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Banff Overnight Hiking Advice

Toronto, Canada
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Banff Overnight Hiking Advice

Hi everyone,

I'll be in Banff for the first week of July and I'm looking for an overnight hike - maximum 3 days long. Any advice on trails? I'm looking for outstanding views, that are not rammed with day hikers. We're not pros but are looking for a moderate challenge and a summit or ridge walk would be a bonus. Any ideas? I'm not familiar with the area but have heard the sunshine to assiniboine trek is beautiful.

Thanks!

Calgary, Canada
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for Canadian Rockies
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1. Re: Banff Overnight Hiking Advice

Greetings!

If you are intending to hike during the first week of July (i.e. right around Canada Day), your choices may already be limited. In order to stay overnight, you have to reserve a spot in a backcountry campsite or hut and purchase a wilderness pass (either yearly or per night) as well having a national parks pass (so three things to pay for).

Backcountry campsite/hut spots are quite limited, and bookings usually are available 3 months in advance of the date. I know that some hut & campsite spots are already booked by guiding companies doing courses and others are likely already booked up by people who are taking time off for the holiday.

Options include things like the Iceline in YoHo (but spots in the huts/campsites may be limited). You can hike up to Bow Hut, but your options are a bit limited since most of the peaks around there require glacier gear and experience. Or around Lake O'Hara if there are bus spots and campsite spots left. There are also lots of wonderful hikes in Kananaskis Country.

I'm sure others will have more detailed suggestions, but you need to book ASAP, and you may also have to consider provincial parks or doing day hikes from a non backcountry campsite or wilderness hostel if bookings are already tight.

Banff, Canada
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for Banff, Banff National Park
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2. Re: Banff Overnight Hiking Advice

Yes, Sunshine to Assiniboine is spectacular. However, to go in and out that way, you probably would be better with four days than three. If you want to go to Assiniboine, Mt. Shark parking lot to Assiniboine and return the same way would be a better 3-day option, especially if you use mountain bikes to save you a bit of time on the first portion.

July 1 is peak glacier lily season at Healy Pass. What about going over Healy Pass to Egypt Lake, then spending a day doing one of the spectacular day hikes in the Egypt Lake area, then back out via Healy Pass (I'm assuming that you won't have two cars for a one-way route).

Edited: 15 April 2014, 18:04
Toronto, Canada
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3. Re: Banff Overnight Hiking Advice

Are there regions where random camping is possible? ...since I should be concerned about booking campsites at this time

Calgary, Canada
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4. Re: Banff Overnight Hiking Advice

Within the national parks and some provincial parks, random camping is generally not permitted in most areas. It's only allowed where there are no other options for staying and where it's not an issue in terms of disturbing wildlife/plants/water sources. I suspect the places you are probably looking into for a three day hike would probably not fall within the random camping areas and/or be popular enough that you'd have to be careful about not camping too close to anyone else (50m between sites, I believe).

Note that you also still have to have a wilderness pass for each night in a national park - and the number issued are not unlimited. And without facilities, you will have to deal with setting up cooking sites and proper storage away from the tents to avoid issues with bears & other wildlife.

Info is here: pc.gc.ca/eng/…randonee-backpacking.aspx

Your best bet is to start looking at campsite bookings - there should still be options available, just perhaps not the most popular sites or on all nights. Provincial parks tend to have more random camping and options.

Toronto
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for Algonquin Provincial Park
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5. Re: Banff Overnight Hiking Advice

There are, yes, for example in Banff NP the areas shaded in blue on the second page of this brochure http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/ab/banff/visit/~/media/pn-np/ab/banff/visit/brochures/pdfs/backcountryguide_EN.ashx . The other national parks of the Rockies also have designated random camping areas I believe. Typically the less-travelled areas of course - probably harder to reach summits/ridges etc, though I can't comment from personal experience.

Edmonton, Canada
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6. Re: Banff Overnight Hiking Advice

For all intents, forget about random camping. These are locations that are either undesirable for a new visitor (see the primo stuff first), or quite hard to get to.

Toronto
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for Algonquin Provincial Park
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7. Re: Banff Overnight Hiking Advice

As a matter of maximizing your options to find something that's not booked up, consider the Berg Lake Trail in BC's Mount Robson Provincial Park. A bit of a long drive from Banff, but not so far from Jasper, if you were going to go there anyway during your trip. On a typical 3-day adventure there you would hike up to Berg Lake on day 1 and camp there for two nights, doing a day hike from the lake on day 2 (various options available, Snowbird Pass being probably the favourite) and hiking out the way you came in on day 3. The BC provincial parks system of course operates slightly differently from the national parks system, and one feature is that a few of the campsites are unreservable and saved for walk-ins, so if you can't book anything in advance, you can show up at the park office early in the morning and book whatever's available on the day of.

The Berg Lake trail is at once challenging and beginner-friendly: challenging because of the distances and steep sections involved, and beginner-friendly because the facilites are well-developed and there will always be others nearby. It wouldn't be a top pick for isolation/solitude, but it is a top pick for spectacular scenery: waterfalls, glaciers, turquoise lakes, lush valleys, barren ridges, forest, tundra, wildlife. Helicopter landings are permitted at Berg Lake on Mondays and Fridays, so you might want to avoid those days when scheduling your hike.

Calgary, Canada
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8. Re: Banff Overnight Hiking Advice

I've heard wonderful things about Berg Lake and it's on my list of to dos.

Banff, Canada
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9. Re: Banff Overnight Hiking Advice

Berg Lake is a very good choice for early summer.

Toronto
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for Algonquin Provincial Park
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10. Re: Banff Overnight Hiking Advice

One more thing I should mention about Berg is that when I was going there a couple of years ago, I managed to reserve sites by phone, even though the online booking system said they were all full. So there was some sort of glitch in the system, no idea if that's still the case. Anyway worth phoning if it looks booked up.