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A Complete Guide to Trekking in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park

Sunrise over Sunburst Peak with Mount Assiniboine Hiding in the Clouds

Assiniboine Provincial Park is named after it's crown jewel, Mount Assiniboine which has often accurately been called the Matterhorn of the Rockies. While naming mountains and ranged after their supposed counterparts in Europe is popular, it is rarely this aptly applied. Mt. Assiniboine is a tall, distinct pyramid of a mountain, towering above beautiful alpine lakes and ancient glacial meadows.

The Canadian Rockies pick up the Rocky Mountain Range north of Montana and contain some of Canada’s most famous national parks including Banff and Jasper. Lesser known but equally beautiful are Yoho and Kootenay National Parks in British Columbia. Filling in many of the gaps between these parks are a series of Provincial Parks including Elk Lakes, Height of the Rockies, and Mount Assiniboine.

Photos of this park stand out and beckon one to make the journey. Years before I ever planned my first trip here, I bookmarked photos and trip reports in preparation for one day making the journey. The Canadian Rockies are some of the most stunning mountains I’ve ever seen, and this park could well be the defining landscape for this mountain range in my mind.

While this trip report is based on my experience in September, 2018, I have updated any relevant information for 2020. Because much of the park operates on a reservation system, making plans in advance is essential. We made our reservations for September 23-26 at the Magog Campground back in early July. These were the earliest dates we could get.



PART I: Logistics

Getting to the Park

Assiniboine Provincial Park is completely surrounded by wilderness. North and East is Banff National Park in Alberta. North and West is Kootenay National Park in BC. South of the park is a vast wilderness which has not been established as an official park. There are no roads into Assiniboine and the closest road in any direction is over 20 km by trail. There are three ways to enter the park: by foot, by horse, or by flight.

Helicopter. Canada has much more relaxed regulations allowing helicopters to fly into remote areas than the US does. Assiniboine Provincial Park is no exception, allowing helicopters to both fly in resupplies to the lodge and fly in visitors to the lodge, huts, and campgrounds.

Rates to fly in from Canmore are $210 CAD per person and include 40 pounds of luggage each. You have the option to just fly luggage in at $3/pound. These costs are for one way only. Several people we met flew in but then hiked out with lighter packs and less elevation gain. For further information on flying, including what you can and cannot bring with you, check out the Assiniboine Lodge page.

In my opinion it is rather unfortunate that Canada allows such heavy helicopter traffic in the backcountry. While hiking out we heard a nearly continuous hum of helicopters coming and going over the mountain passes. This disturbs wildlife, pollutes the air, and takes away from the otherwise truly remote feeling of being way out in this beautiful wilderness. I understand that not all people can hike this far in, but this is the case with many beautiful locations worldwide where helicopters are not allowed. Canada has many stunning sites which one can simply drive up to without having to ruin the more remote ones with a constant stream of helicopter traffic.

One reason I think many people fly is that this is a sort of “check box” photography spot for wealthy photo hobbyists. Many of these people are older and less inclined to hike long distances especially with heavy gear. Another reason is that while hardly difficult, the approach trails could be better maintained. More appealing campgrounds could be created along the way. When compared to another popular BC provincial Park, Mt Robson, the approach campgrounds (including those in Banff on the way to Assiniboine) are very primitive and not well maintained. The trails are easy enough to follow but rather overgrown in places.

My suggestion is that the park only allow guests of the lodge to fly in and only on certain days. Everyone else must hike in whether staying in huts or camping. Those flying in would be charged a 100% tax on the cost of the flight (after all if you can afford this lodge, money is probably not an issue for you). This tax would go directly to renovating and maintaining campsites along the approach trails to make foot traffic more appealing.

Horse. I do not travel by horse and thus have not familiarized myself with all the rules or permits required. O’Brien Horse Camp near the group campsites is available for those who wish to travel this way. There was minimal evidence of previous horse travel on the trails coming from Spray Lake. Permission is required from BC parks to enter the park with a horse. The park has an entire pamphlet available for those interested in horseback riding in the park linked here.

