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Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park: 2023 Hiking Guide

Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park plays host to some of the most glorious alpine scenery in the Canadian Rockies.

The pyramidal shaped peak of Mount Assiniboine itself is just the jewel in a crown of impressive peaks, studded with turquoise lakes and expansive alpine meadows.

Niblet viewpoint in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, with yellow wildflowers in foreground and towering Sunburst Peak and Mount Assiniboine in background, with Sunburst Lake at base
Looking across to Mount Assiniboine and Sunburst Lake

With all this in mind, Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park is one of the most popular BC backpacking trip destinations. It’s also one of our favourite places in British Columbia!

This comprehensive guide will help you start planning your own hiking trip to Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park in British Columbia, Canada. 

Gemma is hiking up a hill on a dirt trail, heading towards the camera, with lake in background and a number of impressive peaks
Quartz Hill above Howard Douglas Lake, Sunshine route

Here’s what to expect:

Last updated December 2022

This post includes some affiliate links – if you make a purchase via one of these, we may receive a small percentage of the sale. We stayed at Sunshine Mountain Lodge and received gondola passes courtesy of Banff Sunshine and Ski Big 3.

Looking down to turquoise coloured Marvel Lake with tall mountains above in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park
Marvel Lake (Wonder Pass route)

Backcountry necessities

Back view of Gemma looking towards the diamond shaped snow capped peak of Mount Assiniboine, with Lake Magog at the base
Magog Lake and Mount Assiniboine

Introducing Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park

Often called the ‘Matterhorn of the Canadian Rockies,’ Mount Assiniboine is as striking as it is beautiful. But this peak isn’t the only attraction of the area.

This alpine wonderland is a real playground for hikers, as well as being a UNESCO World Heritage site. The best way to explore the Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park is on a 4 to 6 day backpacking trip.

Looking across an alpine landscape with land rising on right side side, tarn in middle and small plants and rocks. There are a number of mountains in background
Wonder Pass

Though the distances may seem intimidating at first for some hikers (26km minimum one-way distance to reach the core area of the park), I am pretty sure no-one has ever regretted making the effort.

Mount Assiniboine, pronounced ‘uh-si-nuh-boyn,’ is just one of those amazing one of a kind places that is worth every step. 

Back view of JR standing on rock high above Cerulean Lake, which is turquoise coloured lake surrounded by forest and mountains
Cerulean Lake

The park is located within the traditional territory of the Ktunaxa/Kootenai First Nations people. The Peigans, the Assiniboine and the Blackfoot also travelled this area.

Mount Assiniboine was named after the local Assiniboine people by G.M. Dawson, representing the Geological Survey of Canada. The word Assiniboine means ‘stone boiler,’ referring to the practice of using hot rocks to cook food.

Screenshot of Mount Assiniboine Google Map with all campgrounds and trailheads featured
Click above or here to view interactive Google Map with campgrounds, trailheads and other points of interest. Locations are approximate.

Mount Assiniboine: Quick facts

Personally, I found planning for our first Mount Assiniboine trip a little confusing at first. Unlike some other BC backpacking trips, there is a wide choice of campgrounds, trailheads and itineraries.

It also doesn’t help that while Mount Assiniboine is located in a provincial park in BC, the most popular access routes are through Banff National Park in Alberta!

  • Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park is accessible only via foot, horse or helicopter. There is no private vehicle access
  • Though located in British Columbia, the park is most easily accessed via Alberta
  • The length of hike (in kilometres) is variable, depending on your chosen trailhead(s) and itinerary. Minimum 52km without a helicopter ride
  • The core area of the park is the area around Magog Lake and sits at 2180m elevation
  • 4 to 6 days is the ideal length of time of a backpacking trip
  • The most used access trails to the core area of the park are moderately difficult, with no technical features
  • The core area is usually snow free from late July to early September
  • Photographers flock to the park in September when the larch trees turn bright yellow
  • Reservations are required for the two most popular campgrounds – Og Lake and Magog Lake ($10/per person/per night)
  • There will be a four month rolling reservation window for BC Parks campsites in 2023 (reverting to the pre-pandemic system)
  • Alternatively, there are cabins ($20/per person/per night) and a lodge at Magog Lake
  • Leashed dogs are allowed
  • There is a helicopter service with regular flights to the core area
  • Hikers MUST be bear aware and should carry bear spray 
Looking across small tree and shrub scenery to Magog Lake, which is backdropped by snow covered Mount Assiniboine
Magog Lake

Hiking to Mount Assiniboine: Our experience

We have personally visited Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park twice.

The first time was a dedicated trip, starting and finishing at the Sunshine Village trailhead. This was the best value option available to us at the time. Our itinerary was:

  • Day 1: Sunshine Village to Porcupine campground (13km)
  • Day 2: Porcupine campground to Magog Lake (14.5km)
  • Day 3: Magog Lake campground
  • Day 4: Magog Lake campground to Howard Douglas campground (21.5km)
  • Day 5: Howard Douglas campground to Sunshine Village (6km)

Hiking in mid July, we arrived at the top of the Sunshine gondola to discover 20cm of snow on the ground. Thankfully, this disappeared as we descended into the valley below Citadel Pass.

