The Nootka Trail now ranks as my favourite coastal trail in BC. It stretches for…
The Rockwall Trail is located in Kootenay National Park, one part of the Canadian Rockies UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s a 3 – 5 day tough backpacking/hiking trip covering 55 km (34 miles) one way. All told there is an elevation gain of 2260 m and a knee-pounding loss of 2225 m.
The Rockwall Trail is truly one of the outstanding multi-day hiking trips in the Rockies. It’s a challenging hike with so much daily elevation gain and loss – but the scenic rewards, especially of the big hunk of rock – the Rockwall itself, along with pretty meadows, lakes and waterfalls puts it way up there on the must-do list. Much of the hike is above treeline.
Rockwall trail start location
Start at the Floe Lake Trailhead and finish at the Paint Pots Trailhead. The Floe Lake Trailhead is on the west side of Highway 94, 22.5 km south of the boundary of Banff and Kootenay National Parks. (There’s a big park sign announcing your entrance to each park.)
The Paint Pots Trailhead is 13 km northwest of the Floe Lake Trailhead. If you’re coming from the Trans-Canada Highway you’ll pass it first,
The trailheads are about a 2.5 hour drive from Calgary. The trailheads are only 13 km (8 miles) apart by car. Hitchhike back to your car at the end of the trip or arrange a car shuttle before you begin.
The harder hiking days are the first two. You do need to buy a back-country pass beforehand – and reserve well in advance here.
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Day One: The hike to the Floe Lake Campground
Floe Lake campground is the first destination. Hike 10.7 km up a steep and unrelenting trail from the parking lot through burned forest. Floe Lake is in a lovely setting at the base of the Rockwall.
Day 2: Floe Lake Campground to Numa Creek Campground
On the second day out continue on the Numa Pass Trail to the Numa Creek campground via Numa Pass, the highest point on the Rockwall Trail. It’s 10.2 km between campsites.
The distances sound manageable but there is constant elevation gain and loss over the length of the Rockwall Trail. It used to be possible to get back to the highway via the Numa Creek Trail but with the floods of 2013 that trail is now closed.
Day 3: Numa Creek Campground to Tumbling Creek Campground
It’s only 7.1 km from Numa Creek campground to the Tumbling Creek campground. Cross gorgeous Tumbling Pass – 4.8 km into the day’s hike to get there. But pay attention through here as this has been termed by writer Graeme Pole as the grizzly grocery store with its abundance of berries.
From there head through a boulder meadow and climb up a scree shoulder east of Tumbling Pass. Enjoy the views of Tumbling Glacier. Continue on through a lateral moraine and then steeply descend to Tumbling Creek. The Tumbling Creek campground is 300 m west of the bridge.
Day 4: Tumbling Creek Campground to Helmet Falls Campground
From the Tumbling Creek Campground, it’s 12.7 km to get to Helmet Falls Campground. There’s some steep climbing initially – a rude start to the day but nothing new – and then you enter the beautiful sub-alpine meadows that make up the Wolverine Plateau.
Wolverine Pass is 3.1 km up from the Tumbling Creek campground. Rockwall Pass is next – just 400 m away.
Easier hiking follows, then a climb to Limestone Summit and from there it’s a steady descent to the Helmet Falls Campground.
We elected to continue another 8.4 km – on a mostly gentle grade to the Helmet/Ochre Junction Campground. It’s a beautiful spot and if there’s some juice left in your legs at the Helmet Falls Campground give some consideration to continuing. It also wasn’t crowded.
Then it’s a relatively short and easy 5.2 km (3.1 miles) out past the Paint Pots to the trailhead by Marble Creek Campground.
Do make lots of noise on this trail. The rangers monitor the area closely for bears and shut down sections of trail if they deem it to be unsafe because of too much bear activity. Use lots of common sense and keep your tent free of food and fragrances. Take your bear spray with you.
A few things I’d recommend
Before you go I highly recommend purchasing a copy of either Gem Trek’s Kootenay National Park map.
Don’t forget a headlamp, a water filter, bear spray (you must buy in person), a bear spray holster and a first aid kit. I highly recommend Compeed as a blister treatment, the best I’ve found on the market. I find it works way better than moleskin.
Further reading on backpacking trips in the Rockies
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