It’s almost time. The big trip of the summer is fast approaching – this weekend marks the beginning of my 10-night adventure in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. My friends and I started planning a big hiking trip months ago, and with the plummeting value of the Canadian dollar, exploring this world-renowned wilderness right in our own back yard was really a no-brainer. South America and Europe can wait; Alberta and British Columbia, here we come. I’m super excited!
We’re a group of six: my hiking and camping buddies from Toronto – Emily, Gabe, and Jeff – plus my wife Yvonne and her nephew Lewis, both flying in from Hong Kong. Most of us have never visited the Canadian Rockies before; and for all of us, it will be the first time hiking and camping there. We should be in for a treat, especially if the weather cooperates. The trip will be a mix of front-country car camping, back-country trails and campsites, and cottage lodge stays, mixed with lots of hiking and maybe a bit of rock scrambling. We started booking the sites and accommodations in early April, as the popular spots quickly fill up over the season.
Besides getting all our gear together (trying to keep the backpacking portion as light, compact, and affordable as possible) we’ve also planned an itinerary that highlights the best (we think) of the Rocky Mountains. It would take a lifetime to explore all the wonderful options, and we’ve also had to consider our general level of (un!)fitness and experience in picking our trails. Fortunately this time of year the days are very long (12+ hours of daylight) so we can take our time on the hikes and really enjoy the grand scenery. Of course, plans could easily change and there is some built-in flexibility for last minute adjustments.
For those of you lucky enough to live in Western Canada and frequent the parks there: if you have any tips, suggestions, or advice – especially on the areas we’re about to visit – I would sure like to hear them. Please let me know in the Comments section below.
Check back after my trip when I’ll have some writeups and a ton of photos. Hopefully they’ll be nearly half as good as the ones you see below. 🙂
[UPDATE: Clicking on the headers will bring you directly to the blog post]
Day 1 – Kananaskis Country
Arriving in Calgary, we’ll pick up our rental minivan and get some basic last-minute supplies before heading to Bow Valley Provincial Park at the northern end of Kananaskis Country. At the foothills of the Canadian Rockies, there are some shorter trails in the park that should get us warmed up and prepared for the days to come. We’ll be car camping on our first night.
Day 2 – The Icefields Parkway
Our second day will be spent mostly on the road, driving the world-famous Icefields Parkway that passes through Banff and Jasper National Parks. This 230-km scenic drive can technically be done in 3-4 hours but we’ll take our time and make many stops along the way to take in the astounding views, including the Columbia Icefields and Athabaska glacier. Our drive continues west across the Alberta-B.C. border towards Mt. Robson, where we will spend the night at a nearby lodge.
Day 3 – Berg Lake Trail: To Whitehorn
Day 3 is the beginning of our 4-day backcountry hike into Mt. Robson Provincial Park on the Berg Lake Trail. Mount Robson is the tallest peak in the Canadian Rockies (not that we’re climbing the mountain, though – we’ll leave that to the professionals). We’ve split the hike-in into two sections – this first section from the trailhead to the Whitehorn campsite is about 11 km with a total elevation gain of only 250m, nice and easy. On the way in we’ll pass beautiful Kinney Lake.
Day 4 – Berg Lake Trail: To Rearguard
The following day is a bit more uphill: another 11 km hike until we reach our second campsite, but with a total elevation gain of 550m. We’ll pass through the Valley of a Thousand Falls before reaching Berg Lake and continue on to the Rearguard campsite, where we’ll set up camp for two nights.
Day 5 – Snowbird Pass
This may well be our most toughest day yet, and possibly the most challenging on the whole trip. A dayhike on the Snowbird Pass, a 18-km round trip up some 800m of rocky trails among alpine meadows and ancient glaciers. Hopefully the trails will be (mostly) clear of snow; July 1 is also the day the pass officially opens to hikers, as it is closed in May and June for caribou calving. If (when!) we make it to the end – what a crowning achievement that would be, and a great way to celebrate Canada Day in the Rockies.
Day 6 – Berg Lake Trail: The long return
And now begins the long trek back to the starting point, a 22-km downhill hike that won’t be easy and will take most of the day. We’ll be retracing our route from Rearguard camp all the way to the trailhead, and spend the night at a lodge near the park entrance. Comfortable beds. And showers!
Day 7 – Jasper: Sulphur Skyline Trail
Day 7 will see us heading back east towards Alberta where we will hike the Sulphur Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park. This is a 700m ascent up 4 km of the ridge on Sulphur Mountain. After the hike we plan to take a well-deserved soak in the natural hot springs in nearby Miette before continuing to the town of Banff where we’re staying at a nice country inn.
Day 8 – Banff Town
This is our relax and chill day after all the time on the trails. We’ll explore the town of Banff and all its (sometimes overly touristy) offerings. Maybe even have one of those famous Alberta steaks! In the evening we’ll drive to nearby Lake Louise where we’ll spend the remainder of the trip, front-country camping at Lake Louise Campground in Banff National Park.
Day 9 – Lake Louise: Mount Fairview
On Day 9 we’ll visit the famous Lake Louise and its equally iconic (and crazy expensive) Fairmont Chateau hotel. There are many hiking trails in the area, but we’re planning to take the route up Mount Fairview – a challenging 10-km hike and 1000m elevation gain that promises a stunning view of the lake below and surrounding mountains.
Day 10 – Lake Louise: Moraine Lake
Our last day of hiking, and something truly special. Moraine Lake and the Valley of the Ten Peaks is one of the most photographed views anywhere, and was even on the back of the Canadian 20-dollar bill not too long ago. There are many trails to choose from, so we’ll pick one in proportion to our energy levels.
Day 11 – Calgary and return
All good things come to an end. After packing up camp, we’ll hopefully have time for a good breakfast and some time to explore Calgary before catching an afternoon flight back to Toronto. At this point, we’ve probably had our share of majestic mountains, remote trails, and beautiful emerald lakes – at least for the time being. But heading back to work the day after will be very difficult indeed.