Back view of Gemma hiking with large backpack along trail, heading into rocky area backdropped by mountains
Valley of the Rocks, Sunshine route

The rest of our backpacking trip remained cold however, with freezing temperatures overnight at Lake Magog and cloud obscuring the peak of Mount Assiniboine for the length of our stay.

We returned in late August 2022, as part of a 11 day hike along the Great Divide Trail. Seeing the peak of Mount Assiniboine was still on my list and I was hoping this trip would be more successful!

This was our itinerary:

  • Day 1 to 5: Paint Pots to Floe Lake Parking Lot (the Rockwall)
  • Day 6 to 8: Floe Lake Parking Lot to Sunshine Village
  • Day 9: Sunshine Village to Og Lake (20.9km)
  • Day 10: Og Lake to Magog Lake (6.6km)
  • Day 11: Magog Lake to Mount Shark Trailhead

While we didn’t have any snow this time, it did rain non-stop for over 12 hours! Temperatures were also around freezing.

While conditions were, again, challenging, we saw the summit Mount Assiniboine twice on this trip. Once at Og Lake and also on our very last morning, before hiking out to Mount Shark via Wonder Pass.

Back view of Gemma and JR standing on rock and looking out to Magog Lake and the pyramidal shaped Mount Assiniboine above
We were so pleased to finally see the peak of Mount Assiniboine!

Mount Assiniboine Hiking Guide

In this section, I’ll break down the essential information for planning a Mount Assiniboine backpacking trip.

Location

Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park is located in British Columbia in the Canadian Rockies, sandwiched on two sides by Kootenay National Park and Banff National Park.

There is no road access to Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park – visitors must hike, ride (on horse) or fly in by helicopter.

Mount Assiniboine PP and the most popular access routes can be seen on Parks Canada’s Banff National Park backcountry map.

Close up of brown Mount Assiniboine sign in front of alpine scenery with blue World Heritage Site logo
Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Trailheads

The majority of hikers travel reach the core area of Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park via maintained trails through Banff National Park. The most used trailheads are located at Mount Shark (Bryant Creek) and Sunshine Village.

A far less used trailhead is located in Kootenay National Park – the Simpson River. The trail from here to the core area is 31.5km one way and travels through a fire damaged landscape.

The Kootenay NP side of the trail is apparently well maintained, but the Mount Assiniboine side is not (expect blown down trees, potential difficulty to follow the trail).

Looking across to Sunshine Village with green ski lift and three story hotel in background (Sunshine Mountain Lodge)
Sunshine Village

Sunshine Village Trailhead

Sunshine Village is a ski resort in Banff National Park and the most northern trailhead for Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park. 

Sunshine Village operates a daily gondola from late June to early September. The 17 minute ride takes hikers from the base area parking lot to the upper village (2159m), where the Mount Assiniboine trail starts.

  • Gondola hours are 8am to 6pm
  • Staff greet all visitors at the top of the gondola and can offer directions if needed
  • One way tickets are issued at the discretion of management, from Guest Services at the base or in the upper village
  • It is possible to hike up the dirt road from the base area parking lot to the upper village, but there is an additional distance of 6km with 500m elevation gain
  • Sunshine Village is an easy drive 18km from Banff (20 minutes) on paved roads
  • There is a regularly scheduled free bus service from Banff to the Sunshine Village parking lot

With Sunshine Village being a full service summer resort, it’s possible to finish your hike with a celebratory beer at the Mad Trappers Smokehouse in the village.

For the ultimate Mount Assiniboine experience, consider a night at the Sunshine Mountain Lodge before or after your hike. Located at 2,400m, the lodge is host to beautiful alpine views, which you can enjoy from Banff’s largest hot tub.

Upscale dining is available at the Chimney Corner and Eagle’s Nest Canadian Bistro (upstairs). Reservations recommended.

Side view of three story Sunshine Mountain Lodge with hot tub in front and Standish Express chairlift in background
Sunshine Village is host to Banff’s largest hot tub!

Mount Shark Trailhead (aka Bryant Creek)

Mount Shark is a hiking and cross country ski parking lot in Spray Valley Provincial Park, Alberta. It is located very close to Mount Engadine Lodge. 

  • The most direct route to Mount Shark is via Highway 742 from Canmore. It takes just over an hour. The road is mainly unpaved and bumpy in places. Take the turnoff to Mount Engadine Lodge and then continue following to the end of the road (7km) to find the parking lot
  • From Calgary, it can be quicker to drive Highway 40 south and then approach the Smith Dorrian Highway (742) from the other direction. The road is usually in better condition
  • The trail to Mount Assiniboine via Bryant Creek starts right from the parking lot. There are shorter hiking trails leaving from here as well
  • White Mountain Adventures offers a private shuttle service from the Mount Shark trailhead back to Canmore, Banff and Sunshine Village
  • Three Sister’s Taxi service is an alternative option for smaller groups
  • Please note that this trailhead is listed as the ‘Bryant Creek Trailhead’ on the Parks Canada reservation system

Please note, a Conservation Pass is required to stop/park in Kananaskis Country. Day passes are $15 and yearly passes $90

Trail signage at Mount Shark Trailhead with information board and forest behind
Mount Shark (Bryant Creek) Trailhead

Access routes

As mentioned, Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park is only accessible on foot, by horse or helicopter. There are three major access routes, each detailed below.

