Michelle Lakes - Backcountry Trip - Matt Snell Photography

The Michelle Lakes are two alpine lakes situated between Banff National Park and the White Goat Wilderness Area. The appeal of visiting this location was its remote location, the views and the fishing. Starting at the border of Banff National Park, we hiked for 18km and 1250m until we found ourselves in the alpine and what would be our home base for a few incredible days and nights.

Day 1

Our first day began with a morning start from the Owen Creek Trailhead, located just at the East Gate of Banff National Park along Hwy 11. The weather was looking great, the temperatures were perfect for hiking and there was very little smoke visible (a blessing after the endless days of smoke filled skies this summer). The trail followed alongside the creek, through forests, in the creek-bed, through boulder piles and steep banks. All providing quite a variety of scenery as we gained elevation into the alpine.

Getting to the point of being out of the treeline and in the alpine proved to be more work than I had anticipated. For whichever reason (probably the lack of sleep and coffee from the previous nights photoshoot), I had in my mind that the hike in to our campsite was a casual 7 or 8kms with about 700m elev. Well I was wrong, and as previously mentioned it was about double that amount, in both elevation and distance. With the heavy overnight packs it was a welcome sight to make it to the highest point of the day. I love alpine landscapes and this one was no exception. As we rounded the hill we finally laid eyes on Upper Michelle Lake and our final destination was within reach.

Picking our campsite was a no brainer this time around, with howling winds (it was seriously windy all weekend!) we picked a nice sheltered ledge on the head-wall between upper and lower Michelle Lakes. There was also a gorgeous waterfall adjacent to our campsite that provided our water and a nice ambiance throughout the weekend. After setting up camp I set off to scout some shooting locations and set our next days plans before settling into the tent for a chilly and windy night. 

Day 2

The plan for day 2 was to explore Lower Michelle Lake, the waterfall at the end, and possibly hike down the valley to some further waterfalls. As it turned out, the waterfall at the end of Michelle Lake was MASSIVE. While half of our group went fishing, Peter and I free climbed down a chimney hoping to find a way to the valley bottom but it eventually became a little too sketchy for our liking without the proper protection. Instead we climbed back to the top and enjoyed the expansive views. And all too common this summer, we watched as a large plume of smoke rose into the sky as a forest fire started. 



Later in the day the weather was gorgeous and we decided to head back to the lake for some fishing - I tagged along to photograph and go for a dip in the lake! Like any alpine lake it was FREEZING and it took a few attempts of diving in to capture the image.

Our second night unfortunately didn't pan out weather wise for the shots I had planned in my mind. We woke up to some rainy weather but it didn't take long to clear and the wind had finally died down! This was the morning we had to hike out to the trailhead, Peter and I had scouted out a location high up on a ridge above both of the lakes to reach as a detour. It was a bit of extra effort but so worth it, these were my favourite images from the trip. Dramatic skies, blue alpine lakes, beautiful peaks, and clouds filling the far valley below - unforgettable scenery to say the least. 

After taking in this incredible sight we continued on and made the long trek out. The views looking south in the valley were gorgeous in the morning light and great to take in as we hiked into the tree line. 

Overall I would say the Michelle Lakes is an extremely rewarding backcountry destination. I will be going back again in hopes of better weather and to further explore what it has to offer. Thanks for reading, if you have any questions about the trip, access, my gear or the area just drop me a line!

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