Hiking and Backpacking the Canadian Rockies—A Photo Gallery

By Michael Lanza

While I always prefer to get as far from any road as possible whenever I visit a mountain range, one truth that may—and perhaps must—be said of the Canadian Rockies is that they will leave you smitten with an lifelong, unshakeable love before you even step out of the car. Driving to any trailhead along the 143-mile-long (232-kilometer) Icefields Parkway between Lake Louise and the town of Jasper, or along the Trans-Canada Highway across the mountains, and you will struggle to sound like a literate person as superlatives and simple gasps of “wow” roll repeatedly off your tongue. On my most recent visit we saw, in addition to countless, sizable glaciers tumbling off a chain of peaks stretching for miles, perhaps the largest grizzly bear of my life (a sow with two cubs), two bull elk with racks possibly broader than my wingspan, and a pod of bighorn sheep—all from the car in one afternoon on the Icefields Parkway.

But if you’re like me, you go to the Canadian Rockies to walk deeply into the mountains, either for a day or multiple days. This story will provide you with a window into that experience, sharing images from many of the backpacking trips and dayhikes I have taken in Canada’s Rockies on my recent trip and over the past three-plus decades, including the 10 years I spent as Northwest Editor of Backpacker magazine and even longer running this blog.

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A backpacker hiking over Cataract Pass on the Nigel, Cataract and Cline Passes Route in the Canadian Rockies.
My wife, Penny, backpacking over Cataract Pass on the Nigel, Cataract and Cline Passes Route in the Canadian Rockies.

Straddling the Continental Divide in the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta, the Canadian Rockies extend for about 1,000 miles/1,600 kilometers from northern British Columbia to Waterton Lakes National Park on the U.S.-Canada border, which bumps up against America’s Glacier National Park. Spanning over 5.8 million acres (over 9,100 square miles or 23,600 square kilometers), the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site encompasses four national parks (Banff, Jasper, Yoho, and Kootenay) . and three provincial parks (Mount Robson, Mount Assiniboine, and Hamber).

That’s a very large area—nearly equal to Yellowstone, Everglades, Grand Canyon, and Glacier national parks combined. The phrase “you could spend a lifetime exploring it” gets rolled out hyperbolically a bit too often, but when applied to the Canadian Rockies, the descriptor rings true.

Every time I go there, I wonder whether there’s a mountain range in the Lower 48 that really compares with the Canadian Rockies. Seriously.

Floe Lake, along the Rockwall Trail in Canada's Kootenay National Park.
Floe Lake, along the Rockwall Trail in Canada’s Kootenay National Park.

In late July and August 2023, three-fourths of my family, joined by a father-daughter who are longtime friends of ours, backpacked a pair of three-day trips and took some dayhikes in Banff, Jasper, and Yoho national parks. We started with the Skyline Trail in Jasper (lead photo at top of story), a classic, three-day, 27.3-mile/44k traverse usually hiked south-to-north, from the Maligne Lake Trailhead to the Signal Mountain Trailhead, just southeast of the town of Jasper. For much of its distance, the Skyline stays true to its name, following the crest of a mountain range with constant panoramas of massive walls of rock rising in every direction.

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A hiker on the Cory Pass-Mt. Edith Circuit in Banff National Park.
Gary Davis hiking the Cory Pass-Mt. Edith Circuit in Banff National Park.

That was followed by the Nigel, Cataract, and Cline Passes Route, a small sampler of the Great Divide Trail, a 698-mile/1,123-kilometer trail stretching from Waterton Lakes National Park to the GDT’s northern terminus in Kakwa Provincial Park. From a trailhead on the Icefields Parkway in northern Banff, we hiked over a first pass into a southern corner of Jasper, then up a valley sliced by the meandering, emerald-green, glaciated Brazeau River to cross a second pass below a hanging glacier, entering the White Goat Wilderness, where we spent two nights in an alpine basin ringed by rocky peaks, with yet another tongue of ice dangling off a mountain just beyond our camp.

Watch for my upcoming stories about that trip.

This post also includes photos from my family’s four-day backpacking trip several years ago on the approximately 34-mile/54-kilometer Rockwall Trail in Kootenay National Park. Well known among Canadian backpackers but less so among Americans and other international trekkers, the Rockwall’s name comes from its defining geological feature: a massive limestone escarpment plastered with glaciers and towering in some locations about 3,000 feet (900m) above the trail. Backpackers follow the base of this wall for more than 18 miles/30k. It’s no exaggeration to liken it to dozens of the tallest cliff in Yosemite Valley, El Capitan, lined up in a row stretching for miles.

Click on the photo gallery below to open it and use right and left arrow keys to scroll through it. Scroll below the gallery for a link to a menu of stories about the Canadian Rockies at The Big Outside.

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2 thoughts on “Hiking and Backpacking the Canadian Rockies—A Photo Gallery”

  1. Michael, so glad you enjoyed your visit(s) to the Canadian Rockies. They are very special. As you know I was repaying the favour with some friends in the Sawtooth and White Cloud mountains. Not too shabby.

    It’s pretty hard to go wrong on the many options from the US/Canada border to the Rockies northern terminus at Kakwa Provincial Park in BC. And in between is Mt. Robson, the highest point in the Canadian Rockies, and it’s namesake Provincial Park. Unfortunately, one of the premier hikes into Berg Lake at the base of Mt. Robson has been closed for more than two years as large sections of the trail and virtually all of the river crossings were wiped out in a devastating rain event. The lower section of the trail reopened in June of this year but the rest may not open until 2024 or 2025.

    And you are correct. One could spend a lifetime exploring the established routes and another going off-trail to find more hidden gems.

    Thank you, your family and friends for visiting. Come again soon. And oh yes, there are many other magical places in British Columbia. Some, like huge areas of the Coast Mountains, have never been trodden by humans. In all honesty, they can be one of the most challenging places to try to hike or backpack. Steep, remote, difficult vegetation to try to navigate and a few other challenges.

    • Thanks, John, your knowledge of Canada’s West is always illuminating. I did read about the trail damage and closures at Mt. Robson; I hope to get in there after it’s repaired. I’m glad you enjoyed your visit to Idaho’s Sawtooths and White Clouds. Only by strange coincidence did we visit each other’s country on overlapping dates and miss each other. I hope the next opportunity comes soon and we’re better able to take advantage of it. Stay well.