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Backcountry trips in Banff National Park

by K Gordon Schultz

Backcountry Trips in Banff National Park, Alberta

BANFF, Alberta – The Canadian Rockies offers some of the most exhilarating sights for the visitor, with so many areas to choose from that it is often difficult to determine where to go first. BanffNationalPark.com has put together a short list of favorite trips that span anywhere from two to five days, allowing you to make the most of your time on your vacation travel.

Two Day Trip

Lake Minnewanka: 8 km one way.

The trailhead at the Minnewanka Day Use area will take you on this lovely hike where you can camp at Aylmer Pass Junction. Explore Alymer Pass and Alymer Lookout where the topography is splendid in the late spring and early fall months.

Paradise Valley: 9.7 km one way with an elevation gain of 291 m.

Take the trailhead off the Moraine Lake access road to enjoy this magnificent site. Take your camping gear and explore the area as you like. An option for your return is to rent a vehicle or pick-up at Moraine Lake to drive through Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass.

Egypt Lake: 12.4 km one way with an elevation gain of 655 m.

Start your trip from the gondola base at the Sunshine Village ski area and continue to the Egypt Lake campsite or trail shelter. With its many places to explore, be sure to take advantage of the two days to really get your fill.

Glacier Lake: 8.9 km one way with an elevation gain of 210 m.

Taking the trail from the trailhead north of Saskatchewan Crossing on the Icefields Parkway, you will arrive at a campsite along one of the largest backcountry lakes in Banff National Park.

Twin Lakes: 8.7 km one way with an elevation gain of 605 m.

This area is reachable by two trails. One heads out from the Vista Lake viewpoint off Highway 93 and the other begins at Altrude Creek on the Trans Canada Highway. The second route is less strenuous than the first, but both offer magnificent views of the surrounding terrain. Enjoy the campsite at Twin Lakes.

Elk Lake: 11.5 km one way with an elevation gain of 610 m.

The trail leads out from the Mt. Norquay ski area, with the first few km taking you through a densely forested area. You will find the campsite out in the open sub-alpine meadows of Elk Pass, approximately 2 km from Elk Lake.

Fish Lakes: 14.8 km one way with an elevation gain of 760 m.

Take the trailhead from Mosquito Creek to climb over the North Molar Pass where you will hike through some of the most beautiful and expansive alpine meadows in Banff National Park. Enjoy the campsite located at Fish Lakes.

Note: Some two day trips can be done in a single day. Pick up a copy of Park Canada’s “Drives and Walks” brochure at any Park Visitor Centre for details.

Three Day Trips

Bryant Creek: 45 km + with an elevation gain of 455 m.

Take the trailhead at Mt. Shark located in Kananaskis Country, Alberta. The trail will arrive at a meadow campsite, or trail shelter which is an ideal base camp. From here, take your day trips to Wonder, Allenby, or Assiniboine Passes. You can also take two nights at McBride’s Camp, Bryant Creek Trail Shelter, or Marvel Lake.

Note: Don’t be surprised by the noise of helicopters that tend to fly over the area.

Elk Summit-Cascade Mountain Loop: 35.8 km with an elevation gain of 610 m.

This trailhead begins at the Upper Bankhead picnic area on the Lake Minnewanka road. Here you will start with a hike up the old Cascade fire road and then, at Stony Creek, you will head over Elk Summit to Elk Lake. The trail exits at the Mt. Norquay Ski area. Find your campsite at Stony Creek for the first night and Elk Lake Summit for the second night.

Palliser Pass: 54.4 km with an elevation gain of 400 m.

This trip will take you to the upper reaches of the Spray River. Take the Mt. Shark trailhead in Kananaskis Country, Alberta to hike through the sub-alpine meadows to Palliser Pass at the farthest end of Banff National Park. Take the Palliser Pass as a day hike and return by the same route to Mr. Shark. Camp at Burstall for both nights.

