The Best Canadian Rockies Backcountry Adventures

Assiniboine Overlook - Canadian Rockies backcountry
Jake overlooks the Assiniboine Provincial Park landscape. This is one of the best spots in the Canadian Rockies backcountry.

There is no end to the amazing amount of beauty to be discovered in the Canadian Rockies. Massive icefields feed glaciers that grind up the mountain rock, turning the lakes and rivers into saturated hues of blues and greens. This is a wonderland for those who love to spend time in nature. There is so much to see and do here that it can make choosing what to do extremely difficult. That is why we made this post about the best Canadian Rockies backcountry adventures. While most of these adventures are for moderate to advanced backpackers there are a few trips in here that can be made by anyone willing to sleep in a tent and who has the ability to plan ahead.

The Best of the Canadian Rockies Backcountry

  1. Berg Lake Backpacking
  2. Maligne Lake Kayaking
  3. Assiniboine Thru-Hike
  4. Lake O’Hara Camping
  5. Skyline Trail Backpacking
  6. Tonquin Valley Backpacking
  7. Iceline – Whaleback – Twin Falls Backpacking Loop
  8. Skoki Backpacking Loop
Packer Pass Canadian Rockies backcountry
Jennifer crosses over the snowpack on the Skoki Loop’s Packer Pass, one of the best adventures in the Canadian Rockies backcountry.

#1) Berg Lake Backpacking

Stats

Berg Lake
An iceberg that calved off of Berg Glacier during the night.
  • Location: Mount Robson Provincial Park (PST)
  • Trailhead: Berg Lake Trail
  • Type: Out-and-Back
  • Rating: Difficult
  • Distance: 26-miles (total to Berg Lake Campground and back)
  • Trailhead Elevation: 2,736′
  • Highest Elevation: 5,481’
  • Total Elevation Gain: 4,025′
  • Recommended Time: 4 days, 3 nights
  • Recommended Season: July 1st to Late September
  • Camping Permits: Required

Backpacking Berg Lake isn’t for everyone. If you dislike lush green forests, mountain terrain with massive waterfalls, saturated turquoise-colored lakes feed by glacial streams, and massive glaciers slowly pouring down steep rugged mountains then this trail is not for you. šŸ™‚ For everyone else, who has a pulse and loves all of this in amazing abundance including the wildlife that calls these types of places home, then there is much to love about this special place. The second you finish this rugged trail you will be contemplating when your next chance will be to get back to this amazing remote destination.

#2) Maligne Lake Kayaking

Stats

Maligne Lake Kayaking
The overlook of Spirit Island on Maligne Lake. This is a wonderful place to visit and even more special in the late afternoon when the water turns placid after the tourist boats have stopped running for the day.
  • Location: Jasper National Park (MST)
  • Trailhead: Maligne Lake Boat Launch Parking Lot
  • Type: Out-and-Back
  • Rating: Moderate (Difficult in high winds)
    • There are even wheelchair accessible campsites and toilets.
  • Distance: 28-miles (Total to Coronet Creek Campground with return)
  • Maligne Lake Elevation: 5,508′
  • Recommended Time: 4 days, 3 nights
  • Recommended Season: Late June to Early September
  • Camping Permits: Required

Maligne Lake is the second-longest glacial-fed lake in the world. A journey across these amazing waters and into the backcountry is not to be missed. Although tour boats venture 10-miles across the lake, the best way to experience this remote wilderness is by kayaking or canoeing the full length of the lake and staying in several of the available backcountry campsites. If you don’t own your own kayak or canoe you can rent one from the docks at Maligne Lake Boat House or from Pure Outdoors in Jasper (they deliver and are cheaper). This trip can quickly become one of the most expensive backcountry adventures in the Canadian Rockies but the serene beauty and isolation found at the southern end of the lake are well worth the cost.

