Mount Assiniboine is an icon of the Canadian Rockies. The breathtaking mountain is often referred to as “The Matterhorn of the Rockies,” and it’s easy to understand why it received the name. Both mountains are emblematic of a perfect mountain peak standing tall in the shape of a pyramid.
The provincial park that surrounds the mountain has drawn visitors in for over a century to bask in its serene landscape. Mount Assiniboine sits on the Great Divide and the border between Alberta and British Columbia. At 3,618 meters, it is the highest peak in the Southern Continental Ranges of the Canadian Rockies and rises 1,525 m (5,003 ft) above Lake Magog.
There are no roads into the provincial park that sits below the peak so visitors must hike, take a horse, or fly in via a chartered helicopter. With a resplendent landscape that surrounds Mount Assiniboine, it is considered one of the finest backcountry trips in the Canadian Rockies.
How To Visit Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park
You have three options to visit Assiniboine Provincial Park in the summer and there are no roads into the park. The first is to arrive by a chartered helicopter flight, the second is to arrive on foot which means you’ll need to hike at least 25km from the closest parking lot, and the last combines both the helicopter and hiking.
Almost, all visitors will spend the night which will require a campsite, hut, or lodge booking in advance. Due to its remote location and limited reservations, it means human impact in the area is kept to a minimum. However, it requires a bit of hard work, planning, and luck to score a booking in this resplendent park.
Helicopter to Mount Assiniboine
There are two locations that you can book your helicopter departure. Visitors can book a flight from Canmore or from the Mount Shark Helipad in Kananaskis Country. The flight from Canmore is more expensive, but it is far more convenient if you plan to fly in and out. There is only one flight a day from Canmore so there are limited spots available, book as soon as possible.
The Mount Shark Helipad is around a 50-minute drive down the gravel Smith Dorrien Highway that’s rough vehicles. However, if you plan to hike and fly you’ll want to park at the Mount Shark Helipad which is near the trailhead. Regardless of your choice of flight, you are allowed to bring 40lbs or 18kg of luggage per passenger. Flights are booked on a one-way basis so you’ll need to double the price if you plan to fly in and out.
It’s a short 8 minutes flight from the Mount Shark Helipad, but it does treat passengers to some incredible views. Most specifically is a great view over Marvel Lake or Spray Lakes. We’d recommend the left side of the helicopter on the way in and right on the way out as the view of Marvel Lake can not be easily had.
- 2021 Flight Prices from Canmore — $220 CAD + 5% GST tax
- 2021 Flight Prices From Mount Shark Helipad — $190 CAD + 5% GST tax
Alpine Helicopters in Canmore operates the flight service into Mount Assiniboine; however, flights must be booked through the Mount Assiniboine Lodge. You may not book a flight without a reservation at the lodge, huts, or campsites. To book flights call the lodge and they will assist with the reservation process.
Hike Into Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park
If you don’t want to pay for a flight then you’ll need to arrive at Mt. Assiniboine with your legs. Don’t worry the Mount Assiniboine hike is a surreal adventure! There are two primary hiking routes in and out of the park that begins at either the Mt. Shark Trailhead or Sunshine Village.
The route from Sunshine Village varies as the scenic Gondola can save you a few kilometers, but without the hike is around 30 km one way. While the route from the Mt Shark Trailhead is around 25km. As they’re both similar in length one doesn’t necessarily outweigh the other. A popular multi-day route is to combine the two by arriving via the Sunshine Village route and departing at the Mt Shark Trailhead.
Both routes have a number of options to camp along the way and break the hike up rather than completing the journey in one day. However, with strong legs, it’s very much possible to hike in and out in one day. We managed the hike in from the Mt Shark Trailhead in one day, and plan to do the Sunshine Village route next year in one day. That being said, it’s far more popular to split the hike up into two days.
Sunshine Village Route To Assiniboine
- Distance: 30 km (18.7 miles)
- Elevation Gain: 400 meters (1,312)
- Time: 1-2 days (9 hours hiking)
- Campsites Enroute: Porcupine Campground (13 km — no reservations required) and Og Lake (22 km — reservations required)
- Trailhead: Sunshine Village Ski Resort
The route in from Sunshine Village is technically easier but covers a further distance. At the start of the trailhead, hikers have two options they can either take the scenic gondola to Sunshine Meadows or hike the access road which will add 6.5 km and 500 meters of elevation gain to the hike. The gondola costs around $40 CAD but makes it possible to hike into Assiniboine in one big day.