Mystic Pass: 36.8 km with an elevation gain of 395 m.

Take the trailhead at Mt. Norquay ski area. The beginning of the trail follows the waters of Forty Mile creek. On your second day of hiking, you will pass Mystic Lake and then up to the open alpine country of Mystic Pass. Once you’ve arrived at the Johnston Creek trail, the hike is an easy one out to Johnston Canyon on the Bow Valley Parkway. On the way you will see the famed Ink Pots. Spend the first night at the campsite in Mystic Junction and the second night at Larry’s Camp.

Skoki Loop: 34.3 km with an elevation gain of 1,136 m.

You will find this trailhead next to the Lake Louise ski area at Fish Creek. The trip begins with a 4 km hike up the Temple access road. You will then climb over Boulder Pass to find Ptarmigan Lake before descending to Baker Lake. On your second day you can enjoy Fossil Mountain and the historic Skoki Lodge before you arrive at Merlin Meadows. Climb Deception Pass and then rejoin the access trail at Ptarmigan Lake. Camp at Baker Lake for your first night and Merlin Meadows for the second.

Four Day Trips

Assiniboine Loop: 55 km.

This trail starts and ends at the Mt. Shark trailhead in Kananaskis Country, Alberta. Here you will travel through two parks and two provinces. Mt. Shark is the sixth highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies, and a truly breathtaking sight to behold. Camp at McBride’s Camp on the first night, Lake Magog campground in Mt. Assiniboine Provincial Park on the second night (you will have to pay a separate B.C. Parks fee on-site), and Marvel Lake for the third night.

Sunshine – Assiniboine – Bryant Creek: 55.7 km.

Mt. Assiniboine can be reached from the Sunshine Village ski area as you take the alpine meadows located at Citadel Pass. The 6.5 km walk is a beautiful one, but if you prefer to bypass the hike, you can take the privately operated shuttle bus up the limited access ski area road. The trip ends at Bryant Creek at the Mt. Shark trailhead in Kananaskis Country, Alberta. Camp out for the first night at Porcupine campground in Mt. Assiniboine Provincial Park, for the second night enjoy the Lake Magog campground (where you will pay a separate fee on-site), and for the third night, camp at Marvel Lake.

Sunshine – Vista Lake: 40.4 km.

With its high country trails that can be hiked or ridden by privately run shuttle bus, you can travel from the Sunshine Village ski area to the Vista Lake viewpoint on Highway 93. En route, take time to explore the Egypt Lake area. Then climb over Gibbon Pass to follow a meandering trail past several beautiful lakes before you descend back to the highway. Camp at Egypt Lake for your first night, Shadow Lake for your second, and Twin Lakes for your third.
Five Days or more

Sawback Trail: 73.5 km.

Here you will travel over three breathtaking mountain passes as you traverse much of Banff National Park. The trail links Banff townsite with Lake Louise and trailheads are found at both the Mt. Norquay and the Lake Louise ski areas. You will have many camping options on this trip. Take a week to fully enjoy all that the area has to offer. Camping can be found at Mystic Junction for the first night, Larry’s Camp for the second, Johnston Creek of Luellen Lake for the third, Badger Pass for the forth. If you continue to stay on, camp at Wildflower Creek for the fifth night, and Baker Lake for the sixth.

Mystic Pass – Flint’s Park – Badger Pass: 76.4 km.

This trip should be enjoyed over a seven day or more period of time, where your journey will begin and end at Johnston’s Canyon. Hike through the sub-alpine meadowlands of Flint’s Park and then climb over Mystic and Badger Passes. Camp on your first night at Larry’s Camp, the second at Mystic Valley, the third at Flint’s Park, the forth at Block Lakes Junction, the fifth at Badger Pass Junction, the sixth at Johnston Creek, and the seventh at Larry’s Camp.

Note: Badger Pass is often blocked by a snow cornice well into the summer months.

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