On the Valley of the Five Lakes trail, you’ll pass right by FIVE sparkling glacial lakes in a short, relatively easy loop. It’s no surprise this is one of the most popular day hikes in Jasper National Park! We put together this trail guide so you know exactly what to expect.
Jaw-droppingly gorgeous hikes are practically the norm in Alberta, Canada’s Jasper National Park. However, few come with as much bang for the buck as Valley of the Five Lakes.
As its name implies, this day hike offers up a whopping five jewel-toned glacial lakes, each one surrounded by postcard-worthy alpine scenery. Picture pristine, Caribbean-blue water that’s mirror-still, perfectly reflecting the mountains towering above.
The best part about the Valley of the Five Lakes hike? It’s short and (mostly) sweet, and the trail is close to Jasper Townsite, right off the Icefields Parkway. You can’t beat this hike’s incredible effort-to-reward ratio!
- Valley of the Five Lakes trail stats
- Hike overview
- Know before you go
- The route
- Tips for hiking Valley of the Five Lakes
- What to pack
Valley of the Five Lakes trail stats
- Location: Jasper National Park
- Distance: 3-mile loop
- Elevation gain: 528 feet
- Difficulty rating: Moderate
- Timing: 2-3 hours
- Pets: Leashed dogs welcome
- Permits: No trail permits required
- View the trail notes
Valley of the Five Lakes hike overview
Just a short, scenic 10-minute drive from Jasper Townsite, you’ll find the absolutely beautiful, pristine Valley of the Five Lakes.
After a short but somewhat steep climb to get up to the main loop trail, you’ll enjoy an easy-going, gorgeous hike around five glassy, crystal clear lakes. Each one is somehow more impressive than the last, showing off a kaleidoscope of greens and blues.
You have options for hiking clockwise or counter-clockwise, as well as extending your distance to see more of the first or last lakes.
That, combined with the fact that the trail is easily accessible and well-marked, makes it (understandably!) one of the most popular hikes in Jasper. Plus, you can take a dip in one of the lakes on hot summer days!
Things to know before you go
Although the Valley of the Five Lakes hike is fairly easy and short, there are several things to consider before actually hitting the trail.
Best time of year for the Valley of the Five Lakes hike
Valley of the Five Lakes is one of those gems of a hike that’s amazing—and accessible—year-round. There are reasons to hike this trail in all four seasons!
The BEST time overall is summer, when the weather is often sunny, the lakes are at their most vibrant blue-green, and you can take a dip to cool off.
With that said, however, Valley of the Five Lakes is also a popular snowshoeing route in the winter. And it’s a great hike in late fall and spring, when higher elevation trails in Jasper are covered in snow and inaccessible.
Keep in mind that the lakes do freeze in the winter and well into spring, typically thawing in early to mid-June. While this is a gorgeous sight to see, you won’t get those stunning reflections in the crystal clear blue-green water when the lakes are frozen over.
How long does it take to hike the Valley of the Five Lakes?
Plan on spending 2-3 hours hiking Valley of the Five Lakes. The two main factors that affect this are the specific route you hike, as well as your individual speed.
If you’re a speedy hiker and you opt for the shortest “main” loop, you could be done in well under two hours. On the other hand, if you take one of the extended loops, you hike at a slower pace, or you spend a lot of time taking photos, you could be looking at 3-3.5 hours.
How difficult is the Valley of the Five Lakes hike?
The Valley of the Five Lakes hike is on the easier side of moderate. Other than the initial steep section and switchbacks on the way up to the main loop, there’s nothing overly challenging or technical on the trail.
There are a few sections where you’ll need to navigate around or over tree roots and large rocks, especially after recent rain. But overall, the path is wide, smooth, and well-used.
You’ll likely see lots of families with young children on the trail. In fact, because of its relative easiness and the gorgeous scenery, this makes an excellent first hike.
Obtaining a permit for your Valley of the Five Lakes hike
You don’t need a permit to hike Valley of the Five Lakes specifically, but you DO need an entry pass for Jasper National Park.
This could be either the annual Parks Canada Discovery Pass, or simply paying the single-day admission into the park, which starts at $10.50 per adult.
Wildlife on the trail
Both black and grizzly bears live in the area around the Valley of the Five Lakes, and sightings along the trail are not at all uncommon. This is especially true in the spring and fall, when they’re foraging for berries nearby.
It’s a good idea to carry bear spray and practice general bear safety, like making plenty of noise on the trail. If you do spot a bear (or any other wildlife, for that matter), keep a safe distance and give it plenty of room to go on its way.
We broke down the route for hiking the Valley of the Five Lakes trail into parts to give you an idea of what to expect on the route.
From the large parking lot, look for trailhead 9a near the outhouse bathrooms. The trail is wide and well-marked here, and you’ll quickly enter the forest for the first stretch.
