Backpacking The Rockwall Trail – The Complete Summer 2022 Guide

The Rockwall is a 54 km relocation hike that starts and finishes on Highway 93, the Banff-Windermere Highway. The trail crosses three alpine passes and takes you past hanging glaciers, alpine lakes and a huge limestone cliff – the Rockwall itself.

Although it’s longer and tougher than many other backcountry trips in thd Canadian Rockies, your efforts will be rewarded! If you’re looking for a challenge, you are in the right place.

Rockwall Trail Overview

Backpacking Guide to Rockwall Trail in Kootenay National Park in Canada
Rockwall Trail: Stage between Helmet Falls and Tumbling Creek campgrounds

When to backpack the Rockwall Trail?

The earliest you can book the Floe lake campsite is July 10th, but the whole Rockwall trail is usually passable only between mid-July and mid-September.

Any time before or after that you risk wading in snow.

My favourite time for hiking and backpacking in the Rockies is in September, particularly the second half when the larches turn bright yellow and the peaks are covered with fresh snow.

The summer haze is usually gone by then but be prepared for some frigid cold nights.

Key distances and elevation on the Rockwall Trail

Rockwall trail distances
Source: Parks Canada

Rockwall Trail warnings

The Rockwall area trails are commonly impacted by trail closures or inaccessibility due to remaining snow levels and avalanche damage to trails and/or bridges.

I experienced very bad haze and poor air quality on the last two days of my hike due to wildfires in the area.

Check the Kootenay National Park Trail Report web page or a Parks Canada Visitor Centre before making your reservation and starting your trip. 

Kootenay National park is also a prime habitat for grizzly and black bear populations. Since you are a guest in their home please be mindful of the impact you are leaving behind.

Which direction is best to hike the Rockwall Trail?

In every other guide, I’ve come across it’s been said you should go south to north, starting at the Floe Lake trailhead and finishing at the Paint Pots. I’m going to convince you otherwise. 

The advantages of going the other way, that is north to south, are numerous and I’ve listed them all below!

1. Easier first day

If you start at the Paint Pots trailhead your first day hiking to the Helmet Falls Campground will be easy. You will only gain 285 meters of elevation over 15km. It’s better to take it easy on the first day when your backpack is the heaviest.

To compare it, if you start at Floe Lake trailhead the elevation gain is 700 meters on a very sun-exposed and in some parts steep terrain!

Rockwall trail tumbling creek to Numa Creek 4
Rockwall Trail: Tumbling Creek to Numa Creek

2. Hiking up the mountain passes in shade

Walking from north to south means that you will be hiking up the mountain passes in trees, then walking down on mostly exposed terrain.

During hot summer days being amongst the trees when tackling the passes is a blessing. 

3. Better views

You will have the views in front of you for the entirety of the hike. That’s what you are doing it for, right?

4. Less elevation gain

You will do less elevation gain. Paint Pots trailhead is 100 metres higher than Floe Lake. 

5. Easier last day

You will spend your last night at the best campsite near Floe Lake, and your last day will be downhill or mostly a flat walk. After backpacking for 3 days you will be very happy about this!

To put it in short: start at the Paint Pots and finish at the Floe Lake Trailhead!

Rockwall Trail: The Logistics

Rockwall trail helmet falls to tumbling creek 22

What to do about the transport between the trailheads on the Rockwall Trail

The distance between the Paint Pots and Floe Lake trailhead is 13km (8 mi) or a 10-minute drive.

I’m sure you could charter a taxi to pick you up from one trailhead and drop you off at the other but I wouldn’t want to know the cost. Presumably a few hundred dollars minimum. Realistically, there are four possibilities.

Rockwall trail tumbling creek to Numa Creek 9

Come as a group with two cars.

Leave one at the Floe Lake trailhead and the other at the Paint Pots.

Make friends with other people on the trail

Ask them for a lift back to your car. Plenty of people hikes to Floe lake as a day hike only.

Hitchhike

That’s the option I went for and it took me less than a minute to find a ride. The biggest piece of advice I can give you is to do the relocation before you start the hike. 

That way, when you finish, you can get straight into your vehicle and drive off without the worry of having to find a lift when you’re smelly, have no energy, and just want a decent meal.

The biggest mistake I see from most hitchhikers is not looking friendly enough. Remember to smile and look happy. Starting on a weekend did help as the traffic was higher

Bring a bike

If you are super introverted and the idea of talking to strangers stresses you out, biking the distance is a great idea. Again park your car at the end of the trail then bike to the start. Hide your bike and pick it up once you finish your backpacking adventure.

