Canadian Rockies backpacking

A backpacker on the Rockwall Trail, Kootenay National Park, Canada.

Photo Gallery: The Rockwall Trail in the Canadian Rockies

By Michael Lanza

A few hours into our hike’s first day, we came around a bend in the trail to a sight that stopped us cold: a pair of skyscraping stone monoliths rising thousands of feet above the treetops. Silhouetted by the sun arcing toward the west, the peaks resembled a pair of El Capitans standing shoulder to shoulder. A little while later, one of the tallest waterfalls in the Rocky Mountains came into view: Helmet Falls, plunging 1,154 feet (352 meters) over a cliff.

After that, the scenery really got good.

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Backpackers hiking the Skyline Trail north toward Tekarra camp, Jasper National Park, Canadian Rockies.

Backpacking the Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park

By Michael Lanza

About three hours into our hike on the Skyline Trail in Canada’s Jasper National Park, a rumble of thunder rips the sky with a sound like a train derailment; moments later, the gray overcast that had rolled overhead maybe 30 minutes earlier starts spraying us with random bursts of raindrops. By the time the five of us have hurried into rain shells and flipped our hoods up, the rain commences in earnest, chauffeured by strong wind just as we emerge from forest into the alpine terrain.

Walking into the full brunt of the weather but dressed for it—and this crew has deep experience with all kinds of nasty weather—we just push on through the rain, motivated by the first taste of the scenery that awaits in greater glory ahead. Plus, we face several more miles of hiking to our first camp on the Skyline Trail in Jasper, the much-less-visited but larger sister park of its joined-at-the-hip sibling, Banff, in the Canadian Rockies.

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Backpackers hiking the Skyline Trail north toward Tekarra camp, Jasper National Park, Canadian Rockies.

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.

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A backpacker on the Rockwall Trail, Kootenay National Park, Canada.

Backpacking the Canadian Rockies: Kootenay’s Rockwall Trail

By Michael Lanza

A few hours into our hike’s first day, we round a bend in the trail to a sight that can stop you in your tracks: a pair of skyscraping stone monoliths rising thousands of feet above the treetops. Silhouetted by the sun arcing toward the west, the peaks resemble nothing less than a pair of El Capitans standing shoulder to shoulder. Farther along, one of the tallest waterfalls in the Rocky Mountains comes into view: Helmet Falls, plunging 1,154 feet (352m) over a cliff in two braids that recouple before the column of water crashes into the rocks at its base, spraying a fine cloud of mist into the air.

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