Right after you cross over the Wabasso Creek Bridge at 0.55 miles in (.09 kilometers), you’ll come to a section of switchbacks. Don’t worry, it’s very obvious and well-marked!
If you’ve previously hiked Valley of the Five Lakes but it’s been several years, this stretch will likely look totally new to you. Parks Canada renovated the trail in 2017, transforming what was one steep uphill section into these gentler switchbacks.
When you come to the 4-way trail junction, choose which direction to hike. It seems most people, us included, hike the trail clockwise (hopping on trail 9b, then later reconnecting with 9a). This takes you to each lake in numeric order, and leads to the first lake quickly.
However, you do have options and there’s certainly no wrong way to do it!
Another reason to hike Valley of the Five Lakes clockwise is that the views get increasingly better when you start from the first lake!
The first lake is the largest, but it also has the least impressive (most obstructed) views. In fact, online reviews indicate that some hikers turn around here, disappointed at the peek-a-boo views of the lake through trees and brush.
Unless you’re specifically looking for a longer hike, don’t spend too much time here. Instead, continue clockwise on to lakes three and four, which are by far the most scenic.
With that said, if you want a longer day on the trail, take a left on trail 9 at the junction. This will loop you completely around the far side of the first lake before reconnecting with trail 9a, adding about 1.5 miles to your total hike distance.
Again, the views from this first lake truthfully aren’t the best on the trail, but it will add some distance to your hike without much additional effort.
Regardless of how you choose to hike to or around the first lake, you’ll eventually find yourself at a T-shaped junction where trails 9a and 9b meet, between the first and second lakes.
To continue on the main Valley of the Five Lakes trail, go clockwise (right if you’re doing the short loop and straight if you hiked all the way around lake one) on 9a.
The second lake is the smallest, and you’ll quickly see two, three, and four, one right after the other. Each of the lakes has a different depth and therefore different shades of blues and greens, so it’s worth stopping for photos at each.
There are even two iconic red Parks Canada adirondack chairs set up between the third and fourth lakes, setting the scene for an amazing photo op!
As you continue on the clockwise loop, the edge of Lake Five will be on your left (the trail doesn’t loop you around this one).
This lake has a small but super photogenic dock, and there are sometimes row boats near it. It’s also the most popular lake for taking a quick swim on hot days.
To finish hiking Valley of the Five Lakes, stay on trail 9a when you reconnect with the trail junction again. Retrace your steps back to the parking lot, descending the switchbacks and crossing the bridge over the creek.
If you want to extend the hike here, some people also walk part or all of the way around the fifth lake. You could also make the loop around the first lake at the end of your hike, rather than at the beginning.
Tips for hiking Valley of the Five Lakes
- Try to plan your hike for a sunny day. The incredible color of the lakes is most vibrant when the sun is shining.
- The lakes will be fuller in early fall. Again, there’s no “bad” time to hike Valley of the Five Lakes, but the lakes themselves have significantly more water in early to mid-summer, thanks to snowmelt and runoff.
- Take a picture of the trail map before setting out. With various trail junctions and several loop options, signage along the Valley of the Five Lakes trail can be a bit confusing. Snap a quick picture of the trail map so you have a visual.
- Start early, or go later. Like many other stops along the Icefields Parkway, this hike gets BUSY. Start your hike very early in the morning, or wait until late afternoon, after most other hikers have finished for the day.
- Pack bug spray. With all those lakes, it should come as no surprise that the mosquitoes and other biting insects can be brutal.
- If you plan to swim, brace yourself. Remember, all five lakes are glacial…which means they’re FREEZING cold, even in the peak of summer.
What to pack for hiking Valley of the Five Lakes
- Navigation: we recommend using Alltrails+ to download the offline trail map
- Get your first week of using Alltrails+ for FREE when you sign up using our link!
- Hiking daypack
- Water bottles and/or bladder for your Camelbak
- Bear spray: both black and brown bears are found in Jasper National Park
- Bug repellant
- Sun protection: sunscreen, hat, sun glasses
- Camera/tripod (this one’s our favorite for hiking)
- Lots of layers (here is a great resource if you’re wondering what to wear hiking)
- Rain jacket
- Comfortable hiking boots or shoes
- Hiking poles (optional)
- Battery pack (if you are relying on your phone)
- Plenty of snacks: check out our favorite hiking snacks here!
Be sure to download our FREE hiking packing list before your next trip and never leave another essential behind again!
You may also like…
- 10 Best National Parks in Canada
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- Best Hikes in Jasper National Park, Canada
- Grassi Lakes Trail Guide: Alberta, Canada
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We want to hear from you!
Have you ever hiked the Valley of the Five Lakes trail in Jasper National Park, Canada? What was your experience like? Do you have more questions about doing the hike? Comment below and let us know!