Side note – there are many discrepancies online concerning distances to and from Mount Assiniboine. I think this is partially because some recordings measure the distance to the shore of Magog Lake and others to the Magog Lake campground.

In this post, I’ll be referring to the Magog Lake campground (assuming that you are backpacking) and using distances we personally recorded.

A trail stretches out into the distance surrounded by alpine meadows and mountains in background. There is a chairlift on the right hand side
Hiking through Sunshine Meadows from Sunshine Village

Sunshine Village to Magog Lake

27.5km with around 1,000m elevation gain and 500m loss

This Mount Assiniboine hiking route starts from the gondola exit at Banff Sunshine Village ski resort.

The hike up (80m elevation gain) through Sunshine Meadows is spectacular on a sunny day, with many peaks and dramatic rock formations visible. Be sure to take the short detour to beautiful Rock Isle Lake – you won’t regret it!

Rock Isle Lake in Sunshine Meadows, with small island in the middle of lake, with mountains in background
Rock Isle Lake

The climb up to Quartz Ridge (140m elevation gain) offers the first chance to see Mount Assiniboine in the distance. Below is Howard Douglas Lake, location of the first en-route campground and the last reliable source of water until Og Lake (130m loss)

Another steady ascent leads to Citadel Pass (9.3km mark). Get ready for a steep descent (270m elevation loss in 1.5km) as the trail switchbacks into the depths of the valley.

JR is sat down on a rock next to dirt hiking trail, with large castle shaped mountain in background
Taking a break by Citadel Pass

The detour to Porcupine campground dips even further into the valley (another 220m loss) and is a REAL knee/toe killer.

If you ignore the diversion, the trail continues to descend anyway (200m loss) and then cuts through the side of a steep hill before climbing into the otherworldly (but very dry) Valley of the Rocks. Bring plenty of water on hot days.

Side/back view of JR hiking on dirt path in rocky area (Valley of the Rocks) on the trail to Mount Assiniboine
Hiking through the Valley of the Rocks

The path meanders up and around boulders for 5km before opening up to reveal Og Lake and its stunning mountainous backdrop. There is a steady incline the entire way.

There is another short climb leaving Og Lake, which flattens out to lead through alpine meadows to Magog Lake campground (6.6km).

Most hikers stop for at least one night on this route – at Howard Douglas Lake, Porcupine or Og Lake.

Back view of Gemma with turquoise backpack heading through brush towards Og Lake, which is surrounded by snow capped mountains
Approaching Og Lake (the peak of Mount Assiniboine is obscured by cloud)

Mount Shark to Magog Lake via Wonder Pass

27km with 580m elevation gain

Of the two possible paths from Mount Shark, Wonder Pass is considered to be the more beautiful route. It does, however, has the most elevation gain and the steepest ascent.

The first 6km of the path, on the Watridge Lake Trail, is almost entirely flat, wide and very easy to follow. After Watridge Lake, the trail narrows and enters Banff National Park.

Flat, wide dirt path leading towards forest with mountains rising above
Watridge Lake Trail is wide and very flat for the most part

The Big Springs campground, specifically the bridge over the river, is a good place to stop for a break (9.1km).

The views start up to open up at the 12km mark, at the first Wonder Pass junction. Turn left here for the route via the Marvel Lake campground. Alternatively, you can continue and turn left at the third junction 830m later.

A creek rushes towards the camera, with forest on both sides and a mountain behind
The creek by Big Springs

After crossing Bryant Creek, the path returns to the forest and meanders up and down as it parallels Marvel Lake for 5km. The real climbing comes with a a long series of switchbacks and scree slopes, gaining 350m over 3km.

Reaching Wonder Pass offers phenomenal views and the chance to stand on a provincial border. Now in British Columbia (and Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park), the hard part of the hike is done.

Elevated view looking down to turquoise coloured Marvel Lake, with forest in foreground and mountains in background
Marvel Lake

The next 6km features a manageable 220m descent, with plenty of mountain panoramas to enjoy along the way alpine meadows.

Most hikers make one overnight stop on this route. Marvel Lake and McBride’s Camp are the most popular options.

Please keep in mind that the Assiniboine Lodge helicopter flies over a significant section of this route and it can be periodically noisy. Flying days are Wednesday, Friday and Sunday (Mondays on long weekends)

Narrow dirt trail leads away from camera to rock cairn, at the top of a pass. Distant mountains are visible in the background
Wonder Pass (Mount Assiniboine is located to the left)

Mount Shark to Magog Lake via Assiniboine Pass

25.6km, 460m elevation gain

Thought to be the least scenic route to Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, Assiniboine Pass is also the longest. It remains a popular choice, however, as the ascent is steadier with less elevation gain.

