This is a weekly series that highlights an outstanding day hike or backpacking trip. The goal is to inspire you to want to get out and see these places for yourself. I know for us, just seeing amazing photos and reading about a great hike is enough to get us motivated.
This week's hike is Sunshine Village to Mount Assiniboine in the Canadian Rockies.
Why this Hike?
Mount Assiniboine is the highlight of this 4-6 day trip in the heart of the Canadian Rockies. The mountain has been called the "Matterhorn of the Rockies" and it's reflection in Lake Magog is a breathtaking sight. The trail has often been called one of the best in the world.
- Total distance of 33 miles / 53 km
- Easy access from Banff or Calgary, Canada
- Low difficulty
- Great trail conditions and good amenities at campsites
- Various camping options, including tent sites, huts, and even a lodge
- Great day hikes in the Mount Assiniboine / Lake Magog area
- Scenery is some of the best in the world
- Peak season is generally July through September
- A couple longer hike days nearing 10 miles / 15 km
- Overnight permits are required in Banff National Park, get them in advance
- There are bears in the area, observe bear safety
- Insects can be terrible in the first part of the summer, July and August
- Many rodents in the area
- Getting back to Banff from Mount Shark Trailhead can be a challenge
How do I get there?
The trail runs through Banff National Park in Alberta and Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park in British Columbia. We recommend starting at the Sunshine Village Ski and Snowboard Resort, which is only 18 kilometers outside of Banff. If you're out of the area, Banff is an easy 1.5 hour drive or bus ride from Calgary, Alberta, which serves many domestic and international destinations.
From Banff, drive approximately 10 kilometers west on the TransCanada Highway (No. 1) and exit at Sunshine Road. Follow Sunshine Road for approximately 8 kilometers to the Sunshine Village Ski and Snowboard Resort and park at the resort parking lot. White Mountain Adventures provides bus tours between Banff and Sunshine Village.
The big difficulty with this hike is how to get back to Banff or Calgary once you exit at the Mount Shark Trailhead. There are currently no commercial shuttles available. You will need to arrange a ride, leave a car behind and get a ride to Sunshine Village, or try your luck at picking up a ride. Alternatively, you can also terminate the hike at Assiniboine Lodge and arrange for a helicopter flight back to the Town of Canmore, a few miles east of Banff.
The following map outlines our recommended route.
As shown, we recommend a 6 day, 5 night itinerary which includes 2 nights in the Mount Assiniboine/Lake Magog area. The total distance is approximately 33 miles (53 kilometers).
- Day 1 - Howard Douglas Lake (3.6 miles / 5.8 km)
- Day 2 - Og Lake (9.4 miles / 15.1 km)
- Day 3 - Lake Magog (3.6 miles / 5.8 km)
- Day 4 - Day Hike to Nub Peak
- Day 5 - Big Springs Campground (10 miles / 16.6 km)
- Day 6 - Mount Shark Trailhead (6 miles / 9.7 km)
Your permit from Banff National Park will also include an excellent map of the area.
From Sunshine Village follow the trail to reach alpine meadows. This is a great area to explore via a series of short trails before heading out of the area. At the Rock Isle lake Junction keep left towards Citadel Pass. About 4 miles in, you will reach a small campground at the base of Howard Douglas Lake.
Next day, summit Citadel Pass and follow the traverse across to enter Valley of the Rocks. There is no water in this 4 mile stretch, so be prepared. After the Valley, continue to Og Lake and set up camp for the 2nd night. The view of Mount Assiniboine from this area is spectacular.
On the 3rd day, cross Og Meadows and continue straight towards Assiniboine Pass and Magog Campground. You will reach Assiniboine Lodge first. From there, Magog campground is less than a mile to the right on the west side of Lake Magog. If you want to stay at the Naiset Huts, you can inquire at the Lodge and head to the left. The huts are on the east side of Lake Magog.
The 4th day is reserved for day hikes in the Mount Assiniboine area. We recommend hiking along Sunshine Lake, Cerulean Lake, and up to the top of Nub Peak. The view of Mount Assiniboine from and the series of lakes at its base is spectacular. Also, make sure to stop by Assiniboine Lodge at 4:00 p.m. for their daily tea time!
Break camp on day 5 and head out of the area by following the trail to Wonder Pass from the Lodge. You'll hike past the Naiset Huts and Gog Lake. At Wonder Pass, the trail continues into Banff National Park. From the top, you'll get your first look of Marvel Lake. The trail steadily descends in a series of switchbacks and turns to the left at the Marvel Pass junction. At the east end of Marvel Lake, continue through a series of junctions to Big Springs Campground, the site for the last night before heading out.
On the last day, continue out to the Mount Shark Trailhead. Just before the end, you'll hit and old logging road and a series of ski trails intersecting the main trail. Follow the road to the Mount Shark Trailhead.
What will I need?
The conditions on the trail are excellent. The trail is well maintained and easy to follow. Bear boxes or poles are present at all campgrounds. Weather in the Canadian Rockies is generally very good from July through September, however be prepared for afternoon storms. Insects tend to be pretty terrible in the first part of the hiking season, July through August.
Since this is a multi-day trip, you will need a full backpacking set up. Check out our Ultimate Backpacker's Packing List for a complete list of things that we recommend and a handy printable checklist.
Do I need a permit?
To backpack in Banff National Park, a Wilderness Pass is required and must be purchased prior to departure. You can obtain a Wilderness Pass from the Banff National Park Information Center. The easiest method is by phone at (403)762-1550 or (403)762-1556. You can also try the Center's email at email@example.com. Permits are not required for Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park. Overnight camping is first-come, first-served.
Have you hiked the Canadian Rockies? Do you have other outstanding hikes that you'd like us to write about? Please share your feedback in the comments.