How to reserve the Rockwall Trail for 2022 backpacking season

Rockwall trail Floe Lake 5

Reservations for the Rockwall Trail are mandatory all summer long and open on January 28, 2022, at 8 AM Mountain Time.

Once the system opens, all hell breaks loose so make sure you are ready with your dates. The weekend spots book out within a few minutes!

You have two options to book the trail:

  • By calling 1-877-RESERVE (1-877-737-3783). However, I do not recommend it because the reservation lines are notoriously busy and difficult to get through.
  • Directly on the Parks Canada website

I have to admit, the reservation system isn’t the most user friendly so follow these steps to book on your computer:

  1. In the left tab choose backcountry camping as reservation type
  2. Pick your arrival date for the first night.
  3. Pick your party size (max 10 people) and number of Tent Pads (max 4 people per tent pad)
  4. Choose Paint Pots trailhead as your access point
  5. From the three options for seeing availibility: Map, Availibilty list and Availability Calendar choose the first one – MAP
  6. On the map you will see little squares with the names of the campsites along the Rockwal trail. Click on the name of the campsite then select.
  7. Continue with the previous step for the remaining campsites. They will automitcally add to your booking.

Bring a printout or digital copy of your reservation on the trail with you as they do get checked by park rangers.

The cost of hiking the Rockwall Trail in the 2022 summer season

There are 3 types of fees one has to cover in order to backpack along the Rockwall trail:

  1. Backcountry use and camping – $10.50/person/night
  2. Online reservation, modification or cancellation – $11.50/reservation
  3. National park admission fee: $10.50/adult/day. if you plan on travelling around Canada’s National parks for more than 7 days I recommend purchasing the Annual Parks Canada Discovery Pass for $72.25/person or $145.25/family or group.

If you spend at least 4 days and nights on the Rockwall trail the cost will be as follows:

($10.50 x 4) x 2 + $11.50 = $95.50*

*With the Annual Parks Canada Discovery Pass you only have to pay for camping and online reservation which will total to $53.5

Campsites along the Rockwall Trail

Rockwall trail tumbling creek to Numa Creek 1
Name of the campgroundDistance from trailhead/previous campgroundFacilitiesCampfire allowed
Helmet-Ochre Junction5.8 km / 3.6 miGravel ground cover, firepitYES
Helmet Falls8.4 km / 5.2 miGravel ground coverNO
Tumbling Creek12.3 km / 7.6 miGravel ground coverNO
Numa Creek7.9 km / 4.9 miGravel ground cover, firepitYES
Floe Lake9.2 km / 5.7 miGravel ground coverNO
Campsites along the Rockwall Trail

A nice welcome on the Rockwall trail is the possibility of bringing your dog with you. Dogs are allowed to stay at campsites but have to be kept on a leash at all times to limit dog/wildlife interaction.

All campsites have access to water (it needs to be filtered before using), outhouses and bear lockers.

There is a ‘take out what you brought in’ policy in the park so don’t expect any trash cans along the trail.

Where to stay before or after completing the Rockwall Trail

The two nearest towns close to the Rockwall Trail are Radium Hot Springs and Banff. There is plenty of accommodation to choose from in both places.

If you are travelling around the Rockies you can follow one of my Canadian Rockies itineraries and incorporate the Rockwall trail into them

Please support my site by booking your accommodation through the links above. It won’t cost you anything extra and I will receive a small commission.

I recommend treating yourself to either the Banff hot springs or Radium hot springs after completing the trail. Your tired body will thank you for it!

A few packing essentials for the Rockwall Trail

Rockwall trail helmet falls to tumbling creek 17 2

Osprey Ariel AG 65 liters

When I first tried this backpack on I had no idea how its anti-gravity harness system will positively influence each backpacking experience, I’ve had since.  Men following my site you should check out the men’s version of this backpack.

Sea to Summit Comfort Light Sleeping Pad

Getting a good nights rest after hiking with a heavy load the whole day is essential. This 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!

MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2 Person tent

I’ve had this tent for years now and used it for 3 weeks in Iceland, where it was tested against some crazy winds, as well as for every single backpacking trip I did in the Rockies. So far I have no tears and all the poles are still intact.  Grab a tent footprint too, to prolong the life of your tent.

Black Diamond Carbon Trekking Poles

I recently left my pair in a parking lot after the hike and drove off.  When I noticed my mistake it was too late to go back. I couldn’t get over it for a whole week, I ordered a second pair without any hesitation. At 300 grams a pair their weight is hard to beat. 

MSR Pocket Rocket Camping Stove

This folding canister stove is my constant companion on any backpacking trip ensuring I have hot meals every evening of my trip. For its small size, it is incredibly efficient and it supports a wide range and size of camping pots. 