This route starts at the same trailhead as the last (Mount Shark) and follows the same path until the Wonder Pass junction.

Wide dirt trail passing through forest with red sign on right that states "Attention!" with a picture of a grizzly bear
Crossing into Banff National Park, the trail is surrounded by forest for a long time

From the Wonder Pass fork at Bryant Creek, the trail continues (gaining very little elevation) and then opens up to an expansive meadow with views of craggy Mount Cautley.

After another couple of kilometres, the route returns to the woods and passes the Allenby campground.

A hiker crosses a bridge over Bryant Creek. A path on the right side leads towards the bridge and mountains rise above forest on the other side of the creek
Bryant Creek

Soon after, the trail splits again with a hiker’s ‘high’ pass trail on the right and the ‘lower’ horse trail on the left. The high pass is closed from 1st August to September 30 due to grizzly bear activity.

During this time, hikers have to use the lower horse trail to reach Assiniboine Pass. The two trails rejoin just below the summit of the pass. 

Over the pass (255m elevation gain on the higher route) and into British Columbia, Mount Assiniboine is now visible. Magog Lake campground is now less than 4km away with very little elevation change. 

Looking across shrub towards dirt shore of Magog Lake, with pyramidal shaped Mount Assiniboine above
You’ll be very happy to reach Magog Lake!

Most hikers make one overnight stop on this route. McBride’s Camp is the most popular option.

Please keep in mind that the Assiniboine Lodge helicopter flies this route and it can be periodically noisy. Flying days are Wednesday, Friday and Sunday (Mondays on long weekends)

Looking up at Sunshine Village base building, with Canadian, BC and Alberta flags
Sunshine Village base

Parking

Sunshine Village hosts a very large parking lot (500+ vehicles) at the base area, a short walk from the gondola.

If you don’t want to drive to the lot, there is a free regularly scheduled bus service from Banff. There are flush washrooms in the Creekside Lodge building.

The Mount Shark parking lot is quite large, with space for around 50-60 vehicles. There is an information board and picnic tables as well as a number of outhouses and trash bins.

Side of large dirt parking lot with outhouses, bins and mountains rising up behind
Mount Shark parking lot

Transportation logistics

If you have two vehicles, I would recommend hiking from Sunshine Village to Mount Shark (Bryant Creek) and parking one vehicle at each trailhead. 

Allow two hours to drive between the trailheads – Highway 742 (also known as the Smith Dorrien) is a fairly rough dirt road. I would recommend driving a vehicle with high clearance on this stretch to avoid potential damage.

Elevated view looking down on dirt road surrounded by forest and backdropped by mountains
Highway 742 from above

Hikers with only one vehicle (or no vehicle at all) need to think more logistically when it comes to transportation.

The most popular one vehicle solutions are:

  • Start and finish at the same trailhead (cheapest). The most interesting way to do this is to start at Mount Shark/Bryant Creek, hike Assiniboine Pass to the core area and then return via Wonder Pass. This means hiking a loop rather than the same trail twice
  • Pay for a shuttle (most expensive). Prior to the pandemic, White Mountain Adventures offered a daily afternoon shuttle from Mount Shark to Sunshine Village. The company still offers a private charter services ($600+), which provides decent value for larger groups. An alternative solution is to use a taxi company like Three Sister’s
  • Try to get a ride between trailheads (unpredictable). Both Sunshine Village and Mount Shark are popular summer hiking trailheads. Other hikers with similar itineraries may also be able to offer a ride

If you choose either of the latter solutions, I’d recommend leaving your vehicle at the finishing trailhead.

Looking across small rocky stream to larch forest in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, with rugged mountains above
Climbing up to Wonder Pass – these larch trees turn golden in mid to late September

It’s a much nicer hiking experience to know that your vehicle waiting for you at the end (with snacks, water, fresh clothes etc!) It also provides a more pleasant experience for the person who picks you up (i.e. you will smell fresher).

No access to a vehicle at all? I would suggest trying to utilise the free shuttle from Banff to Sunshine Village and then combining it with the above options.

Looking across shrubs and small trees to pyramidal shaped Mount Assiniboine with cloud drifting from summit
The peak of Mount Assiniboine can be elusive!

Itinerary suggestions

With so many accommodation options plus three main routes in and out AND a helicopter service, there are many ways to structure a Mount Assiniboine backpacking trip.

Factors to consider when choosing your own itinerary include cost, time, distance, hiking ability and reservation availability.

When considering a route and itinerary, remember that there is the option to fly your gear out using the helicopter service (scheduled on Wednesdays, Fridays, Sundays).

Hiking with less gear can really increase speed and distance covered! The 2023 price for this service is $5/pound one-way.

