on the Valley of the 5 Lakes trail “First Lake” through “Fifth Lake” must have done so for a reason. So Henk and I set out on the 7.3km First Lake Loop trail in the direction that would take us to each of the five lakes in chronological order.
The trail and its forks are well signed and the names of the lakes make it easy to follow, and although 7+ km may seem like a lot, there is very little change in elevation. This is always a bonus considering that Jasper is a mountain location where many trails can include some pretty steep climbs.
The lower altitude of the Valley of the 5 Lakes trail has another advantage, too: because it’s not as high up in the mountains, the lakes are always going to be fully thawed sooner than other higher-elevation lakes which can stay iced-in even into June. (Which was our experience closer to Banff National Park.)
First impressions count, and our Valley of the 5 Lakes hike was off to a great start with a view of something as pretty as First Lake. This is actually the largest of the 5 lakes, but despite its size its surface was perfectly calm and beautifully reflected the mountains in the background.
I’m always amazed at the clarity and colour of glacial lakes, as it is rare to find these particular shades of green and turquoise in lakes that are fed by other sources.
Okay, I have to say that Second Lake was a bit meh. So ‘meh’, in fact, that we didn’t even take any photos. Maybe it was because we had our expectations raised by First Lake, but after a cursory glance, we continued on the trail to the next lake where we were much more impressed.
Third Lake looks like a long, narrow emerald-coloured swimming pool and its beauty more than made up for the previous lake. In fact, with evergreens framing the view of the mountains in the background and the spring flowers blooming in the foreground, it was hard to stop taking photos!
From the trail that follows one side of the lake you can even get a sneak peak of Fourth Lake at the opposite end, but before you continue to that one, you’ll definitely want to strike a pose on one of Park’s Canada’s iconic red chairs.
Whenever you find a pair of Parks Canada’s red chairs in a National Park, you know you’ve found an iconic spot and one that is so beautiful it absolutely demands a photograph. This pair of chairs was placed at the end of Third Lake, and with the green water sparkling in front of us, and the snow-capped mountains in the distance, it was hard to argue with that decision.
Although Third Lake got the nod from the National Parks folks as the place to put their chairs, I think Fourth Lake would have been a close second choice. This tree-rimmed circular lake sparkled with every possible shade of green you could imagine. Even without chairs, it was a beautiful and tranquil view and we could just sit and admire its beauty for as long as we wanted without having to worry about ‘hogging’ the chairs.
Fourth Lake has another perk, too: the trail alongside the lake runs very close to the water’s edge, making it easy to get into the lake if you want to go for a swim.
TIP: Swimming is allowed – at your own risk of course – in any of the 5 lakes, although I wouldn’t recommend a dip until well into the summer, as these glacial lakes are always chilly, even in July.
The final lake on our Valley of the 5 Lakes hike was Fifth Lake at the farthest point of our loop trail. Since the trail didn’t circumnavigate the lake, we were only able to see a small part of what is the second largest lake of the five, unless we wanted to go bushwacking on our own (which we chose not to do).
Still, the part of the lake that we did see was a stunning foreground for the mountains in the background, and even if the water wasn’t as calm and reflective as in some of the other lakes, we got to see a different shade of blue here, accented with turquoise and green along the shoreline.
What About Wildlife on the Valley of the 5 Lakes Trail?
Because the Valley of the 5 Lakes Hike is a popular one, there is usually a lot of traffic on the trail. That generally means that the chance of running into bears is small, as they tend to stay away from noisy humans. Plus this area isn’t typically where elk are known to have their calves, which would pose a much bigger problem for hikers than bears, as protective elk mothers can be unpredictable and very dangerous.
In fact, the only wildlife we saw during our hike were a couple of chipmunks along the trail who seemed pretty comfortable posing for a few shots.
We did, however, spot larger wildlife on our drive to Pyramid Lake. The Pyramid Lake Trail is also a very popular hike that takes visitors from the town of Jasper to the photogenic Pyramid Island, but because it actually WAS elk calving season when Henk and I visited Jasper and this hike was strongly discouraged, we opted to drive to the lake instead and just walk out to the Island.
On the way to Pyramid Lake, we did see elk (none with calves, thankfully), and on the way home, we hit the wildlife safari bonanza: a family of three grizzlies, each one with a slightly different colour of fur.
Valley of the 5 Lakes: a Gorgeous Way to Soak in Jasper’s Beauty
Initially, I was afraid that our hike to the Valley of the 5 Lakes in Jasper might disappoint, because spring had been late and I thought all of the lakes would be still frozen. But fortunately, all five of the lakes were completely ice-free, and we got to enjoy these vibrant mountain jewels in all their glory on what was a perfect day for hiking. It’s no wonder Valley of the 5 Lakes is one of the Park’s most popular trails. and I can’t think of a better way to spend 2-3 hours soaking in the beauty of Jasper National Park.
Jane Canapini is a member of the Travel Media Association of Canada and the North American Travel Journalists Association. She established GrownupTravels.com in 2014 to share information and tips based on personal experience so her readers could get the most out of their travels.