Five Beautiful Backpacking Trips in the Canadian Rockies
Start planning for next summer now or snag some late-season cancellations
There’s something indescribably special about packing everything you need for a few nights on your back, heading into the mountains, and spending days exploring the great outdoors. Backpacking combines hiking with backcountry camping and here in Alberta, we’re lucky to have several world-class routes only a few hours’ drive away.
We’ve compiled a list a few favourite Alberta and B.C. trips from recent years to serve as inspiration for next year (it's never too early to start planning). Or, if you’re lucky, perhaps you can snag some last minute cancellations and try one of these routes before the season ends in the coming weeks (just be prepared for cold temps at night and maybe even snow!)
As always, know your limits and don’t attempt a multi-day backpacking trip if you’ve never hiked before. Backpacking is recommended for intermediate/advanced hikers and it’s best to ease into it and get comfortable with your gear with a one-night trip before embarking on a several-day adventure.
Carrying everything you’ll need on your back — from sleeping equipment to clothing, food and a camp stove — is a different beast than regular hiking and involves careful planning and packing. If you don’t know where to start and don’t have a friend who can show you the ropes, fret not, an ‘Intro to Backpacking Course’ is a great place to begin.
Skoki Mountain Loop, Banff National Park
Distance: Approximately 36 kilometres
Number of Days: Plan for at least three
Why It’s Great?: The Skoki loop boasts some of the most stunning scenery in Banff National Park. The trip is variable (meaning it’s interesting throughout, no long, boring forest slogs here once you’ve conquered the first few kilometres) and it boasts some incredible day-hike options like Oyster Peak (pictured below, note this is more of a scramble and recommended for advanced hikers.) Be sure to make a pit stop at Skoki Lodge, which is a National Historic Site, located 11 kilometres up the trail.
Skyline Trail, Jasper National Park
Distance: 45 kilometres
Number of Days: two to three
Why It’s Great?: Skyline is the highest trail in Jasper National Park and “possibly the most scenic,” according to Parks Canada. The route is aptly named — more than half of the popular trail is above treeline, which means stellar views like the photos above and below. We’ve done Skyline as a three-day backpack with girlfriends, as well as a two-day trip with the night spent at Shovel Pass Lodge, instead of in a tent.
Berg Lake Trail, Mount Robson Provincial Park
Distance: 23 kilometres
Number of Days: At least two but if you can, might as well do four or five and pack it with day trips!
Why it’s great?: Berg Lake Trail is world-renowned and for good reason. It traverses three biogeoclimatic zones and from waterfalls to glaciers to Mount Robson (see photo below), the route offers some of the best views in the Canadian Rockies. It’s hard to put into words how truly stunning this trail is. A heads up the route recently suffered extensive flooding damage and is currently closed past Kinney Lake for the remainder of the 2021 season.
Tonquin Valley, Jasper National Park
Distance: 43 kilometres
Number of Days: two to three
Why it’s great? If you don’t mind mosquitoes and mud, Tonquin Valley offers stunning views of the Rampart Mountain Range and an interesting and beautiful hike. Famous for its varied wildlife (including elusive caribou) and two Amethyst Lakes, Tonquin is worth putting on your backpack list and is often less popular and easier to book than some of the other hikes we’ve listed.
Lake O’Hara (& Abbot Pass), Yoho National Park
Why it’s great? Snagging a spot on the bus up to Lake O’Hara is challenging in itself but well worth it. The area offers something for everyone with a hut (Elizabeth Parker), a lodge (Lake O’Hara), and a campground — and a collection of beautiful lakes, valleys and well-maintained trails. If you do get a bus spot to Lake O’Hara and are a very advanced hiker, consider hiking to Abbot Pass Refuge Hut National Historic Site, the second highest permanent structure in Canada. While the hut is currently closed due to slope remediation work, advanced hikers can still visit the pass by foot from Lake O’Hara, though please don’t confuse this route for a simple hike. It’s a truly challenging and stunning journey and packing a climbing helmet is a must.
There are several other much simpler hikes (ranging from a few kilometres to several kilometres) that are accessible from the stunning Lake O’Hara (pictured below in the spring). And, if you can’t wait until next summer, we highly recommend a winter or spring visit on skis!
These pictures are gorgeous! I live and write about life down in the Colorado Rockies, and you've got me thinking about taking a trip up north!