Looking down on tall narrow waterfall cascading down rock canyon
Waterfall on the way up to Wonder Pass

Sunshine Village to Sunshine Village (out and back)

On a budget and only have one vehicle available to you? This is a solid choice. The gondola ascends most of the elevation and there are views from the beginning.

A typical Sunshine Village to Sunshine Village out and back itinerary may look like this:

  • Day 1 – Start from Sunshine Village, camp at Howard Douglas Lake (6km), Porcupine (13km) or Og Lake (21km)
  • Day 2 – Hike to the core area (21.5/14.5/6.6km), stay overnight in Magog Lake area
  • Day 3 – Explore core area, stay overnight in Magog Lake area
  • Day 4 – Hike to Wonder Pass and back, stay overnight in Magog Lake area
  • Day 5 – Hike from Magog Lake, camp at Howard Douglas Lake (21.5km), Porcupine (14.5km) or Og Lake (6.6km)
  • Day 6 – Hike to Sunshine Village (6/13/20.9km) in time for the last gondola ride at approximately 5.30pm-6pm

Variations to this itinerary:

  • We hiked this route in five days rather than six (with only two nights at Magog Lake) and wished we’d had longer in the core area. This itinerary reflects that
  • Getting a late start is perfectly doable on this route, with Howard Douglas Lake campground being only 5km from the top of the Sunshine Village gondola
  • We are not big fans of the Porcupine campground – though convenient, accessing it from Sunshine Village involves a surprisingly steep (and tedious) descent. I would rather stay at Og Lake or Howard Douglas Lake
JR stands on hiking trail looking up to castle like rock formation (Citadel Mountain) above
Citadel Pass

Mount Shark to Mount Shark via Wonder Pass and Assiniboine Pass (out and back)

This is another itinerary that works well if you only have one vehicle available to you. A bonus of this route is being able to hike a loop (two different trails) rather than hiking the same path twice.

This itinerary is easier than the Sunshine Village version and also a little cheaper (no gondola tickets required), but you will still need to pay for the Kananaskis Conservation Pass and reservations for the campgrounds in Banff National Park.

A typical itinerary from Mount Shark may look something like this: 

  • Day 1 – Start from Mount Shark Trailhead, camp at McBride’s Camp (13.4km) or Allenby Junction (16.5km)
  • Day 2 – Hike to Magog Lake via Assiniboine Pass (13.1/9.1km), stay overnight
  • Day 3 – Explore core area, stay overnight in Magog Lake area
  • Day 4 – Explore core area, stay overnight in Magog Lake area
  • Day 5 – Hike Wonder Pass, camp at Marvel Lake (13.9km) or Big Springs overnight (17.9km)
  • Day 6 – Hike from Marvel Lake (13km) or Big Springs (9.1km) to Mount Shark Trailhead

Variations to this itinerary:

  • Hiking the loop the other way around (Wonder Pass first, Assiniboine Pass second) is totally possible but the steeper grade of Wonder Pass makes for a more tiring ascent. The elevation gained on Assiniboine Pass is more gradual
  • Mount Shark to Allenby Junction is a longer hiking day but means an earlier arrival in the Mount Assiniboine core area on Day 2. If time is of the essence, you could easily drop the third night at Magog Lake
  • Strong hiker? It’s possible to reach Mount Shark in one day from Magog Lake. Anticipate 8 to 10 hours at a steady but fast pace
Stream running towards camera with golden coloured shrub on either side, and mountains in background
Mount Assiniboine with the Nub on the right

Sunshine Village to Mount Shark via Wonder Pass (thru-hike) 

To me, this is the ideal Mount Assiniboine backpacking trip itinerary. It includes the two most scenic routes in and out of the park. If you don’t have two vehicles, options are limited – a private shuttle/taxi service or hitchhiking (at your own risk).

A typical Sunshine Village to Mount Shark backpacking trip may look like this: 

  • Day 1 – Start from Sunshine Village, camp at Howard Douglas Lake (6km), Porcupine (13km) or Og Lake (20.9km)
  • Day 2 – Hike to the core area (21.5/14.5/6.6km), stay overnight in Magog Lake area
  • Day 3 – Explore core area, stay overnight in Magog Lake area
  • Day 4 – Explore core area, stay overnight in Magog Lake area
  • Day 5 – Hike Wonder Pass, camp at Marvel Lake (13.9km) or Big Springs overnight (17.9km)
  • Day 6 – Hike from Marvel Lake (13km) or Big Springs (9.1km) to Mount Shark Trailhead

Variations to this itinerary:

  • To shorten this trip, you could skip one day in the core area. This would be especially doable if you stayed at Og Lake the first night, followed by two nights at Magog Lake
  • Strong hiker? It’s possible to reach Mount Shark in one day from Magog Lake. Anticipate 8 to 10 hours at a steady but fast pace. You could also consider hiking from Sunshine Village to Magog Lake in one day
Back view of JR standing on dirt area in front of Quartz Hill view, looking down on Howard Douglas Lake and alpine landscape, with snow capped mountains in the background
Quartz Ridge provides the first views of Mount Assiniboine from the Sunshine Village trailhead. Howard Douglas Lake can be seen on the left

Helicopter to Assiniboine Lodge, hike out to Mount Shark via Wonder Pass

A popular (but pricey) option is to take a one-way helicopter ride to Mount Assiniboine’s core area and then hike out. The price for this one-way service in 2023 is $205/per person plus 5% GST.