That being said most hikers will choose to spend the night at Porcupine Creek or Magog Lake. The route in from Sunshine is longer than the route from Mt Shark; however, it’s far less strenuous and more scenic early on in the hike.
Mt Shark Trail To Assiniboine
- Distance: 27 km (17 miles)
- Elevation Gain: 460 meters (670)
- Time: 1-2 days (8 hours hiking)
- Campsites Enroute: Marvel Lake, McBrides Camp, and Big Springs.
- Trailhead: Mt Shark Trailhead
The Mount Shark Trailhead and the parking lot area are around 40km south of Canmore down the Smith Dorrien Highway. It’s a gravel road that can be dusty and corrugated so it’s tough on cars but capable of even a small car. The parking lot is large and offers plenty of space to accommodate all of the hikers.
From the parking lot, there are two routes that lead to Assiniboine and both begin along the same trail. The first section of the trail remains the same for both routes and follows an old road that leads to the Bryant Creek Warden Cabin and Campsite. It’s wide and easy so you cover the distance fairly fast on the way in. If you plan to camp on the first day you can choose from Big Springs Campground (BR9) at 9.6 km, Marvel Lake Campground (BR13) 13 km, and McBrides Camp (BR14).
For Hikers and for those who camp at one of the campsites along you have a choice between two routes from the Bryant Creek Shelter. The two options are Wonder Pass or Assiniboine Pass.
This is the more popular route into the Assiniboine as it is easier, but far less scenic. From the last campsite, the trail continues Northwest until the ascent begins that is a short and steep climb to bring you over Assiniboine Pass.
The route is closed to hikers from August to September as it is prime grizzly habitat. However, hikers can still take the horse trail that is a small single track in the woods. It should also be noted that the route follows the same approach as the helicopters and subject to noise overhead.
Wonder Pass is by far the most scenic route into and out of Assiniboine Provincial Park. It also happens to be the most direct route to the Naiset Huts or Assiniboine Lodge. The trail branches off from the Bryant Creek Warden’s Hut or can be reached from the trail to the Marvel Lake Campground.
From the campground or Warden Cabin, the trail moves along the West side of Marvel Lake slowing gaining elevation. Views along the way begin to open up with views over Marvel Lake and the valley that are spectacular.
The climb up the pass is steep and moves through a series of switchbacks. It’s not a technical climb and the trail is in decent condition, but it is a serious workout for an hour.
Once at the top of the pass views open up the park and move through a valley of larches down to the Naiset Huts, Assiniboine Lodge, and then Og Lake. The pass is a highlight in the park and also makes for a great day hike or exit from the core region. That being said it’s a big one-day hike as you gain around 1,000 meters of elevation and cover 28 km to the campground.
The Most Scenic Route
The most scenic route is a point to point through hike from Sunshine Village to the Mt Shark trailhead. This route uses the approach in from Sunshine village as it is more scenic than Bryant Creek and Assiniboine Pass.
Departure from the Assiniboine goes over Wonder Pass and then reconnects with the Bryant Creek trailhead to exit at Mt Shark. Hikers can catch a shuttle to Sunshine Village from Banff and book a hiker shuttle service through White Mountain Adventures. This route covers around 53 km in distance.
This is not something I recommend to the inexperienced by any means. In fact, it’s mostly reserved for locals or those who have experience in the park and can cover large distances with elevation in one day. While I didn’t manage to scratch the run off my list this year I have every intention in 2021 — will update with my route when I determine it.
However, the large problem with trail running is a well-timed run places you in the core area of the park in the middle of the day. This means the golden hours of early morning or sunrise will be lost. So the best option would be to experience both a backcountry trip and trail run if that’s your cup of tea. Spending the night at the foot of Assiniboine is an amazing experience.
