Mt. Assiniboine is the highest peak in the Southern Continental Range of the Canadian Rockies sitting at 11870 feet (3618 m). Its pointy pyramidal shape reminds many of the Matterhorn in the Swiss Alps, giving it the nickname of the “Matterhorn of the Rockies.” While our previous hike of the Iceline was about the experience as a whole, this hike was the opposite. Mt. Assiniboine is well worth the end to the many miles of mediocre trails.
This is the fourth entry of our Canadian Rockies trip series. You can navigate to the other parts in the index below as they are posted.
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The setup for the hike to Mt. Assiniboine required a little more work and planning than our other hikes on the trip. By taking the much needed zero day (day 5) after our first backcountry hike of The Rockwall, we needed to change our original reservation all together to work around the logistics involved. Specially, figuring out our actual route and where we would camp.
- name: Mt. Assiniboine from Sunshine Village/Mt. Standish to Mt. Shark trailhead
- type: point to point
- distance: 34.8 miles (56 km)
- elevation change: 5587 ft. (1702 m) ascent & 7598 ft. descent (2316 m)
- time: 3 days (15.44 hours moving)
- location: Sunshine Village, Banff National Park, Alberta, CA (google map directions)
There are two main trailheads used to access Mt. Assiniboine and hikers typically connect these as a point to point hike. In the north, hikers typically start at Sunshine Village after taking the gondola from Sunshine Parking Lot. This saves 6.2km of road walk uphills. However it is the southern trailhead of Mt. Shark that makes shuttling more difficult, aka more expensive, as it is relatively remote.
From Mt. Shark trailhead, there are 2 separate passes you can take to access Mt. Assiniboine, Wonderland Pass or Assiniboine Pass. These trailheads are the two recommended by Assiniboine Lodge. It is considered easier hike from Sunshine Village in the north to Mt. Shark in the south since it is more downhills and up.
Transportation logistics are also setup in favor of Sunshine to Mt. Shark since the only notable shuttle for hire (which isn’t cheap – CAD$75 to Canmore, CAD$90 to Sunshine Village or Banff) is through White Mountain Adventures leaving Mt. Shark trailhead in the late afternoon at 4:30pm with drop offs in Canmore, Sunshine Village, and Banff. The cheaper way maybe the other direction since it may be easier to hitchhike in from Canmore to the remote Mt. Shark trailhead than out. Access Sunshine Parking lot is much simpler with a bus shuttle from Banff during the summer (2019 announcement from skibanff) and plenty of day hikers to give you a hitch.
There are several other alternatives you can get creative with to access Mt. Assiniboine area. They are taking Simpson River/Surprise Creek from Hwy 93 (first few miles on alltrails; EDIT 2020/7: details from Canadian Rockies Trail Guide), Brewster Creek from Healy Creek/Brewster Creek trailhead off of the Trans-Canada Highway (first few miles on alltrails), or Aurora Creek from Baymag Mine/Aurora creek trailhead (explor8ion).
The hike to Mt. Assiniboine goes through both Banff National Park (Parks Canada) and Mt. Assiniboine Provincial Park (BC parks) so camping reservations may require going through separate systems. Add in Assiniboine Lodge if you are looking to stay in a cabin or room. The main campsite under Mt. Assiniboine is the Magog Lake campgrounds managed by Mt. Assiniboine Provincial Park (reservation required for peak season). Magog Lake campgrounds is 18.2 miles (29.3km) from Sunshine Village (22.1 miles or 35.5km from Sunshine parking lot) and 17.6 miles from Mt. Shark trailhead (28 km).
Between Sunshine Village and Magog Lake campgrounds, there are 3 other campgrounds hikers utilize to breakup the distance. They are Howard Douglas campgrounds (3.9 miles or 6.2km from Sunshine Village; reservation required with Banff National Park), Porcupine campgrounds (roughly 8.7 miles or 14km first come first serve in Mt. Assiniboine Provincial Park), Police Meadows cabin (also first come first serve, report by explor8ion), and Lake Og (reservation required during peak season by Assiniboine Provincial Park).
Between Lake Magog campgrounds and Mt. Shark trailhead, there are a more options in Banff National Park all requiring reservations. They are Big Springs, Marvel Lake, Bryant Lake Shelter, McBride’s Camp, and Allenby Junction.
