Like the Matterhorn that represents The Swiss Alps, Mount Assiniboine represents the Canadian Rockies. Assiniboine is sometimes nicknamed “The Matterhorn of the Rockies”. They are both pyramid-shaped mountains and are often mistaken for one another.
Although they lie approximately 13,500km apart they both share the same reputation for drawing in hikers, photographers, and mountain climbers from all over the world, but…
…Mount Assiniboine is not the only feature making this area so special. The whole surrounding park, Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, is just as captivating.
I have already visited the area twice and have met people who have been regularly coming back here their entire lives! I hope this guide will help you with planning your backcountry adventure to Mount Assiniboine and the photos will convince you, that it’s worth undertaking!
Step 1: Learning about Mount Assiniboine
Where is Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park located?
Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park lies in the British Columbia province of Canada and is 48 kilometers southwest of Banff in Alberta. The park perfectly depicts the meaning of a true backcountry.
There are no roads leading to the park making it inaccessible to any vehicle traffic! Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park was established in 1928 and since 1990 it has been enlisted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Dates of operation during the summer season of 2024
The weather window for hiking in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park is limited to 3 months of the year between the end of June and September 30th. That’s when the mountain passes are (mostly) clear of snow.
Any time before or after that is weather-dependent. In some years snow disappears early in June whilst in others it remains well into July.
What are the best months to visit Mount Assiniboine?
July is a great month to go because of the meadows filled with blooming wildflowers. However, thunder and hailstorms are quite common in July and the swarms of mosquitos can be unbearable.
There is also a risk of wildfires and park closures often caused by lightning storms.
In August the storms gradually subside, but the flowers disappear. The good news is the mosquitos are not such a nuisance anymore.
September is my favorite time in the Rockies and the second part of September is particularly amazing in Mount Assiniboine thanks to the larch trees gracing the shoreline of Lake Magog, Sunburst, and Cerulean Lakes.
The downside can be frigid cold nights, so you better pack accordingly!
September is also a time when you can meet a lot of landscape photographers in the area. Both times I visited Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park were in September.
Weather in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park
Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park lies within the subarctic zone, where the winters are long and cold and summers are short but warm.
The weather in the mountains is highly unpredictable. Chinook winds, which sometimes occur in this region can raise the temperature by over 30 degrees Celsius in a day!
Snow and subzero temperatures are not rare in occurrence even in the summer months. Lightning storms and hail particularly in July, as well as park closures due to forest fires, are quite common too.
Within 5 days I spent there in September we had temperatures as low as -16C and as high as +20C. There was snow, rain, sun and wind all in the span of a few days.
Bear in mind that camping outside of the designated campgrounds along this trail is illegal and can result in fines.
Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park has some serious grizzly bear action. I ran into one on my last day whilst hiking out and let me tell you, I was freaked out for the rest of the day, especially since this was only my third week in Canada!
DO NOT GO WITHOUT BEAR SPRAY! Sing songs, make noise, and keep your eyes open for tracks and other signs of bears. Upon encountering a bear DO NOT RUN, make the bear aware of your presence, and speak calmly.
If it retreats proceed with caution never getting too close, if it aggresses (which is highly unlikely, as bears are very shy animals) then stand your ground and be ready with your spray. Don’t worry, bears are more scared of you than you are of them.
The Map of Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park
This is just a showcase map and it should not be used for hiking in the park.
Step 2: Getting to Mount Assiniboine during the summer season
There are three ways you can visit the park in the summer. The first is by taking a chartered helicopter flight, the second includes using the strength of your legs and hiking in, and the third is combining the two aforementioned. All of them will require staying in the park overnight.
Flying to Mount Assiniboine by helicopter
First of all, I’ll cover the whirlybird option. You can either fly from the Helipad located in Canmore, the nearest town or fly from the Helipad near the Mount Shark parking area.
Flying from Canmore is a bit more expensive, but can be more convenient. Mount Shark Helipad is a 40-minute drive from Canmore, down the Spray Lakes/Smith Dorien Road, and past the Mount Engadine Lodge.
The cost of a helicopter flight (summer 2024 rates):
- Flights from Canmore cost CAD 245$ per person per way plus 5% GST
- Flights from the Mount Shark parking area cost CAD 215$ per person per way plus 5% GST
Bear in mind that flying to/from Mount Shark will require the use of a car or a shuttle service. If you leave your car at the Mount Shark trailhead you will need a Kananaskis Conservation pass. More on that later.
The cost of flying gear only
You are permitted to bring 40 lb (18kg) of luggage per person with you.
