This article 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 The Rockwall Trail in Canada's Kootenay National Park.
Why this Hike?
The Rockwall is a single, massive cliff, towering almost 3,000 feet above the trail. The Rockwall Trail parallels the cliff for approximately 34 miles and can be completed in three to five days depending on your pace. Picturesque views of Helmet Falls, mountains, alpine meadows, wildflowers, creeks, Floe lake and of course the Rockwall await those who complete the trail.
- High difficulty, but the trail is well-maintained and easy to follow
- Accessible via multiple trailheads, so there are several entry and exit points
- There are 5 campgrounds along the trail
- Dogs are allowed so long as they are leashed.
How do I get there?
Both Floe Lake Trailhead (if you plan to hike from south to north) and Paint Pots Trailhead (if you wish to start from the north) are accessible via Highway 93, which runs through Kootenay National Park. You will need a personal vehicle to reach them, since there are no shuttle services in the area. The most convenient arrival point is Calgary International Airport, which is about two hours east of the park. You can rent a vehicle there and drive to the trailhead. If you're arriving from low elevations, we recommend you spend at least one night before heading out on the trail to get acclimated to the higher elevations.
This map shows our recommended route, which includes four nights on the trail.
As mentioned, we recommend a five day / four night journey for this trip in order to thoroughly enjoy the scenery. This itinerary starts at the northern side and culminates at Floe Lake before existing at the Floe Lake Trailhead. The total distance is approximately 33.6 miles (54.1 km). It is also worth noting that the two trailheads are just 13 kilometers away from each other.
- Day 1 - Paint Pots Trailhead to Helmet Creek (14.7 km)
- Day 2 - Helmet Creek to Tumbling Creek (11.9 km)
- Day 3 - Tumbling Creek to Numa Creek (7.1 km)
- Day 4 - Numa Creek to Floe Lake (9.7 km)
- Day 5 - Floe Lake to Floe Lake Trailhead (10.7 km)
You will start your journey on a relatively easy path through trees. By the time you reach Helmet Creek, you will get the chance to see Helmet Falls which makes for a very impressive sight.
On your second day, you will start your climb to Rockwall Pass and get your first view of the Rockwall once you're past the treeline. You will hike past Wolverine Pass before reaching the Tumbling Creek campground where you can pitch your tent for the night.
On day three, you will start your hike over Tumbling Pass and go down the steep southern side. We recommend the use of hiking poles on this part. You'll arrive at Numa Creek campground for your third night on the trail.
The next morning, you'll quickly start you ascent to Numa Pass, which is the highest point on the Rockwall trail. From there, you will hike down Floe Lake where you can spend your last night. You may experience loud cracking sounds while staying at the lake; no worries, they are just ice calving into Floe Lake.
The last leg of your hike will be relatively easy as you descend through alpine meadows and switchbacks. Near the very end, you'll experience the remains of burnt tree trunks from a large 2003 wildfire.
Please note that Numa Creek and Tumbling Creek’s bridges have recently been washed out and the trail is filled with avalanche debris. Please refer to the Kootenay National Park website for the most current information.
What will I need?
The trail is well-maintained and each campsite has access to running water, bear lockers, and tent pads. While there are plenty of water sources, keep in mind that water purification is a must so be sure to bring your water filter or purification tablets. Weather can be erratic, so be prepared for rainy days during the summer and rain/snow during the shoulder season. Finally, definitely bring your camera with you to capture the amazing sights!
Knowing where the exit points are and a detailed map will certainly help in the event that you need to leave sooner than expected. The National Park website provides a good map that you can print out. We also recommend Caltopo if you want to generate a more detailed topo map to bring with you.
Since the area is frequented by bears, make sure that you practice bear safety and watch out for elk as well.
If you need help packing for the trip, check out our Ultimate Backpacker's Packing List for recommendations on what to bring on this multi-day journey.
Do I need a permit?
Kootenay National Park requires its visitors to get a daily or annual backcountry use and camping permit. Campsite reservations in advance are required. If you want to fish along the trip, fishing is allowed for those who have a National Park Fishing Permit.
Kootenay National Park (for permits)
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.