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.
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.
The 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.
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.
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 Lodge. As 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.
Have you done any backpacking trips in the Canadian Rockies?
Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta
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