TIP: The helicopter company offers to fly your gear which is a fantastic option if you don’t want to spend money on a helicopter flight, but still want to hike to Magog Lake in a day, without carrying all your equipment.
- Flying gear only: $5.00 per pound, per one-way flight (includes tax),
- Excess baggage fee: $10.00 per pound, per one-way flight (includes tax).
How to make a reservation for the helicopter flight
The flights leave 3 days per week (Sundays, Wednesdays, Fridays). Visit the Assiniboine Lodge page for helicopter bookings. To book flights you will need the following information:
- Your Naiset Hut, Camping, or Lodge Confirmation Number. You need to book your accommodation first or you risk being charged a $50 cancellation fee for invalid numbers.
- First and last names of your group party
- Everyone’s body weight in pounds
- Visa or Mastercard details.
Additional info and tips about helicopter flights into Mount Assiniboine
- Try and see if you can either sit up front with the pilot or try your hardest to get a window seat! If you sit on the left side when flying in you will get a killer view of Marvel Lake on the way there. If you sit on the right you will be graced with expansive vistas of Spray Lakes.
Hiking to Mount Assiniboine
1. Hiking from Bryant Creek trailhead via Assiniboine Pass
The Bryant Creek trailhead, also known as the Mount Shark trailhead is 40km south of Canmore on the Spray Lakes/Smith Dorien road. It’s a gravel road but you’ll be fine in any car during the summer months. The first half of the trail is a very wide, well-maintained path with very little elevation gain.
If you are splitting the backpacking journey to Mount Assiniboine into two days, there are three potential campsites that you can stay at after your first day’s hike:
- Big Springs (BR9) which is 9.6km in,
- Marvel Lake Campground (BR13) which is 13km in and
- McBrides Camp (BR14) which is 14km in.
If you are hardcore and decide to tackle it in a day, after about 13 km you can make a lunch stop at the Bryant Creek shelter.
From here you can choose which way you prefer to go: the Wonder Pass or The Assiniboine Pass with the latter being the more popular option, but less scenic.
After you pass the last campsite (McBrides Camp) continue straight heading northwest until you reach the Assiniboine Pass where you’ll climb steeply before gradually descending the final 3km toward the world-famous Assiniboine Lodge.
It’s worth mentioning that this route is closed to the public during August and September to limit human and grizzly bear interaction. However, you can still hike via the Assiniboine Pass using the horse trail.
2. Hiking to Mount Assiniboine via Wonder Pass
The other option, which is the shortest of all at 26km, is the route via the Wonder Pass. It is also considered to be the most scenic as you’ll hike along the picturesque Marvel Lake.
Just like Assiniboine Pass, the trail via Wonder Pass starts at the Bryant Creek trailhead and branches off at the Bryant Creek Warden’s hut around 14,3 km in.
It is one of the harder routes though. The hike up the Wonder Pass is quite steep and consists of a series of never-ending switchbacks.
Don’t worry, if you’re used to hiking with a big backpack, you can totally manage it, the hike is non-technical. From the top of the pass, you’ll slowly descend to the Assiniboine Lodge via the Naiset Huts.
3. Hiking to Mount Assiniboine from Sunshine Village
The route from Sunshine Village, in the northwest, is slightly easier. Sunshine Village Ski and Snow Resort is 20 minutes (20km) southwest of Banff. Just head west of the Trans Canada Highway and follow the signposts. There is a shuttle from Banff that will drop you off there.
In addition, you can take the gondola up to the village to save yourself a few kilometers of pretty dull beginning through the spruce forest. Getting a jumpstart with the gondola is worth it.
The walk from Sunshine is 30km and it’s split up by two main campgrounds. Porcupine at 12km and Og Lake at 22km.
Although it’s the longest, it’s less strenuous than both ways in from Mount Shark and offers spectacular views of Mount Assiniboine earlier on in the hike.
Once you’ve been up and over the Citadel Pass near the start of the hike the rest of the journey is slightly uphill toward the final destination.
Combining the routes
A lot of hikers choose to combine the routes by hiking in from Sunshine Village and finishing at Bryant Creek trailhead and vice versa. If you choose to do it I highly recommend spending 4 nights on the trail and staying at the following campsites:
- Day 1: Og Lake
- Day 2+3: Magog Lake
- Day 4: Marvel Lake campground
You can also walk the same route in reverse, starting at Bryant Creek trailhead and finishing at the Sunshine Village.