A typical itinerary may something like this: 

  • Day 1 – Fly out from Mount Shark helipad to Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, stay in Magog Lake area
  • Day 2 – Explore core area, stay overnight in Magog Lake area
  • Day 3 – Explore core area, stay overnight in Magog Lake area
  • Day 4 – Hike Wonder Pass and stay at Marvel Lake (13km) or Big Springs (17.9km) overnight
  • Day 5 – Hike from Marvel Lake (13km) or Big Springs (9.1km) to Mount Shark Trailhead

Variations to this itinerary:

  • To shorten this trip, you could skip one day in the core area or hike out in one day
  • It is completely possible to do this itinerary the other way around (hike in, fly out) but hiking out means carrying less food and therefore a lighter pack and mostly downhill journey
A rock Inukshuk sits on the rocky shore of calm Magog Lake, with pyramidal shaped Mount Assiniboine in background. A cloud is drifting from the summit
Magog Lake and Mount Assiniboine

Day hiking opportunities

The Mount Assiniboine core area is an alpine hiking paradise. No matter where you go, you’ll get to see magnificent views of mountain peaks, turquoise lakes and gorgeous meadows.

We had one full day to explore the core park area and felt we needed slightly longer. I think two full days would be ideal.

Whatever you do, don’t forget to head to Assiniboine Lodge for afternoon tea at 4pm on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays! The meadows surrounding the lodge are also wonderful to explore. 

Looking down on turquoise coloured Cerulean Lake in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, which is backdropped by the imposing Sunburst Peaks and other mountains
Cerulean Lake

Sunburst and Cerulean lakes

Located so close to the Magog Lake campground, Sunburst and Cerulean lakes are a must see. Distinctive Sunburst Peak (also known as Goat’s Tower) looms above both of these brilliantly coloured lakes, offering a most spectacular backdrop. 

Sunburst Lake is a very short 10 minute walk from the campground. A cabin sits on the shore of the lake, a legacy to Lizzie Rummel.

Born into German aristocracy, Lizzie started work at Assiniboine Lodge in 1938 at the age of 41. She followed her dreams to open her own lodge at Sunburst Lake in 1951 and welcomed guests for 20 years. 

Cerulean Lake is another 15 minutes further on from Sunburst Lake. On a calm day, the reflections on the lake surface are simply breathtaking. The shore of the lake is the perfect place to stop and relax. 

Calm and reflective Cerulean Lake with Sunburst Peaks towering above
Sunburst Peaks

Niblet, Nublet and Nub summit

This trio of peaks offer some of the most epic panoramas in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park.

Accessible via two trails (one near Elizabeth Lake and the other at a junction between the Lodge and Magog Lake campground), it is possible to hike to the Niblet/Nublet/Nub as a 12km loop with 550m total elevation gain. 

From the Elizabeth Lake side, the climb is fairly steep and quick to the Niblet. The ascent from the other direction is a lot more gradual.

Back view of JR standing on rock looking out to classic Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park view below featuring snow covered Mount Assiniboine, Magog Lake, Sunburst Lake, Cerulean Lake and Sunburst Peaks
Mount Assiniboine, Magog Lake and Sunburst Peaks

Whichever way you go, the effort pays off quickly. The Niblet has stunning views over Mount Assiniboine, Magog Lake, Sunburst Peak, Cerulean Lake and surrounding peaks. 

At this point, you have the choice whether to keep hiking to the Nublet. The trail is steeper here and more rocky.

Of course, the views open up even more. Continuing on to the Nub involves more elevation, significant exposure, some ridge walking and light scrambling. The route is also less defined (it’s easy to lose it).

Looking across treeline to mountains on other side of snow covered mountains in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park
The ‘other side’ of Magog Lake, looking towards Wonder Pass (on left)

Wonder Pass Lookout

If you don’t plan to hike through Wonder Pass, this 11km return trip (220m elevation gain) offers the chance to see what you missed.

The trail travels past some impressive mountain peaks and next to a larch studded meadow before climbing steeply up to Wonder Pass itself. There are stunning views to see both north and south.

After crossing the Alberta/BC border, take the left path to visit a viewpoint overlooking Marvel Lake.

Wonder Pass view looking down across forested landscape to mountains in distance
Looking back towards the Nub from Wonder Pass

Trail difficulty

I would rate the main routes into the Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park core area, as described in this post, to be moderate difficulty with one overnight stop.

All of the trails feature a significant amount of elevation gain on sometimes uneven ground (mostly dirt, some rock).