The Platypus GravityWorks 2.0 filter

Having the filter with me means I don’t have to carry a lot of water and can refill my water bladder on the go. It’s lightweight, filters thousands of litres of water and although the initial cost is higher than other options (e.g. tablets), the cost/litre, in the long run, is unbeatable. 

Hydrapak Shape-Shift Water Reservoir 3L

Staying hydrated is very important when hiking. It speeds up your recovery atop dozens of other reasons why drinking water is important. I prefer to have instant access to my water hence I always use a hydration bladder. After owning 3 different brands, this one is by far my favourite. 

LuminAid solar inflatable lantern

It is one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. This tiny 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 in the evening. 

Rockwall Trail: stages breakdown

Rockwall trail helmet falls to tumbling creek 21

Stage 1: The Paint Pots trailhead to Helmet Falls campground

Distance: 14.2 km / 8.8 mi

Elevation Gain: 285 m / 935 ft

Walking time: 3-4 hours

The first section of the trail is quite flat.  After crossing the bridge over the Kootenay River, you’ll emerge into wide-open areas where ochre, a red substance, can be found in abundance in the ground.

The First Nations communities in the area baked and dried ochre so it could be used as a paint for clothes, spiritual ceremonies and tipis (teepees). The multi-coloured Paint Pots are quite unique, nothing like I’ve ever seen before and certainly worth some of your time on the trail.

Once you enter the forest that’s it for views, apart from a few old avalanche paths, until you get to the Helmet Falls Campground. The easy to follow path undulates slightly around hilly contours.  

Raspberries can be found in the bushes that line the trail. Helmet Falls is a beautifully located campsite. It’s 1km away from the base of the falls which is an extra addition if you’re feeling adventurous. Helmet Falls is 300m waterfall tall and one of the highest in Canada.

Stage 2: Helmet Falls to Tumbling Creek

Distance: 12.3 km / 7.6 mi

Walking time: 3-4 hours

Elevation gain: 460 m / 1509 ft

Elevation loss: 337 m / 1105 ft

This stage begins with the ascent up to the Rockwall Pass (2240m), the first of three major passes on the Rockwall Trail.

Here the route effortlessly glides through alpine meadows where you’ll receive your first glimpses of the famous Rockwall and the hanging glaciers clinging to its face.

This is one of several parts that you’ll be thankful for walking from north to south as everything is magically placed right in front of you.

Soon you’ll be at Tumbling Creek Campsite, where you can have lunch. If you are hiking this trail over 5 days this is where you will spend your second night.

Stage 3: Tumbling Creek to Numa Creek

Distance: 7.9 km / 4.9 mi

Walking time: 2-3 hours

Elevation gain: 340 m / 1115 ft

Elevation loss: 684 m / 2244 ft

From tumbling creek, the trail continues toward the Tumbling Pass, the second of the three major passes on the Rockwall Trail.

From here you can admire several glacial lakes that calmly sit below the hanging glaciers. Certainly one of the most beautiful parts of the entire trail.

A quick descent follows via many switchbacks and a couple of shallow creek crossings. After not long, the trail descends to Numa Creek where the overgrown path and nearby berry bushes hide bears exceedingly well. Stay cautious.

Stage 4: Numa Creek to Floe Lake

Distance: 9.2 km / 5.7 mi

Walking time: 3-5 hours

Elevation gain: 787 m / 2582 ft

Elevation loss: 306 m / 1004 ft

Immediately after Numa Creek, the trail is surprisingly flat, before suddenly steep switchbacks transport you through the thick forest.

Thankfully, this being your penultimate day your backpack should be a little lighter than at the start.

Once you make it to Numa Pass the views are incredible to both the south and the north. Take a look back at the valley, you’ve just been at the bottom of. You can see the Tumbling Pass in the distance.

After you’ve conquered the Numa Pass it’s not too much further to Floe Lake. Just a short descent through meadows and sparse forest until you arrive at the most scenic campsite of the entire trail.

Many of the pads lie close to the shore. There is an incredible cooking area on a peninsula surrounded by rock beaches and the lake. If you leave early from the Numa creek, you will have the whole day to chill out at the lake!

Stage 5: Floe Lake to Floe Lake Trailhead

Distance: 10.5 km / 6.5 mi

Elevation loss: 693 m / 2273 ft

Walking time: 3-4 hours

After basking in the magnitude of the Rockwall reflecting in Floe Lake at breakfast, start your last day. The trail switchbacks steeply, quickly losing most of the elevation you’d gained on the previous day.