Shuttle service between Sunshine Village and Bryant Creek trailhead
There used to be a shuttle operating between the two trailheads, but unfortunately, they do not offer the service any longer.
If you choose to leave your car at one trailhead and hike out at the other you have 3 options
- To hitchhike back
- Team up with other hikers along the trail and ask them for a ride.
- Go with two cars, leave one at one end then travel with the other car to the beginning of the trail.
Kananaskis Conservation Pass
On June 1st, 2021 a new law came into force requiring all personal and commercial vehicles that stop in Kananaskis Country, where the Bryant Creek trailhead is located, to purchase a Kananaskis Conservation pass.
The proceeds from the passing help to pay for wildlife conservation, trail safety, services, and facilities. For more information on how to purchase the pass, current fees, and other details visit the Alberta Parks website.
Where to stay before your trek to Mount Assiniboine
If you choose to hike from Bryant Creek trailhead then I recommend booking your accommodation in Canmore. For those who start at Sunshine Village, you can stay in Banff for the night. Follow the links for hotel options in both towns!
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Step 3: Choosing your accommodation in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park
Between June 26th and September 30th hikers visiting Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park are required to hold a reservation for both Og Lake and Magog Lake campsites.
- Og Lake campsite has 10 tent pads
- Magog Lake campsite has 40 tent pads
Each tent pad can hold a maximum of 1 tent and 4 people. There’s a good supply of water, bear lockers, greywater pits, and several (stinky) outhouses.
It should go without saying but please use the bear lockers, don’t destroy anything, and respect the land. There is a “carry out, what you carried in” policy in the national and provincial parks in Canada.
Bring a copy of your reservation and also print off a copy of the Lake Magog campsite to easily locate the available tent pads.
Make sure to get there early to secure a good spot as you can’t put a hold on any particular tent pad.
How to reserve campsites in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park
To book a campsite in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park visit the BC Parks website choose the backcountry reservations in the upper tab and select the park, arrival date, number of tent pads, and people.
You can book the tent pads up to 4 months before your trip. For example, if you are planning to stay at the Magog campsite on August 15th, the earliest you can book it is May 15th.
You can make a reservation for a maximum of 3 tent pads and 12 people.
TIP: You didn’t manage to get a booking? Don’t fret. Receive a text message when a cancellation occurs. Just register with Outdoor Status, pick dates to track, and get notified when a spot opens.
The cost of reserving campsites in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park
The reservation transaction charge is $6 plus tax/night/tent pad to a maximum of $18 plus tax per tent pad for 3 nights or more.
Additionally, each person overnighting in the park has to hold a backcountry permit. The cost is as follows:
- $10.00 per person/night (persons 16 years of age and older)
- $5.00 per child/night (persons 6 – 15 years of age)
During the non-peak season (October 1st-June 25th) the reservation transaction charges are waived, but one still needs to hold camping permits for both Og and Magog Lake campgrounds.
TIP: Make sure to set up an account with the BC Parks Reservation system before the reservations open. This will save you precious time. The spots disappear in a matter of minutes.
How to reserve McBride’s Camp, Marvel Lake, or Big Springs Campsite
If you are combining the routes and plan to either hike in or hike out via Assiniboine Pass or Wonder Pass and stay at one of the 3 campsites en route, which aren’t located in the Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, you can book them through the Parks Canada website. Choose Bryant Creek Trailhead as the access point.
2. Naiset Huts
The Naiset Huts are only 500 meters away from the Lodge and 400 meters from the summer helipad. There is a communal cooking cabin and each hut has its fireplace. Wood can be purchased from the lodge.
I highly recommend making a reservation as the huts tend to book out as soon as the reservation season kicks off, which is usually at the start of each year.
If you haven’t secured a spot, there is still a glimmer of hope! Cancellations do occur and sometimes it is possible to get a last-minute spot just a few days before your departure.
How to reserve a night in the Naiset Hut
The huts are operated via the Assiniboine Lodge. To make a reservation at the Naiset hut you have to contact the Assiniboine lodge directly.
The line is extremely difficult to get through. When I was making the reservation myself I had to call for 6 hours straight using two phones non-stop.
The cost of staying in the Naiset huts in 2024
There are 5,6 and 8-person huts and the price for the whole hut per night is $150, &180, and $240 respectively. Sadly they are already all booked out for summer 2024. The accepted forms of payment are Visa or Mastercard.
For more information regarding groups and bookings visit the Assiniboine lodge website.
3. The Assiniboine Lodge
The Assiniboine Lodge is by far the most expensive of the three options but without a doubt the most luxurious.