#3) Assiniboine Thru-Hike

Stats

Magog Lake Assiniboine
Magog Lake in Assiniboine Provincial Park is a mirror for Canada’s Matterhorn.
  • Location: Assiniboine Provincial Park & Banff National Park (MST)
  • Trailhead: Sunshine Village Gondola or Mt. Shark
  • Type: Thru-Hike (Out-and-back and Heli-hike are also options)
  • Rating: Difficult
  • Distance: 36-miles (Sunshine Village to Mt. Shark via Magog Lake Campground and Wonder Pass)
  • Starting Elevation: 7,230’ (Top of Sunshine Gondola)
  • Citadel Pass Elevation: 7,800’
  • Magog Campground Elevation: 7,165′
  • Wonder Pass Elevation: 7,806′
  • Finish Elevation: 5,725’  (Mount Shark Parking Lot)
  • Total Elevation Gain: 4,760′ (via Wonder Pass)
  • Recommended Time: 5 days, 4 nights
  • Recommended Season: Early July to Late August
  • Camping Permits: Required

Assiniboine Peak’s unique mountain point is known as the Matterhorn of Canada and is a unique scenic journey that can be accomplished in many different ways. Magog Lake acts like a glacial water bowl for the surrounding peaks of Assiniboine Provincial Park. There are many day hikes in the area that provide stunning views of the blue and green lakes dotting the landscape. Adventurous travelers can make the journey to the roadless park on foot or by helicopter. The park also has lodges and huts available for accommodation in addition to the large Magog Campground. Whether you are looking to spend a few nights in the backcountry in a luxurious lodge or wanting to rough it on a 36+ mile backpacking trip, Assiniboine is a must-do Canadian Rockies adventure.

#4) Lake O’Hara Camping

Stats

Lake O'Hara
Lake O’Hara as seen from the Yukness Cliffs a part of the O’Hara Alpine Circuit.
  • Location: Yoho National Park (MST)
  • Type: Bus Camping
  • Rating: Easy
  • Lake O’Hara Campsite Elevation: 6,607′
  • Distance: 20+ miles of day hiking adventures available
  • Recommended Time: 4 days, 3 nights (maximum allowed)
  • Recommended Season: Late June to Mid September
  • Camping Permits: Required

Lake O’Hara is simultaneously one of the easiest backcountry adventures in the Canadian Rockies and one of the hardest to acquire. There are only 30 campsites and a handful of lodges and cabins available in the picturesque area that are all highly sought after. No backpacking needed to enter this remote area, just a reservation with a scheduled bus time. Once you have arrived at the Lake O’Hara area, set out on one of several amazing day hikes to explore the secluded lakes in the alpine region or just lounge on the shores of the lake on a bench. The lodges are pricey but the campground is affordable and with solar toilets, potable water, two covered cooking areas, individual bear lockers, and all the wood you could ever need this is more similar to glamping than backcountry camping.

#5) Skyline Trail Backpacking

Stats

Skyline Trail Jasper National Park
Jennifer traverses Jasper’s high alpine trail aptly named the Skyline.
  • Location: Jasper National Park (MST)
  • Trailhead: Maligne Lake Boat Launch Parking Lot or the Signal Parking Area
  • Type: Through Hike
  • Rating: Difficult to Strenuous
  • Distance: 28.5-miles
  • Starting Elevation: 5,573’
  • Highest Elevation: 8,235’
  • Finish Elevation: 3,801’ (Signal Parking Area)
  • Total Elevation Gain: 4,975’
  • Recommended Time: 3 days, 2 nights
  • Recommended Season: Mid July to Late August
  • Camping Permits: Required

Jasper National Park’s Skyline Trail is a Canadian Rockies backcountry adventure with unparalleled mountain vistas. Nearly 60 percent of the trail is traversed above the tree line. In fact, there is a section that remains unobstructed by trees for nearly 11-miles. Jennifer and I have hiked a lot of mountain trails but none have come close to having such long stretches above the trees. This can, of course, sound intimidating especially with any threat of storms. While this is one of the harder trails on this list, if hiked from the recommended south to north route it is a trail that can be accomplished by any backpacker experienced in hiking mountainous terrain. In fact, it is very common for runners to do the trail in a single day, but those people are crazy!

#6) Tonquin Valley Backpacking

Stats

  • Location: Jasper National Park (MST)
  • Trailhead: Astoria Creek (Cavell Road) or Portal Creek (Marmot Road)
  • Type: Through Hike
  • Rating: Moderately-Difficult
  • Total Distance: 27.5-miles
  • Astoria Creek (Recommended Start) Elevation: 5,684’
  • Highest Elevation (Maccarib Pass): 7,273′
  • Portal Creek (Recommended Finish) Elevation: 4,890’
  • Total Elevation Gain: 2,796′
  • Recommended Time: 4 days, 3 nights
  • Recommended Season: Mid August to Mid September
  • Camping Permits: Required
Tonquin Valley Amethyst Lake
Watching the sunset on the Rampart Mountain Range and the mirror-like Amethyst Lake was not only a highlight of the Tonquin Valley Trail but one of our best experiences in the Canadian Rockies backcountry.

