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The Top 5 Backpacking Trips in the Canadian Rockies

I’ve been getting emails asking for my thoughts on what the top backpacking trips are in the Canadian Rockies. After sending detailed replies, I figured it was time to pull together a blog with my answers. And summer will be upon us before long so it doesn’t hurt to start planning – and in fact in just a few months reservations for backcountry sites start to open up.

Here’s my list of what I consider to be the top 5 backpacking trips in the Canadian Rockies.

THE SKYLINE TRAIL

Backpacking the Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park rewards you with incomparable mountain views for almost two thirds of its 44.5 kilometer length. There aren’t many trails in Canada that can lay claim to that fact. From the start at the Maligne Lake Trailhead to the finish, save for the final seven kilometer slog down a logging road, the trail offers a phenomenal mountain experience.

Unfortunately the season for hiking the Skyline Trail is short. Don’t even think of booking campsites until late July after the snow has disappeared from The Notch. And by the end of September – in a good year – the season is over. 

If you start at the Maligne Lake trailhead, then the total elevation gain over the length of the trip is 1205 meters (3953 feet), a tolerable amount of climbing over two to three days. For more information on backpacking the trail check out this blog.

"Beautiful views just a few hours into the hike"

Beautiful views just a few hours into the hike

"The crux of the Skyline Trail"

Well above treeline as you head for the crux of the hike

"Heading for a lower elevation camping spot on the Skyline Trail"

Heading for Tekarra Campground

The Skoki Circuit

The Skoki Circuit is a super accessible backpacking loop offering first rate alpine scenery including gorgeous turquoise coloured lakes, pretty meadows and the barren looking Slate Mountains. Unfortunately you won’t be alone for much of it. Not only do backpackers vie for limited campsite space but you must share the trail with hikers planning to spend the night at Skoki Lodge.

There’s a reason for its mass appeal. It’s not a difficult backpack and the effort/reward ratio is high. The views from the top of Deception Pass are a highlight and much of the hiking is above treeline. Allow three days, and more time if you want to take some of the side trips. The description for the full loop trail is here.

"Looking up at Desolation Pass"

Looking up at Desolation Pass

"The view you get at the Baker Lake Campground"

The view you get at the Baker Lake Campground

"Skoki Lakes from just below Deception Pass"

Skoki Lakes from just below Deception Pass

Rockwall Trail

The Rockwall Trail is located in Kootenay National Park, a part of the Canadian Rockies UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s a 3 – 5 day tough backpacking trip covering 55 kms (34 miles) one way. Start at the Floe Lake Trailhead and finish at the Paint Pots Trailhead. The trailheads are about a 2½ hour drive from Calgary. The harder days are the first two. Hitchhike back to your car at the end of the trip or arrange a car shuttle before you begin. The trailheads are only 13 kms (8 miles) apart by car. More backpacking information can be found here. 

"Floe Lake on the Rockwall Trail"

Floe Lake

"Meadows along the Rockwall Trail"

Meadows along the Rockwall Trail

The Berg Lake Trail

Looking for big, bold Rocky Mountain scenery – the kind that takes your breath away? The trail to Berg Lake offers just that. The backdrop, should you be lucky enough to see it as it’s often shrouded in mist or cloud, is Mount Robson, the highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies rising 3000 m (9843 ft) above the valley floor. It’s so big that it makes its own micro-climate, a good thing if you’re keen to hike by mid-June as it’s warmer than nearby Jasper.

Not only is Berg Lake a first-class destination but the trail up to the lake offers an astounding variety of scenery. It starts gradually, climbing alongside the Robson River through a micro rainforest of hemlock and cedar. Then you enter the Valley of a Thousand Falls and if you’re like most backpackers, you finish at Berg Lake – though some of the most interesting scenery is another day away. A detailed description of the trip is here.

"Waterfalls along the trail to Berg Lake"

Passing through the Valley of a Thousand Falls

"Looking up at Snowbird Valley"

Looking up at Snowbird Pass

Mt Assiniboine Area Hike

Although Mt. Assiniboine, sometimes called the Matterhorn of North America, is the sixth highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies, it’s not the only reason to visit Mt. Assiniboine Provincial Park. Gorgeous high alpine lakes, about a dozen mountain peaks and wildflower filled meadows lure hikers from around the world. Don’t expect solitude. People access the park on foot, via horses and many helicopter in at least one way, especially hikers planning to do day hikes out of Assiniboine LodgeAs a backpacker you could choose to fly in one way and hike out.