Apart from your lunch on the first day, all meals are included, you can take as many hot showers as you want, they have an onsite sauna and you get to poop into a real toilet. No one can put a price on the comfort you get from sitting on an ivory throne.
The Lodge is open for campers daily after 5 pm. You can purchase some beer, wine, or even freshly made biscuits from them and they do accept credit cards.
How to book a night in the Assiniboine Lodge
Fill out the booking request form on the Assiniboine Lodge website. Due to huge demand, the booking request form for summer 2024 is now closed!
TIP: If you would like to go in the summer of 2025 look out for the booking request form on the Assiniboine Lodge website in August 2024.
The cost of staying at the Assiniboine Lodge in the summer of 2024
The costs vary from 440$ per person per night for a double lodge room to 645$ per person per night for a single room in the lodge (6.2% tax not included). For a complete list visit the Assiniboine Lodge website.
All prices are in Canadian dollars.
Step 4: Planning day hikes and photography locations in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park
Whether you will be staying at a campsite, huts, or lodge, all trails in the park are very well-marked and easy to follow.
Being one of the most photogenic spots in the Canadian Rockies, Assiniboine truly is a photographer’s playground! You won’t have a hard time composing your shot, but here are a few locations to help you get started.
1. The Niblet/Nub/Nublet
The most famous of all the viewpoints is the Niblet. It’s also made its way onto the big screen in the thriller starring Anthony Hopkins “The Edge”.
Whether you are staying at the huts or campsite the hike will take you circa 2 hours round trip. If you plan on heading to the Nub Peak then it’s approximately a 4-5 hour return hike.
Two separate paths can take you up the Nub, one from the Lodge and the huts going past the Meadows and the other directly from the Magog campsite past Sunburst and Cerulean lakes.
2. Lake Magog
The view from the northernmost tip of Lake Magog is by far the best the lake has to offer. This vantage point is only a few hundred meters away from the lodge!
3. Sunburst lake
Sunburst Lake, directly below Sunburst Peak, is only a 15-minute stroll from Lake Magog campsite and around 30/40 minutes from the lodge or the huts. The lake offers beautiful reflections of Mount Assiniboine with clear pristine water.
4. The Meadows
One of the paths leading from the campsite to the lodge will take you through the meadows.
Here small tarns and ponds can be found which change continuously through the seasons and depending on what deadfall is around that year you can go for some really interesting compositions.
The reflections of Mount Assiniboine in the ponds are top-notch, just look at the photos above!
5. Cerulean lake
This easily accessible lake (ca. 30-minute walk from the campsite) is another gem waiting to be photographed. Its pristine clear waters and reflections of the Sunburst peak – another recognizable summit in the park, are unrivaled.
6. Wonder Pass
If you haven’t walked this way already when you hiked in, then you should give Wonder Pass a chance on a day excursion when staying in the park.
The whole area is covered in larch trees making it the ideal hiking location for September when the trees turn bright yellow.
Step 5: Packing for Mount Assiniboine
Over the years I mastered the art of packing for a backcountry excursion. Everything I carry on my back has to have its purpose. I invested in lightweight and durable equipment to make sure the weight of my backpack was kept to a minimum. I always preplan my meals and snack so I don’t overpack. Below are some of my favorite backpacking gear pieces that I always bring with me.
Getting a good night’s rest after hiking the whole day is essential. The Sea To Summit Ultralight sleeping pad will not only keep you insulated from the ground, but it will keep you comfy too. My advice is to go with the larger size.
The water filtering system is essential to avoid waterborne diseases such as Giardia. I use the lightweight Platypus GravityWorks. Although the initial cost is higher than other options (e.g. tablets), in the long run, the cost per liter is unbeatable.
One of the best gifts I’ve ever received. The LuminAid solar lantern is always attached to the outside of my backpack where it recharges during the day. The light it gives is enough to play games in the tent or cook dinner in the evening.
Get it on Amazon
The way I’ve done it
I spent 7 nights in total in Mount Assiniboine Park throughout 2 summer seasons. During my first visit, I camped for 4 nights at the Lake Magog campground. On my second visit, I stayed 3 nights in the Naiset huts.
On the first day, I flew in from Mount Shark with my heavy backpack and enough food to last. On the last day before heading out, I left most of my camping gear in the Assiniboine lodge and paid for it to be flown out back to Canmore where I picked it up the next day.
With most of my equipment left behind, I was able to hike out to the Bryant Creek trailhead, where my car was parked, in just one day. It took me approx. 10 hours.