Accommodation Options in Assiniboine Provincial Park
Lake Magog is the one campsite in the core area of Assiniboine Provincial Park. It is the most popular option to spend the night as it is the most abundant. Reservations here cost $10 per camper a night, but require booking well in advance as they sell out every season. You can book campsites on BC parks camp reservation website discovercamping.ca or via phone (1-800-689-9025).
Reservations are available up to 4 months in advance. I would recommend booking exactly four months in advance as they go fast! Og Lake although not in the core area is located in Assiniboine Provincial Park and will require reservations if you plan to enter via the Sunshine Village route. It could also serve as an alternative if you fail to secure a reservation in the core area but will require an easy day hike in and out. At all of the campsite, there are bear bins, water source, and a long drop toilet.
Campsites / Booking Info
- Porcupine Creek — first-come-first-serve
- Og Lake — reservation required via BC Parks
- Lake Magog — reservation required via BC Parks
- Marvel Lake — reservation required via Parks Canada
- McBrides Camp — reservation required via Parks Canada
- Big Springs — first-come-first-serve
There are five Naiset Huts that were built nearly a century ago in 1925 by A.O. Wheeler the founder of the Alpine Club of Canada. The huts lie close to the lodge and near the park ranger cabin just below Wonder Pass. Each hut is a single room wood cabin that varies in size from 3 to 8 beds and contains a wood-burning fireplace.
Next to the hut is the new Wonder Lodge Cooking Shelter a communal space with tables, cookware, and burners. Huts are booked on single bed basis and are they are shared spaces unless you manage to book an entire hut.
Reservations are required in advance and they sell out every single night in the summer and winter. Beds cost $25 per person a night and can be made via phone or email with the Assiniboine Lodge. (+1 403-678-2883)
With all of the downsides of COVID in 2020, we did get one silver lining. Many were forced to cancel their reservations and BC Parks required visitors to book the huts out privately, so with a bit of luck, I was able to secure the Forget-Me-Not hut.
To have one of the huts to ourselves in mid-September as snow fell at night was pretty sweet thanks to a bunk bed and cozy wood stove.
The Assiniboine Lodge far exceeds the price of the other two options and is far more luxurious than camping. It’s surely a once-in-a-lifetime trip as the location of the lodge is superb with views of Lake Magog and Mount Assiniboine. Room rates vary between $380 to $460 CAD per person and vary based on the room type – cabin or room in the lodge.
All meals are included and they have hot showers, a flush toilet, and a sauna!. It’s just about as good as it can get in a remote wilderness setting. Reservations book out almost a year in advance and can be made through the lodge office.
Best Mount Assiniboine Hikes and Viewpoints
You don’t hike into the park just to leave because the area is wonderful for photography and hiking. Trails in the park are well marked and easy enough to follow.
The view from the Niblet is one of the most iconic landscapes in the Canadian Rockies. From the rocky outcropping, hikers are treated to a view of Cerulean Lake, Sunburst Lake, Lake Magog, Sunburst mountain, and Mount Assiniboine. It’s was also featured in the movie “The Edge,” with Alec Baldwin and Anthony Hopkins. (Definitely worth a watch!)
It’s an easy hike and takes around two hours round trip. The hike can be made a loop as there are two trail to the viewpoint one from Cerulean Lake and the other from the lodge. I recommend hiking to Cerulean Lake, up to the Nublet, and back down to the lodge. From the Nublet hikers can continue along the ridge to the summit of Nub Peak. The hike up to Nub Peak from the lodge is 9.2 km and gains 615 meters of elevation.
If you do not plan to hike in or out through Wonder Pass make the hike up to the top of the pass. The trail up to the pass is surrounded by larch trees so if it’s September it’s can not miss. We timed it perfectly and got lucky with the larch trees in their peak golden color.
Just in front of the Assiniboine Lodge is the incredible view over Lake Magog.
Sunburst Lake sits below Sunburst Peak and is a short 15 minute walk from the campsite.
Cerulean Lake sits right next to Sunburst Lake and is a gorgeous lake with wonder views out to the rock wall of Sunburst Peak.
Wonder Peak & The Towers
There are two popular options for scramblers in the Assiniboine Provincial Park they are Wonder Peak and the Towers. Both of them are to the East of the park and offer some fanastic views of Marvel Lake, Mount Assiniboine, and core park area.
