Lady Luck was on my side when I booked a couple of campsites for my three day backpacking trip to Egypt Lake in Banff National Park starting at the Vista Lake Trailhead and finishing at the Sunshine Village parking lot – timing and epic wildflower displays.
The first was a miscommunication between Parks Canada, my husband and me. The dates got confused and the campsites on the Egypt Lake hike 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. Despite the bugs, I would aim to do this hike in mid- late July for the wildflowers alone.
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Backpacking to Egypt Lake summary
Distance: 40.4 km (25.1 miles) with a shuttle starting at the Vista Lake trailhead and finishing at Sunshine Village
Elevation gain: 1,730 m (5,670 feet) as you must cross Gibbon, Whistling and Healy Passes.
Trailhead location: The Vista Lake trailhead is on Highway 93, 8.4 km southwest of Castle Junction.
Trailhead elevation: 1,695 metres or 5,560 feet
Campsite reservations: Reservations open on March 22, 2023 at 8 AM MST.
Level of difficulty: Moderate but may be hard for some depending on your fitness level.
Time needed: Two to three days
Best time to hike: Early July to mid-September. You’ll get wildflowers over the last two weeks of July and larches in mid to late September.
Map needed: Gem Trek Banff and Mt. Assiniboine. 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.
Dogs allowed: Yes, on a leash.
Options to get to Egypt Lake: Other trails that will eventually get you to Egypt Lake include:
- Twin Lakes Trail – hike 8.4 km from the Twin Lakes trail to meet the trail to Gibbons Pass and eventually Egypt Lake. It’s 0.7 km longer than the hike described in this blog.
- Redearth and Pharaoh Creek – 39.6 km as an out and back hike
- Honeymoon Pass Trail (starts on Highway 93 near Vermilion River Crossing) – Approximately 21.4 km to Egypt Lake and then 12.2 km to Sunshine Village
- Hawk Creek Trail (starts on Highway 93 across from the Floe Lake trailhead) – 14.4 km to the campsite at Ball Pass Junction and then a further 11.4 km to Egypt Lake
Before you go: Check trail conditions.
Don’t forget: Leave no trace, packing out everything you pack in.
- Check the Parks Canada website for trail updates. Campsites do get closed periodically if there is bear activity in the area.
- Be sure to carry the hiking essentials in your backpack. Let someone know where you’re going and when you’re expected to come out.
- Be bear aware and carry easy to access bear spray.
- Be prepared for all types of weather, even in summer.
- 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.
Booking campsites for the Egypt Lake hike
To book a campsite visit this backcountry camping page on the Banff National Park website. Reservations open on March 22, 2023 at 8 AM MST.
For the trip we did we booked the Ball Pass Junction campsite and Egypt Lake campsite.
If you didn’t get the campsite reservation you were looking for, don’t give up. Be the first to know when there is a campsite cancellation for your desired trip dates by visiting Schnerp.
Our 3-day, 42 km backpacking trip from the Vista Lake Trailhead across Gibbon, Whistling and Healy Pass via Egypt Lake 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 hiking 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. I talked my niece who was 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.
Location map of the Egypt Lake hike and backpacking trip
Egypt Lake backpacking trip, Banff National Park description
Day one Vista Lake TH to Ball Pass Junction campsite: Hike 14.o km in total from the Vista Lake Trailhead over Gibbon Pass down to Shadow Lake. Continue 5.3 km to camp at the Ball Pass Junction. Total mileage of 19.3 km.
Day two Ball Pass Junction campsite to Egypt Lake: Hike up Whistling Valley past Haiduk Lake to Whistling Pass. Descend steeply to the Egypt Lake campground. Total mileage of 10 km.
Day three Egypt Lake to Sunshine Village: Hike 3.0 km up to Healy Pass and then descend 9.2 km to the parking lot at Sunshine Village.
Day 1: Vista Lake Trailhead to Ball Pass Junction via Gibbon Pass
Total mileage: 19.3 km
Elevation gain: Approximately 610 m or 2,000 feet
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 the hike to Arnica Lake, Twin Lakes, and the wildflowers and larches around Gibbon Pass. (This is an area to hike to in September when the larches change colour.) Shadow Lake itself is also beautiful.
The trail down to Shadow Lake Lodge (now owned by the Alpine Club of Canada) 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.
Day 2: Hike from Ball Pass Junction to Egypt Lake campground
Mileage: About 10 km so there’s time in the evening to 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 remained. 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 km less so. Egypt Lake Campground is big and spread apart yet you can still have a neighbour within speaking distance.
The disgusting outhouse has been replaced with barrel type toilets since I did the backpacking trip. There are now numbered metal food lockers for campers to store food and toiletries but it’s still a hike to get to the cooking/food storage area. 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.
Day 3: Egypt Lake hike to Healey Pass and Sunshine Village
Mileage: 12.2 km
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 6 km 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.
If you just want to see the wildflowers at Healy Pass
One 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.
For day-trippers, hike up the road from the Sunshine Village parking area. Its 9.2 km one way to reach the pass – though you don’t have to go nearly that far to be in a world of wildflowers.
What to take on your Egypt Lake hike
I put a bear vault in my pack and it worked well. It can also provides you with something to sit on.
Bring some way of filtering your water. We drank at least 3 litres each the first day when it was hot.
An ultra-light camp chair would make the evenings more comfortable.
I recommend taking some gear air tape in case you rip a tent or jacket.
If you’re prone to blisters, I highly recommend Compeed. It’s expensive but it works – and my go to after a soggy hike on the West Highland Way in Scotland.
For wildflower fans, you might enjoy a copy of Popular Wildflowers of Alberta and the Canadian Rockies.
If you’re interested in supporting me more, consider purchasing 200 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta.
Where to stay before of after the hike
Lake Louise area
In the Lake Louise area check out Baker Creek by Basecamp along the Bow River Parkway, The Mountaineer Lodge in Lake Louise Village, and the Lake Louise Hostel.
If it’s luxury you’re after, check out the Post Hotel & Spa.
If you want to spend a night or two in Banff, before or after the hike, the following are some great options across a variety of price points.
The Sunshine Mountain Lodge, accessible via the gondola from where you finish the hike would be an excellent choice. You could then do a day hike up to Citadel Pass.
The Banff Alpine Centre Hostel is an affordable way to stay in Banff.
The Moose Hotel & Suites is my favourite Banff hotel within walking distance of loads of restaurants and shops.
The Dorothy Hotel is a boutique motel offering simple accommodation.
Further reading on backpacking trips in Banff National Park
- The Glacier Lake Hike in Banff National Park
- The Hike to Fish Lakes via North Molar Pass
- Backpacking to Baker Lake, Skoki Area, Banff National Park
- Hiking the Skoki Loop, Banff National Park
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Thank you to Travel Alberta for sponsoring this post. I’d do it again even knowing I’d get sore shoulders, hips, and feet.