A Backpacking Trip to Egypt Lake

One of the premier hikes in Banff National Park

The stunning wildflower display at Healey Pass
The stunning wildflower display at Healey Pass

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.

I’d had a miscommunication between Parks Canada, my husband and me. Our 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.

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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Heading for Haiduk Lake
Heading for Haiduk Lake

Backpacking to Egypt Lake useful information

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 January 29, 2024 at 8 AM MST. 

Level of difficulty: Moderate to hard, 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. The mosquitoes were awful on several occasions (mid-July), especially at the Egypt Lake Campground. Bring bug repellent, a head net and long pants. A sense of humour also helps.

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. I’d recommend Organic Maps for an offline app.

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

Trail conditions: Check the Parks Canada website for trail updates. Campsites do get closed periodically if there is bear activity in the area. 

Don’t forget: Leave no trace, packing out everything you pack in. 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.

Bears: Be bear aware and carry easy to access bear spray. Be sure all food and toiletries are put in bear lockers at night.

Weather: Check local forecasts before you leave home. Be prepared for all types of weather, even snow in summer.

Fantastic wildflower display at Gibbon Pass
Fantastic wildflower display at Gibbon Pass

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

You might want a blow-up seat for comfort at Egypt Lake
You might want a blow-up seat for comfort at Egypt Lake

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 backpacking trip

                                     

Egypt Lake backpacking trip summary

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.

Wildflowers and larches on the way to Gibbon Pass
Wildflowers and larches on the way to Gibbon Pass

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.

Good signage along the Egypt Lake hike
Good signage along the hike
Looking down on Vista Lake
Looking down on Vista Lake
I'm smiling as I'm only 3 kms into the Egypt Lake hike
I’m smiling as I’m only 3 km into the hike
On the Egypt Lake 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
Great views just before Gibbon Pass
On the Egypt Lake hike the ground squirrel is the only wildlife apart from birds and a mouse that we saw over 3 days
This is the only wildlife apart from birds and a mouse that we saw on the entire hike
Me at Gibbon Pass
Me at Gibbon Pass
Descending Gibbon Pass through the wildflowers
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
Heading for Ball Pass Junction

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. Nonetheless, 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
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
Haiduk Lake
Reflection in Haiduk Lake
Reflection in Haiduk Lake
I'd take the climb on snow over the boulders any day
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

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.

Wildflowers as far as the eye can see en route to Healy Pass
Wildflowers as far as the eye can see on route to Healy Pass
Healy Pass wildflowers
Pretty amazing backdrop but the wildflowers make this hike
The view from Healy Pass
The view from Healy Pass
A bit of hiking drudgery on the last 6 kilometres
A bit of hiking 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 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.

The pretty part of the descent from Healy Pass
The pretty part of the descent from Healy Pass

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.

Banff area

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.

Baker Creek by Basecamp - one of the Charmin Inns of Alberta
Lots of red chairs and fire pits outside the Baker Creek by Basecamp

Further reading on backpacking trips in Banff National Park

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

A 3-day backpacking trip to Egypt Lake in Banff

 

 

  1. I concur – this is a spectacular hike, despite the insane quantities of mosquitoes. We did it last year (July 2022) as an out-and-back from Vista Lake (though we did walk through to Sunshine on one of our days – well worth doing!). We quite enjoyed the section from Shadow Lake to Ball Pass junction – the valley is vast and feels very wild and remote. Haiduk Lake was absolutely stunning!

    A couple of things that have changed since you first wrote this is that the shelter has been removed and the outhouses are much nicer, being the replaceable barrel type now. Also, there are numbered metal food lockers for campers to store their food and other aromatics. One thing that hasn’t changed is the number of bugs in July… Yikes!

  2. Thoughts on which direction would be best for this route? I know there’s more uphill from Vista to Sunshine, but I’m also curious about which direction would have the sun at your back most/any scenic considerations.

    Thanks!

    1. @A I actually liked the direction we went as you’re fresh when you start off with the climbing and on the last day it’s mostly downhill to Sunshine. I don’t remember the sun affecting us in any way so I would still personally do it starting at Vista Lake.

  3. 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!

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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!

    1. @Jody I had gone to the area last year around this time – more in the Citadel Pass neck of the woods, but the wildflowers didn’t come near what I saw this past weekend.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

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