Outside of the typical path, there are a few more first come first serve campgrounds and shelters within Mt. Assiniboine Provincial Park similar to Porcupine campground and Police Meadows Cabin. They are Surprise Creek cabin/campground, Mitchell Meadows campground, and Mitchell River Cabin (Assiniboine Lodge camping information page).
Picking up on day 6 of our Canadian Rockies trip after a day hike of the Iceline in Yoho National Park, we rescheduled our reservation for Lake Magog to day 8 of our trip. Of course, we would have preferred 2 night there like our original reservation for day 5 and 6, but we need a zero day to rest and actually plan our Mt. Assiniboine hike.
A big part of those plans involved the exact trails to take and setting up shuttling options (see above for the options). We ended up throwing money at the shuttling issue and opted for a pickup from Mt. Shark trailhead. We did save a few dollars by having the shuttle drop Meg off in Canmore at our hotel rather than Sunshine Village, where our car was parked.
So our overall plan was to park our car at Sunshine Village. Purchase the gondola lift tickets up and start at Mt. Standish, the end of the lifts. We would spend our 1st night (end of day 7) at the first come first serve Porcupine campgrounds within Mt. Assiniboine Provincial Park. Then hike to Lake Magog campgrounds on day 8, where we had a 1 night reservation. On day 9, we would hike all the way out to Mt. Shark trailhead to catch our shuttle. At one point during my planning, we had the option for another night at one of the campgrounds between Lake Magog and Mt. Shark, but opted to hike all the way out so we would have a full day get ourselves up to Lake Berg for our next hike.
We woke up on day 7 of our trip to an less than ideal forecast, overcast with the chance of rain. So we took our time checking out and getting to the trailhead. A late start wasn’t too much of a worry since we had decided to pay for the gondola ride at Sunshine Village making our hike for the day just under 9 miles. We finally left Canmore after eating an early lunch and arriving at Sunshine Village around 11 am.
- distance: 8.7 miles (14.0 km)
- elevation change: 1747 ft. (533 m) ascent & 3648 ft. descent (1112 m)
- time: 4:23 hours
We left our car in the large parking area at Sunshine Village and proceeded to the buy a day pass ticket to ride the gondola, it was CAD$40 each. It would have allowed us to return if we were only doing a day hike. Fortunately for an outbound couple hiking out from Assiniboine and finishing at Sunshine, our tickets saved them a few bucks.
Should you want to save the cost of the gondola ride, there is a 4 mile (6.5 km) dirt road that you can hike up gaining 1722 ft (525 m) taking 2 to 3 hours (assiniboinelodge.com).
It took us 20 minutes to ride the gondola to Sunshine Lodge. There is a bathroom and water fountain you can use at the lodge.
We could have started our hike from the lodge, but our day passes also allowed us to access the lift to the top of Mt. Standish. So we thought we might as well head up.
The area around Mt. Standish was a popular spot for day hikers and tourists as plenty were hanging around the viewpoint. Laryx Lake and Rock Isle Lake can bee seen from here and so can Mt. Assiniboine in the distance.
There are a few loops and trails in the area,
but we headed directly toward the trail to Mt. Assiniboine. It was about 1 mile from Standish Viewing Deck starting with the trail to Twin Cairns Junction and then Rock Isle Junction with 1/3 of a mile downhill at about -15.2%. There were plenty of novice hikers and tourists here, so some patience is needed.
Once we turned right onto the trail to Mt. Assiniboine, we were pretty much on our own crossing a large grassy area for just over a mile.
At the edge of the flat, we dipped down through some trees into another meadow before starting our climb back up toward Quartz Ridge. The uphills started about 2.75 miles into our hike. For the first quarter of a mile, we hiked uphills at about with the steepest incline at 21.6% grade through the forest accompanied by many wild flowers. Once we were through the forest, the trail mellowed out to about a 14.6% grade for a third of a mile in the open where we could see the meadows we came from.
On top of Quartz Ridge at the 3.4 miles mark, we came to an open view of the trail ahead of us. Immediately in front of us was the downhill was Howard Douglas Lake. Behind that is Citadel Peak, we would be heading to the left of it to through Citadel Pass. And ofcourse Mt. Assiniboine pokes out in the distance once again.
