On our trip to climb Mount Fryatt we passed through the Geraldine Lakes hiking route. I thought the area deserved a separate hiking trip report - it's that beautiful! Like anything worthwhile though, you're going to have to pay to enjoy the benefits of the Geraldine Lakes. Although it's a mind-blowing experience of alpine lakes with loons giving their haunting calls, waterfalls plunging down rocky faces, acres and acres of wild flowers and peaks soaring over 11,000 feet it's also an area of relentless bugs, mud, boulders and bears.
For families with young or inexperienced kids I wouldn't bother with this hike at all. The first lake isn't really worth it on its own and already had plenty of tree roots and slimy muck on the approach - and this is the best maintained part of the trail! Save your vehicle the rough 5.5km approach road from the highway and enjoy other hikes in Jasper that are more suited to runners and day packs.
If you have good hiking footwear (i.e. not flip flops or runners!), a keen sense of adventure and a nose for directions this trail is for you. Make sure you bring a good camera and flower lens - you'll need them.
Start up the trail for the first lake. This trail will have some muddy sections - possibly even VERY muddy. Quickly you'll reach the first lake (2km) and start around it's right edge on a root-filled rolling 'trail'. The first lake has fish in it and is worth it as a fishing destination - but not as a hiking endpoint. The views from the shoreline are mediocre at best. You need to go much higher and further to really enjoy the scenery.
[As we approach the first lake the trail is already deteriorating a bit.]
[Traversing on climber's right along the first lake.]
After the first lake you'll get to the second one via some scrambly bits though bush and some boulder hopping / mud. This is just the very beginning - if you don't enjoy boulders you should NOT continue. We had to deal with avalanche debris just before the 2nd lake. The 'lake' is just a small pond so don't expect anything too dramatic yet. You'll spot a large waterfall coming down from the 3rd lake and this is the first worthwhile endpoint IMO. But you have a ways to go before you get to enjoy it...
[Boulder hopping begins after the first lake already!!]
[Some nice falls in the stream coming from the 2nd to the 1st lake.]
[Looking back at the first Geraldine Lake from the ascent to the 2nd.]
[Here's where you cross the outflow of the 2nd lake to climber's left, on avalanche and scree debris following signage.]
Skirt over to the climber's left side of the 2nd lake, following yellow labeled signs on metal poles across the outflow boulders. More boulders lead into trees / bush / avi debris and a fairly decent trail towards the waterfall and a steep hill guarding access to the third lake.
[Telephoto of the large waterfall coming down the headwall from the third lake - taken from the 2nd lake. The hiking trail goes up on climber's left on scree slopes.]
[The second lake is quite small. The trail is rough on rocks and boulders and through some bush.]
[Panorama looking back along the 2nd Geraldine Lake. Click for full size.]
[Uncleared avalanche debris between the 2nd lake and the waterfall. This would be a very tough section for kids or inexperienced hikers with large packs! It reminded me of canoe trips I've been on. Imagine lugging a bloody CANOE through here!! :-)]
[The waterfall starts looking smaller when you gain the hiking trail up the headwall on it's left side.]
After checking out the waterfall you owe it to yourself to check out the 3rd and largest lake. This isn't free access - you have to gain over 100 meters of elevation on a steep, hard scree track running up climber's left of the waterfall. This track is rough but very obvious and even marked with a few marker signs. Remember, you have to come down this way too. This is the first place where improper footwear will really hurt you on the way down. After grunting up the scree trail you'll top a small rise through stunted trees and get your first glimpse of the 3rd lake. It's a gorgeous setting with Geraldine Peak rising across to your right. Once again though - this isn't the best that Geraldine Lakes has to offer.
[Looking back from the top of the scree grunt. The first lake is just visible far below. Geraldine Peak rises out of sight to the left.]
[View of the 3rd lake from the near-end. It's a LONG way to the far end which is where the campground is.]
