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trip report: Canadian Rockies – final impressions, top 5, & budget, August 2019

On our road trip through the Canadian Rockies, we completed a total of 12 hikes that spanned 4 national parks and 3 provincial parks. I can confidently say I’ve seen very little of the canadian rockies, so confident that I will write the top 5 hikes of the Canadian Rockies that we experienced now. Don’t worry, it is accompanied by some future ideas.

This is the final entry of our Canadian Rockies trip series. You can navigate to the other previous parts of the series in the index.


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1 planning & research
2 trip report day 0-1: getting in
3 trip report day 2-5: Kootenay National Park – The Rockwall
4 trip report day 6: Yoho National Park – Iceline
5 trip report day 7-9: Mt. Assiniboine Provincial Park
6 trip report day 10-14: Mt. Robson Provincial Park – Berg Lake & Snowbird Pass
7 trip report day 15-16: Jasper National Park – Edith Cavell & Valley of the Five Lakes
8 trip report day 17: Jasper National Park – Bald Hill
9 trip report day 18-19: Jasper National Park – Skyline
10 trip report day 20: Jasper National Park – Wilcox Pass
11 trip report day 20-21: Banff National Park – Bow Summit Lookout & Peyto Lake
12 trip report day 22: Yoho National Park – Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit
13 trip report day 23: Banff National Park – Lake Louise
14 trip report day 23-25: getting out
15 final impressions, rankings, & budget
      15.1 final impressions
      15.2 top 5 hikes
            15.2.1 Berg Lake & Snowbird Pass
            15.2.2 Lake O’Hara
            15.2.3 Iceline
            15.2.4 The Rockwall
            15.2.5 Mt. Assiniboine
      15.3 future ideas
      15.4 budget

final impressions

Through the course of 24 full days during August 2019, we road tripped the Canadian Rockies without much planning ahead of time. Our counting stats of the trip included 2536.3 miles on the road and roughly 208.1 miles (334.9 km) with 49998 ft (15239 m) of elevation gain on the trails. When we started, I didn’t think we’d spent our entire trip in the Canadian Rockies since all the backpacking required previous reservations and we had none to start. But with some patience, flexibility, and refreshing Park Canada’s  online reservation system we were able to hike all that I had in mind.

Wilcox Pass, a stop along the Icefields Parkway

My only negative experienced in the Canadian Rockies was on our last day in the hyper tourist visited Lake Louise area. I typically don’t mind heavily trafficked hikes or views since they deserve to be shared. However, some travelers need to realize that sharing means being respectful to other and the place itself. No picture is worth tramping over nature or ruining someone else’s experience by being an a-hole. I understand there are also many new hikers in these areas and I am happy to open the conversation about Leave No Trace principles (LNT) or hiking etiquette (NPS) so we can all continue to enjoy nature now and into the future. 

In the end, the trip was a fulfilling one spent among the jagged, snow-covered peaks, glaciers, and lakes of many colors even though we only saw a small portion. This was my second time visiting and I know I’ll be back again. At the moment, I consider the Canadian Rockies among my favorite places to in the world, enough so that I’d consider moving there at some point in my life.

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current top 5 hikes

With so much in the Canadian Rockies, this is a completely unqualified ranking of hikes and will probably echo that of many lists out there. At least this all out of personal experience.

1. Berg Lake & Snowbird Pass

  • detailed report
  • type: in & out
  • distance: 37.9 miles (61.0 km)
  • elevation change: 7566 ft. (2306 m)
  • time: 3 days (recommended 4-5)
  • location: Mount Robson Provincial Park, near Valemount, British Columbia, Canada
  • view/experience rating: 5

This hike had everything and never during the entire hike was there a moment where we just had to put our head down and crush some miles. Views included the massive Robson Glacier wrapping around Rearguard Mountain, the expansive Reef Icefield at Snowbird Pass, sunset at Berg Lake with Mount Robson looming, the powerful Emperor Falls, and the perfectly still and teal Kinney Lake, each would have been the highlight of a hike individually. Here they combine to form the hike the defined the Canadian Rockies for me.

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2. Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit

  • detailed report
  • type: loop
  • distance: 7.4 miles (11.9 km)
    • 6.9 miles (11 km) road walk one-way without bus ride
  • elevation change: 3114 ft. (949 m)
  • time: 6:12 hours (5:05 moving)
  • location: Yoho National Park, near Field, British Columbia, Canada
  • view/experience rating: 4

I thought Yoho National Park was the underrated park among the four major parks (others being Banff, Jasper, and Kootenay). Lake O’Hara is one of the reason as it is tucked away nicely under the jagged peaks of Mount Huber, Wiwaxy Peaks, Glacier Peak, Ringrose Peak, Yukness Peak, Mount Shafer, and Odaray Mountain. The Alpine Circuit circles Lake O’Hara up high on the ledges under these peaks providing us ever changing views. It also brought us to the many alpine lakes, which can provide a refreshing dip to breakup the hike. 