The trail is narrow and wet but easy to follow

Hiking. Traveling by foot to Assiniboine Provincial Park is simultaneously the most rewarding and most challenging way to approach this landscape. It's the best way to fully experience as much of the park as possible, not just the core section. There are three popular approaches and at least one more less popular approach all of which require a strenuous one day hike or an overnight along the way. I’ve named each approach based on the most prominent pass over which they cross. Distances are estimated to Magog Lake Campground and are in kilometres.

One of the main trail-heads is Mount Shark Trail-head (linked on Google Maps). This is in Alberta’s Spray Lake Provincial Park. I don’t believe any passes were required to park here. There are warnings of car break ins so we hid everything in our car well and didn’t experience any trouble. We did have some evidence of rodents in our car. Don’t leave any food in your car if possible and if not at least have it safely packed in a bear bin.

The Sunshine Ski Village approach requires a gondola ride or shuttle to the trail-head or else additional hiking. I have not personally done this approach but it seems a bit more logistically challenging. There is a shuttle from Mount Shark to Sunshine Village in case you want to go in one way and out the other. This shuttle is $90 CAD per person and is provided by White Mountain Adventures.

Distances vary depending on the source. The Assiniboine Lodge website gives significantly longer distances than the official BC parks website or my mapping apps. I’ve based my information on the app Maps.me, but remember these are estimates not exact distances.

Looking back toward Assiniboine Pass from inside the park

Assiniboine Pass. 26km. 484m elevation gain. Mount Shark Trailhead. Spray Lakes Provincial Park approach.

This trail starts at the Mount Shark Trailhead and is probably both the shortest and easiest approach. The first half has minimal elevation gain. In fact, the vast majority of the climbing is over just a few kilometres up to Assiniboine Pass. The trail starts by following the Watridge Lake Trail before crossing the Spray River bridge (6k) and heading to the right following Bryant Creek North. This trail follows an old logging road that is straight and easy but monotonous. Bikes are allowed here as well.

The Bryant Creek Trail is in Banff National Park and has several primitive campgrounds along the way. Permits are required to camp at these but they make a great spot to stop along the way. There is also the Bryant Creek Shelter (13k) which has an outhouse, space for 12 people, a wood stove, and grey water disposal. We spent one night here on the way up and found it cozy and warm despite considerable rodent presence. Beyond this shelter there is more camping and a rangers cabin which did not appear occupied in late September.

There are fairly clear signs indicating which way to turn to head over Assiniboine Pass but I would highly recommend a good offline map with GPS and a paper map. Turn by turn detailed instructions can be found here as well. One you crest the pass there are clear signs to the Assiniboine Lodge. Several km meander between forests and high alpine meadows with minimal elevation change once the pass summit has been reached. From the lodge, Magog Campground is another 2k on a flat, clearly marked trail.

There are two things to consider before using this trail. First it follows the helicopter approach route which we’ve discussed already. Second it is often partially closed in August and September due to grizzly activity. At other times there is a requirement that hikers must be in groups of four. We hiked in proximity to another couple while passing through the highest bear density area. There are two parallel trails heading up the Assiniboine pass. The hiking trail was clearly marked closed due to grizzly activity but the horse trail was marked open. Updates on the status of these trails can be found on the Banff National Park website.

Walking down off of Wonder Pass in the snow

Wonder Pass. 27km. 484m elevation gain. Mount Shark Trailhead. Spray Lakes Provincial Park approach.

The trailhead for this pass is also Mount Shark and much of the journey is the same. However upon reaching the ranger cabin beyond the Bryant Creek Shelter, the trail turns West (left) toward Marvel Lake. There is a campground at the base of this long blue lake which also requires reservations through Banff National Park. The trail then follows the north side of the lake, gradually climbing in elevation for 4k along the lake before a series of switchbacks heads up the pass.

Wonder Pass is a wide beautiful larch-filled pass nearly 2400m high. The trail winds its way across the pass for over a km before dropping down past Gog Lake to the Naiset Huts. From here it's just over 2k to Magog Lake Campground. Most of what you read online praises Wonder Pass as one of the most beautiful sites of the journey. Unfortunately, a cold wet snow was falling as we crossed and low clouds created a sub-optimal view so we didn’t fully appreciate how stunning this area could be.

