First epic trip of 2018 Rockies Hiking season. Not in terms of difficulty, but in sense of finally visiting the area I wanted for a long time. Each spring means Aylmer Lookout
tradition trip, starting from west end of Lake Minnewanka. Leaving the main trail at LM8 campground I always wondered how it would be to visit the far side of the lake and continue over Ghost Lakes to east boundary of Banff National Park. I almost backpacked -- but it is fairly long (~50km return and likely 3 day trip); I opted for day hike instead, starting from Ghost area in Alberta Foothills. The only time I've been to Ghost before was Black Rock mountain hike > 10 years ago and memories have sufficiently faded to provide additional interest.
Problem with Ghost is access. Final part of the drive in is 16km Trans-Alta utility road with waves of potholes and some steep sections. It is still feasible for low clearance cars, but the ride is rough (and slow, if you value your vehicle). Without 4x4 usual parking is top of "Big Hill" -- just before the road plunges towards Ghost River flats. High clearance trucks are able to continue for another 3.5km to Banff National Park boundary and official trailhead - although during spring runoffs crossing of Ghost River might be tricky and vehicles often get stuck.
I parked on Big Hill and continued on foot. Ghost River, that usually dries out later in the summer, was flowing quite fast. Ford was only 8-10m long and mid-calf deep, but I forgot the sandals and had to do it in hiking boots which meant having wet feet right from the start. After crossing the flats through piles of gun shells left by people that consider firearm shooting form of recreation, I climbed the berm then turned right and soon reached BNP boundary (several nice campsites). No motorized vehicles are allowed past this point. First Ghost lake is ~30 minutes away. Main trail skirts on the left (south) side and stays mostly in the forest, while the "Dunes trail" splits to the right and rejoins the main trail after crossing Devil's Gap and usually dried out flats of the first lake. Second Ghost Lake is about 4km from BNP trailhead. There are no good views from the trail, so I dropped to the beach and had lunch break in company of 2 wild geese feeding in the shallow pools. Beyond second lake the journey becomes very scenic. Carrot creek junction is reached soon after. Old weathered park table is still here but is falling apart and won't likely be around for much longer. Third Ghost lake is just ahead; I left the trail and walked on the beach, before rejoining on the north side. Third lake was the most beautiful, deep blue color with nice reflections of Saddle peak in still water. Set of cairns marks the way through washout just past third Ghost Lake. Trail becomes very scenic approaching Lake Minnewanka, winding its way through typical Montane environment. In many ways this section is what front ranges and BNP are all about to me!
I dropped to the beach on Minnewanka east end before turning back. Narrows could be seen and LM20 campground was ~2km away; I regretted for not taking overnight gear as I could have had this great area to myself. Photo Story:
[Ghost River crossing below "Big Hill" in spring -- faster and deeper in the evening! Black Rock upper center right, Devil's Head left]
[First Ghost Lake dried out marsh from rock slide on south side. "Dunes Trail" joins the main trail here]
[Canadian Wild Geese feeding in drying marsh at west side of second Ghost Lake]
[Saddle Peak reflected in third Ghost Lake -- the largest and beautiful blue color]
[Looking west across Lake Minnewanka towards the Narrows from East End]
Return was fast with tricky ford of Ghost river that has risen and became faster and murky due to rising temperatures. It was fairly tricky with depth over the knee at one point but I made it without losing balance. Be weary of this bit if you plan on visiting Ghost in the spring! Also note that entire length of Minnewanka trail has seasonal grizzly bear restrictions
(July 10 - September 15); it extends all the way to Park Boundary and is posted at park table on east end.
Stats: ~24 km return, 8 hrs, 200m vertical (Big Hill Start)
Much more high-res photos, map and downloadable GPS track here