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A 3 Day Backpacking Trip That Includes Egypt Lake

A 3 Day Backpacking Trip that Includes Egypt Lake

Lady luck was on my side when I booked a couple of campsites for my three day backpacking trip via Egypt Lake in the Canadian for two reasons – timing and epic wildflower displays.

The first was a miscommunication between Parks Canada, my husband and me. The dates got confused, the campsites weren’t what we wanted so we changed them and pushed them back a day – thereby missing a horrible rainstorm.

Secondly our timing was such that John and I caught the wildflowers – an epic, soul stirring, take-your-breath-away display, at their absolute peak.

Fantastic wildflower display at Gibbon Pass, Banff National Park

Fantastic wildflower display at Gibbon Pass

Our 3 day, 42 km backpacking trip from the Vista Lake Trailhead across Gibbon, Whistling and Healy Pass to Sunshine Village is one of the best hikes you can do in Banff National Park.

I decided that a one way trip was the way to go to maximize our viewing pleasure. The plan was to drive two cars to the mountains and organize a car shuttle. We’d leave one car at the parking lot at the Sunshine Village ski area and the other at the Vista Lake Trailhead, 8.4 kilometres southwest of Castle Junction on Highway 93. But I talked my niece – who is in Calgary for the summer and who has never been to Banff, to drop us off at the Vista Lake Trailhead, saving us a drive at the end of the trip.

Our backpacking plan in Banff National Park was as follows:

  • Day one: Hike 19.3 kilometres from the Vista Lake Trailhead over Gibbon Pass down to Shadow Lake; continue 5.3 kms to camp at the Ball Pass Junction.
  • Day two: Hike up Whistling Valley past Haiduk Lake to Whistling Pass. Descend steeply to the Egypt Lake campground. Total mileage of 10 kilometres.
  • Day three: Hike 3.0 kilometres up to Healy Pass and then descend 9.2 kilometres to the parking lot at Sunshine Village.

Day 1: Vista Lake Trailhead to Ball Pass Junction via Gibbon Pass

The first day was tough but beautiful. Right off the bat the scenery was excellent and continued that way until we began the steep, cheerless descent to Shadow Lake Lodge.

Highlights included Arnica Lake, Twin Lakes and the wildflowers and larches around Gibbon Pass. (This would be an amazing day hike to do in September when the larches change colour.) Shadow Lake itself is also beautiful.

The trail down to the lodge is very steep so watch your footing. Between Shadow Lake and the campground, it’s mostly flat walking following a stream – pretty but not in an epic sort of way. The Ball Pass Junction campsite is great – clean outhouse, private campsites and easy access to water. To bear proof your food you must hang it so bring a waterproof bag for that.

Vista Lake, Banff National Park

Vista Lake, Banff National Park

Climbing up from Vista Lake

I’m smiling as I’m only 3 kms into the hike

John looking out towards Kootenay National Park from the Arnica lake Trail

John looking out towards Kootenay National Park from the Arnica Lake Trail

Great views just before Gibbon Pass, Banff National Park

Great views just before Gibbon Pass

This is the only wildlife apart from birds and a mouse that we saw on the entire hike

This is the only wildlife apart from birds and a mouse that we saw on the entire hike

Descending Gibbon Pass through the wildflowers, Banff National Park

Descending Gibbon Pass through the wildflowers

Crossing over the outlet of Shadow Lake as it empties into Redearth Creek

Crossing over the outlet of Shadow Lake as it empties into Redearth Creek

Heading for Ball Pass Junction , Banff National Park

Heading for Ball Pass Junction

Day 2: The hike to Egypt Lake

Most of the hiking was delightful on the second day. There were plenty of peek-a-boo views as we made our way up the Whistling Valley Trail. You can see the pass way off in the distance.

Wildflowers were in abundance though they weren’t as plentiful as at Gibbon or Healy Pass. Haiduk Lake is a highlight – and far prettier than better known Egypt Lake. The climb up to Whistling Pass was steep at times and one patch of snow still remains. But the stellar views keep you going. The pass itself isn’t big but it sure is pretty.

The initial descent from the pass is easy on the knees, the last 1.9 kilometres less so. Egypt Lake Campground is big and spread apart yet you can still have a neighbour within speaking distance.

The outhouse is disgusting and it’s a hike to get to the cooking/food storage area. There is also a shelter – but I’d take my tent over the shelter. It needs some TLC. Still, the campsite is in a good location as a staging area to other hikes and it’s the easier choice for the second day out.

Leaving our campsite at Ball Pass Junction

Leaving our campsite at Ball Pass Junction

Walking through the wildflowers on the Whistling Valley Trail

Walking through the wildflowers on the Whistling Valley Trail

You can see Whistling Pass and even the trail way off in the distance

You can see Whistling Pass and even the trail way off in the distance

Haiduk Lake, Banff National Park

Haiduk Lake

Reflection in Haiduk Lake, Banff National Park

Reflection in Haiduk Lake

Hiking to Whistling Pass, Banff National Park

I’d take the climb on snow over the boulders any day

The fantastic view looking towards Egypt Lake from Whistling Pass

The fantastic view looking towards Egypt Lake from Whistling Pass

Egypt Lake is actually about a 10 minute hike away from the campground

Egypt Lake is actually about a 10 minute hike away from the campground

Egypt Lake Campsite

The view from our campsite

Day 3: Egypt Lake to Healey Pass and Sunshine Village

On the third day we waited out a thunderstorm before venturing from our tent. Fortunately it was over by 8 AM and we hit the trail by 10 AM.