Raspberries can be found here, so can many bears, who are after the same sweet treat. Stay aware and make lots of noise.

The trail then enters the old 2003 burn sector, where new plants and trees are following in their forefather’s footsteps.

Although the path roughly follows Floe Creek there’s only one chance to refill your water, make the most of it. As there’s no higher foliage, on a sunny day, there’s absolutely no shade.

The trail bends and winds along the hilly contours crossing more than one substantial avalanche path. When you cross the bridge at the Vermilion River you’re 0.5km from the end. 

Rockwall Trail: 3, 4 and 5-day itineraries

3 day itinerary

DayStageDistanceElevation gainElevation lossWalking time
1Paint Pots to Tumbling Creek26.5 km / 16.5 mi745 m / 2444 ft337 m / 1105 ft6-8 h
2Tumbling Creek to Floe Lake17.1 km / 10.6 mi1127 m / 3697 ft990 m / 3248 ft5-7 h
3Floe Lake to Floe Lake Trailhead10.5 km / 6.5 mi693 m / 2273 ft3-4 h

4 day itinerary

DayStageDistanceElevation gainElevation lossWalking Time
1Paint Pots to Helmet Falls14.2 km / 8.8 mi285 m / 935 ft3-4 h
2Helmet Falls to Tumbling Creek12.3 km / 7.6 mi460 m / 1509 ft337 m / 1105 ft3-4 h
3Tumbling Creek to Floe Lake17.1 km / 10.6 mi1127 m / 3697 ft990 m / 3248 ft5-7 h
4Floe Lake to Floe Lake trailhead10.5 km / 6.5 mi693 m / 2273 ft3-4 h

5-day itinerary

DayStageDistanceElevation gainElevation lossWalking time
1Paint Pots to Helmet Falls14.2 km / 8.8 mi285 m / 935 ft3-4 h
2Helmet Falls to Tumbling Creek12.3 km / 7.6 mi460 m / 1509 ft337 m / 1105 ft3-4 h
3Tumbling Creek to Numa Creek7.9 km / 4.9 mi340 m / 1115 ft684 m / 2244 ft2-3 h
4Numa Creek to Floe Lake9.2 km / 5.7 mi787 m / 2582 ft306 m / 1004 ft3-5 h
5Floe Lake to Floe Lake trailhead10.5 km / 6.5 mi693 m / 2273 ft3-4 h

To quickly summarise The Rockwall Trail is a test of endurance, tackling 3 major passes in Kootenay National Park. You’ll be rewarded with the usual magnificent views of backcountry hiking in Canada: glaciers, lakes, alpine tarns, flowery meadows and mountain vistas.

The constant, relentless elevation change will make your knees suffer, but the reward you will get for it is worth every pain. 

If you have any questions about this trail or any other multiday hikes in the Canadian Rockies, post them in the comments below and I will answer as best as I can!

Marta
Marta

Hi! I am 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.

14 Comments

  1. Hi Marta,
    We are a family of four and we love your website. We used it to plan our New Zealand adventure just before the pandemic hit, and now we are back at it heading to Alberta in early July from our home base in Toronto, ON. We don’t plan any multi-day hikes, just day hikes. We are all fit and capable of 30km’s per day. We are starting in Waterton, then heading to Kananaskis, then Banff/Lake Louise, then Kootenay, then Jasper. For Kootenay, we only have time for one day hike (provided weather cooperates)…would it be better to hike out and back from the Floe Lake trailhead to Floe Lake or the Ink Pots trailhead to Helmet Falls? Or is there something else you’d recommend in Kootenay? BTW, really glad to see you’re back at it. You’re site is by far the best of it’s kind!

    • Hi Greg! Thanks for stopping by and thank you so much for using my guides! Kudos to you for being able to hike 30 kms a day. I am a seasoned hiker and only done it once and I told myself never again 🙂 The last 10 k’s were a real struggle. Floe lake is amazing so I definitely recommend it. You can turn it into a loop and hike to the Floe Lake then Numa pass and then exit via Numa creek to the Numa creek trailhead. The path is even visible on google maps. I think this totals around 30 kms and it’s definitely one of the highlights of the Rockwall trail! The hike to Stanley Glacier in Kootenay is quite popular too. I haven’t done it myself but have heard great things about it! Let me know if I can help any further!