Heading down to Howard Douglas Lake was about 0.4 miles at a -17.4% grade. Here is one of campgrounds hikers use to breakup the hike into Mt. Assiniboine, The Howard Douglas Lake campgrounds (SU 8) managed by Banff National Park and requiring previous reservations (Parks Canada). This was at about 3.8 miles into the hike.
The next mile of the trail undulated through a patch of forest and meadows with plenty of wildflowers. Then for the mile after, the trail gained elevation at a mild 7.3% grade toward Citadel Pass.
Citadel Pass is a junction for several trails and the boundary of Banff National Park and Mt. Assiniboine Provincial Park. This was at roughly 6 miles into our day and we continued by followed signs for Mt. Assiniboine here. Other trails here lead toward Fatigue Pass into the Fatigue Creek drainage and Brewster Creek trail or the Citadel Peak route.
The mile after Citadel Pass dropped us mildly (-5.9% grade) onto a bench with a couple of ponds and plenty of wildflowers. Mt Assiniboine made its appearance once again in the distance.
At the end of the bench, the steep downhills begin with a -16.7% grade over the next mile through the forest.
When we reached the junction at mile 8 for the Porcupine campgrounds, we turned right and began an even steeper drop to the valley floor. The steeper drop was at about a -23.5% grade just over a half mile.
After we reached the valley floor, it was only a few more steps until we reached Porcupine campgrounds. The campgrounds had a dedicated cooking area with a gray water drainage and bear box.
When we arrived just before 4pm, all the tent pads in the main area of the campgrounds were taken including some of the open areas. There were still some smaller open spaces left so we put our stuff down and did some more scouting of the campgrounds. It was fortunate we scouted a bit more because the best tent pad was hidden away from the main area across the stream just before the trail out of camp. So we had our private area area all to ourselves.
We set up camp and joined other campers at the food area for dinner. We turned in early just before hiker midnight since we wanted our pick of campsite at Magog Lake campgrounds the next day. We also wanted to leave the possibility of a day hike in the afternoon.
If you find the Porcupine campgrounds full, there is additional camping at Police Meadows about 1.3 miles further.
- distance: 9.4 miles (15.1 km)
- elevation change: 2542 ft. (775 m) ascent & 1227 ft. descent (374 m)
- time: 4:45 hours
We hit the trails around 7:40am first gaining some elevation through the forest before dropping down around a pond and meadow area 1.6 miles from the Porcupine campgrounds. I wouldn’t recommend the water from the pond, but it is the last water source until Og Lake. It is better just to fill up at Porcupine campgrounds. Next, our first major uphill of the day started with a 24% grade switch-backing over 1/3 of a mile.
At the pass, there was a cool rock structure that we were able to scramble up for a view of the valley. It was a blue bird day.
Then the trail continued through the forest into into the next valley and junctioned with the trail headed toward Mt. Assiniboine at the 2.2 mile mark on the day.
The next 0.4 miles headed uphills again in the forest at a 12.1% grade. Afterwards, the trail continued to undulate with a slight uphill for the next couple of miles crossing a rocky bolder area known as the Valley of the Rocks.
With the open areas, it provided more interesting views of the mountains around including Golden Mountain and Nasswald Peak.
At the 5.16 mile mark with the trail crescendoing and rounding the mountain, the view opens up once again with Mt. Assiniboine looming large now and Og Lake directly in front of us.
We arrived at Og Lake campgrounds after 5.7 miles around 10:47 am, it seemed like a five star campgrounds with a great view of Mt. Assiniboine.
Unfortunately for us, it was a reservation only campgrounds during peak season like Magog Lake campgrounds through BC Parks. There are bear boxes, tent pads, and an outhouse. We’ll have to look to stay here in the future.
The hike after Og Lake mildly increased in elevation over the next 2.25 miles. Immediately after Og Lake, we hiked up through a gap following Og Creek. Then we came to a large meadow with plenty of wildflowers and squeaks from what I believe are Stoats (or at least some sort of weasel).
