There are few hidden gems in the Canadian Rockies yet to be discovered by many. Michelle Lakes is one of those gems. Upper Michelle lakes is only 11 or so km from the trailhead on the David Thompson highway in Clearwater County. The Michelle Lakes trail via Owen Creek is also part of the Great Divide Trail (GDT) which is a 1,130 km trail that essentially runs the length of the Canadian Rockies north to south, following roughly the continental divide.
The 50 km section of trail we tackled on this trip began at the Owen Creak trail head through Michelle Lakes, Pinto Lake, and ending at Norman creek Trailhead along the Icefields Parkway (highway 93n).
The elevation gained climbing towards Michelle Lakes is the highest point of the entire 1,130 km GDT. The altitude and it’s proximity to neighbouring icefields along the Icefields Parkway – not to mention Wilson glacier – makes for a really small hiking season here. Our camp fell to nearly -10 degrees the first night. We woke up to frozen puddles around our tents.
Michelle Lakes boats one of the most magnificent backcountry venues I’ve ever had the privilege of visiting. Our small group of five were the only hikers there that night. We climbed over the unnamed pass the next morning and headed into the next valley before ascending and descending the next pass leading to Pinto Lake.
The hiking from Michelle Lakes to Pinto lake is all world class. Climbing up unnamed passes and in the shadow of some of the biggest mountains in the Canadian Rockies. We set camp at Pinto Lake for the night before eventually making our way out towards the Icefields Parkway where we had arranged a pickup.
There is another way to approach Michelle Lakes. The alternative route is a more gradual climb and apparently just as scenic. I’ll definitely be returning to Michelle Lakes again next summer and when I do, I’ll try it from the other valley over.
– Photos and words by Ryan Richardson