The Seven Best Multi-Day Backpacking Trips In The Canadian Rockies

For every trek I complete in the Canadian Rockies I add another two to my list. Either thanks to other avid hikers whom I meet on the trails, through guidebooks recommendations or photos I come across online.

Heading into the backcountry allows me to experience the mountains in a more intimate way. 

The hiking season in the Rockies lasts only 3 months, so prioritising and picking a backcountry trip suitable to your abilities and time restrictions is important. 

Bear in mind though, that backpacking experiences in the Canadian Rockies are well sought-after and you may have to spend a few hours online reserving the campsites.

They book out more than a few months in advance so planning ahead is not only recommended but necessary!

If you are coming to Canada with an intention to road trip around the Rockies and want to include a multiday backpacking trip in your itinerary, make sure to book the latter first and plan the rest of your holidays around it.  

1. Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park

Best Backpacking Trips In The Canadian Rockies - Mount Assiniboine
Mount Assiniboine from Nub Peak

If I was playing word association with someone and they said “Canadian Rockies” then “Mount Assiniboine” would be my reply. Mount Assiniboine owes its popularity not only to its beauty but also to its accessibility. 

You can reach it by foot, by helicopter, on horseback during the summer season or skis in the winter. I cover the first two options in my Photography and Outdoor Guide to Mount Assiniboine.

Mount Assiniboine has 3 different accommodation options ranging from over 500$ per person per night at the Assiniboine lodge to 10$ per person per night at the campsite. 

What’s the best time to visit Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park?

The official season lasts from July until September and it’s best if you try and get reservations for later in the season.

September is a popular time to visit, particularly amongst photography enthusiasts. That’s when the larch trees turn yellow and the surrounding peaks are covered by fresh snow. 

The highlights of Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park

I think the absolute must-do is the hike to Nub Peak, where you get a classic panoramic view of Mount Assiniboine and Magog, Sunburst and Cerulean lakes.

The shoreline of Lake Magog is a great spot to spend your afternoons and really soak in the grandeur of Mount Assiniboine.

Mount Assiniboine stats and overview:

Location: 45km south of Banff

Access: Mt Shark Trailhead or Sunshine village

Distance: 3 different hiking options between 26km and 30km one-way

Days recommended: 3 – 5

Campsite reservations opening times: 2 months prior to the trip

2. Berg Lake Trail

Top Backpacking Trips In The Canadian Rockies - Berg Lake Trail

When the Berg Glacier calves into Berg Lake during the night, you sit alert upright, in your tent wondering what on Earth is going on. An experience most people have never had in their lifetime.

The Berg Lake Trail is amazing for several other reasons though. The path follows the aptly named Valley of Thousand Falls eventually ending at Berg Lake where a myriad of extensions can be completed, including one to the summit of Mount Robson – the highest peak of the Canadian Rockies!

Ticking off this peak however is a whole other ballpark involving 3000m of pure ascent, requiring mountaineering experience.

Best time to hike Berg Lake Trail

July is a great time to go as the lakes and waterfalls are at the highest level and you can see plenty of wildflowers, however, beware of the summer haze often caused by the wildfires and the mosquitos!

The highlights of Berg Lake Trail

Camping directly on the shoreline of Berg Lake, listening to the sound of calving glaciers and waking up to the first light hitting the highest peak of the Rockies are my favourite memories from hiking along the Berg Lake.

Plan an extra day for the extension hike to Snowbird Pass and Mumm Basin route!

Berg Lake Trail stats and overview:

Location: Mount Robson Provincial Park, 60km west of Jasper

Access: Mount Robson Visitor Centre

Distance: 42km return to Berg Lake + extensions 

Days recommended: 3 – 5

Campsite reservations opening times: TBA for summer 2022 season

3. Rockwall Trail

Epic Multiday Hikes In The Canadian Rockies - Rockwall Trail

One of the harder backpacking trips on this list due to a lot of daily elevation changes, the Rockwall Trail has all the usual backcountry views, glistening glaciers that flow down into clear glacial lakes, alpine meadows and lots of wildlife.

