Welcome to Paria's “Hike of the Week” series. These posts highlight one of the best trails from around the U.S. (and sometimes beyond). Reading about a great hike is nice, but we hope this series inspires you to get out and see these trails for yourself!
This week's focus is on the Brazeau Loop in the Canadian Rockies.
Featured Photo: Sunwapta E3 (photo by Varina Crisfield)
Why Hike the Brazeau Loop?
The Brazeau Loop is a gorgeous, high elevation hike in the Canadian Rockies. This trip is a fairly difficult alpine hike that features the beautiful Brazeau Lake set amongst a mountainous backdrop as well as stunning views of the Canadian Rockies, most notably from the top of Jonas Shoulder and Pobotkan Pass.
- 81 km/50 mile loop usually completed counterclockwise over 4-6 days
- Best time to hike: Mid July-September
- Fairly difficult, high elevation trail that crosses 3 mountain passes
- Elevation Gain/Loss: 1878 m/6161 feet
- Max. Elevation: 2470 m/8104 feet
- There is an optional side trip off of the Nigel Pass Trail. The optional trail goes through Cataract Pass and into the White Goat Wilderness Area
- Be prepared for sudden weather changes. Snow can occur at any time of the year
- There are six campgrounds along the Brazeau Loop. Campgrounds must be pre-booked. There are limited spots available at each campground.
- All campgrounds are equipped with Bear Poles for storing food. Bear resistant containers are highly recommended if venturing into the White Goat Wilderness Area
- Barrel toilets are located at all campgrounds
- Fires are permitted except at Jonas Cutoff Campground
- Abundance of wildlife in the area; bears, elk, moose, deer cougars and marmots are just some of the animals you may encounter on route
- No dogs permitted
- Be sure to check current conditions Jasper National Parks trail report
How Do I Get There?
The Brazeau Loop runs through two national parks; Jasper National Park and Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. It starts and ends in the Northern section of Banff National Park by the Nigel Creek parking lot which is 13km south of the Icefields Centre on highway 93 (the Icefields Parkway).
There are two options for accommodation prior or to your hike. You could choose to spend a night in Jasper, Alberta or Lake Louise, Alberta. Both Jasper and Lake Louise are roughly equal distance to the Brazeau Loop Trailhead and it will take roughly 1 ½ hours to get to the trailhead. From Jasper you would take highway 93 southbound for approximately 116 km before turning left into the Nigel Creek parking lot. If you are coming from Lake Louise then you would take highway 93 northbound (towards Jasper) for about 114 km before turning right into the Nigel Creek parking lot.
If you require a flight to reach the Brazeau Loop then you will need to fly into either Edmonton International Airport or Calgary International Airport.
From Edmonton International Airport it is 442 km drive to Lake Louise with a travel time of approximately 4 hours and 20 minutes. Jasper is slightly closer with a distance of 393 kms and a travel time of approximately 4 hours and 10 minutes by car.
Calgary International Airport may be a better option for those looking at staying in Lake Louise. Travel time to Lake Louise will be approximately 2 hours by car with a distance of about 200 kms. However, flying into Calgary might not be the most feasible option for every person. Be sure to check flight costs and routes (direct/indirect flights) for both airports to see which option is most economical.
Map of Recommended Route
The following map outlines our recommended route. Click the "Load Interactive Map" button to load the correct map. Once loaded, you can navigate along the route and view recommended camp sites.
For even more detailed mapping, including being able to print a copy for yourself, click the "Open in CalTopo" button at the top of the map once it's loaded into view.
- Day 1 - Nigel Pass Trailhead to Four Point Campgrounds
- Day 2 - Four Point Campgrounds to Brazeau Lake Campgrounds
- Day 3 - Brazeau Lake Campgrounds to Jonas Cutoff Campgrounds
- Day 4 - Jonas Cutoff Campgrounds to Four Point Campgrounds
- Day 5 - Four Point Campgrounds to Nigel Pass Trailhead
Day 1 - Nigel Pass Trailhead to Four Point Campgrounds
The first day of your hike will see you travel 13.9 kms.
There will be plenty of elevation change throughout the day despite the fact that you will start and end the day at roughly the same elevation (Four Point Campgrounds elevation is 1935 meters/6348 feet).
The trail will begin by following Nigel Creek while gradually ascending towards Nigel Pass at an approximate elevation of 2200 meters or 7200 feet. Along the way you will pass the historic Camp Parker with its historic tree carvings. After Nigel Pass you will have to ford Brazeau River prior to reaching a fork in the road. Take the trail to the left to continue on to the Brazeau Loop. The trail to the right leads to the optional side trail into the White Goat Wilderness area. You will have a fairly steep descent towards Boulder Creek. Once you are near Boulder Creek the trail will level out and the remaining trail will be a gradual descent into Four Point Campgrounds.
The Four Point Campgrounds will be in the forest near Brazeau River where there will be some nice views.
Day 2 - Four Point Campgrounds to Brazeau Lake Campgrounds
Your total distance traveled today will be 18.1 kms.
There will be very little elevation change on this day as most of the trail is relatively flat. You will end your day a little over 100 meters/330 feet lower than you began.
You will reach the Jonas Shoulder Junction immediately after leaving the Four Point Campgrounds. The path to the left will take you to Jonas Shoulder which will follow the loop in a clockwise direction. We will want to avoid the trail to the left and continue hiking straight to head towards Brazeau Lake in order to complete the loop in a counterclockwise direction. This will make the elevation change slightly more manageable each day.