The Tonquin Valley Trail on paper looks like an easier traverse than some of the others on this list, but it isn’t without its own unique challenges. The valley is a large bowl found at the base of the jagged and stunningly beautiful Rampart Mountain Range. Many people who backpack into the Canadian Rockies, and especially Jasper National Park, are concerned about being mauled by a bear. However, much of the Tonquin Valley trail is muddy and a natural spawning ground for the true predatory species of this wilderness environment—the mosquito. Bug nets and bug spray as well as bear spray are a must for this Canadian Rockies backcountry adventure. Still, with all these things going against the valley I would return in a heartbeat to enjoy the solitude and surreal beauty found in this remote area. Maybe next time with an extra pair of shoes because of the mud.

#7) Iceline – Whaleback – Twin Falls Backpacking Loop

Stats

Takakkaw Loop
The second highest waterfall in Canada, Takakkaw Falls, is an ever-present scene while ascending the Iceline part of the Iceline – Whaleback – Twin Falls Loop.
  • Location: Yoho National Park (MST)
  • Trailhead: Takakkaw Falls Parking Lot
  • Type: LoopRating: Strenuous
  • Total Distance: 20.5-miles
  • Starting Elevation: 4,940′
  • Highest Elevation: 7,315′
  • Total Elevation Gain: 4,435′
  • Recommended Time: 3 days, 2 nights
  • Recommended Season: Early July to Late August
  • Camping Permits: Required

Sometimes referred to as the Takakkaw Loop, the Iceline – Whaleback – Twin Falls Loop combines three popular hiking trails in Yoho National Park into one epic three-day Canadian Rocky backcountry adventure. The journey starts at the base of Takakkaw Falls which is Canada’s second highest waterfall and an amazing sight to behold. Backpackers climb to views that overlook the massive waterfall and the mountainous landscape. The path traverses along rocky terrain near glacial ice and turquoise tarns. Those who journey here will sleep next to glacial-fed streams and visit several other unique and stunning waterfalls. The variety of natural wonders found on this three-day journey is breathtaking.

#8) Skoki Backpacking Loop

Stats

Baker Lake Skoki Loop
The beauty of Baker Lake is one of the highlights of the Skoki Loop and one of the best backcountry campgrounds in Canada.
  • Location: Banff National Park (MST)
  • Trailhead: Fish Creek Parking Lot
  • Type: Loop (Lollypop)
  • Rating: Difficult
  • Distance: 24-miles
  • Starting Elevation: 5,563’
  • Highest Elevation: 8,119’ (Packer Pass)
  • Total Elevation Gain: 4,076’
  • Recommended Time: 3 days, 2 nights
  • Recommended Season: Early July to Late August
  • Camping Permits: Required

While the Skoki Loop may be the last Canadian Rockies backcountry adventure on our list it is still an amazing journey into the wild. There are several beautiful alpine lakes to be discovered along the main loop that takes travelers over Deception Pass and to one of the oldest ski lodges in Canada. However, we recommend taking the less traveled and slightly more difficult Packer Pass route that allows backpackers to visit two more glacier fed lakes. Either way, this three-day journey is a memorable one full of epic scenery and wildlife. In fact, the Skoki loop would rank higher on our list if it weren’t for the extremely long and steep hike up the less than scenic Lake Louise Ski Resort’s access road. 

The Canadian Rockies Backcountry Honorable Mention: The Rockwall

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  • Location: Kootenay National Park (MST)

While Jennifer and I didn’t actually get to backpack The Rockwall Trail it is high on our priority list for our next visit. Part of our backcountry ritual is to ask fellow travels what their favorite trail is. While in the many campgrounds we encountered a lot of locals and almost every person said that Berg Lake was their favorite. Enough of them mentioned The Rockwall Trail that we thought we should add it into this list, however, not having done it ourselves, it is hard to endorse beyond that. I would also note that every other trail on this list was also mentioned as a “favorite” backcountry adventure by the locals we encountered. We just couldn’t fit this one into our itinerary this time around.

Conclusion for the Best Canadian Rockies Backcountry Adventures

Canadian Rockies Backcountry - Pin
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The Canadian Rockies backcountry is full of beauty and adventure. Regardless of whether you are looking to spend a few nights in the wilderness or several weeks, these adventures will get you off the grid and back to nature in some truly stunning places. Just make sure you get your reservations for these amazing trips when they become available otherwise you might miss out.

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