If you park at Mount Shark and want to experience both Assiniboine Pass and Wonder Pass, I would recommend going up and over Assiniboine Pass on the way in. It's shorter and easier. While there is some elevation gain from the Assiniboine basin over Wonder pass, I still think it would be better to save this for the way out. We did just the opposite, hiking in over Wonder Pass, and wished we had done the reverse.


Citadel Pass. 28km. 400m elevation gain. Sunshine Village via shuttle. Banff National Park approach.

This approach from Sunshine Village is slightly longer than the first two but may offer the best overall scenery based on other backpackers reports. We were trekking too late in September to take the shuttle from the parking lot so the trip from here would have jumped to 34k each direction. However, if you have plenty of time, Porcupine Campground (free, first come first serve), and Og Lake Campground (plenty of open reservation spots when we went) make for great stops along the journey to break it up.

Og Meadows, which we did hike through on a day hike to Og Lake and Campground, was a beautiful expansive glacial meadow. Both sides had sharp towering peaks. I imagine earlier in the season this meadow is filled with wildflowers. Some blogs say this approach is overall the most varied and most beautiful. There is one section of about 6k without a water source.


Ferro Pass. 31km. 1043m elevation gain. Hwy 93. Kootenay National Park approach.

This is the longest approach and the BC parks website warns that it has the heaviest grizzly bear population of any approach trail. It also starts at the lowest elevation which translates to a lot more climbing. My research didn’t turn up many trail reports. There are several free campgrounds along the way and a shelter. It would also be a good approach if you wanted to be close to the core but couldn’t get reservations at Magog Lake. Mitchell Meadow Campground is roughly 4k from Magog Lake and closer to the popular photography spot The Nublet.

One of the Naiset Huts tucked into the trees

Lodging in Assiniboine Provincial Park

Assiniboine Lodge. Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park has several options for lodging. The Assiniboine Lodge is an all inclusive option that currently starts at $360 CAD ($255 USD) per person. The steep price is offset by the fact that you rarely find a luxury lodge this remote with all your meals provided. All supplies for the lodge are brought in by helicopter as are most of its guests. The lodge is charming and may be experienced during tea-time each afternoon for those who aren’t staying. Much of the rooms connected to the lodge are small cabins scattered about it's vicinity. Dinners are served in a large dining room, family style.


Cabins. There are several huts beyond the lodge that also require reservations. These charge a small fee, and while not hotel rooms, are still quite nice. The park also has several more remote, rustic huts which are less centrally located but free.

Naiset Huts. There are five cabins near the lodge called the Naiset Huts. These were built by the Alpine Club of Canada. They are hard to reserve due to affordability and demand. Cost is $25 per person CAD and includes use of a cooking shelter. Since these huts are dorm style, you will likely be sharing with strangers. These huts have room for a total of 31 people. The cooking shelter is fully enclosed with heat, propane stove, and lamps. Running water is also available. Several outhouses service these huts.

Hind Hut. This cabin is up a steep ledge on the approach to Mt. Assiniboine itself. It sleeps up to 12 people and has two campsites located nearby. Similar to the Naiset Hut in style, the rates are also $25 CAD per person. Occasionally there will be last minute cancelations or open beds and one can book an empty bunk for $20. There is propane for cooking only at the Hind Hut.

Police Meadows Cabin. This is a rustic eight person cabin with an outhouse, bear bins, and wood stove located near Porcupine Campground. It does not require reservation or fees in the summer.

Mitchell River Cabin. This is a remote rustic eight person cabin with an outhouse and wood stove located route west of the central part of the park. It does not require reservation or fees in the summer.

Map of the core of Assiniboine Provincial Park

Campgrounds. There are actually quite a few campgrounds in the park, but only one is centrally located. Three require advanced reservations and are often hard to reserve (we got a spot for three nights about two months in advance). The other ones are more remote and considered wilderness campgrounds. Magog, Og, and O’Brien Meadows Group require a backcountry camping fee of $10 CAD per person/night with your reservation.

