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Rockwall Trail – A Standout Multi-Day Hike

I am ready here for the hiking day to be over
I am ready here for the hiking day to be over
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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.

Where to start the Rockwall trail 

Start at the Floe Lake Trailhead and finish at the Paint Pots Trailhead (or vice versa). 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.

 Beautiful Floe Lake is the first stop if you're heading towards the Paint Pots
Beautiful Floe Lake is the first stop if you’re heading towards the Paint Pots

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Campgrounds on the Rockwall Trail

In total there are five campgrounds on the Rockwall Trail. Distances are from the Rockwall trailhead. They include Floe Lake (10.7 km), Numa Creek (20.9 km), Tumbling Creek (28 km), Helmet Falls (40.4 km) and Helmet Ochre Junction (48.8 km). Floe Lake is gorgeous and the Helmet Ochre Junction is quite lovely too.

All campgrounds come with tent pads, food storage lockers OR cables, communal picnic tables and toilets.

Note: Reservations for summer 2022 open at 8 AM MST on January 28, 2022. Book on the Parks Canada website here.

Day One: The hike to the Floe Lake Campground on the Rockwall Trail

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.

"Cooking area at Floe Lake - separate from where you pitch tents"
Cooking area at Floe Lake – separate from where you pitch tents
Me with the Rockwall in the background on Day 2
Me with the Rockwall in the background on Day 2

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. You can get back to the highway via the Numa Creek Trail. In 2020 Parks Canada replaced the Numa Falls bridge and the rest of the restoration work was completed on the Numa Creek trail beyond the falls in July 2021. The trail is finally fully open again.

Resting
Resting our weary bones
Some easy lovely meadow walking on the hike
Some easy lovely meadow walking on the hike

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.

Surveying the route on the Rockwall trail
Surveying the route
Getting refueled before the long descent
Getting refueled before the long descent
One of the silt-laden streams we crossed
One of the silt-laden streams we crossed
I am ready here for the hiking day to be over
I am ready here for the hiking day to be over

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.

My friend Sarah and I checking our location
My friend Sarah and I checking our location

Be bear aware

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.

Read: Bear Safety Tips – What You Need to Know

In the parking lot at the northern end of the trail
In the parking lot at the northern end of the trail with a Dutch woman who joined us for the hike

Other options for hiking the Rockwall Trail

Not everyone has the desire to hike the whole of the Rockwall Trail. If that’s the case consider one of these options. There really are a lot of permutations of the trail though given my druthers I would really want to include Floe Lake!

  • Do an out and back hike to Floe Lake with one night at the campground.
  • Spend two nights at Floe Lake Campground but on the second day hike do and out and back hike on the Numa Pass Trail.
  • Hike to Floe Lake and camp. Hike to Numa Creek Campground and camp or hike back to the highway on the Numa Creek Trail. You’ll need a car shuttle. 
  • Hike in from the Paint Pots to Tumbling Creek and then continue onto Numa Creek, Floe Lake and out to the Floe Lake Campground. 
  • Do a small loop hike starting at the Paint Pots trailhead or Tumbling Creek trailhead. Spend a night at Helmet Creek. From Helmet Creek you can also hike 4.0 km one way to Goodsir Pass and then out.  

A few things I’d recommend for the Rockwall Trail hike

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.

Location map to give you a rough idea of start and end points

                                                               

Further reading on backpacking trips in the Rockies

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

Backpacking The Rockwall Trail - Kootenay National Park, BC

 

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