It turned out to be an incredible morning of hiking. You can expect a sublime landscape from Egypt Lake to Healy Pass and beyond for several kilometres. The wildflowers carpet the meadows – and quite literally can be seen for miles. They are at their absolute peak so make every effort if you want to see this world-class display to get up here in the the third or fourth week of July.

The last six kilometres aren’t very interesting. But you can make good time as the grade is moderate. It was a relief to see the car – only because my feet and my shoulders were screaming at me by the end of the trip.

Wildflowers as far as the eye can see en route to Healy Pass, Banff National Park

Wildflowers as far as the eye can see en route to Healy Pass

Hiking through wildflowers to Healy Pass

Pretty amazing backdrop but the wildflowers make this hike

The view from Healy Pass , Banff National Park

The view from Healy Pass

Exceptional vistas on the Sunshine side of Healy Pass

Exceptional vistas on the Sunshine side of Healy Pass

A bit of drudgery on the last 6 kilometres

A bit of drudgery on the last 6 kilometres

On the drive out from Sunshine Village we saw a family of big horned sheep

On the drive out from Sunshine Village we saw a family of big horned sheep

If you just want to see the wildflowers at Healy Pass

For day-trippers hike up the road from the Sunshine Village parking area. Its 9.2 kilometres one way to reach the pass – though you don’t have to go nearly that far to be in a world of wildflowers.

Another option is to take the gondola and chairlift up from Sunshine Village and look for the Simpson Pass Trail. It’s actually a little longer to get to Healy Pass this way but it would make a great loop as you could return down the Healy Pass Trail.

If you’re interested in a backpacking trip to Egypt Lake

Reserve your campsite as far in advance as you can through Banff National Park. There are several other options but unless you want to do and out and back trip you’ll need to arrange a car shuttle.

Other trails that will eventually get you to Egypt Lake include Twin Lakes, Redearth, Honeymoon Pass Trail and Hawk Creek Trail. Buy a topographical map so you can see your options. We were asked on a couple of occasions for route finding help – not that it’s difficult but without a map it’s hard to get the myriad of trails in the area straight.

All told we gained approximately 1675 metres of elevation over the length of the trip.

Assume you will be hanging your food so the bears can’t get it. Carry bear spray. We were lucky and didn’t so much as see bear scat.

Bring clothes for all weather conditions.

The mosquitoes were awful on several occasions, especially at the Egypt Lake Campground. Bring bug repellent, a head net and long pants. A sense of humour also helps.

Let someone know where you’re going and when you’re expected to come out.

Bring some way of filtering your water. We drank at least 3 litres each the first day when it was hot.

For budgeting purposes assume the following at a minimum: map ($12.75), campsite reservation for two ($50.90), national park pass ($9.80/adult/day), food and gas.

This is one stellar backpacking experience – though perhaps not the best one to start off with in the season like we did.

More backpacking – hiking trips in Banff National Park you might enjoy:

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

The best backpacking trip in Canada for wildflowers

Thank you to Travel Alberta for sponsoring this post. I’d do it again even knowing I’d have sore shoulders, hips, and feet.

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 57,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 17 Comments
  1. Wow Leigh, these photos are stunning and I especially like the wildflowers and the water reflection photos. You did some serious hiking, especially the first day out. We walked the Camino de Santiago in the spring and we were so fortunate that the warm spring weather along with the rain presented us with such beautiful wild flowers along the way. Sometimes it’s just so hard to take it all in, isn’t it?!

    1. @Patti It was definitely a long day especially with a full back. It was such a treat to get the boots off and just sit and revel in eh glory of the mountains. Glad the Camino worked for you. My daughter is doing it right now (again) and having a horrible time with bed bugs galore.

  2. Looks like the hike would have been worth it for the gorgeous wildflowers alone. Banff must be a totally amazing park from what I’ve been seeing in your wonderful posts, Leigh. One of these days, I’ll get there with your posts and book as a guide.

  3. Wow, Beautiful photos of the nature and landscapes in this area. I haven´t visited Canada yet but would love to see the great outdoors someday.

  4. Good question! I’ve done back country in Waterton and Jasper, but never in Banff National Park. This was looks superb. I can not believe the wildflowers are so brilliant. Looks like a wildflower display at Buchart Gardens!

  5. Leigh – as usual you’re adventures in the lands of postcard-quality landscapes amaze. I feel like this is a mommy/daddy only hike that maybe we can drag the little guy on when he’s older. Maybe a good starting point will be to try the first leg of the journey as a starter.

    1. @Miranda It may feel like a long time away but you’d be surprised at how young you can take kids on hikes where you can both enjoy it. By about 8, an overnight should be doable in this area.

  6. Looks like an amazing hiking trip – WOW those views!! We just spent a bit of time hiking throughout Alaska, and had very similar sights and experiences – would definitely love to get to Banff though – the wildflowers are so beautiful!! And we didn’t have those in Alaska!

    Great tips re the bear spray – my husband is a keen wildlife photographer though so he would probably end up trying to seek them out :S!!

    Thanks for such a great post – your photos have inspired some serious wanderlust for Banff!

    1. @Meg Glad to hear it re wanderlust. Although there are bears, I really have not seen them hiking whereas in BC I saw them frequently. I think talking a lot helps with the bears and the bigger the group the better. I think they’re well fed this year.

  7. Hi there!! I’m just wondering if there is a fire pit or if fires are permitted at Egypt lake campground? Great description on your adventure!’ I can’t wait to go!

  8. Hi,

    Thanks for sharing your experience with us! I am planning to do a similar hike in the area. I was wondering what time of the year was your trip. I would like to see the wildflowers.

    Thanks!

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