Magog Lake. This campground is scattered through the trees North of Magog Lake and has 40 designated campsites, a partially enclosed cook shelter, bear lockers, grey water pits, fresh water (should be filtered), and several pit toilets. Cooking dinner in the open log-cabin style cook shelter, was one of the best ways to meet people. This is the only campground we actually stayed at in the park. No fires are permitted here.

Og Lake. Located on Og Lake about 5 km North-East Magog Lake on a relatively gentle trail, this campground is quite inviting with 10 campsites, a pit toilet, grey water pit, and centrally located cook area with bear lockers. Water is available. No fires permitted.

O’Brien Meadows. This is a group campground for up to 25 people with bear lockers and water available from a stream but no cooking shelter. There is a horse camp adjacent to this group site.

Surprise Creek. This is a free primitive campground with no established sites. No reservations are needed. There is an outhouse and bear lockers. A central fire pit is the only area permitted to have fires in. This campground would be a great stop along the way if hiking in from Hwy 93 and Kootenay National Park. This campground is not well marked on any map that I have. It's general location can be determined by this BC Parks map.

Porcupine. Further down the trail from Og Lake heading away from the Lodge is the primitive Porcupine Campground which is free and does not take reservations. This campground has 10 sites, an outhouse, bear lockers, an open air cooking area, and a central fire pit. This campground is located along the hiking approach from The Sunshine Ski Village.

Mitchell Meadows. This tiny 3 site campground is located North West of Magog Lake. It does have bear boxes, an outhouse, and central fire pit. There is no fee and no reservation necessary. This is probably your best free camping option to the center of the park without having to make reservations. This campground is not well marked on any map that I have. It's general location can be determined by this BC Parks map.

Walking across the top of the Nublet

More Logistics

When to go

Assiniboine Provincial Park is higher in elevation than many of its neighboring parks. Much of the time you are over 2100m (close to 7,000 feet). Peak season is July-September. Snow can occur any time of the year. Before July (and even later some years), you can expect some snow depending on the previous winter. We experienced temperatures ranging from the mid 20’s to mid 50’s Fahrenheit. Other blogs report summer temperatures as low as the single digits with highs occasionally reaching the mid-eighties. Bring layers!

July and August offer the most warmth and also the chance to see wildflowers. September offers the changing colors of the larch trees which surround many of the lakes in the Assiniboine core. The beautiful green larches change to a bright yellow as winter approaches. Mid September normally offers the best chance of seeing these trees in full brilliance. By late September, the color was transforming from yellow to orange.

The park can be crowded during peak season depending on conditions. September was unusually cold when we were there, with some snow falling every day. The Lodge holds up to 30 people with 30 more in their cabins and about 30 more in the Naiset Huts. Assuming double occupancy in the campsites, that would add 80 more people bringing the total in the park’s core to 170. I would guess there were only half that many in late September. Luckily there are plenty of trails to explore so you won’t ever feel like you are surrounded by crowds.


How much time to spend

To properly enjoy this park I would recommend three nights in the core area (Magog Campground, the Huts, or the Lodge). If you have time and don’t easily tire of one area, 4-5 nights would allow you to really explore all the day hikes and give some flexibility for inclement weather.

The hike into the park from any direction can be made in one day. However, you will undoubtedly find it more enjoyable to spend at least one night along the way while hiking in. Hiking out with a lighter load in one day is more tolerable. When I go back, if time is not an issue, I will plan 6 nights for the trip. One on each end hiking in and out with four in the core at Lake Magog.


Gear

My gear list is based on camping. If you plan to stay at the lodge or in the huts you would want to adjust your gear. Regardless of where you stay, if you plan to hike in rather than fly, you may want some camping gear.

Backpack.I brought a Teton Sports Scout 3400, a 55 liter internal frame pack which was heavy and bulky but did the job. I’ve since transformed my backpacking gear to a much lighter set up and would probably bring my Superior Wilderness Designs Long Haul 50, an internal frame 50 liter pack.

