Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.
Where to start… Describing in words our trek in Mt. Assiniboine Park just can’t do justice to the beauty of this place. I had been thinking of going on this trek for a few years, but moving around hasn’t made it easy for me to book enough time to just make it happen. This year, with BC Parks limiting booking for residents of BC, it has opened up a lot of spots for camping in the park. I was lucky enough to get a spot and booked 2 months in advance, which allowed us to plan for our great roadtrip to make our way there.
Day 1 – Flying in and Wonder Pass
12km, 210m elevation gain
Mt. Assiniboine Park is actually located in BC, but the entrance to the park is in Alberta, just outside of Canmore and Banff. We accessed the park from Mt. Sharks, which is about 1h drive out of Canmore on a gravel road. As we didn’t need to pay for a flight ticket our somewhere this summer, we decided to treat ourselves and book to fly in the park. We flew from the Mt. Sharks helipad early in the morning, which was great. Turns out they made a mistake in our booking and booked us in the early flights, as if we were one of the lodge or cabin guests, instead of staying at the campground. Turned out perfectly for us! Be patient with your flight time, and don’t plan to do too much day hiking the day you fly in, as there might be delays… so just be aware! Looking back, I think it would have been better for us to actually book our flight directly from Canmore instead, which would have reduced the amount of driving to get to Mt. Sharks (as we also had to drive BACK to Canmore after the trip)… flight would be a bit more expensive but I think it’s worth the money to avoid the trouble of the gravel road.
The flight in is just under 10min and gives spectacular views of Mt. Assiniboine, standing up at 3618m. The helipad in the park is located about 30min of hiking from Magog Lake Campground, where we stayed for 2 nights. As we arrived earlier than most campground guests, we had first dibbs on our tent pad. There are many areas in the campground with covered cooking areas. We chose the one that gave us a central location and good views on Assiniboine… from our tent.
Once set up with some lunch in our stomach, we took our day trip gear and went exploring. We hiked out around Magog Lake towards the Wonder Pass. The Wonder Pass in the actual trail that would take you back towards Mt. Sharks trailhead. It is one of the way you could use to hike out of the park. We hiked up to the highest point, right on the junction between Banff National Park and Mt. Assiniboine Park, before the trail dips down in the valley towards Marvel Lake.
On our way back, we stopped at Magog Lake to take in the views. We built a little routine of having our dinners by the lake, with Assiniboine in sight… we did the round-trip from the shore of Magog Lake to our tent many times (about 30min, about 2km round-trip) and enjoyed the sunset. The wind also saved us from being eaten alive by the mosquitoes that were hanging out at the campground… and in the evening the horseflies go for naps, which was great!
Day 2 – Sunburst Lake, Cerulean Lake, The Niblet, The Nublet, Elizabeth Lake
17km, 593m elevation gain
After a relaxing night, we waiting for the rain to stop and started our breakfast around 10am. We were lucky that our days were warm (actually very warm… around 30°C!) and rain only at night. This was our big day hike, and we left after breakfast towards Sunburst Lake. We considered doing the full loop, going back near Magog Lake to get on the trail up the Niblet, and coming back down towards Cerulean Lake. However, while chatting with other campers who had been here multiple times before, they suggested that instead of doing a loop, we go straight towards Sunbursts Lake from Magog Campgroud to avoid adding additional km in the forest without much view.
We went forward with this idea and hiked past Sunburst Lake and Cerulean, and turned right to go up the mountain towards the Niblet. Needless to say, the views were incredible the entire time. Once up the Niblet, the views of the park and Assiniboine are incredible and we stopped for a mandatory selfie session.
We kept going up towards the Nublet, which involved a lot of loose rocks and a bit of scrambling (especially on the way down). It was quite windy and some people on the trail didn’t feel very comfortable with the amount of loose rock. Just take your time and be really mindful of your footing. Some sections are quite steep and a loose rock can easily send you tumbling down the slope… no kidding.
Effort is definitely worth it though, as the views up the Niblet are exquisite. I was surprised to actually realize that the trail keeps going even further up the Nub Peak. Some people on the trail decided to go ahead and keep going – but I just didn’t have it in me at that point. Knowing that we had a huge day coming up to trek out of the park, I wanted to keep my energy and legs for the kms I would hike with my backpack. So we stopped and enjoyed our lunch with the views, before heading down the way we came up. From Cerulean Lake trail we kept going towards Elizabeth Lake and went all around the loop, only coming back towards Cerulean Lake on the other side. The last loop portion past Elizabeth Lake is not worth it in my mind… it follows a forested trail without much view most of the time. It’s a nice walk, but considering the views you can get in other parts of the park, I would skip this extra loop and back track if I was to do it again.
Back at the camping that night, we once again packed our lunch gear and headed down to Magog Lake to enjoy the sunset. There are a few spots where people have built chairs from large rocks, and we enjoyed the quietness and comfy seating for our dinner again that night.