What sets the Rockwall apart from the others though is the famous Rockwall itself. A sheer cliff that stretches along the majority of the undulating trail with hanging glaciers precariously clinging to its steep face. 

Best time to trek the Rockwall Trail

The second half of July is a great time to go if you would like to see the endless wildflower fields. However, if like me, you are a sucker for autumn colours then plan your Rockwall backpacking experience for the second half of September. Just beware that it’s not uncommon for snowstorms to arrive at this time of the year.

The highlights of the Rockwall Trail

Rockwall trail traverses through 3 major passes in the Kootenay National Park: Tumbling Pass, Rockwall Pass and Numa Pass. All three offer fantastic views of the Rockwall and many other surrounding peaks.

Staying at the Floe Lake campsite the last night, was for me the cherry on the top of a cake. Can’t beat taking a dip in a cool alpine lake after battling through sweat and tears whilst climbing up and down those passes.

Rockwall Trail: stats and overview

Location: Kootenay National Park 

Access: Paint Pots Trailhead, Floe Lake Trailhead

Distance: 54km 

Days recommended: 4 – 5

Campsite reservations opening time: January 28th, 2022 at 8 AM Mountain Time

4. Skyline Trail

Skyline Trail Jasper National Park 21

This famous relocation hike along the Maligne Range in Jasper National Park tackles three major passes. The Skyline Trail is certainly one of the most sought after backpacking trips in Jasper NP.

The highest point of the Skyline Trail – the Notch can hold snow until the end of August! Mount Tekarra is another prominent view along the trail that encompasses several creek crossings, alpine tarns and a lot of time spent above the tree line and amongst the peaks. 

Best time to backpack the Skyline Trail

The infamous Notch holds snow and dangerously looking cornices all the way into July. To ensure mud, snow and most importantly mosquito-free passage plan your trek for either August or September.

The highlights of the Skyline Trail

There are three locations along the Skyline Trail, the memories of which stuck in my head. The first one was the beautiful Curator lake right before reaching the Notch, the second was hiking along the Skyline ridge with extensive views over the ranges of Jasper National Park and the third was the view of Mount Tekarra as we were approaching our last campground.

Skyline Trail: stats and overview

Location: Jasper National Park

Access: Mt Signal trailhead and Maligne Lake trailhead

Distance: 44km

Days recommended: 2 – 4

Campsite reservations opening time: February 2nd, 2022, at 8 AM Mountain Time

5. Tonquin Valley

Tonquin Valley Jasper NationalPark 21

The Rampart Mountain Range runs along the Great Divide marking the border between Alberta and British Columbia. The highlight of the trail, the Amethyst Lakes lie just below these jagged peaks.

An endangered species of Woodland Caribou, that are numbered less than 500 in Jasper National Park frequent the area, as well as several grizzly sows and numerous moose.

The best time to backpack through the Tonquin Valley

Tonquin valley holds a dark secret. In July swarms of mosquitoes frequent the area making it impossible to enjoy the hike. If you choose to backpack the Tonquin valley make sure to plan it no earlier than mid-August or September. 

The highlights of the Tonquin Valley trek

Both times I visited the Tonquin Valley I was completely mesmerized by the Ramparts mountain range shooting straight out of the Amethyst Lakes. I also had some great wildlife encounters including Woodland Caribou, Moose and a Grizzly sow with two cubs, a story I will be telling for the rest of my life.

Tonquin Valley: stats and overview

Location: Jasper National Park

Trailheads: Portal and Astoria

Distance: 44km

Days recommended: 3 – 5

Campsite reservations opening time: February 2nd, 2022, 8 AM Mountain Time

6. Maligne Lake

Maligne Lake Jasper National Park 9

A paddling, not a hiking excursion on Maligne Lake can be as easy or as challenging as you make it. The focus for most people is Spirit Island, one of the most photogenic spots in Jasper, located 1km away from the campsite at Fisherman’s Bay.

From here the view into the Valley of the Gods is breathtaking.

There are cruises that can take you to this spot every half an hour, but they only give you a short glimpse of what the lake has to offer.