Tent. We used a Bfull 3-season backpacking 2-person tent with a single door that weighed close to five pounds. I don’t think you need a 4-season tent if hiking during the peak season. We also brought an extra tarp which we threw over the tent for extra warmth and to create a vestibule. This did help create more warmth but I wouldn’t bring it again. Going back, I would bring my Zpacks Duplex.

Sleeping Bag. I used an Enlightened Equipment -10 degree fahrenheit quilt. It's very warm but large weighing 32 ounces. This was good for an unusually cold late September visit to the park. If temperatures were a bit warmer, I would bring my 10 degree Zpacks quilt instead. I would recommend at least a 20 degree bag as the weather can be surprising cold and humid even in the summer.

Sleeping Pad. My sleeping pad was a self-inflating 2 pound pad with an R-value of about 4 by a small company called Gear Doctors. Currently I use a Thermarest xtherm which weights less and has a higher R-value. Bring something comfortable and light with an R-value of 4 or higher.

Cookware. Since no fires were permitted at our camps, we took a Jetboil for hot meals and drinks. The convenience of the Jetboil is hard to beat despite its weight. I’ve used tiny Esbit stoves and they work fine, but just aren’t as convenient. I wouldn’t count on cooking on a fire since they are mostly prohibited.

Water. Bring a water filter. The Sawyer Mini is perfect. There isn’t much potable water available. Chlorine tablets ruin the flavor and probably aren’t that good for your stomach. A steripen is heavy and relies on batteries.

Outerwear. This park can be cold and rainy or snowy pretty much any time of the year. I’d recommend a warm down puffy and a protective outer rain shell. Rain pants would have been nice on the trek up as well. Numerous small plants had overgrown the trail and were covered in water droplets soaking out pants from the knees down.

Mid-layer. A warm fleece and trekking pants make for a good mid-layer. I’d recommend something like the Prana Zion Stretch or Fjallraven Keb Touring for pants.

Footwear. We wore boots to hike in but in the future I’d probably wear trail runners unless I was anticipating a lot of snow. While boots protect from water and snow better, they are also much heavier, take longer to dry, and aren’t as comfortable when hiking 20-30k in one day. A pair of lightweight camp shoes are nice to have as it's likely your feet will get wet throughout the day.

Looking East from the ridge leading up Nub Peak

Photography

One of the main draws of this magnificent provincial park, is all the wonderful photography opportunities.There are so many angles from which to capture the magnificence Mount Assiniboine. Beautiful blue and green lakes dot the landscape. Yellow larch trees accent the hills in the late summer. Fresh snow frequently coats the slopes. And don’t forget all the other mountains and glaciers that fill the park. It's easy to get caught up photographing Mount Assiniboine and forget about all the other spectacular peaks.

Below are some of my favorite photo spots including how to get to them, when to go, and some recommendations based on my experience. I used a Sony a7r II for all my photos with a single lens, the Sony FE 24-240 mm. This is not the widest or sharpest lens available by any means. I would strongly recommend bringing a true wide angle low light lens with you such as the Tamron 17-28mm f/2.8 that I use now. A lot of the best shots can be captured with 24mm but there are plenty of angles where I wished I had more width. I would definitely bring a tripod. I really regretted being one of the only people out there without one.

This is a photographer's dream and you will see a lot of them out there. Many of them are what I call old-school photographers. They use the tripod for everything and usually have one single photo they are trying to get and will wait hours in the same spot trying to get it. Others are the Instagram influencer types who have bright jackets and possibly a model or two trying to get the shot which will garner the most clicks with Instagram’s portrait form. I have aspects of both types in me. I do often have one shot that I’m dreaming of walking away with. I also enjoy having a person in the photo for scale (bright jackets help with visibility). However, more than anything I like the adventure of climbing new ridges and cliffs trying to get a different angle and enjoy a new view.