Day 3 – Magog Lake Campground – Og Lake – Citadel Pass – Howard Lake Campground
24km, roughly 900m elevation gain cumulative
Our third day was a killer. I am not sure how else to describe it… because of Covid restrictions, Sunshine Village was closed this summer. Usually, once hiking out from the park towards the village, you can take the gondola down towards the parking lot, which cuts at least 1h of downhill hiking over 6km. We had booked a shuttle from White Mountain Adventures to drive us from the Sunshine Village trailhead back to Mt. Sharks that afternoon. The shuttle schedule being limited, we had to be ready for 2PM in the parking lot for our pickup. That meant breakfast, packing, hiking out our last few kms and waiting for the shuttle. We had 2 options for camping on our way out – Porcupine Campground (free) or Howard Lake Campground (backcountry permit). I decided to book Howard Lake Campground just in case there was no more spots, so that way we could decide once on the trail if we wanted to hike to Porcupine Campground or head straight to Howard.
The first 7km from Magog Lake to Og Lake are beautiful. Alpine meadows and flowers, not too crowded. The ranger at Assiniboine told us to watch for bears and grizzlies in that area, especially in the morning. We left our campsite around 9AM and hiked towards Og with all of our energy. We stopped for a snack by the lake, enjoying the view and the green water of the alpine lake. Up to here – all was good. Leaving Og Lake, we started heading downhill in a forest. This section was slow and steady, but we could already start feeling the fatigue in our bodies.
We reached a junction to head further down in the valley towards Porcupine Campground. From my reading while prepping for this trip as well as discussion with other hikers, the downhill section to Porcupine is rough. It is very steep and adds quite a bit of elevation to hike back up the morning afterwards. I was worried that we wouldn’t make it on time for our shuttle on Day 4, so we decided to push for it and hike the rest all the way to Howard.
Just before arriving to the main uphill section past the second junction for Porcupine, we hiked on the alpine meadows in a traverse on a very steep slope. The traverse is beautiful but you have to be quite mindful of where you step. With our big packs, I honestly would have struggled if I met someone coming in the opposite direction (no where to actually move off trail and pass). We soon (didn’t really feel like soon, to be honest) arrived to junction where the major uphill of this trail was happening – 500m straight elevation gain up to Citadel Pass, where we enter Banff National Park again.
Needless to say, this took us a few hours. We actually gave ourselves the goal to take a break every 2km that day, as we needed to push forward but were very tired. Passed the Citadel Pass highest point, we knew Howard Lake was just a few more km forward. We took our time to avoid injuries but a part of me really just wanted to pitch my tent anywhere and get some rest.
We pushed through and made it to Howard Lake, 9h30 after leaving Magog Lake that morning. The campground at Howard is simple but well-maintained. We had been used to luxury camping at Magog (water pump, gray water well, covered eating area, etc.) and it was nice to be reminded that most backcountry campgrounds have minimal amenities. We quickly prepared our dinner and headed straight to sleep!
Day 4 – Howard Lake Campground to Sunshine Village Parking Lot
12km, roughly 200m elevation gain, lots of small up and downs, last downhill about 800m elevation loss
After a good rest, we headed out for our last day on the trek. Leaving Howard Lake, there is a short uphill section (the biggest of the day) which is followed by long alpine meadows, 360 views and a series of short up and downs on the trail. As you keep hiking, you will start seeing the ski stations and lifts installations in the distance.
Once you arrive to Sunshine Village, the trails will be marked with official signage and direct you towards the gondola. All bathrooms and installations were closed this summer. After taking our lunch at the top, we started our final descent on the gravel road. It took us just over 1h to go down the 6km. We saw a few hikers coming up (yikes) from the parking lot as well.
Once at the parking lot (we arrived early), we sat down and caught up on our lives (free Wifi at the Sunshine Village, AND signal…) and made last few contacts with White Mountain Adventure to confirm pick-up time. Our shuttle was actually able to pick us up a bit earlier than planned, which was great considering we had to drive all the way back to Mt. Sharks, and then we drove back to Canmore with the van to get food and stayed over at a friend’s.
Mt. Assiniboine was truly one of the best treks I have done in BC. I would say that the landscape and views compare to Mt. Robson Park, and the length of the trails is similar as well. I would definitely recommend paying for the flight in if you have the budget for it and shorter time available, as it gives you a chance to explore as day trips from the Magog Lake like we have done.
After this trek, we had listed a few short day hikes that we were planning on looking into as we drove through Yoho, Glacier Park and Revelstoke. Quite honestly, our legs were completely done, so we opted for short walks and relaxing times! We stopped at Emerald Lake for the typical loop around the lake, shopped in Revelstoke, stopped (yet again!) for wine tastings in Kelowna, and made it back to Vancouver to hang out with some friends, shop at IKEA (gotta love Island living where we don’t have access to Ikea!) and catch the ferry back to the island. We were on the road for a total of 18 days and drove over 2700km!
No wonder why we call it Beautiful British Columbia!
Wow… amazing pictures!
Thank you!! I have to say it’s hard to take a bad picture with such a beautiful view!