The first big trip of the season. Mt Assiniboine Provincial Park had been a goal for a while since coming to the Canadian Rockies and seeing photos only made me more excited. New for 2018 was putting two of the most popular backcountry campsites on a reservation system to try and regulate the growing numbers of people to this precious area, and minimizing the impact on the environment. After realizing this and checking on the reservation site, I quickly nabbed two nights at the Magog Lake campground, centrally situated right in the heart of the park.
Mt Assiniboine Provinical Park is bordered by Banff National Park and Kootenay National Park. The most popular routes in are either from Sunshine Village in Banff via Citadel Pass or from Mt Shark Trailhead in the Spray Valley Provinical Park over Assiniboine Pass/Wonder Pass.
The route I chose to walk because of time restraints/ ease of people kindly giving me ride was as follows:
DAY 1 – Sunshine to Magog Lake via Citadel Pass – 29km
DAY 2 – Day hikes around Mt Assiniboine area – Og Pass and Nublet & Niblet – Approx 24km
DAY 3- Magog Lake to Mt Shark Trailhead via Wonder Pass – 27km
This trip was a solo one, and I had pretty big days planned, so I was careful to pack only what I needed – plus extra snacks of course. The weather had unfortunately come in and I knew I may be trekking through a bit of snow on the first day so made sure I was prepared.
I was dropped at Sunshine Village and had pre-paid for a ticket on the shuttle bus up to the village base. A ski resort in winter, you can also catch the gondola up to the trail head start but it wasn’t running during mid-week this early in the season. Catching the shuttle or the gondola kick starts the hike by avoiding a 6km walk up a dirt road gaining quite a bit of elevation – nice to cut this out when you already have 29km to walk in one day.
It was lightly raining at the trail head so I made sure to layer up a little. I met 3 nice Aussies who were heading out to Assiniboine themselves, not quite as far as me that day, but we walked together over snowy hills. Although we couldn’t see far, it was beautiful to see snowcovered trees, especially since it wasn’t too cold, perfect walking temperatures. The trail meanders through alpine forest up to Quartz hill, and then down to Howard Douglas lake, a pictureque place complete with a campground, which would be a nice first night en-route for those with more time.
We pressed on to climb up to Citadel Pass, which was snowy and beautiful. From here we entered into forest, now crossing into Mt Assiniboine Provincial Park and crossing the divide from Alberta into British Columbia.
The trail went down through switchbacks into the valley, and it was definately time for lunch! The area seemed like a place for bears to hang out with thick dense bush so we kept calling and making noise. The trail is then high above Porcupine Valley, benched into the side and we walked for a few kilometers and the weather lifted, giving us views of the mountains in front. We could look across and see the devastation from the forest fires the year before, which annihilated a large area on the Kootenay/Assiniboine Boundary resulting in closures for some time.
It was time for the Valley of the Rocks. Which seemed like it never ended. Exactly as the name suggests, we hiked through giant boulder fields with rocks all shapes and sizes, dotted with alpine larches and lots of pikas and marmots bopping around. The trail was in really good shape and made for nice walking.
After the Valley of the Rocks, the trail pops out of the forest into a big wide expanse which you catch your first glimpses of Og Lake, the site of a popular campground, and where my new friend would be staying that night. Luckily for me, that meant only 7km more untill I could give my feet a rest. I had a long break here and enjoyed the view – but did not want to stop too long and get cold.
The last 7km of trail were easy walking, although the body was a bit weary at this stage. Walking through a wide meadow, I had great 360 views all around, even though the mountain tops were covered in clouds. I had a good time trying to guess which one was Mt Assiniboine. Finally I kept getting closer and closer, and the signposts more frequent, and then I arrived!
Lake Magog Campground is a fairly big campground but really well laid out. When arriving, you stop at the registration booth and get the layout in order to navigate the 30 site campground and find a site. I then wandered around until I found a nice site and set up my home for the next couple of days. There is a beautiful log cooking shelter with picnic benches which was great for eating dinner and keeping dry after a long day of being wet on and off.
The campground has clusters of tent pads all around and then several cooking area complete with bear lockers and hangs to keep your food and attractants away from any pesky bears.
This day was broken into two halves as I did two different hikes in different directions. I retraced a couple of kms back the way I came yesterday and then took the trail signs to head up to Og Pass. The clouds were parting on and off giving me some amazing views of all the different mountains that were hidden the day before. Going up to the pass, for sure I was the only one who had been there for a while, as I broke fresh trail through the fresh layer of snow.
At the pass I was rewarded with pretty views down across the valley, and across the pass heading back towards Banff National Park. There was also big scary signs about the seasonal closure that happens each year to a specific trail section as it is a well known area for grizzly bears to frequent. Yeah, no thanks, time to head on back!
Lunch was in order coming back to the shelter and I whipped up a pot of pasta and hunkered down with my map. Also, being a fan of afternoon naps, took a quick one to power up for an evening adventure.
In July, the sun doesn’t set until 9.30-10pm so there is a lot of opportunity for evening activities. I headed out for round two of hiking after my excellent power nap, this time my aim was for the Nublet, and to explore a few lakes on the way.
The hike to the Nublet followed some meadows and then the shoreline of Cerulean Lake, where there is a beautiful historical log cabin. The hike then begins to climb up the ridge, switchbacking until greeted with huge views of Mt Assiniboine, Magog and Cerulean lakes, and the surrounding scenery.
Breathtaking views all around, it was then time for the final grunt up to the Nublet. I had originally planned to headd to Nub Peak summit a little further on but gave it a miss due to the amount of snow up there. The views from the Nublet did not disappoint- the Rockies sure put on a great show!
The hike out was also a long day – beginning with following the views of Mt Assiniboine around Magog Lake, then checking out the Naiset cabins which are near Assiniboine Lodge. From the cabins, which you can hire out for a cute cabin stay, the trail heads towards Wonder Pass with views back towards the valley.
Mt Assiniboine disappears from view but is replaced with vast views far back into Banff National Park, where I had walked from a few days ago. Wonder Pass is indeed wonderful – huge views in both directions.
Stopping for a snack I met four nice people also heading out via Wonder Pass and we decided to stick together as we heard a report of a Mumma Grizzly and her two cubs in the area. As we started to head down from the pass we took a side trail out to a viewpoint which looked out over Marvel Lake back into Banff National Park.
Marvel Lake is an amazing shade of blue that we would get to look at for a large part of the descent.
Sure enough we spotted the mumma grizzly with cubs chilling out on the side of a bank approx 250m up from the trail we had to pass. Making enough noise, she stopped to check us out for a few minutes before we scuttled on past.
Down, down, down was the theme of the afternoon and I left my new friends after a nice long lunch together at Marvel Lake shore. The last 12km out are easy walking on a very wide graded trail, which sped by quickly. I was luckily enough to have a ride waiting at the Mt Shark Trailhead, which was the end point to my big hike.
Mt Assiniboine area is truly a gem in the Rockies and I highly recommend it. It is worth spending at least 3-4 days because it is a long way just to get there and has premier day hiking in the heart of the park. It offers a lot of good options to do various hikes over several days.