The view from the Niblet on day one in the park

The Niblet. The Niblet can be approached from below from the Lodge (2.5k) or from above dropping down the Nublet trail from Magog Lake Campground (3k). This is the first rocky prominence above the tree line on a ridge that slopes up to Nub Peak. The Niblet offers close up views of Sunburst Peak, Sunburst Lake, and Lake Magog. It's easy to reach for sunrise or sunset and usually has crowds at any time of day.

The view from the Nublet looking down on other photographers in the ridge

The Nublet. Following the ridge up from the Niblet another 0.7k one reaches another rocky prominence called the Nublet which is much higher (156m) and further away from both Mt Assiniboine and the lakes. The entire ridge is a rocky scramble and there are numerous photo opportunities the entire way up. Most of my favorite photos of the entire trip were taken at various points along the way between the Niblet to the Nublet. This area is crowded but the scrambling eliminates some people. However, photographers below you will almost certainly be in your frame. Midday the sun will be directly in front of you so sunrise and sunset are better.

Looking over Elizabeth Lake from the ridge to Nub Peak

Nub Peak. To reach Nub Peak you must continue North along a ridge from the Nublet with some mild elevation loss and then a 200m gain.The trail is hard to follow and most of the time you are scrambling over rocks along a knife's edge ridge. There was significant enough snow up here when I went that I turned around before reaching the actual peak. As you make your way north along the ridge you begin to see a total of four lakes lined up with Sunburst Peak and Mount Assiniboine. These lakes from foreground to background are Elizabeth Lake, Cerulean Lake, Sunburst Lake, and Lake Magog. The farther you go the more unique and expansive the view is. I didn’t meet a single other person while beyond the Nublet but I did see a pair of boot tracks. Total distance to Nub Peak from the campground is 4.5k.

Sunburst Peak reflecting in Sunburst Lake

Sunburst Lake. This lake is a stunning small lake just at the base of the equally beautiful Sunburst Peak. Larches make their way up the peak’s slopes and reflect in the water below. Here’s where a wide angle would be nice. Sunrise and Sunset light both reflect off this mountain although the light is probably better seen from higher up on the ridge to Nub Peak. Sunburst Lake is the first lake you pass as you hike out from Magog Campground heading up the ridge.

Magog Lake from near the Lodge

Lake Magog. There are numerous angles from which to photograph Lake Magog. My favorite was an overlook just outside the Assiniboine Lodge looking West toward Mount Assiniboine across the lake from a small hill with an easy trail and a bench for relaxing. There are a few tarns just north of the lake between the lodge and Magog Campground that are popular angles as well. Magog Lake is in most of the shots from the Niblet on up to Nub Peak depending on the angle you are shooting and what other objects are in the way of your view.

Gog Lake. This is the first lake you come to as you descend down from Wonder Pass. I found it enjoyable to look at but wasn’t especially inspired by it's photographing potential. I think it deserves another trip with more time to fully appreciate.

Og Lake. We took a day hike down to this lake and found it to be quite beautiful. There are numerous small larch trees dotting the meadow that slopes down to the lake as one approaches from the lodge. While Mount Assiniboine can be seen in the distance, there are several other closer peaks that would make a good backdrop as well. The meadows on the way to Og Lake from the lodge also offer some excellent photo opportunities.

Wonder Pass. As mentioned earlier, Wonder Pass gets a lot of love in other people’s trip reports. There is a small stream that meanders across the meadow that covers the pass. Larches and peaks surround. I don’t have any specific photo advice other than just take your time and explore.

Looking toward Wonder Pass from Nub Peak, Lake Magog middle right, Lodge and huts center left of lake

Our Journey

My partner and I backpacked into Assiniboine Provincial Park September 22-26, 2018. We started at the Mount Shark trailhead and spent our first night at the Bryant Creek Shelter in Banff before heading over Wonder Pass into Assiniboine for three nights at Magog Campground. We then hiked then entire way out in one day.

Our cabin the first night

Day One

The weather September 22 was unusually cold and rainy. Someone in Banff a few days earlier had told us that temperatures were 5-10 (celcius) below normal for this time of year. A cold drizzle was falling as we packed our bags and left out car at the Mount Shark Trailhead parking lot. Trash cans and an outhouse are available here. Trails are fairly well marked. In the winter this is a popular Nordic ski area.

