Welcome to Paria's “Hike of the Week” series. Each week, we highlight one of the best trails from around the world. For us, reading about a great backpacking trip motivates us to want to see it ourselves. We hope this series inspires you to do the same!
This week's focus is the Berg Lake Trail in the beautiful Canadian Rockies.
Featured Photo: Mount Robson Reflected in Berg Lake (photo by Sean Eaton)
Why Hike the Berg Lake Trail?
Mount Robson, located near Valemount, British Columbia and Jasper, Alberta in the Canadian Rockies is a world renowned climbers dream. Yet you do not need to be an avid mountain climber to enjoy the sheer brilliance that is Mount Robson. The Berg Lake Trail provides hikers the opportunity to walk amongst the Canadian Rockies with Mount Robson standing as a magnificent backdrop to this scenic hike.
- Total Distance: 46 km (23 km one way) + day hikes located near Berg Lake Campgrounds
- Recommended trip Length: 2-4 days; trail runners or experienced hikers who are quick of pace can complete this hike in 1 day though the vast majority of people will need at least 2 days especially if you truly want time to take in and appreciate your surroundings.
- Points of Interest: Kinney Lake; Emperor Falls, Mount Robson
- 853 m / 2,800 feet starting Elevation
- 1,641 m / 5,385 feet Elevation at Berg Lake Campground
- Best time to hike: July-September (Snowbird Pass is closed May and June due to Caribou calving).
- Average Temperatures Highs/Lows: July - 18°C/3°C; August - 17°C/3°C; September - 10°C/-1°C. Daily temperatures can vary considerably and it can rain quite often. Check the weather forecast prior to hiking and be prepared for cold (at night) and wet weather.
- Difficulty: Mostly easy to Moderate, though the Snowbird Pass Trail is a difficult route
- Be bear aware: Black Bears and Grizzly Bears can be found in Mount Robson Provincial Park. Moose and waterfowl are also present in the area
- Dogs are permitted on a leash for day hikes only. Dogs are not allowed on the trail for overnight hikes
- Bicycles are allowed on trail as far as Kinney Lake
- All campgrounds have bear proof food storage lockers, pit toilets, washbasins and grey-water pits. There are no fires allowed.
- Hammocks are not allowed for use on the Berg Lake Trail
- All campers must check in at the Mount Robson Visitor Centre during the following hours of operation: June 15 – Sept 29: 8 am to 4 pm. Last check-in of the day begins at 3:30 pm. At the earliest, you may register beginning at noon the day prior. When hikers register at the Mount Robson Visitor Centre, the staff will explain details (including a video) about the park, trail, etc.
- All overnight camping must be reserved through discovercamping.ca. Campsites go quickly so book your site early
How Do I Get There?
The nearest international airport is in Edmonton, Alberta. The Edmonton International Airport is approximately a 5 hour drive to the Mount Robson Visitor Centre. You could choose to rent a car at the airport (which would be more economical) or book a shuttle to the nearby city of Jasper, Alberta though Sundog Transportation and Tours. Sundog also provides private chartered transportation so you could also use them to take you to the trailhead though this could be a pricey option.
There are two cities near the trailhead, Jasper, Alberta which is approximately a one hour drive and Valemount, British Columbia which is approximately a 30 minute drive. Both are options to spend the night prior to hiking the Berg Lake Trail.
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: Berg Lake Trailhead to Emperor Falls Campgrounds
- Day 2: Emperor Falls Campgrounds to Berg Lake Campgrounds
- Day 3: Berg Lake Campgrounds to Snowbird Pass and Return
- Day 4: Berg Lake Campgrounds to Berg Lake Trailhead
Though the Berg Lake Trail can be completed in as little as 1 day by trail runners and ultra quick day hikers it is more enjoyable to take time to fully embrace the scenery along this route. The following is a 4 day itinerary that incorporates the Berg Lake Trail, the 1 day Snowbird Pass route, and a ½ day loop that incorporates parts of the Mumm Basin, Toboggan Falls and Hargreaves Lake routes.
Day 1: Berg Lake Trailhead to Emperor Falls Campground
Prior to embarking on this hike you will need to check in with Mount Robson Visitor Centre. This can be done ideally the day prior to starting the trail or as early as possible on the day of the hike. The trailhead is a short 4 minute drive from the visitor centre.
Today’s journey will begin at the trailhead where there is a gentle incline (141 meters/430 feet of elevation gain) over the first 7km where you will arrive at your first point of interest; Kinney Lake. The first campsite on the Berg Lake Trail is at Kinney Lake though it is far too early in the day to think about stopping for the night.
Your route will continue to be fairly easy over the next 4km where you will gain 113 meters/370 feet. Here, 11km into your journey, you will pass Whitehorn Campgrounds. This is a larger campground with 22 spots available for the night and a popular stopping ground for those looking to make the trip to Berg Lake Campgrounds in two days. However, we will continue on to this day making our way to our final destination of the day, Emperor Falls Campgrounds.
The section of trail between Whitehorn Campgrounds and Emperor Falls Campgrounds marks the most difficult stretch of the Berg Lake Trail as you gain over 500 meters/1700 feet of elevation over 5 km. This part of the trail also marks the section of trail known as the Valley of a Thousand Falls. The crown jewel of this valley is Emperor Falls which, at 15.4 km into your hike, is just a short 500m (return) jaunt off trail. This is a must see diversion before heading to Emperor Falls Campgrounds for the night. At this point you will have hiked 16km and completed the toughest portion of the Berg Lake trail making it a good rest point.