The trail will continue to follow along the Brazeau River. You will encounter a bridge along your journey that crosses over to the east side of the Brazeau River. This leads to Wolverine Camp. Do not head over the bridge as the east side trail and Wolverine Camp are for horse use only.
You will have a short climb and descent through a pine forest prior to reaching the Brazeau River Campgrounds. There isn’t too much to this campground so you will want to continue along the trail for another 3 kms to reach the Brazeau Lake Campgrounds.
The area around Brazeau Lake has some wonderful views making this an ideal spot to spend a night. Many people have spoken highly about this campground. The tent pads themselves are in the trees though there are plenty of spots with views around Brazeau Lake to set up a cooking area. There is also ample opportunity to explore around the lake if you have time in the afternoon or evening.
Day 3 - Brazeau Lake Campgrounds to Jonas Cutoff Campgrounds
Today’s hike will be 16.2 kms in length and you will see plenty of elevation gain as you head over Poboktan Pass.
Most of the day will see you gradually ascending Poboktan pass before a short descent into your campground at Jonas Cutoff. You will start your day at an elevation of 1816 meters or 5960 feet. After approximately 13 kms with an elevation gain of 500 meters/1640 feet you will reach the apex of Poboktan Pass. From here you will descend about 200 meters/660 feet to Jonas Cutoff Campgrounds.
The Jonas Cutoff Campground sits next to a creek and offers great views. It is a higher elevation campground and is a little more exposed to the elements than the other campgrounds so expect it to be a little cooler here.
Day 4 - Jonas Cutoff Campgrounds to Four Point Campgrounds
You will travel a total distance of 18.9 kms and experience your steepest (though completely manageable) ascent of the hike as your head over Jonas Shoulder.
It will take you a little over 3 kms to reach the top of Jonas Shoulder with a total elevation gain of approximately 375 meters/1230 feet. Jonas Shoulder is the high point of the hike sitting at 2470 meters/8100 feet of elevation. If the day is clear you can expect some jaw dropping yet serene views of the Canadian Rockies at the top of Jonas Shoulder.
The initial descent from Jonas Shoulder will be steep. Luckily you will only experience this for a short period of time before the descent becomes more gradual as you make your way down to Jonas Junction and the Four Point Campgrounds (the location of your first and last night on trail).
Day 5 - Four Point Campgrounds to Nigel Pass Trailhead
Today’s journey will cover the same 13.9 kms as day 1, just in reverse as you make your way over Nigel Pass and head back to your vehicle at the Trailhead.
What Will I Need?
Bugs can be problematic especially during the summer months. As such, plan on bringing some form of mosquito protection.
Bear spray and/or bear bangers would also be beneficial on this hike as both grizzly and black bears can be found in the area.
You will also want to be prepared for wet weather. This means you will likely need a rain jacket as well as a pack cover or pack liner to protect your gear.
It can get fairly cold with snow and freezing temperatures being a possibility year round. Therefore you will want to bring a puffy jacket for the evenings and mornings at camp. You may also look at bringing dedicated clothes for sleeping. This will enable you to sleep with dry clothing at night to keep warm. A toque could be handy if you are expecting freezing temperatures. Be sure to check the weather forecast before embarking on your trip.
In addition to clothing, a good sleep system will enable you to stay warm overnight. You will want a sleeping bag rated for the temperatures you expect to find on trail. In this case, a sleeping bag that is rated below freezing may be the most appropriate. To complete your sleep system, a sleeping pad that has an r-value over 3 is recommended. You may also want to consider a pump bag to make inflating your pad an easier endeavor.
A lightweight, spacious tent can be handy on trail as it will let you store some gear inside the tent at night and provides you the headroom to sit up in your tent and maneuver around without feeling constricted.
Finally you will need a cooking set up. This will include a lightweight stove, a cooking pot and utensils at a minimum. If you are mainly boiling water for dehydrated meals then a long titanium spork or spoon will be ideal. In addition, you may want to bring a mug if you are looking at having a warm beverage on trail.
Titanium cooking pots are great for backpacking. They're ultralight, but extremely durable.
If you are looking for additional comfort while eating or resting at camp then a sit pad may be an optional item that you may wish to bring.
If there's anything else you need to complete your pack, visit our full line of high-quality, affordable backpacking gear.
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Finally, to make sure you don't forget something at home, use our Ultimate Backpacker's Packing List. It even includes a convenient printable checklist!
Do I Need a Permit?
Yes. A backcountry camping permit is required for all overnight trips. This can be obtained online or by calling 1-877-737-3783.
When booking online make sure to select backcountry camping under reservation type and Jasper as your park. On the next page you will have to select backcountry campsites which will take you to a list of backcountry trails in the area. Select Brazeau Trail and then the campsites you would like to reserve.
In addition to the camping fee you will have to pay an admission fee for Jasper National Park. You can either purchase a daily park pass or a discovery park pass which is good for a year from the purchase date.
Though not quite as popular as the nearby Skyline Trail or Tonquin Valley hike, the Brazeau Loop has plenty to offer hikers who are looking for a longer backpacking trip with plenty of views within the Canadian Rockies.
For other hikes within Jasper National Park check out the following articles:
In addition, here are some other amazing hikes in the Canadian Rockies:
For even more amazing backpacking trips visit The Trailhead, our interactive hike map. It contains a curated list of dozens of hikes, each with a detailed writeup like this one.
Finally, check out our comprehensive list of backpacking articles that cover just about everything there is to know about backpacking. If you're just starting out, our Backpacking 101 section covers all the basics. If you already have a few trips under your belt, you can find more advanced topics covered in our Expert Articles.