We hiked in as part of a long day hike, however, I hope to return and camp at Lake O’Hara in the future. There are several other hikes in the valley I’d love to explore.

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3. Iceline

  • detailed report
  • type: loop
  • distance: 12.6 miles (20.2 km)
  • elevation change: 2932 ft. (894 m)
  • time: 6:30 hours (5:43 moving)
  • location: Takakkaw Trailhead, Yoho Valley Road, Yoho National Park, British Columbia, Canada
  • view/experience rating: 4

Another hike in the underrated Yoho National Park is the Iceline. We completed it as a day hike with the main Iceline section crossing an alpine ledge under the Presidential Range overlooking Yoho Valley. Hanging glaciers, powerful waterfalls, and green lakes are other features found on this hike with continuous views. 

In the future, I look forward to exploring Yoho further, perhaps backpacking along the iceline, further into Yoho Valley, and then over to Emerald Lakes. 

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4. The Rockwall

  • detailed report
  • type: point to point
  • distance: 34.4 miles (55 km)
  • elevation change: 9088 ft. (2770 m) ascent & 9449 ft. (2881 m) descent
  • time: 3 days (recommended 4-5)
  • location: Painted Pots Trailhead, Kootenay National Park
  • view/experience rating: 4

Our first hike on our trip was the Rockwall located in Kootenay National Park. The name of the hike describes the hike well as the prominent feature is the granite ridge that we hiked along for 3 days. It is indeed awe inspiring and seems like something out of a fantasy movie. At either ends of the hike, Helmet Falls campgrounds and Floe Lake campgrounds were saw on our trip, though we weren’t lucky enough to find an opening at Floe Lake. Understated portions of the hike included some tranquil alpine forests and blooming wildflowers and berries. 

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5. Mt. Assiniboine

  • detailed report
  • 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 
  • view/experience rating: 4

Mt. Assiniboine and the area around Lake Magog was a highlight of our trip. Our best sunrise was walking along the shores of Lake Magog with the perfect reflection of the pink and then orange shaded Mt. Assiniboine. I wish I was able to find more than one night for us at the campsite there for there is plenty still left to explore here.

However, the trails into and out of Mt. Assiniboine didn’t nearly have the same appeal. Other than Wonder Pass and Marvel Lake, there were some long stretch of monotonous trail through the forest or in the open of a cross-country ski course. Mt. Assiniboine was the definition of a destination hike, which is why it landed lower on my list. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still rated as a 4 and I want to return to spend more time under Mt. Assiniboine.

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future ideas

For the small amount of trails we saw overall, it’s hard not to think about returning to them for future plans. This is especially true for an autumn return to the Canadian Rockies when peak tourist season is over. Additionally, I would look forward to the larch trees turning yellow and the dustings of snow to add to the contrast of an already amazing composition. 

So in that regards, all the hikes in my top 5 has a draw for me to return to. Whether it is getting to camp a few nights at Lake O’Hara, Lake Berg, or Lake Magog so I could explore these areas more, hiking further into Yoho National Park, or being able to enjoy a night at Floe Lake.

I’d like to camp down there next time around.

For new ideas, there are so much out there that I can’t just say I have a specific plan for any one thing. Knowing me, the next trip out there may very much resemble this one where we are just planning as we go. But in efforts to start thinking about how a return trip might go, here are a couple approaches I may take.

One approach would involve delving further into the backcountry and explore disuse trails in the northern reaches of Jasper National Park. Of trail ideas would also include hikes like the Six Passes Alternate for the GDT (GDT; Nancy Hikeshiking project). A split off that idea would be getting into mountaineering to traverse some glaciers and bag some peaks. I would refer to for more ideas. 

The second approach would just be a continuation of this trip that include established hikes. Some that are still on my list include Sulphur Skyline (Parks Canada, Laid Back Trip), Brazeau Lake Loop (MyOwnFrontier), Skoski Circuit (Canadian Rockies Hiking), and Tonquin Valley (Parks Canada) to name a few. Additionally, there are trails in areas such as Kananaskis, Glacier National Park of Canada, and all the way out to Garibaldi Provincial Park that I’d want to explore. 

Regardless, I can’t go wrong with a return to the Canadian Rockies.

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Overall, we weren’t very tight with our budget on this trip. Mainly, we splurged quite a lot at restaurants and the local alcohol (dining out category) where the more penny pinching and disciplined travelers we use to be would have stuck more to the grocery stores (food category). The quantity we got out of the latter was by far higher than the former.

Secondly we did enjoy the hotel life a bit with a total of 17 nights, especially after hiking. What isn’t shown in this summary of housing cost is the amount we were able to save through point purchases and credit card benefits, averaging under USD$100 a night in peak season is pretty good.

Lastly, our activity costs were inflated due to last minute changes and bookings. I’m pretty sure I paid more booking fees for our backpacking hikes than the actual campsites themselves. That is a cost I am more than willing to pay for our experiences, especially since they go toward maintaining the wilderness.

itemized costs:

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