The Emperor Falls Campgrounds is rather small with only 9 spots available. In addition, even though some people have raved about this site, others have been turned off of this campground due to the noise levels from the nearby Robson River. Thus, you may have a decision to make if the Emperor Falls Campgrounds is fully booked or you feel as though a noisy river might make for a restless night. You can either decide to hike all the way to Berg Lake where you could stay at Marmot (19 km), Berg Lake (21 km), or you can stop at the campgrounds prior to Emperor Falls which would be Whitehorn. Hiking to Berg Lake is definitely doable in 1 day if you decide to forge past Emperor Falls Campgrounds.
It is important to note that camping destinations will need to be decided/booked prior to your hike. You cannot change camping spots after you start hiking along the trail.
Day 2: Emperor Falls Campground to Berg Lake Campground plus ½ day loop
The trail from Emperor Falls Campgrounds to Berg Lake Campgrounds is an easy 5km walk where you gain an inconsequential amount of elevation. You should arrive at Berg Lake relatively early in the day. This will give you plenty of time to set up your campsite and marvel at the beauty of Mount Robson prior to starting on your backpack free ½ day loop.
There are three short hikes that venture off from Berg Lake. These are the Mumm Basin route, the Toboggan Falls route and the Hargreaves Lake route. All three trails intersect meaning you can complete all three trails in one continuous loop. To start this loop head Northeast towards Robson Pass. Here you will enter the Mumm Basin. This is a steep alpine trail with the main highlights being views of alpine lakes, mountains and glaciers. Eventually you will hit a junction where you will head right (Northwest) towards Toboggan Falls. At the end of this trail you will reach a small cave. You will then turn around and head back to the junction where you will make another right to head Southwest to the Hargreaves Lake route. Here you will see Hargreaves Lake and glacier before descending back towards Berg Lake and your campgrounds for the night.
Day 3: Berg Lake Campground to Snowbird Pass and Return
This will be a 22 km return day hike from Berg Lake Campgrounds and marks the most difficult day of hiking. However, you will be rewarded with stunning views of the back of Mount Robson.
Since you will be camping at the same location tonight there will be no need to pack up camp. You will only need to carry essential items (ex. snacks and water) with you today.
This route is closed in May and June due to Caribou calving so you will need to hike the Berg Lake Trail between July and September if you want to incorporate this day hike on your trip.
To get to Snowbird Pass you will head 1km Northeast towards Rearguard Campgrounds. From here, you will follow the trail east to begin the Snowbird Pass route. Along this route you will pass a sign that marks where the toe of Robson Glacier was over 100 years ago. The glacier has retreated 1km since that time. You will follow a path marked with cairns that leads to a tiny lake near the toe of Robson Glacier. You will then steeply ascend uphill along a rock cairned switchback trail followed by a short section of chained railings and stairs. Next you will continue up the path beside Robson Glacier. Approximately 7.5km in the trail will break away along a stream where you will continue uphill through a meadow where you will eventually reach Snowbird Pass and spectacular views of Mount Robson. Head back to the campgrounds after taking in the scenery.
Day 4: Berg Lake Campground to Berg Lake Trailhead
Its time to pack up your camp and head out. Take one last chance to marvel at the wondrous Mount Robson before descending 788 meters/2,585 feet over 21 km to the trailhead.
What Will I Need?
There are plenty of days where it rains at Berg Lake in the summer months therefore rain gear is a must. Temperatures can also vary substantially over the course of the summer and can get cold overnight. You will likely need some warm clothing for the mornings and evenings.
With the colder nights comes a need for sleep systems that keep you warm. You will likely need a sleeping pad with an R-value between 3-4. Combine this with an adequately insulated sleeping bag for warm and cozy nights.
The Thermodown 15 Sleeping Bag is rated for 15 degrees, which makes it a great option for the overnight lows expected along the Berg Lake Trail.
If you want to increase your comfort level while at camp then you may want to purchase an inflatable sitpad. This item packs small and can make eating or simply relaxing at camp more enjoyable.
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?
There is no charge to day hike on the trail but there is a trail fee charged for those that hike/camp overnight.
Adults are charged $10 per person per night. Children aged 6-15 are charged $5 per person per night. Children 5 and under camp for free, but must be accompanied by an adult (16 years of age or older).
Campsites are booked through discovercamping.ca or by contacting the call centre between the hours of 7am to 7pm (Pacific Time). You can reach the call centre toll-free from Canada/USA at 1-800-689-9025. International calls are made to 1-778-309-1439 (24 hrs/day). You can check out the BC Parks website for information on when sites are available to book.
All overnight hikers will need to check in at the Mount Robson Visitor Centre either the day before hiking or the day of the hike. Part of checking in will involve staff explaining details about the park and a short video for all hikers to watch. This step is necessary when hiking the Berg Lake Trail. Hikers cannot choose to forgo this step.
The Berg Lake Trail provides you with an unparalleled Canadian Rockies experience. From the unbridled beauty that is Mount Robson to the heralded Emperor Falls, the Berg Lake Trail is one hike that you do not want to miss.
For those wanting to extend their stay in the Canadian Rockies you can continue on past Berg Lake to the Moose River Route which is a 105KM 7 day trek from Mount Robson National Park to Jasper National Park. You can also choose to combine the Berg Lake Trail hike with the nearby Skyline Trail for an extended stay.
The following Hike of the Week articles offer other hiking opportunities 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.