Ask Me: Where Should We Dayhike or Backpack in the Canadian Rockies?
I hope you are well. I thoroughly enjoy your site and it has become one of my first destinations for trip planning. Any suggestions for Banff and Jasper national parks in the Canadian Rockies? We’ll be heading there this summer. My wife and I are fit and can easily cover 10-12 miles a day, more if needed.
Thank you much,
Bella Vista, AR
I’ve done a fair bit of hiking and peak scrambling in the Canadian Rockies, including, most recently, backpacking and dayhiking with my family last summer in Kootenay and Yoho national parks. We spent four days (some backpackers take five days) on the 34-mile (54k) Rockwall Trail in Kootenay (lead photo, above), arguably the premier multi-day hike in the Canadian Rockies and deserving a spot on any list of the most spectacular treks in the world. Much of the hike follows the base of a miles-long limestone cliff nearly 3,000 feet (900m) tall, plastered with glaciers and waterfalls, including Helmet Falls, one of the highest in the Canadian Rockies at an estimated 1,154 feet (352m). This is a popular hike, with established campsites, so you need to reserve a permit for it two or three months in advance. See my story about backpacking the Rockwall Trail at The Big Outside.
We also took one of the best dayhikes in the Canadian Rockies, the Iceline Trail in Yoho, which has options for distances and can be combined with the Yoho Valley Trail for a weekend backpacking trip. You hike above treeline much of the way, with views of glaciers, rocky peaks and cliffs, and Takakkaw Falls, which plummets thunderously more than 1,100 feet (350m) off a cliff. See my story “Great Hike: Iceline Trail, Yoho National Park,” for more photos and info.
When our son was a baby, I had him on my back when we dayhiked to Helen Lake and Dolomite Pass (10-mile round-trip) in Banff National Park; I saw a wolverine on that trail. We also dayhiked with our baby son the 10-mile Sinclair Creek Circuit to Kindersley Pass in Kootenay National Park, a 3,400-foot climb to big alpine view of the mountains.
If you’re up for a steep, long, and sometimes exposed scramble, Mount Carnarvon, above Hamilton Lake in Yoho, near Field, was one of the most thrilling peaks some friends and I climbed in a week of scrambles in the Canadian Rockies. The other really exciting peak scramble was Mount Burstall in the Kananaskis Country south of Canmore, Alberta. If you want to check out some off-trail scrambles, pick up Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies, by Alan Kane.
In Banff, Moraine Lake is reached by car and extremely popular, but a beautiful spot. It’s also the trailhead for the hike into the spectacular Larch Valley below Mount Temple, the peak that’s famous for towering high above Lake Louise. The out-and-back hike to Sentinel Pass is seven miles. I’ve scrambled up Eiffel Peak, across the Larch Valley from Temple, a stout but wonderful outing with sweeping views of the Valley of the Ten Peaks.
The Lake Louise area is also extremely popular, but the hiking is beautiful; and once you’re a couple miles or more from the trailhead, you ditch most of the crowds. Pick any trail in that area, you can’t go wrong.
One of the most popular spots in the region is Lake O’Hara in Yoho, for good reason, with a string of lakes in a bowl ringed by jagged, snowy mountains. You have to book it in advance, even for a day trip, and I have not yet been able to get there (even though I tried on this recent visit). See pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/bc/yoho/natcul/ohara.aspx.
While I have not yet backpacked the Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park, it is widely considered the most scenic, multi-day hike in Jasper. It’s also very popular and the number of backpackers permitted on it is regulated, so get a permit reservation well in advance.
Although it’s a bit out of the way, Canada’s Glacier National Park has great hiking, too. I got a sample of it dayhiking the steep Glacier Crest Trail, which has great views of the surrounding mountains and glaciers.
Pick up a copy of The Canadian Rockies Trail Guide, by Brian Patton and Bart Robinson, the most comprehensive and authoritative hiking guidebook to the region.
Years ago, my wife and I bicycle toured the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93) from the towns of Jasper to Banff, a beautiful, four-day adventure, staying in campgrounds. From Sunwapta Pass on the highway, you can take a short hike up to the toe of the Athabasca Glacier, passing signs along the trail marking the farthest extent in past years of the glacier, which, of course, has retreated quite a bit in recent decades. I’ve also made a multi-day, hut-to-hut, spring ski traverse of the glaciers of the Wapta Icefield in Banff and Yoho national parks, a five-star adventure by any measure, requiring expert skills, including knowledge and gear for traveling safely on glaciers.
That should get you started, anyway. Have a great trip.
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Wow, thank you very much for the info! I’ll let you know what we decide.
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