Rockwall Trail, Kootenay National Park, Canada.

Ask Me: Where Should We Dayhike or Backpack in the Canadian Rockies?

In Ask Me, Backpacking, Family Adventures, Hiking, International Adventures, National Park Adventures, Skiing   |   Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,   |   4 Comments

Michael,

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,

Joshua
Bella Vista, AR

Hey Joshua,

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.

 

Below the Emerald Glacier on the Iceline Trail, Yoho National Park, Canada.

Below the Emerald Glacier on the Iceline Trail, Yoho National Park, Canada.

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.

 


Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside, which has made several top outdoors blog lists. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Subscribe now to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip. Please follow my adventures on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube.


 

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.

 

Floe Lake on the Rockwall Trail, Kootenay National Park, Canada.

Floe Lake on the Rockwall Trail, Kootenay National Park, Canada.

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.

Best,
Michael

 

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Michael,

Wow, thank you very much for the info! I’ll let you know what we decide.

Joshua

 

I can help you plan the best backpacking, hiking, or family adventure of your life.

Got a question about hiking, backpacking, planning a family adventure, or any trip I’ve written about at The Big Outside? Email it to me at michael@thebigoutside.com. For just $75, I’ll answer your questions via email or in a phone call to help ensure your trip is a success. See my Ask Me page.

—Michael Lanza

 

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4 Responses to Ask Me: Where Should We Dayhike or Backpack in the Canadian Rockies?

  1. Julie   |  June 1, 2016 at 6:43 pm

    I would second Michael’s opinion and give a big 2 thumbs up to the Rockwall Backpack. Six of us backpacked that route about 6 years ago and we were about the only ones there. I also backpacked the Iceline the same year, and while it was fun & pretty, its wasn’t nearly as spectacular (or long). We did another wonderful 5 day backpack the following year out of the Banff/Sunshine area and into Mt. Assiniboine Provincial Park. That was also gorgeous, lots to see, and hardly anyone around until you get into Assiniboine. Jasper also has some wonderful backpacks and day hikes, the area is a real gem. Whatever you do, I hope you have a great trip.

    • michaellanza   |  June 2, 2016 at 4:54 am

      Hi Julie, thanks for your ideas. You’ve mentioned some places I’d like to hike, too. We all need more time for backpacking!

  2. Lyle Gordon   |  May 30, 2016 at 10:14 pm

    Really like you blog, the Iceline trail looks really cool. I’m going to be in Calgary early October and I’m not very familiar with the Rockies, will the trail head usually be accessible? From what I’ve read snows tend to start sometime in September. I’m not worried about a bit of safe snow travel (I don’t have much avalanche/glacier experience on the trail but plowed roads would be nice, I wouldn’t want to have to walk many miles along the road or get a car trapped after a fall snowstorm. I’m looking to do a 15-25mile day or overnight hike about 2-2.5h from Calgary. Staying at an Alpine Club of Canada backcountry hut sounds cool. Any suggestions/advice you have would be great.

    • MichaelALanza   |  May 31, 2016 at 7:28 am

      Hi Lyle, thanks for the compliment. This story contains my suggestions. There are intermediate trails accessing the Rockwall Trail in Kootenay, allowing for shorter trips that the full traverse. And you can do the Iceline as an overnight hike. There are many options with ACC huts, although I imagine some may be closed by October. Hard to predict what you’ll see in terms of snow conditions, you’ll have to make that call when you’re there. Good luck.

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