Jennifer and I have hiked all over the world, but hiking Bugaboo Provincial Park felt very much out of our element. I have spent a little time rock climbing in Colorado but people from all over the world travel to this remote park for the sole purpose of taking on its jagged climbing routes. We came here to hike and take in the scenery and so while others prepared their ropes and ice axes in the parking lot we felt willfully unprepared strapping on our small day packs and hiking sticks. But, I’m getting ahead of myself as just getting to the parking lot is a challenging journey.
- Location: Bugaboo Provincial Park
- Trailhead: Kain Hut Parking Lot
- Type: Out-n-Back
- Rating: Strenuous to Extreme
- Total Distance: 7.6-miles (To the small lake just beyond Applebee Dome and back)
- Conrad Kain Hut is 6-mile Total
- Trailhead Elevation: 5,000′
- Total Elevation Gain: 3,362′
- Recommended Time: Full-day (It is a journey to just get to the trailhead. The hike itself takes half-a-day)
- Recommended Season: Mid-July to Late-August
Getting to Bugaboo Provincial Park
Getting to the trailhead involves first getting to the small Canadian town of Brisco, British Columbia. This is less of a town and more of a point on the map. The last place to get gas or other supplies is 18-miles earlier in Radium Hot Springs which is the gateway to Kootenay National Park. The roads to Brisco are well maintained as this entire area links the many national parks of the Canadian Rockies together. Once in Brisco, however, we turned off the blacktop onto a dirt road. This somewhat maintained dirt road is mostly used for logging purposes although we never came across a logging truck. The dirt road is in good condition as it follows the Columbia River and then crosses over it on several single lane bridges. Those heading west have the right of way.
The dirt road or rather series of dirt roads are only 28-miles long. However, they are steep in some sections, muddy in others, wide in some spots, very narrow in others, and rough and rutted almost the entire way. This part of the journey took us over two hours to complete. We tend to baby our rig so someone who chose to travel faster could perhaps do the trip in an hour and 15min as Google Maps suggests. Along the way, we stopped to take in the Upper Bugaboo Falls which also cost us a few minutes. While I would recommend you only take on this drive with a high clearance vehicle we passed several sedans making the journey. We drove the entire 28-miles in 2-wheel drive, but the fact that we have 4×4 capability gave me peace of mind while traversing the muddier sections.
Follow the Signs
For most of the way, travelers can follow the signs to the Bugaboo Lodge as these are posted on the intersections vital to making one’s way through the maze of logging roads. However, at the last intersection, the lodge is straight and the heart of the Bugaboo Provincial Park is located to the right. This last 2-miles of the dirt road is the narrowest section and also one of the less maintained. It is still achievable by high clearance vehicles and apparently even some low lying sedans. Again, not recommended.
Upon arriving in the small parking lot, we were surprised to find it jam-packed. We managed to squeeze our rig into a tight spot only made tighter by the necessary fencing needed to park in these critter infested woods. What I refer to are the local porcupines who have a taste for rubber. As a precaution, the park’s service has provided chicken wire and wooden poles as well as stones to barricade your vehicle. Everyone in the parking area has taken heed of the warning and spent the time to surround their vehicles. It is an odd sight and an odd thing to do but given that if one of these varmints were to chew through a tire or a brake line it would mean a costly tow bill, I can understand everyone’s caution.
We spent 45-min barricading YOLOM (Our Truck Camper) with two sections of the provided chicken wire. There are no rangers and no instructions on how to do this task but everyone seems to figure it out fairly quickly. Circle the vehicle with the wire. Use posts to prop up the upper half of the fencing by leaning it against the frame of the vehicle and then use stones to pin down the lower half of the fencing so that the critters can’t wiggle their way underneath the vehicle. It is an odd thing to do but a necessity here where nature truly still reigns.
Kain Hut Trail
Finally, YOLOM safely wrapped in chicken wire and us feeling out of our element surrounded by rock climbers, we set off on the Kain Hut Trail and began hiking Bugaboo Provincial Park. A hut may seem like an odd destination but it is perched high in the remote countryside with stunning views of the mountain landscape. This along with the adjacent Boulder Campground is the base camp for many looking to rock climb these rugged mountain peaks and makes for a great day hiking destination for those looking to take in some epic glacial views.
The Muddy Forest
The path starts off flat and muddy. The park service has added lots of boardwalks to assist with the muddiest sections but even more are needed. It is a delectably flat first mile. For those aware of the massive elevation gain, this slow start is concerning. We traversed the first tree-covered mile quickly and then found ourselves climbing swiftly through the boulders still shrouded by a dense forest. Within the forest, there is a large waterfall to be seen just off to the right of the path. Jennifer was watching her footing so intensely that while she spotted the lower portion of the falls she nearly missed the much large upper section crashing down from high above.
Above the Trees
At just over 1.5-miles the path opens up onto a small ridge and a viewpoint that looks straight at the iconic spire known as the Hound’s Tooth rising out of the middle of the Bugaboo Glacier. While we had already had glimpses of this feature traveling the dirt road and through the trees that line the path to this point, this is the first unobstructed view we found on our journey. It is a spot that is magical. This is also the first spot we got a glimpse of the green roof of the Conrad Kain Hut perched on the cliffs still very far above. A huge waterfall seemingly flows out from underneath the hut from this vantage point. The trail ahead continues to climb leaving behind the forest and entering into the towering brush.
