Jasper National Park Overnight Hike to Jacques Lake is generally considered an easy trail if the trial conditions are good. It has minimal elevation gain over the 12km long one-way on an out-and-back trail (24km round trip). As such it is a great weekend backpacking destination which is usually suitable for hikers of most experience levels. The hike in can take between 2.5-3.5 hours one-way on a good day. Beautiful wilderness lakes and fantastic views of the Cline and Queen Elizabeth II mountain ranges are highlights of this trail.
We chose to do this overnight hike early in the season for some training and to test out some new gear. With a heavy, late season snowfall followed by substantial rains and then a bout of beautiful warm weather we knew we needed to be prepared for just about anything. According to the Parks Canada website the trail conditions were poor. We decided to tackle the trail anyhow. I mean, it was still open so how bad could it be? Well, let's just say that now we know exactly what Parks Canada means by poor trail conditions. And it certainly makes for a more challenging and adventurous trip. Nobody ever seems to share their experience hiking in poor conditions. So, we will. Here is our Jasper National Park overnight hike to Jacques Lake and our experience with poor trail conditions.
The hiking trail starts on an old fire road which is wide and generally easy. However, it only took a few hundred meters for our poor trail conditions adventure to begin. Minutes into the hike water began to cover the trail. It seemed pretty minimal at the time so we carried on. Little did we know that flooding had caused the creek to swell so much that it was knee deep with a strong current. Thankfully we made it across safely with a renewed appreciation for wool socks and Gore-Tex hiking boots. Shortly after this crossing the trail comes to a fork in the road. There was flagging tape closing off access to the trail beyond. How strange that Parks staff waited until after the creek crossing to close the trail. It turns out that the flagging tape wasn't to close the rest of the trail. It was for the people that were hiking out so that they wouldn't take the trail we were on with the flooded out creek crossing. Oops.
After hiking for about 1.6km we reached Beaver Lake, the first of the wilderness lakes along the Jasper National Park Overnight Hike to Jacques Lake Trail. This is a small but beautiful emerald green lake with crystal clear water. It is a popular spot for fishing. Although we did meet some people that hiked in carrying their inflatable boats (yes, they crossed the creek too) there are boat rentals available at the lake. Curries Guiding is one of the operators that provides boat rental services at Beaver Lake. A fishing permit is required. As it is a short hike to reach Beaver Lake from the trailhead, it is popular for day hikers and picnickers as well. The lake has both a boat launch and a picnic area with several picnic tables.
After another 3km or so along the old fire road are the Summit Lakes. There are two lakes here with stunning mountain views to enjoy. The lakes are so beautiful and serene. Although there are no picnic amenities here, it is a beautiful spot to stop for a picnic or just to have a little Zen-like moment in the mountains.
The Jasper National Park Overnight Hike to Jacques Lake trail narrows past the first Summit Lake and continues through dense forest to the second Summit Lake and onto Jacques Lake beyond. This is where the really poor trail conditions kicked in. So many trees had fallen over the trail that we needed to climb over, go under or find an alternate way around that it felt like we were in an obstacle course race created by Mother Nature. This certainly increased the degree of difficulty for the hike and slowed us down, a lot.
The Jacques Lake Campground is 7.6km beyond the Summit Lake. Parks Canada describes this section of the trail as an 'easy hike through dense forest with many small bridged creeks'. It certainly wasn't easy climbing over what felt like hundreds of fallen trees. As for the many small bridge creeks, it turns out that they split over their banks and flooded the trail. Most of the trail ended up being under water for this section. Furthermore, some bridges had broken resulting in us needing to search for other ways to cross the creeks such as using some of the fallen logs instead. Naturally, you'd think the nasty trail conditions would get us down and make us turn back. For the most part though, we embraced the challenge. Plus by that point it was closer for us to press onto the campground then to turn around. Sore and tired, we did eventually make to the Jacques Lake Campground albeit it took us much longer than 3.5 hours.
The campground is perched on the shores of Jacques Lake surrounded by views of the Queen Elizabeth II mountain range. There are 8 campsites here with food storage lockers and a privy. Additionally, there is a common area with three picnic tables and a fire pit. Further up the trail is the Alpine Club of Canada Jacques Lake Cabin. The cabin can be booked during the winter and is accessed by cross country skiing or snowshoeing. Unfortunately, the trail was washed out the day we were here so we couldn't make it all the way to the cabin.
I'm not sure if it was our early start or if peak runoff had finished the day before but the hike out was an entirely different experience. Most of the trails were dry and creeks that were nearly impassable the day before were now easily crossed. Even though, the fallen trees still presented some challenges the hike was pleasant and we were in good spirits. We even took the time to enjoy the views and notice the mountain wildflowers. Making good time we shaved off over 40 minutes from our hiking time from the day before. On the way out, we paid attention to the flagging tape and avoided crossing the treacherous creek and followed a new trail that Parks Canada staff were building to lead hikers safely back to the parking lot.
Naturally we had worked up quite a thirst. And we felt that we had earned a treat for all our hard work and for not quitting when the trail got tough. Once again, we visited one of our favourite craft breweries, Folding Mountain to enjoy great food and a craft beer before heading home.
The Jacques Lake parking lot and trailhead are about a 35 minute drive from the Jasper Townsite. Located 28km in on Maligne Road, the Jacques Lake parking area is next to Medicine Lake along the left hand side of the road leading to Maligne Lake. The trailhead is just about the halfway point between Maligne Canyon and Maligne Lake.
Jacques Lake Trail is a beautiful mountain hike in Jasper National Park. The wilderness lakes are perfectly spaced to make the hike interesting and the mountain views are incredible. Not to mention, the close encounters with the moose. Although we enjoyed the learning opportunity as to what poor trail conditions mean, I think we will upgrade to moderate trail conditions next time. A Jasper National Park Overnight Hike to Jacques Lake should be on every adventure seeking, hiking enthusiasts list, especially when the trail conditions are good.
When you subscribe to the blog, we will send you an e-mail when there are new updates on the site so you wouldn't miss them.
Backpacking in not-so-perfect conditions turns into a great hike with memories of wildlife for life. Funny how adventures are in all how you look at them. Great Job Janet. Very well done and written. Great for others to look at.