Assiniboine via Wonder Pass – Backpacking the Assiniboine Trail Day 4

Marvel Peak and Lake - Assiniboine via Wonder Pass
Marvel Lake and Marvel Peak are some of the highlights of hiking the Assiniboine Trail via Wonder Pass.

After spending the morning hiking nearly 7 miles and over a thousand vertical feet, it was time to say goodbye to our Magog Campsite and continue our backpacking journey of Mount Assiniboine via Wonder Pass. Our destination for the day was the Marvel Lake Campground. To get to Marvel Lake there are actually two choices. Backpackers can go over the less scenic but easier Assiniboine Pass with very little elevation gain. Or, take the beautiful but slightly longer Wonder Pass. With a name like Wonder Pass, we of course choose that route. This journey would take us another 9.5-miles with 1,048’ of elevation gain. But the 2,000’ descent would be the real challenge.

Backpacking the Assiniboine Trail

This post is all about our experience backpacking Mount Assiniboine via Wonder Pass. If you missed any part of our eventful trip get caught up using the links below. You can also check out our Mount Assiniboine Guide to start planning your own adventure.

Day 4 – Backpacking Assiniboine via Wonder Pass

Assiniboine Mountain Range
The Assiniboine Mountain Range from the eastern edge of Magog Lake. Wonder Pass is behind the trees on the far left side of the image. Mountain Peaks from left to right: The Towers, Naiset Peak, Magog, Assiniboine, Wedgewood, & Sunburst.
  • Route: Magog Lake to Marvel Lake via Wonder Pass
  • Distance: 9.25 miles
  • Total Elevation Gain: 1,048′
  • Magog Lake Campground Elevation: 7,165′
  • Wonder Pass Elevation: 7,874’
  • Marvel Lake Campground Elevation: 5,965′

We set out from the Magog Campground at about 2:00 PM after having done some day hikes earlier in the day, having lunch, and packing up our site. The path away from the campground was one we were familiar with by this point as it took us back along the Magog Lakeshore towards the Assiniboine Lodge. Near the north-east corner of the lake, the path breaks away from the one leading to the lodge and starts to climb into the forest to the east of the lake. 

Naiset Huts

Naiset Huts
The Naiset Huts are a more affordable option to the Assiniboine Lodge for those looking for a permeant structure when visiting Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park.

Before long we came to the meadow that houses the Naiset Huts. These huts are the budget-friendly alternative to staying in the Assiniboine Lodge. They are located less than half a mile from the lakeshore but the lake isn’t visible from the huts. They look very nice and have an enclosed central cooking shelter that is well stocked with all the needed or desired cooking utensils. Next time we plan on staying here, but they sell out quickly. They have a good view of Naiset Peak as well as Mount Assiniboine.

Onward and Upward

The Towers
The mountains known as The Towers rise above a small unnamed lake as hikers climb the Assiniboine Trail via Wonder Pass.

We left the hut area via the nicely laid out boardwalk and continued our backpacking journey through Assiniboine via Wonder Pass. Past the boardwalk, the path crosses over a creek before arriving at an alpine lake. Its fed by the snow and glacial meltwater coming down from the peak known as The Towers. As the path approaches the lake it starts a steep ascent up the mountainside to the east. At the top, we entered into another high alpine meadow that sits at 7,430 feet and about 2 miles from the Magog Lake Campground.

Mount Cautley Waterfall & Gorge

On the far side of the alpine meadow we once again crossed over the creek where a hidden waterfall could be heard in the distance on the other side of a small gorge. Once across the creek, the trail returned to a steep climb switchbacking a few times until we had arrived at the top of the gorge. We found ourselves overlooking the once hidden waterfall running from Mount Cautley to the east. 

Wonder Pass

Assiniboine via Wonder Pass
Looking south into Banff National Park from Wonder Pass on the Assiniboine Trail.

The final push to Wonder Pass continues on a steep ascent covering the final 250’ in half a mile. The beauty from the top is wonderful and picturesque. Looking back to the northwest we took in much of the landscape we had spent the last 4 days crossing. Wonder Pass is the highest point along our entire Assiniboine backpacking route. Once we crossed over we left behind the Assiniboine landscape we had come to love through adversity. On the other side of the pass, the new Banff National Park landscape sprawled out before us. The southern side of the pass has no trees near the top and the slope is more gradual, falling away into an alpine bowl towards the newly revealed peaks far in the distance.