  2. Thanks for getting back to me Marta! LOL after reading my initial question and your response, I realize it made it sound like we could do 30km’s every day. I guess what I meant to say is that we could do 30km’s on a day hike if we had to. Definitely would not want to do 30 km’s for 2 days in a row! If I look at our hikes over the past three years, the longest was just under 30, but we also got to Mountain Bike a bit of it (until somebody’s bike broke down, but that’s a whole other story; suffice to say I carry tools and spare parts with me now). So 20 to 25 is probably a more practical limit, especially because we don’t have much experience at elevation. Floe Lake definitely might make the cut on our trip plan!

    • Oh don’t worry! I figured as much and to be fair 20 kms is far more enjoyable to do than 30 as you have a lot more time to enjoy the scenery. Do consider a multiday hike tho. particularly Mount Assiniboine, the whole Rockwall or Tonquin Valley! I think those three were my favourites. Let me know if I can help further!

  3. Nice guide…reservation window opens next weekend…So..
    – how many tent pads are at each campsite?
    – do you know if the Numa Creek access is open yet?

  4. Hi there, just getting ready to book a 4 day trip on the Rockwall. You suggest staying at Tumbling Creek the second night rather than Numa Creek. Would there be any preference between the 2? Looks like going from Tumbling Creek to Numa Creek would be a few KM longer but less elevation gain for the 3rd day. The plan would be Paint Pots trail head – Helmet Falls – Numa Creek – Flow Lake – Flow Lake trail head so 4 days / 3 nights.

    • Hi Mattias! Fingers crossed you secure a spot. The reason I recommend staying at Tumbling Creek is that the stretch between Helmet Falls and Tumbling creek is amazing and deserves to be taken slowly, secondly I thought the campsite at the Tumbling Creek was a lot nicer than Numa Creek. Thirdly I really enjoyed leaving very early from Tumbling Creek and crossing the pass in the early morning. Yes, it’s a lot more work on day 3, but also nothing extreme. You can take a nice long break at Numa Creek before heading out again. I hope that answers it for you!

      • Hi Marta, i did get manage to get campsites booked although not quite as hoped for, ended up being Helmet Falls, Tumbling Creek, Numa Creek. Nothing available at Flow Lake (although i am still trying to swap out last night from Numa to Flow Lake). Day 3 is going to be really short at about 8 km, are there any side trails between the 2 camp sites that could be added on? Or is it just a good day to relax at camp in the morning and take lots of time through Tumbling pass.

        • Hi Mattias! Thanks for stopping by. Sorry to hear about Floe lake being fully booked. It was the same for us yet when we arrived a lot of the sites were empty. Some people book, then never arrive. Tumbling creek is a great campsite. Just bring a book and enjoy the silence, take a nap or whatever. There is an escape route down to the valley from Tumbling creek but it will be mostly through the forest so I wouldn’t consider it an extension. Before you head out to the Tumbling creek campsite you can first hike to the bottom of Helmet Falls then come back for your backpack and hike. Take your time. It’s 8km but there are really beautiful views over the pass. Good luck getting a spot at Floe Lake!

  5. We did the Rockwall last year during July! I want to definitely confirm a couple of things for those considering it for 2022. 1) Marta is 10,000% right about the direction. Start at Paint Pots! 2) The horseflies are murder. Absolute murder. 3) Helmet Falls to Numa Creek in one day is… doable…. but don’t. The descent through Tumbling deserves the time. 4) There is nothing like jumping into Floe Lake after 2-3 long days of hiking.

    We did bring bikes and lock them up at the Floe Lake trailhead before starting, but didn’t use them as it was so easy to find a ride in the Paint Pots parking lot at the end. (Especially because there are day-hikers coming and going from the Floe end to just hike to the lake).

    • Hi Katt! Thanks for the input. I really appreciate it and I am sure my readers will too. I am so glad you got to experience the hike. I am glad to hear you were able to fetch the ride and yes it’s a good point that hitchhiking from Floe Lake trailhead is easy since there are so many day hikers going to Floe Lake and back. Sorry about the horseflies. I didn’t experience those at the end of August!

  6. Hi Marta! Thanks for such a comprehensive post about this trail. I’ve wanted to hike this trail for a very long time! We are have all the campsites booked for the first week of July except for Floe Lake. We are going just a few days before Floe lake campground opens for reservations. I’m hoping that we can hike into Floe lake campground from Numa Creek and just camp there. From your experience, is there really that much snow along the trail where we won’t be able to get through to Floe Lake from Numa? I’m worried we won’t be able to finish the trail completely.

    • Hi Diana! Thanks for stopping by. It really is a hit or miss. A few days sometimes make a lot of difference in the mountains. Just follow up with the reports of how snowy this year was and how hot June was. This will have a massive influence on whether or not the Numa Pass will be doable. Sorry, I can’t give you a straight answer as I simply can’t predict it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *