Ashley and I just booked a hotel for the night in Jasper, an awesome little mountain town. Then I drove us back to the Icefields Parkway, where we headed south for six or seven miles until we reached the trailhead for the Valley of the Five Lakes hike. The trail has an elevation gain of about 200 feet and is just under three miles roundtrip, so I figured it would be a nice easy hike. However, it did not go as planned.
The hike began easy enough. We walked along a well-worn dirt path that headed straight away from a small parking lot. We started out in a rather flat open area, but soon made our way into a heavily wooded area.
We went up and down a couple of short, steep sections of trail and crossed a creek on a long wooden bridge. Then we came to a trail junction. The trail we were on went straight and another path crossed left to right in front of us. The trail that crossed our current path actually formed a large circle around five small lakes. The other trail option essentially created a shortcut that drastically shortened the larger loop.
We elected to follow the trail to the right, which actually meant we were traveling in reverse order. In other words, the first lake we reached was Fifth Lake, and we arrived at its shore within a few short minutes.
The lake was very calm. It wasn’t totally still, as it softly rippled evenly across the surface. It was a very light green, encircled by lodgepole pines. Up close, near the shore, the water was fully transparent. I could make out the slightest imperfection in every rock underwater.
There were very few people on the trail with us. We didn’t see a soul near the first lake, which made it all the more peaceful. We followed the pathway along the short western shore of the lake. Fifth Lake is the only lake that the trail does not go all the way around.
The trail passed between the western edge of Fifth Lake and the eastern shore of Fourth Lake. We followed the trail as it curved to the left behind Fourth Lake. This lake was much smaller than the first. The path went uphill for a short distance before following along the north shore of the small body of water. The trail was elevated above the lake, but not too high, probably ten or fifteen feet. We were up high enough to be afforded great views of the lake as we walked above it.
The lake was a stunning emerald green. Despite its gorgeous color, the water was incredibly reflective. The pines on the edge of the lake, the snowy mountains in the distance, and the puffy gray clouds overhead were all clearly visible in the lake. The shoreline was very curvaceous; giving the lake more of a personality, showing that each lake would be different from the last.
A couple minutes later we reached Third Lake. It was even more reflective than the last one. It was also a little longer, but still considerably smaller than Fifth Lake (the first one we saw). The color was more blue than green, unlike the previous lake.
I was surprised there were so few hikers on the trail considering its proximity to Jasper and the fact that it was a short and easy hike. The beginning of the trail was very scenic, too. The string of lakes was so close together that it only took us a couple minutes to walk from one to the next.
After a few minutes beside the alluring Third Lake we moved on to Second Lake. It was also just a few minutes down the pathway. The lake was very small. It was shallow and light green. The water was calm and reflected some pines on the shore.
Just past the lake we reached another trail junction. A path split off to the left. It was the same trail that we started on, and if we took it we would skip the other end of the valley loop and head straight back to the trailhead. The trail had been scenic, easy, and enjoyable so far so we agreed to carry on to the final lake. We would later regret that decision.
We quickly came to the northeastern edge of First Lake. This lake was much longer than the other four. In fact, it was probably longer than all of them put together. It was very thin, and surrounded by lodgepole pines like the others. The water was extremely still, creating a very tranquil setting. We walked through the woods beside the northern shore of the lake for quite a while. First Lake remained visible through the trees most of the way.
It took a little while, but we reached the end of the lake. Then I was a little confused, because the trail continued west past the lake. I was under the impression that the trail would follow around the lake and take us back to the original trail intersection and then return us to the trailhead. However, the path continued deeper into the thickening forest.
The trail became more undefined as we got farther from the last lake. We started to grow a little worried once we hadn’t seen the lake for about a half hour. We were hungry and afraid we were lost. I tried to reassure Ashley that we were fine and where we were supposed to be, but I feared I might have somehow gotten us lost.
After some more time on the trail I realized we had been hiking for over two hours. We had walked at a slow and leisurely pace when we passed the lakes, but we still should have finished the hike in that amount of time. I felt like we had certainly hiked more than three miles so far, which I thought was the total distance.
We grew increasingly frustrated and concerned as time went on. I couldn’t think of any place that I could have led us astray, but it sure felt like we must have gotten off course at some point.
What I didn’t know then was that the long trail around the lakes was actually almost five miles. I thought it was under three miles, but apparently that was the distance of the trail using the shortcut that did not loop around First Lake. Stretching the hike around the largest of the lakes nearly doubled the total distance. That understandably tacked on a decent amount of time and extra energy.
If we realized the trail was going to be longer at the time and didn’t think we were lost I’m sure we would have had no complaints. However, the way it happened, we were both nervous in our circumstance and hoped we weren’t in trouble. I felt terrible about the possibility of putting Ashley at risk. I feared that if things didn’t get better soon Ashley would never let me lead her on a hike again.
I guessed we had a couple hours of daylight remaining to find our way out of the woods. We quickened our pace and walked down the trail. It just so happened that within a few minutes we arrived at the original trail junction. We were actually just south of First Lake for the last mile or so, but the thick lodgepole pine forest hid it from view.
From the junction, we got back onto the original path and followed it to the wooden footbridge not far from the trailhead. We were both relieved. I felt awful for putting us in that situation, but thankfully everything turned out fine. Still, I felt bad for misjudging the hike and worrying both of us.
We crossed the bridge together and were soon back at the trailhead. By then we were both tired and hungry. We drove back up the Icefields Parkway to Jasper. Soon we parked in a large lot on Connaught Drive next to the train and bus station and walked across the street to a Pizza Hut.
A delicious pizza really hit the spot; especially after our scenic, yet frustrating hike. Once done with dinner, we retreated to the Athabasca Hotel. We both showered and relaxed in our hotel room for the remainder of the night.
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