Unfortunately, this peaceful scenery was broken up by the constant helicopter noise pollution flying people in and out of the valley to Assiniboine Lodge. At the end of the meadow and 8 miles on our day, we junctioned with the trail coming from Assiniboine Pass, one of the options coming in from Mt. Shark trailhead. During August and September, Assiniboine Pass is generally closed to reduce human-grizzly bear conflicts due to the amount of berries around the pass that the bears eat. There is a horse trail that goes through Assiniboine Pass that does remain open to hikers however.
A few more steps through a gap, we came to another meadow and junction. This one was for the trail toward Ferro Pass and the Surprise Creek trailhead access on Highway 93.
As we neared Mt. Assiniboine Lodge, we turned right at the junction for the Lake Magog campgrounds. We would have another 1.3 miles or 2 km left.
This portion was mostly through the forest, but did open up briefly as we neared the campgrounds where we got our first look at Lake Magog and another view of Mt. Assiniboine.
We arrived at Magog Lake campgrounds just before 12:30pm, but it took us roughly an hour to explore the entirety of the expansive campgrounds. Since we were there relatively early, I had a chance to scout every campsite (see map at BC Parks).
The best camping spot in my opinion was #28 as it was a bit more secluded with an open view of Mt. Assiniboine, but it was taken already. #38 and #39 were also in the open and had good views, but they are in a busy area next to the large cooking gazebo. #9 had a partial view of Mt. Assiniboine. We decided on #12.
After setting up camp and eating lunch, we decided to take advantage of the blue bird day just head down to Lake Magog and enjoy chilling and exploring the area around the lake rather than a day hike.
We spent some time sitting lakeside skipping rocks and relaxing.
Before long, it was almost tea time at Assiniboine Lodge, which is 4pm-5pm for campers. We make the walk along the beach back to Assiniboine Lodge.
The main draw on the menu for tea time were the cakes and of course the beer and wine. They only take cash however, so remember to bring some on your way in. This was pretty much the only place we needed cash on our trip.
We were joined by a group of hikers from Calgary we hung out with during dinners the night before and accompanied them back to camp after tea time.
The mosquitoes at the campgrounds were merciless so we ended up hanging out along the lake for dinner instead where the warm breeze kept the mosquitoes at bay. Challenges regarding jumping into the Lake Magog were made and fulfilled. I had no problem taking the plunge but I ran out just as fast as I jumped in. That same warm breeze did a nice job drying me off. Hot chocolate and some whiskey also helped warm me up.
As hiker midnight start to draw near, Meg and I returned to our tent to turn in for the night. While we readied ourselves for bed, the rangers came by to check on our permits. It was the only time during our trip that we were checked on my rangers. With the popularity, the campgrounds it was expected.
We decided to keep our rainfly off with the clear skies to enjoy the sunlight reflecting on Mt. Assiniboine and the stars at night as we fell asleep.
- distance: 17.6 miles (28.3 km)
- elevation change: 2101 ft. (640 m) ascent & 3515 ft. descent (1071 m)
- time: 8:55 hours
Our last day of the hike would be the longest since we were hiking all the way out so we could have a zero day before our next backpacking trip. We also woke up the earliest since our shuttle pickup from White Mountain Adventures was scheduled for 4:30pm pickup. We were up at the buttcrack of dawn (5:30am).
We decided to walk back toward Assiniboine Lodge along the lakeshore and were treated with a fantastic view of Mt. Assiniboine reflected on the still Lake Magog. Not only that, we had the whole place to ourselves.
By the time we reached the far side of the lake after a mile, our last view of Mt. Assiniboine had turned from pink to orange with the sun inching closer to revealing itself. This was my favorite morning of our entire trip.
We returned to the Wonder Pass and Marvel Lake Trail to start up the 2 mile hike uphills at 7.1% grade to Wonder Pass. The trail were first on well maintained wood planks that went through the Naiset Cabin area, marshy fields, and crossing of Magog Creek.
Next the trail pass the still Gog Lake before turning into the forest.
We passed a small waterfall on Magog Creek about a 1/3 mile from the pass.
On our final stretch up the Wonder Pass, the sun finally eclipsed the mountainous horizon through the trees and among the wildflowers creating a serene mood.