The trail was nearly flat for the first several kilometers, passing between Watridge Lake and then dipping down to the bridge that crosses over the Upper Spray River. We made plenty of noises and kept our bear spray handy but did not see any bears on the way in. There were a few hikers around Spray Lake but their number significantly decreased as we turned North into Banff and down the Bryant Creek Trail.

Here we met two other backpackers planning a similar itinerary to ours. They planned to camp in Banff before heading over the pass into Assiniboine. Trekking with some new companions made this rather monotonous section go by much quickly. The trail is wide and easy to walk on so we moved quickly despite our heavy packs. Bryant Creek flows to the left of the trail. Trees shelter most of it from the occasional rain drops.

We eventually made it to our cabin and parted ways with our new companions who were planning to camp a bit further up. The cabin has several bunks and a large common area. We were the last group to arrive. A couple with two kids and occupied half of one sleeping room and two couples had taken the bunks in the other. We claimed the last bunk which was a full size platform with room for both our sleeping pads. We quickly hung up our food to keep rodents from enjoying it and then gathered around the hot word stove for a cozy night drinking wine, making new friends, and playing games.

Outside the cabin is an outhouse, a grey water drain, and nearby there was a creek from which we filtered water. Plenty of firewood was stacked outside. There were clothes lines inside to dry wet socks and gloves. Our boots covered the floor around the stove attempting to evaporate as much water as possible.

Moody morning to kick off day two heading toward Marvel Lake

Marvel Lake from above on the way to Wonder Pass

Day Two

The next morning after a quick breakfast and goodbyes to new friends, all of whom were on their way out, we headed on up toward Assiniboine opting last minute to go over Wonder Pass. The trail turns right toward the rest at a park ranger cabin in a meadow not far from the shelter. We were soon out of the meadow in a dense forest with signs of large animals (we guessed moose but never saw any). There is a campground in this area just before reaching Marvel Lake but we didn’t see it.

Marvel Lake is very long. The trail along its North bank is over 4k long. It gently climbs up the bank above 100 meters the length of the lake. The higher up you go, the better the views get. Marvel Lake is a beautiful cerulean blue color. It has a pretty island at the beginning of the lake and is surrounded on three sides by mountains.

The weather on day two was worse than before. It was colder and just as wet. Much of the trail had undergrowth pushing into it which couldn’t be avoided. This resulted in our legs from the knees down getting drenched and water sliding into our boots. The air was humid and just above freezing. As we climbed above the lake at the West end toward Wonder Pass, the rain turned to a wet snow.

The meadow surrounding the pass was covered in snow. At times visibility was limited. Temperatures dropped below freezing. We grew cold as our legs and feet were still wet. Honestly, in our experience Wonder Pass was miserable. I’d love to go back in better conditions and enjoy the pass more.

Dropping into the basin towards the lodge, the ground gradually grew free of snow and the temperature climbed slightly. We picked up a tag for our campsite from the Lodge and headed toward Magog Campground. By this time there were quite a few other people making their way to the campground to claim site which are all first come first serve (reservation is required but does not guarantee a specific campsite).

This is a large campground with multiple clusters of campsites and several cooking areas and outhouses. A large map was posted on a bulletin board but I’d recommend using this one from the BC park website to navigate the camp area. We stayed at site 27 which was close to the outhouse (but not too close), right next to the nicest shelter, and nearby to bear lockers. Most people seemed to camp close to this largest shelter. I would guess 75% of the sites were full on an average day.

After warming up and setting up camp we made a quick hike up to see the view of the Niblet for sunset. This was the coldest most challenging day of the trip by far.

Fresh snow and larch trees

Mount Assiniboine peaking out on a relatively nice day

Sunrise from the Nublet

View from the meadows on the way to Og Lake

Day Three and Four

The next two days were our only full days in the park and much of what we do blends together so I’m including our activities in one section. Both days had nicer weather with one of them reaching well into the 50’s and offering plenty of mid-day sunshine to warm our cold bones.