The floods last year changed the approach so check the parks website before planning your trip to see if you can access the area via Citadel Pass and Wonder Pass. (You can!) Otherwise you must hike in via the Mt. Shark trailhead. It’s a solid eight to ten hour hike to reach Lake Magog and the Assiniboine Lodge area. There are camping options along the way – and backcountry permits are required.

Once up there side trip possibilities are plentiful. Hike to Nub Peak or the Nublet – a bump on the ridge. Visit Cerulean and Sunburst Lakes. Don’t miss Wonder Pass. Whatever you do, ensure that you have allowed enough time to do some of the side trips in this magnificent area.

Read: Hiking the Nublet in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, BC

The top 5 backpacking trips in the Rockies

Mt Assiniboine area

The top 5 backpacking trips in the Rockies

Views when you’re hiking the Nublet

Have you done any backpacking trips in the Canadian Rockies?

The Top 5 Backpacking Trips in the Canadian Rockies

Leigh

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Author Leigh

Avid world traveler. Craves adventure - & the odd wildly epic day. Gardener. Reader. Wine lover. Next big project - a book on 100 Canadian outdoor adventures.

More posts by Leigh

Join the discussion 41 Comments

  • Gorgeous photos, Leigh – all of the backpacking trips look incredible! I have only spent a couple of days in the Rockies and it was many years ago. The only hiking that we did was up to the Tea House at Lake Louise. I think it’s time that we head out west and do some more exploring – although we may have to start with the easiest backpacking trips and save some of these for when we are more experienced!

  • Agata says:

    Fabulous trail! Wonderful pictures! Helpful tips! I love it. I’ve never been to the Rocky Mountains before but this post makes me feel like I should go there at least once in a lifetime. What a view! Thank you so much for this. If I’m in Canada I’ll make sure this trail is on my list.

  • Mike says:

    OMG, Leigh you knocked these pictures out of the ballpark! I was going to mention one, then two…when it got to six…I literally said, “Wow!” out loud! I will write a post about my backpack trip across Glacier National Park someday and this sooooo brought back wonderful memories! Did you run into any cool wildlife? Loved this post :)

  • These pictures are ridiculous. Each hike looks more or just as amazing as the one before it. I can’t imagine a place having a thousand falls. The two in the picture are incredible enough. Hard to wrap my head on the fact that there are 998 more. I wonder if people tire of the waterfalls after say 558?

  • Nancie says:

    I did the Mount Assiniboine hike back in 1974 0r 1975. I still have fond memories of that. The secenery was so amazing. I can still remember my hiking friend losing it in the middle of this beautiful meadow about 15 minutes before we arrived at the ranger post. She had had enough! :)

    Your shots are gorgeous. I don’t do much hiking these days, but it would be tempting to come back to Canada to do any of these.

    Thanks for linking up this week!

  • budget jan says:

    The vibrant blue lakes, grey rock mountains and white snow and green foliage is such a typical Rockies scene. I will never forget how beautiful they are.

  • Tonya says:

    I love all of your lake photos. They are so crisp and clear. I’ve spent very little time in Canada and while I don’t anticipate hiking there anytime soon, I certainly enjoyed your tour. I can imagine setting up camp at the campground, gazing out over that lake and watching the sun set. Beautiful!

  • Johanna says:

    What some fabulous trails – I’d love to do some hiking in the Rockies. Your photos make the hikes look supremely pristine – need to go :)

  • Jackie Smith says:

    I was thinking as I looked at this point how much fun it would be to do a backpack hiking trip with you. Then I thought how much you would love Stehekin at the head of Lake Chelan. If you ever get over our way during the summer backpack season and want to do a trip there, let me know, we keep saying we need to do one of their tent-to-tents one day before we get ‘too old’.

  • Those pictures are incredible! Your blog really makes me want to visit out West even more (never been!) – those mountains, that view! Breathtaking.

  • So many choices! I love that you have included tips to help people to decide which one to do as it would be had to choose from your fabulous photos!

  • I can tell Canada has some beautiful backpacking options after looking at this post. As a person who has a hard time figuring out how to cull my excessive amount of clothing for a suitcase, I am especially impressed by anyone willing to carry all their stuff AND hike with it. This gorgeous scenery is incentive to bear that load. I can’t wait to read what adventures you have over the summer.