Wonder Pass was sits at 7874 ft. (2400 m) was the highest point of our hike and making the border of Mt. Assiniboine Provincial Park and Banff National Park. We reached the pass just before 8am and 3.4 miles into our hike on the day.
Mt. Assiniboine had long disappeared behind the immediate peaks of the Towers to the west of the pass. There is a junction here you can take to head up to Wonder Peak (explor8ion), something we’ll have to attempt the next time we are back.
There were plenty of flies swarming at Wonder Pass so we didn’t linger long and headed down into the bench of the other side. The descent through the bench was at a mild -7.1% grade over 1.2 miles. Shortly after we left the pass, we came to an unsigned junction. The trail to branching to the left seemed to dead end on my gps map, we decided to continue on and skip the extra mile roundtrip. However, I wish we had done so because it provides a much better view of Gloria Lake (campingcanucks) that our vantages points through the trees later on.
At the end of the bench, the view opened up more with a view of Marvel Lake. The lighting with the still low morning sun and fog created some of favorite pictures of the trip.
Over the next mile, we had the steepest drop of the day at about -17% grade zigzaging through the forest. As I mentioned earlier, we had glimpses through the trees of teal Lake Gloria, Lake Terrapin, and the surrounding mountains, but never an open view.
Once the trail flattens out, we an open section of scree giving us a open view Penny’s Peak and Mount Gloria.
Over the next 2.8 miles, the trail continues at a very slight downhill on a ledge overlooking Marvel Lake with open views here and there. The view toward the end of the valley is of Penny’s Peak, Mount Gloria, and Aye Mountain.
The view down the valley weren’t as interesting as the morning sun and haze obscured much of the details. The hike along the ledge can be a bit draining with plenty of exposure from the sun.
8.3 miles into our day, we reached the junction splitting the trail toward Bryant Creek shelter/campground (BR 14) and the Marvel Lake campgrounds (BR 13). Since we weren’t camping at either, it didn’t matter which one we took.
I guessed Marvel Lake would provide for a nice place for a lunch break. Even though 10:30am was a bit early, we had been hiking for 4 hours and the open trail along the ledge took a bit out of us. Our decision was reward with an absolutely stunning view of Marvel Lake 0.4 miles from the junction.
There were some leftover equipment here along with a restriction of water based activities here due to Whirling Disease (Parks Canada).
After lunch here, we continued on the flat trail passing a small unnamed pond.
0.7 miles after Marvel Lake, we came to a bridge crossing Bryant Creek. On the other side was the Marvel Lake campgrounds (BR 13).
Another 0.4 miles from Bryant Creek and 9.5 mile mark on the day, we came to the junction with the Assiniboine Pass Trail. It was a wide fire road like trail and the beginning of the long slog to finishing out our hike.
It was 2.2 miles in a monotonous trail through the woods, though not thick enough to give us cover from the sun, until we reached Big Springs and Big Springs campgrounds (BR 9).
We fill up on water here and pushed on. It wasn’t another mile until we came to an opening and a view upon Bryant Creek. You wouldn’t know it, but Bryant Creek and the Assiniboine Trail trail were parallel with each other the entire time we are on it. I would have traded a couple more miles for an more interesting trail along the creek rather than the boring walk through the woods.
3/4 of a mile later and 13.3 miles on the day, we reached the next junction and took the right option toward the Mt. Shark trailhead.
This finally provided us with a brief change of scenery, by taking us across the rushing Bryant Creek
and then the head of the Spray Lake Reservoir.
The Watridge Lake Trail that we were now crossed into Spray Valley Provincial Park, back into Banff National Park, and then again into Spray Valley Provincial Park.
A few step further, we a bridge took us over the green Spray River with Cone Mountain looming downstream.
The half mile uphill that came next at 9.5% grade might have been the toughest for us mentally. We were approaching 15 miles and 7 hours on the day. The trees on either side of the wide dirt road provided no protection from the peak sun.
0.8 miles after to crested the hill, we came to our next junction which was a side trail to to Watridge Lake.
We wanted to push to the end, but recognized we needed a break. So we dropped our packs at the junction and headed down the few steps to Watridge Lake. It was well worth it.