Approaching 2-miles on the trail, we entered into the cliff like sections of the trail. While some exposure is found here we enjoyed this part of the journey and never felt as if it was overly difficult or life-threatening. Of course, you want to watch your footing but even the provided chains seem unnecessary. It is a steep climb up through this section and at just over 2-miles we found ourselves starring at a 20’ cliff wall with a steel ladder bolted to it. This entire section is easy with nothing more than a daypack on, but watching mountain climbers laden with camping gear and climbing ropes makes one appreciate a simple day hike ascent.
The Bouldery Gulch
After the ladder, the path arrives at one of the only sections where it actually descends a little in order to round the curve of the cliffside. Don’t get too comfortable as the steep ascent once again continues on the other side of the curve through rocky and exposed terrain. At 2.25-miles, the trail enters into a small boulder-filled gulch. We could hear the water crashing as it flowed underneath the rocks we were traversing. This is another great spot to take in the Bugaboo Glacier that is still a ways off but getting ever closer.
At 2.5-miles on the trail, we arrived at one of the largest creek crossings. The water rushes down the rocky terrain from the snowpack near the Applebee Dome Campground. Here we found our first and only park rangers while hiking Bugaboo Provincial Park. They were working on a bridge to cross the raging creek. The bridge was a steel deck the width of a ladder laid across the raging water with a few boulders placed on either side to hold it in place. We made our way across and were then informed that we were the first to use the bridge as they had just placed it. The rangers then proceeded to pop the bridge out of its temporary restraints and continue to finagle the boulder placements that held it in place. It is an odd feeling to be a test dummy for a bridge so far removed from civilization.
The Final Ridgeline
From the creek crossing, we continued the steep climb on a thing ridgeline adjacent to another ridge where the Conrad Kain Hut is located. We topped the ridge and found the intersection leading to Applebee Dome and to the hut. We proceeded to the hut which is only a moderately downhill short walk from the intersection.
Conrad Kain Hut
The Conrad Kain Hut is literally perched on the cliff wall. It is a three-story upside-down U-shaped building. Tons of guests who grab their reservations up to a year in advance cram into this remote shelter each summer night. It is a quaint oasis and very picturesque. We would have loved to stay here for the night but as we were unable to get the reservation we settled for the day hike. There are two campgrounds that are also options for those who don’t mind weathering the cold heights and of course lugging the gear up the 2,436’ – 3,362’ trail. As we had lots of backpacking trips in the Canadian Rockies planned we decided to pass on this alpine slumber but should we come again camping in either of the campgrounds or the hut would be high on our priority list. It is a truly unique landscape.
The Best View in the Canadian Rockies
After visiting the hut we continued past it to a bouldery cliff edge that overlooked the massive Bugaboo glacier and Hound’s Tooth spire. This was our favorite spot while hiking Bugaboo Provincial Park. It can easily be found by passing the hut and heading towards the Conrad Kain campground. When the main trail starts to descend stay straight on a much narrower trail that leads into a large boulder field. Look for the cairn sitting atop a large boulder and head for that spot. Once climbing up onto the boulder you will have arrived at one of the best views in the Canadian Rockies.
Applebee Dome Trail
We had come all this way and the Applebee Dome Campground and the lake beyond beaconed to me. Jennifer was exhausted and it was late in the day so I proceeded alone leaving her to a book in the Conrad Kain Hut. The trail up to Applebee Dome is, for the most part, well defined but also easy to lose at the first creek crossing. The trail seemingly splits in every direction as it arrives at the creek and some people like myself end up ascending a false trail on the left side of the creek. The true path immediately crosses the creek and is then well defined for the remainder of the journey.
Climbing the Ridgeline
The trail ascends steeply on the ridgeline opposite the creek. Nearing the top there is an intersection with a short spur that leads to an overlook of the snowpack at the base of the Snowpatch Spire. Ahead the Applebee Dome trail skirts a snow-packed gulch as it continues to ascend before flattening out and entering the gulch.
Snow Packed Gulch
This section of the trail appears to remain snow-covered for much of the year. I was here in late July and the path ahead was found by following the well-trodden footsteps placed in the packed snow. There were even a few that had fallen through the pack which caused some alarm but I proceeded without incident. The snowpack crossing is about 20-yards long. On the other side, I found myself climbing up a rocky cliffside before arriving at the Applebee Dome campground perched on a large flat outcropping in the mountain bowl.
Applebee Dome Lake
Beyond the campground is a small rocky hill that is about 15’ high that when topped leads a short distance to a truly stunning alpine lake surrounded by the jagged peaks that are now much closer. The lake is lined with a snowpack so getting to the shore would be an undertaking but I found the views even in less than ideal circumstances (it was raining) stunning. I quickly explored the area as well as the campground before setting out back down the trail to find Jennifer in the hut and start our descent back to the parking lot.
Camping in the Parking Lot
We made it to the lot just before dark and decided to not attempt traveling the dirt road after dark. We settled into our truck camper for the night as there are no campgrounds in the immediate vicinity. There are no signs saying that camping is prohibited and in fact, a few guys set up a tent outside one of the fence coral areas. We heard them in the middle of the night saying something was outside their tent. I can only assume that it was one of the much-feared porcupines.
Hiking Bugaboo Provincial Park
While Bugaboo is perhaps one of the most remote Provincial Parks in the Canadian Rockies that is still able to be reached by a vehicle, it is one of the most stunning places we have ever ventured into. The entire park really only has two established trails. The Kain Hut Trail is the one that goes all the way to Applebee Dome Campground and the other trail travels to Cobalt Lake. Add to this that the area has creatures that will literally eat the rubber off your vehicle and you are left with a very odd vacation destination. However, given the unique beauty of this place, hiking Bugaboo Provincial Park is still a destination that we highly recommend to anyone seeking one of the best hikes in the Canadian Rockies.