Looking down from Quartz Hill towards partially forested alpine landscape with trail running through the middle and mountains in background
For the most part, the trail to Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park is obvious (this is Quartz Hill on the Sunshine route)

There are no real technical features but some sections do involve walking on narrow paths with steep drop-offs.

One of the most notable is the approach to the Valley of the Rocks area on the Sunshine Village route, after the turn-off for Porcupine campground.

Back view of JR with large backpack and hiking pole standing on hiking trail. The path is narrow and has a steep drop-off to the right. The bottom of the valley is forested, with mountains rising above
Approach to the Valley of the Rocks (Sunshine route) – note the narrow path and steep drop-off on the right

There are a number of steep sections as well. Part of the descent to Marvel Lake from Wonder Pass is fairly steep. There is a longer steep section from Citadel Pass to the Porcupine campground junction (and then down to the campground itself).

The weather (rain/snow/heat) can increase the difficulty of this trail, especially as there are some exposed sections. Early season conditions (snow, unmaintained trail) can also provide extra challenges.

Dirt path heading towards small lake surrounded by rocky slopes and mountains behind
Approaching Og Lake with a storm about to hit

The longer your itinerary, the easier it will be. A 6 day itinerary is inherently easier than a 5 day itinerary, though your backpack will be heavier with the extra food supplies. Thinking of that – the lighter your backpack, the easier the hiking experience.

While I think Mount Assiniboine is one of the better options for first time backpackers in BC, I would still recommend going on an overnight hike first so you can test your gear and stamina in a more controlled environment.

Keep in mind that there are no real ‘escape routes’ in this remote area, with the exception of the lodge helicopter (which may or may not have space for you).

Back view of JR standing on bridge with large backpack, looking down on rushing river on Mount Shark route to Mount Assiniboine
Mount Shark route, between Big Springs and Watridge Lake Trail

When to go

The best time to hike to Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park is late July to early September. During this time, the path is usually snow-free.

Temperatures are warm during the day (low 20s Celsius, sometimes hotter) and cool at night (2-10°C or less). It is possible for warm weather to continue into September.

Close up of yellow and white wildflowers in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park
Early July wildflowers in Mount Assiniboine area

This time period is also ideal for viewing wildflowers. The peak is usually early August, but can start earlier and finish later depending on the year.

Please note that weather conditions can fluctuate quickly and often. Snow is possible even the middle of summer.

Depending on the year, the trails and campgrounds may be snow free earlier in the summer. The bugs (mosquitoes, deer flies) are generally worse during the early summer season, however.

To check current conditions, take a look at Assiniboine Lodge’s webcam and BC Parks’ latest trail report (scroll down to ‘activities’ and then ‘hiking.’)

Close up of fluffy white pasqueflowers on Sunshine route to Mount Assiniboine
On our August trip, the wildflowers were done for the season

Mid to late September is a popular time to hike the trail as it is the time when larch trees turn golden. The area below Wonder Pass is one of the best places to view golden larch in BC.

The exact timing of golden larch season changes each year as it is completely dependent on weather. Keep in mind, however, that September can be a very cold month to hike to Mount Assiniboine. Snow is very possible.

Multiple dirt trails heading downhill surrounded by snow covered landscape and a snow covered mountain appearing out of clouds above
Our early July trip was pretty snowy

Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park campgrounds

Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park offers more than 75 walk in tent campsites, distributed between half a dozen campgrounds.

Magog Lake is the most popular, and therefore most difficult to reserve, campground. It is located by the lake of the same name, just below Mount Assiniboine itself (reservation required).

Looking across purple wildflowers to Lake Magog, which is at the base of pyramid shaped Mount Assiniboine
Early morning at Magog Lake

Og Lake (reservation required) and Porcupine (no reservation required) are commonly used for camping en-route to Magog Lake.

Hikers accessing the park via Mount Shark may also want to consider camping overnight in one of the five Banff National Park campgrounds situated en-route (reservations required).

Magog Lake campground with two dirt tent pads, one of which has an orange set-up tent on it. Rugged mountains rise above the partially forested campground
Magog Lake campground

Magog Lake campground

Location: Next to Magog Lake, Mount Assiniboine core area
Facilities: 40 dirt tent pads, semi enclosed cooking shelter, open cooking area*, food caches, bear hangs, two grey water pits, three water taps, five outhouses
Water access: Magog Lake
Campfires allowed: No
Popularity: Very high
Reservation required: Yes during peak season (26th June to 30th September)

Magog Lake campground is situated close to the lake (5-10 minutes walk from most sites) and is surprisingly private, with sites clustered into groups (2-4 sites) and separated by trees.

Back view of JR sat on wooden bench in Magog Lake campground with camp stove. There is forest behind and cloudy mountains appearing behind
Open cooking area at Magog Lake campground

Fires are not allowed anywhere in the campground. Magog Lake campground is a 2km walk (20-30 mins) from Assiniboine Lodge.

There are six food storage locations spread across the campground, some with food caches and some with bear hangs.