    • @Michele You have to come to terms with the fact that you will be wearing the same dirty clothes day after day. The first day is hard but then you just get used to it – and actually I embrace it. I’d rather have less weight on my back and be a little smelly!

  • Rachel M says:

    I am have never been into hiking, my fitness levels are not the best. However looking at your gorgeous photos, I believe experiencing the scenery would be worth the effort.

  • Marcia says:

    The scenery is so gorgeous here, Leigh, I’d be willing to try one or two of these – maybe Rockwell Trail. Honestly, it’d be difficult to choose.

  • Nice shots. I did the “road trip” from Banff to Jasper and back, but alas, except for some short day hikes, like the one to the Lake Agnes Tea House, didn’t stray too far from the highway.

  • Wow, all of these hikes look amazing! I love the view from the Baker Lake Campground–that is incredible! I haven’t made it to the Canadian Rockies yet, but I think I would want to start with the Skyline Trail or the Mt Assiniboine Area Hike.

  • Meagan says:

    We’re looking to string together a solid 10-day backpacking trip with a possible re-supply in the middle. Expecting to average 10+ miles per day. Any recommendations?

    • @Meagan The East Coast Trail in Newfoundland would be a candidate. Most backpacking trips in Banff/Jasper NP are 3-5 days long. Some candidates (maybe you could do two) is Tonquin Valleu/Amethyst Lakes OR Jonas Pass/Brazeau Lake, The Rockwall or the Mt. Robson area.

  • Amanda h says:

    Are any of these doable in June?

  • Kyle Dickenson says:

    We did the Skyline trail on July 1st-3rd. It can absolutely be done before the end of July! there were patches of snow here and there that we had to walk across and it was a good trudge up the notch but it made for an even better view looking back at the snow capped mountains once you get to the top. Also at that time the trail hardly had any people. Well worth it!

  • Joris Vanormelingen says:

    All these trails look awesome! We would like to do a 3 to 4 day trail in the canadian rockies between the 2nd of July and the 5th of July. Our first idea was to hike the Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park. However, this option is dienscouraged because of the tricky weather conditions at that time. In addition, we (my girlfriend and I) are unexperienced in hiking but however in good condition. What would be your advice? Waiting for further information or yet planning another trail? Which would you recommend?

    Kind Regards

  • Chen says:

    We’re going to the Rockies in August, with the intent to hike some of the trips mentioned here – Skyline, Skoki, Berg Lake, and hopefully Lake O’Hara. I’d appreciate advice on sleeping bags – we currently have a -6 C (extreme) and a 0 C (extreme) bag, would these be sufficient? Or should we replace one or both of them before going? Thanks!!

    • @Chen In theory it can snow any time in the Rockies. I always use a bag rated to 0F – and for the few extra ounces I know I’ll be warm. Honestly I think I’d bring warmer bags.

      • Fallon says:

        Thanks for all the advice! My boyfriend and I will be traveling through the Rockies in mid-July. We are hoping to go on a three-night hike. Would you be able to recommend any hikes that are both beautiful, relatively challenging, but also with fewer people on the trails? Thanks!

      • @Fallon Anything in Jasper NP is usually quieter (except for standout trails like the Skyline) than Banff NP. Try the Nigel Pass – Brazeau Lakes area – Wilcox Pass near the Icefields. Cauldron Lake (google it)- is supposed to be very challenging and very beautiful with hardly a soul around.

  • Aruna says:

    Very Nice. I have done Skyline, Rockwall and Berg Lake Trails and they are amazing. In addition I did the Brazeau Loop and Iceline Trail in Yoho. I hear the Tonquin Valley trail is great too, plan on doing it this fall.

  • Isis says:

    Are there any agencies or guides that you recomend to do those hikes with me?

    • @Isis If you Google guided hikes in the Rockies you’ll definitely find a lot of companies. Yamnuska Guides out of Exshaw (near Canmore) are very good and they have lots of summer trips.

  • Single Hiker says:

    Hi, I’m a single traveller and not familiar with the Canadian wildlife (bears etc) therefore looking for challenging guided hiking trips.
    At the moment I’m interested in the West Coast Trail and the Kananaskis highlands and I’m in contact with guide companies for those.
    Are these worth it or do you recommend other trails instead (and can you suggest any guide companies for those) ?
    Thanks, Lennart.

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