It was good we did because the final 2.4 miles were brutally boring and draining under the hot afternoon sun on a cross country trail that seemed like a fire road surrounded by short trees. If you are taking this direction for a in and out, definitely bring a mountain bike to make quicker work of this terrible section.
The conclusion to our Mt. Assiniboine hike was my least favorite stretch of trail we encountered on the entirety of our trip. I can see why so many pony up the heavy fees of the helicopter ride.
We were extremely happy to see Mt. Shark trailhead after 17.6 miles and a bit over 8.5 hours, we reached our destination just before 3pm with 1.5 hours to spare for our shuttle back into town.
With some time to kill at the trailhead, we laid down our tarp and napped in the shade to waiting for the shuttle. It arrived just before 4pm and since all the hikers had arrived, we took off early. Fruit and juice boxes were the snacks provided, which were nice but not the chips I had hoped for.
The drive was a bumpy one rounding Spray Lake Reservoir before dropping down into the Canmore. Even though it was a dirt road, it seemed like a typical sedan would be fine driving on it.
We booked a night at Rundle Mountain Lodge (hotels.com) since it had laundry and I had some Hotels.com giftcards that I purchased for 20% discount (available on Newegg or Amazon at different times throughout the year). We had the shuttle drop Meg off at our hotel first since the ride to Canmore was cheaper and she can get started unpacking. I rode rest of the way to Sunshine Village to pick up the car. Banff was actually the last dropoff for the shuttle since it was the most difficult to navigate.
After a shower, it was burger time at Graze (trip advisor). They were one of the more memorable restaurants in Canmore, especially the portion size. After 18 miles and starving, it hit the spot well.
The rating below are based on an unevenly distributed scale of 1-5. For full description of the ratings and the categories, see the explanation here.
views/experience: 4. The highlight of the hike was indeed Mt. Assiniboine standing tall and majestic from our first glimpse at our start on Mt. Standish to our lake side view by Lake Magog.
I would recommend staying at least a couple of nights at Magog Lake campgrounds to full take in the magnificent basin, something we’ll have to do when we return. While we spent our time lounging along the shores of Lake Magog, there are several day hikes (infarawayland) to explore here such as the Nub/Nublet hike (hikebiketravel, peterlamphotography). In the future, I would like to hike up to Wonder Peak (explor8ion) for a better view of Gloria Lake and Mt. Assiniboine from the other side.
It seems like the Lake Magog basin is the primary reason for the provincial parks popularity and the helicopter transport makes it easy for everyone to access the valley. Most of the trail that we hiked into Lake Magog were a mixed bag with more mediocre sections than great and included the dullest portion of trail we experience on our trip. Since we spent most of this hike on these trails, it does take away from the experience as a whole.
My favorite trail section from on our way out from Wonderland Pass down to Marvel Lake. It didn’t hurt that we had the perfect morning for the hike.
This was followed by my least favorite portion of the hike on the boring dirt road that is Assiniboine Pass Trail through the woods and the Watridge Lake Trail, which was a cross country ski trail in the open without much views.
The trail on our way in from Sunshine Village was enjoyable enough, but not the most interesting. The best part was the many wildflowers that dotted the meadows we traversed.
difficulty: 2. Going in from Sunshine Village and heading out of Mt. Shark, we experienced more elevation drop than gain. The trails were never that difficult overall and we cruised on the well traveled trail. The most annoying portion was again the Assiniboine Pass Trail and the Watridge Lake Trail between Marvel Lake and Mt. Shark trailhead. It was very boring and the lack of cover through parts of it meant we were baking under the sun for long portions. That section was difficult enough for others to leave a colorful message at the Mt. Shark trailhead.
technical: 1. There were no specific navigation or other specialized knowledge beyond basic hiking skills that were needed for the hike. There was no scrambling or need to use our hands since the trail is very well managed. There was some slight exposure coming down from Wonderland Pass to Marvel Lake, but the trail was well managed once again.
- British Columbia Parks – Mount Assiniboine Reservation
- Parks Canada reservations
- Assiniboine Lodge
- White Mountain Adventures – Mt. Shark Shuttle Reservations
- besthike.com – Sunshine to Assiniboine Information (#5 top 10 hikes)
- in a faraway land – guide to visit Mt. Assiniboine