Tips To Visit Assiniboine Provincial Park
It’s best to book reservations as far in advance as possible as they will and do sell out fast. It doesn’t matter if you plan to camp, stay at the huts or lodge. There are a limited number of spots between all of these which is great because it limits numbers in the park, but it is what makes scoring a reservation difficult. You can find more information on the BC Parks website or the Assiniboine Lodge website.
We have seen it snow every month of the year in Banff so always be prepared for cold inclement weather. If you plan to visit in the shoulder months June or September be prepared for cold weather.
No matter the forecast I suggest coming prepared for snow, rain, sleet, sun, wind, and any combination of them all. On our first day it poured in the evening then shifted to snow at night as temperatures cooled. Or course, you should still be prepared for heat and sun exposure because hiking with a pack is laborious. Our best advice is to pack proper layers, a tarp, proper sleeping bag, and do not forget your rainfly if camping!
Maybe we’re turning into crusty old mountain people, but we’re not big fans of the helicopters flying into the park. On the days that they do fly it’s very noisy during the middle of the day as the helicopters carry “hikers” in and out of the park.
Perhaps the best option would be to limit the flight to lodge guests only. Due to this, it may be worth considering a different backcountry trip if you prefer a more natural setting such as the Berg Lake Trail, Lake O’Hara, or something even more remote.
Set Realistic Goals
It’s best to manage expectations and plans realistically. If you haven’t done a lot of hiking with a backpack or hiking in general I would not plan on hiking the trail in or out in one day.
Also, the earlier the start the better. I’d rather arrive to the campsite and spend the evening or afternoon relaxing rather than arriving in the dark and attempting to set up a tent or check into my accommodation.
Packing right doesn’t mean overpacking your backpack. You’ll have to carry everything on your back up a mountain so keeping your weight down is important.
Pack what you think you will need and any extra items that may come in handy if there’s an emergency. (Things like a pocket knife, first aid kit, extra energy bar, emergency blanket). You see our Banff hiking packing list here.
Wildlife encounters are not something only newer hikers have to deal with. Everyone should be prepared to encounter wildlife in Banff. One should never go out without bear spray. And each person in the group should have their own bear spray, don’t rely on one bear spray for multiple people.
What to Wear On a Hike in the Rockies?
- Down Jacket: A down jacket is an essential in the Rockies. They pack down and fit easily in a backpack. However, despite their lightweight nature, they can offer a lot of warmth which is needed on almost every mountain summit.
- Hiking Pants: Good hiking pants are important in the Rockies as there is a lot of loose scree and rocks that can tear others pants easily. Our favorite hiking pants are the Fjallraven Kebs (Mens and Womens)
- Hiking Leggings: Hiking leggings are great for women in the Rockies. They provide awesome mobility and these ones from Arcteryx aren’t see through and are heavy duty.
- Windbreaker/Rainjacket: An important item to have while hiking is a windbreaker jacket. They come in especially handy on mountain summits when the wind is aboslutely whipping. Arc’teryx Windbreakers are our preferred jackets
- Sunglasses: Proper eye protection is important. Our favorite sunglasses brand is Smith.
- Scrambling Gloves: I don’t go on a hike or scramble in the Rockies witout a pair of rugged clothes to protect my hands. My favorites are from Outdoor Research.
- Trail Runners: Honestly I complete most hikes in trail runners so I can run or jog parts of the trail when I want. My go to trail runners are made by Salomon.
- Hiking Boots: On multi day hikes when I am carrying a large load I turn to proper hiking boots. The Salomon Outline boots are fantastic.
- Wool Socks: Don’t cheap out on your hiking socks. A proper pair of wool socks can make the difference between wet and dry feet.
- Hiking Underwear: The difference between hiking in normal underwear and actual moisture wicking underwear meant for outdoor actitivites is extreme. Yes they are more expensive but they last forever. My favorites are from Patagonia.
- Performance Shirt: The Outdoor Research Echo Series are the best hiking shirts for men and women.
- Hiking Poles: Can save your knees, especially on the descent of some of these steep hikes. Black Diamond is my preferred brand.
- Lightweight Backpack: You’ll need an awesome backpack for carrying all your gear. My favorite hiking backpacks are made by Camelbak.