First Sight of Marvel Lake

Marvel Lake Thru the Trees
Peering through the trees at the turquoise waters of Marvel Lake.

As we continued on the trail out of Assiniboine via Wonder Pass, the path quickly picks up the flow of water from The Towers, a peak to the west. There is a waterfall plummeting steeply and widening the creek at their meeting. The trail drops nearly 200’ and then meanders through the alpine bowl before dropping another 150’ and arriving at a precipice overlooking the deep valley holding the massive Marvel Lake (5,940’). The rich turquoise waters sit nearly 1,500’ feet below of this spot where we caught our initial glimpse. We had been on the trail for about 4 miles but the lake looked so close. Getting to the water’s edge would be a long 4.5-mile downhill journey.

A Steep Descent

We started down the steep mountainside, quickly picking back up the tree-line. There are two other glaciated turquoise lakes that sit immediately to the southwest of Marvel Lake but we could only catch glimpses of them through the the trees as we descended sharply. Over the next mile the path drops almost 900’ through a series of extremely steep switchbacks. These are rough on the knees especially with the added weight of the backpacking gear.

Loose and Steep Terrain

At the bottom of this steep decline we were rewarded with the opportunity to gain back almost a tenth of the elevation loss in less than 500 feet. At the pinnacle of this short climb we arrived at a dried up steep creek bed. The path ahead meant crossing over the loose boulders of the creek and then descending an even looser pebble-strewn path. Slippery, even even under dry conditions. I was extremely thankful that we hadn’t arrived here in the rain. Luckily, this section is short-lived and we found firmer footing for the rest of our descent.

600′ above Marvel Lake

Above Marvel Lake - Assiniboine via Wonder Pass
Jennifer stops to take in the view of Marvel Lake along the long descent.

At 5.2-miles of hiking for the day, the path turns to follow the outline of the lake headed towards the east. The trail is still almost 600’ above the surface of the lake. It is a much easier and much more enjoyable traverse as the path follows the lakeshore from above. There are plenty of viewpoints along this stretch where the beauty of the lake can be fully appreciated. Backpackers cross over large boulder fields, creeks rushing down from the peaks above, and treelined forests. The most difficult obstacle for us was a creek crossing where the snowpack was still in place but no longer solid enough for us with our pack weight. We had to venture down the rocky creek bed to a spot where the ice had melted, cross over and scramble our way back out on the opposite side. 

The Final Descent

Marvel Lakeshore
Marvel Lake in Banff National Park’s backcountry.

At the far end of Marvel lake and 8-miles on the trail from Assiniboine via Wonder Pass, we entered into a dense forest obscuring the lake. The now unseen water was still nearly 200’ below us. A short distance later we came to the intersection where the trail to the Marvel Lake Campground splits off the main Wonder Pass Trail and quickly descends to the lake’s shore. The path leads from the corner of the lakeshore back into the dense trees for the last mile of the day’s journey. It has a slight ascent before crossing over Bryant Creek via an odd-looking bridge with massive steeps. Just on the other side of the bridge, we found the small Marvel Lake Campground. 

Marvel Lake Campground

Bryant Creek Bridge
The bridge over Bryant Creek at the Marvel Lake Campground is built so that backpackers feel like dwarfs.

The Marvel Lake Campground is laid out in a dense forest adjacent to the main trail. The sites start at the eastern edge of Bryant Creek and lay out in an arch to the northeast. The campsites are a good distance from one another with two centrally located pit-toilets wrapped in chicken wire to keep the porcupines from chewing on them. The cooking area is another 100 yards to the east of the farthest campsite. The cooking area has bear lockers and four large tables with benches. Unfortunately, the only water to be had is back at Bryant Creek on the opposite side of the campground. There is no grey water dump site here unlike Og and Magog and the pit toilets do not supply toilet paper.

Backpacking Assiniboine via Wonder Pass

Assiniboine via Wonder Pass - Day 4
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After backpacking nearly 9.25 miles and the 7 miles I hiked earlier in the day I was exhausted upon arriving at the Marvel Lake Campground. We quickly setup our site fighting off the incessant mosquito population and then quickly prepared and consumed our dinner. As we crawled into our tent the sun had set and the sky had started to darken. Before the pitch black arrived I feel asleep and tonight, unlike the previous night, it was semi-warm. A restful night, the first of this 5-day backpacking adventure on the trail thru Assiniboine via Wonder Pass.

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