Additionally, the cruises cannot get you beyond Spirit Island. If your inner explorer yearns for more, you must choose to paddle. Follow my guide for Maligne Lake and Spirit Island to learn more. 

The best time for an excursion along the Maligne lake

Similarly to Tonquin valley, you can reserve the campsites at Maligne lake from July until September, but because of the close proximity to water, unless you enjoy being eaten alive by mosquitos, which come in swarms in July, then hold off your trip until at least mid-August.

Both times I did this trip, it was in September when the tourist traffic significantly slows down. I’d definitely recommend going then.

The highlights of Maligne lake

When paddling across the Maligne lake I was incredibly lucky to spot a black bear. It walked along the shoreline, eventually jumped into the lake and swam a few meters away from us then came out of the water, shook off and disappeared into the forest. It’s impossible not to love the Canadian Wilderness.

Another highlight was having the Spirit Island all to ourselves both times we have done this trip and witnessing one of the most beautiful sunrises in the Rockies, I’ve had to the date.

Maligne Lake: stats and overview

Location: Jasper National Park

Distance: 46km return to Coronet Creek, 26km return to Fishermans Bay 

Days recommended: 2 – 4

Campsite reservations opening time: February 2nd, 2022, 8 AM Mountain Time

7. Lake O’hara

Lake Ohara 21

Lake O’Hara is a perfect option for someone who is looking for an introduction to backcountry camping. With that said the campsite at Lake O’Hara is the hardest to reserve on this list. When bookings open for the summer season, the call line is flooded!

It’s easy to understand why. It’s in the backcountry but has a lot of the amenities of a front-country campsite. You can get a bus in and out, the toilets are serviced daily, there are several cooking shelters and even a little shop!!!

Similarly to Mount Assiniboine, it also has 3 different types of accommodation, the Lake O’Hara Lodge, the famous Elizabeth Parker huts and the best-maintained backcountry campsite in the Canadian Rockies!

There’s a multitude of trails in the area which range from lakeside strolls to difficult scrambles, something for every fitness level with any budget. I cover all the options in my Lake O’Hara Guide.

The best time to visit Lake O’Hara

The official season lasts from the third week of June until the start of October. My favourite month for hiking in the Rockies is September when the days are cooler, the air crisper and the autumn colours start to appear.

However scoring a reservation at a Lake O’Hara campsite is more difficult than getting tickets to the Glastonbury festival, so be happy if you manage to secure any spot within those 3 months.

The highlights of Lake O’Hara

Lake O’Hara area is full of amazing photography locations, but one definitely stands out more than the rest. It’s the insta-famous view over Lake O’Hara from the hike to the Opabin Plateau.

Unlike many other spots which tend to be overrun, thanks to the limited number of visitors to lake O’Hara each day, this spot, albeit famous, still remains relatively quiet.

Lake O’Hara: stats and overview

Location: Yoho National Park

Distance: Bus in/out  (or 11km one-way hike, 22km return)

Minimum days recommended: 3 

Campsite reservations opening time: February 3, 2022, at 8 AM Mountain Day Time.

Tips on multi-day backcountry camping in the Canadian Rockies

Stay up to date with reservation timelines

Make sure you stay up to date about the reservation timelines. Even being a few days late could ruin your plans.

Pack for the worst possible conditions

That way, no matter what the weather does, you’ll be prepared. Make sure your shoes are broken in. 

Expect wildlife encounters

Take bear spray and expect wildlife encounters. Know what to do and how to act with each creature. It could save your life.

Search for cancellations

Even if the campsites are fully booked, it’s always a good idea to call the reservation lines to see if any cancellations have occurred. They are very common, so if you’re flexible, you may still be able to go. 

Know your limits

If you push yourself too hard you might put yourself and others into danger. 

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Marta Kulesza

I am Marta Kulesza - the photographer and creator of www.inafarawayland.com. I come from Poland, but I've been living, travelling and working around the globe since I turned 18. A few years ago, during one of my trips to Scotland, I bought my first DSLR and my adventure with photography began. When I am not stuck to my computer editing photos, you can find me hiking somewhere in the mountains.

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