Assiniboine offers many day hike options. On one day I hiked up nearly to the top of Nub Peak, stopping just short of the summit due to heavy snow. The views from up high are spectacular. The hike took about half a day due to frequent stops for photos.

Another day hike we really enjoyed was down to Og Lake. The trail meanders through a meadow that was once carved by glaciers. Several other day hikers were seen along the way but for the most part we had the trail to ourselves. The sun was shining and the scenery was much different this direction than in the core. The landscape appeared drier but could possibly be covered in wild flowers earlier in the season.

We spent a lot of time hanging out at the shelter making hot food and drinks and making new friends. Here we played games and shared stories of other adventures. There were a large number of photographers of all ages and styles from all over the world. I learned a lot from their experience. The cooking shelter fosters a comradery and social atmosphere that really adds to the experience. Here we learned that the vast majority of people fly in rather than hike. Or at least that was the case this week.

I made several trips to the Nublet and Niblet for sunrise and sunset. The lighting can be vastly different from one day to another. Mount Assiniboine rarely peaks out from the clouds. You never know when she will show her peak. Even though it may be cloudy and rainy when you start up, by the time you reach a viewpoint the clouds may have cleared and the light may be perfect. I made the trip up a total of 5 times. Other photographers climbed at least 8 times during their visit. To get those truly spectacular photos of Mount Assiniboine, you have to be willing to work for it.

On day four we decided to experience tea at the Lodge. This is offered to all guests in the park regardless of where they are staying. I believe it is offered each day from 4-5pm. Cost was approximately $10 CAD (cash only I believe) and included hot tea and three large slices of various flavored cakes. The cakes were delicious and similar in style to banana or pumpkin bread. Sitting inside drinking a hot drink does a lot to lift weary spirits. A large portion of the campers enjoy this tradition each day.

The scramble required to climb the ridge from the Niblet to the Nublet

We saw a bear on our last day in the park

Saying goodbye to Mount Assiniboine on an overcast morning

Day Five

Our final woke us to overcast skies. We made one last trek up to the Nublet. There was no sunrise this morning but the high cloud ceiling allowed for excellent views of all the surrounding mountains. After an hour or two of scrambling around this epic mountain, we climbed down to pack up. On the way down we saw our first and only bear of the trip. It appeared to be a young grizzly in a small valley on the East side of the ridge. He was making his way toward us and digging in the ground for something along the way. I would guess the closest he got to us was about 200 meters.

Still being relatively new to backpacking, despite eating most of our food, our packs were still quite heavy (I would guess 20 pounds at least). We shouldered them onto weary backs and headed out this time aiming for the easier route over Assiniboine Pass. We soon caught up with another couple who had flown in but planned to hike out over a couple of days. Together we hiked through the high grizzly area following the horse trail down the Assiniboine Pass which remains open when they close the main trail.

The entire day we heard a near constant stream of helicopters coming in and out. It put a damper on the day for sure. However, this is definitely the easier way to hike in or out of the park. Bring some audio books or podcasts because it sure is monotonous. By the time we finally made it to the car we were exhausted and a light snow was beginning to fall.

The long road back to the trail head

Conclusion and Final Thoughts

If you can either take the shuttle or hitchhike, Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park offers some great through hiking opportunities. A point to point hike from Mount Shark to either Sunshine Village or Kootenay National Park would be well over 50k especially if you spent a couple of days exploring the park on the way through it. This park is a great way to get a taste of the Canadian Rockies which will undoubtedly leave you wanting more. It's challenging but not too difficult logically. This was our sixth backpacking trip of the year and we felt like the previous five were more than enough to prepare us. It was our most challenging but much of that was due to the weather rather than the technical difficulty of the trails.


Sources

Photography and Outdoor Guide to Visiting Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park in Canada

BC Parks Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park

BC Parks Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park Map

Mount Assiniboine Campgrounds, Huts and Shelters

Assiniboine Lodge Hiking to and from Assiniboine

Assiniboine Lodge Naiset and Hind Huts

Assiniboine Lodge Helicopter Rates

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