7 - 8
FATMAP difficulty grade
The Owen Creek Trail is a lightly used trail in Banff National Park.
This is also the start point for Section E of the Great Divide Trail (GDT).
This route is long and challenging and to make it to Pinto Lake before nightfall, you need an early start.
For GDT hikers this isn't too difficult, as you will most likely be staying at Saskatchwan River Crossing.
But for section hikers, it can be difficult to start before midday if you are having to shuttle cars or commute from Edmonton or Calgary.
For that reason, I would enter into this route with a flexible schedule, there is time over the following days to make up for any distance you don't cover here.
The hike up Owen Creek is difficult with a heavy backpack.
The trail follows the creek all the way into the alpine.
The creek sits in a gully, with steep, loose sidewalls that are very difficult to hike on.
The best option here is to hike up the side of the creek and try to keep your feet dry. Once you hit the alpine the terrain improves and so do the views.
As you cross over the first pass you begin the descent down to the spectacular Michelle Lakes.
This is a beautiful area and is well worth a visit. Some people do choose to camp here as you are now outside of the National Park so wild camping is permitted, but it's a long way from Pinto Lake, so I wouldn't consider it unless you are spending an extra day on trail.
The ascent up from Michelle Lakes leads you to the highest point on the entire GDT.
The views from here are magnificent and if you have the time, it's well worth a quick side trip up to the peak for an even better view of Michelle Lakes.
Once you descend into the next valley, I would consider making a decision on where you plan to camp.
If you have time then continuing to Pinto Lake is the ideal option, but if you are feeling tired or are short on time, then camping here is the next best option.
There's one final pass to climb before following the well defined trail down to the picturesque Pinto Lake.
This is a fabulous place to camp with stunning views of the lake.
Most of this trail is in a wilderness area, so there's no defined campgrounds apart from at Pinto Lake, which doesn't require any reservations.
Due to the wild nature of this trail, it's essential to practice 'Leave no Trace' Principles and have a plan for food storage.
The tree's here aren't great for hanging a food bag, so a bear proof bag/container is a much easier solution.