You're going to hate boulder hopping after this (remember you have to come all the way back!) but to enjoy really sublime views you have to continue all the way around the 3rd lake on climber's left - this is also the route to the campground at the far end. Take it from me - boulder hopping with an overnight pack is not easy... The boulders get long after awhile but eventually you will end up at the far end of the 3rd lake. Now the trail becomes difficult.
[Boulder hopping isn't SO bad under this beautiful sunshine but when the rocks get wet the green lichen makes them very treacherous and almost impossible to hike over safely. Remember this when planning your trip or attempting the traverse along the 3rd lake.]
[Getting near the end of the lake.]
[Gorgeous Geraldine Peak on the left and the 3rd lake. Click to view full size.]
The terrain between the 3rd and 4th lake is not for the faint of heart. Downed trees, mud, raging streams and very faint trails make this an adventure! You should always be on a trail of some sort or following cairns, but you will be in such thick growth that your feet will have to feel out the trail in places! Don't discourage though. The final complication to the 4th lake is re-crossing the stream to climber's right at the outflow - not easy with high or fast water but it can be done with judicious use of hiking poles and rock / log hopping! :-)
[See what I mean? Not for the faint of heart...]
[Getting an impression? :)]
[It's a little bushy between the 3rd and 4th lakes... ;-)]
[Thankfully there's lots of water on route - we drank from the streams with no issues but you have to decide for yourself if you trust the water. It's cold and fresh and tastes so good on a hot day!]
[Re-crossing the stream at the outflow of the 4th lake. See how the terrain is opening up as you approach treeline? Mount Fryatt looms in the distance - over 11,000 feet high!]
When you finally get to the 4th lake you have arrived at a paradise on earth. Wildflowers start showing up in earnest and towering peaks, including Mount Fryatt and Geraldine are reflected in it's blue waters. Since you've come this far you might as well check out the final and most impressive gem - the 5th lake.
[The fourth lake is simply awesome. Click for full size.]
[Panorama from the end of the fourth lake (looking back). Click for view full size.]
Follow the trail around the 4th lake and eventually work your way up to the 5th and 2nd largest of the Geraldine Lakes. Greenish blue waters shimmering in the sun along with carpets and acres of wildflowers will take your breath away. The reflections of surrounding snow-covered peaks and towering rocky cliffs adds to the scene. To experience the best part of this valley you must continue around the 5th lake and work your way up the end valley until you spot a small waterfall as you walk through a paradise of flowers along a small stream (some hints of a trail but not always obvious).
[Arriving at the fifth and final of the Geraldine Lakes.]
[THIS is what you came for! In July the flowers would be even more stunning. Mount Fryatt in the background.]
[Pano of the 5th lake. Click for full size.]
If you have the energy you should continue up open slopes above the small waterfall (trail on climber's right) - don't bother following trails above the waterfall, simply work your way above treeline through meadows of the most concentrated expanse of wildflowers that I have ever seen - truly remarkable! Once up these slopes you will have views of the 3rd, 4th and 5th Geraldine Lakes and epic panoramas of the alpine areas all around you. The major downside of the alpine will be BUGS. Unless it's September and you've had a hard freeze they will likely be absolutely relentless above treeline.
[The meadows upstream of the 5th lake are remarkable and unique. Treat them with respect - not a lot of folks make it back here and it's a wild and beautiful place with hardly any signs of humans - let's keep it that way.]
[The waterfall at the end of a small draw is the icing on the cake.]
[Looking back down on the 5th lake. Geraldine Peak on the left.]
[Once again - the alpine meadows above the 5th lake are an amazing place. I have to come back in July for the flowers (this is taken in late August...) Mount Fryatt in the background.]
[Looking back at the 3rd, 4th and 5th lakes from the alpine meadows.]
[The alpine meadows are a lovely spot to have lunch - just beware the bugs!]
After enjoying all this goodness you are a LONG way from you car (10+km) and have an epic hike back - but also a camera and mind full of great memories and views. I've done a lot of hikes around the Rockies and for hard-core hikers this one's a winner for sure.