The semi enclosed cooking shelter is very popular on cold and wet days. There are six picnic tables in here. *Based on what we saw in 2022, I believe another semi-enclosed (or perhaps even enclosed?) shelter is being built.

Close up of Magog Lake campground on notice board, with numbered tent pads and access routes. The map is behind plastic so there is a reflection
Magog Lake campground map

Og Lake campground

Location: 6.6km from Magog Lake, 20.9km from Sunshine Village
Facilities: 10 dirt tent pads, an open cooking area, food cache, grey water pit, outhouse
Water access: Og Lake
Campfires allowed: No
Popularity: High
Reservation required: Yes during peak season (26th June to 30th September)

The tent pads are scattered just above the lake, with most offering direct views of the water. On clear days, it’s possible to see Mount Assiniboine itself!

Og Lake campground is a lot more open than Magog Lake, with mostly low foliage and very few trees. 

Dirt tent pad above Og Lake, with views of the lake and mountains behind (including pyramidal shaped Mount Assiniboine!)
Most of the tent pads at Og Lake are pretty scenic (spot Mount Assiniboine!)

I personally really like the Og Lake campground. After visiting it on the way to Magog Lake last time, I decided we should stay here on our second visit. We hiked from Sunshine Village to Og Lake in 7 hours.

When hiking from Sunshine, Og Lake is a decent alternative if you can’t get into Magog Lake for more than one night. It’s a very easy and flat 5km hike to Magog Lake, so you can arrive early and then explore the core area for the rest of the day.

Looking across to cooking area at Og Lake with wooden table and benches surrounded by shrubs. Snow covered mountains can be seen behind
Cooking area at Og Lake

Other Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park campgrounds

Porcupine

Location: 13km from Sunshine Village, 14.5km from Magog Lake
Facilities: 10 dirt tent pads, an open cooking area, food cache, grey water pit, outhouse
Water access: Creek
Campfires allowed: Yes, in communal fire pit only
Popularity: High
Reservation required: No (and it’s free!)

Based on distances alone, Porcupine is the ideal overnight stopover between Sunshine Village and Magog Lake. And it does this job well.

The main downsides are the steep descent from the junction and the ambience of the campground itself. Simply put, this forested valley campground is not the most scenic place to be on the trail.

Leaving the campground, you have two options – hike back up to the main trail (10.5km to Magog) or take a side route that joins up at the Valley of the Rocks (9km to Magog).

Looking through the forest to a tent on a framed tent pad in the Porcupine forest in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park
Porcupine campground

Mitchell Meadows

Location: 7km west of Magog Lake
Facilities: 3 dirt tent pads, outhouse, food cache
Water access: Creek
Campfires allowed: Yes, in communal fire pit only
Popularity: Low
Reservation required: No (and it’s free!)

O’Brien Meadows Group Campground

Location: Northeast of Magog Lake
Facilities: No established tent pads, outhouse, food cache, grey water disposal pit
Water access: Creek
Campfires allowed: No
Popularity: Medium
Reservation required: Yes, 15 people minimum

O’Brien Horse Camp

Location: Northeast of Magog Lake
Facilities: Several established tent pads, outhouse, food cache
Water access: Creek
Campfires allowed: No
Popularity: Medium
Reservation required: Yes (for horseback users only, with letter of permission)

Wooden outhouse building in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park surrounded by forest
Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park outhouse in Magog Lake campground

Banff National Park campgrounds

The following campgrounds in Banff National Park are located on the way to Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park.

Please note that campers must have a Wilderness Permit to stay at a specific overnight backcountry campground in Banff National Park.

This permit must be secured prior to arrival – there are no self registration vaults at the campgrounds or trailheads at any of the five campgrounds above.

JR sits on a rock on the edge of calm Howard Douglas Lake, which is surrounded by forest.
Howard Douglas Lake

Howard Douglas Lake SU8

Location: 6km from Sunshine Village
Facilities: 5 dirt tent pads, outhouse, open cooking area, bear hang
Water access: Lake
Campfires allowed: No
Popularity: High
Reservation required: Yes

This campground is set into a forest next to a pretty lake. It’s pretty close to Sunshine Village but a convenient place to stay if you have a late start or need to finish early.

We stayed at Howard Douglas Lake on our first Mount Assiniboine, when we wanted to avoid staying in the Porcupine campground twice. It makes for a long hike from Magog, but I personally thought it was worth it to avoid the big climb up to Citadel Pass from Porcupine.

Framed tent pad in forest at Big Springs campground
Tent pad at Big Springs campground

Big Springs BR9

Location: 9.1km from Mount Shark (Bryant Creek) trailhead
Facilities: 5 dirt tent pads, outhouse, open cooking area, food cache
Water access: Creek
Campfires allowed: No
Popularity: Medium
Reservation required: Yes

Some of the tent pads in this forested campground back onto a fast moving creek. Mountain views visible from the bridge over the rushing water.

Being that the approach from Mount Shark is mostly flat and easy to hike, this campground is popular with families on overnight trips.

While I think it is a pleasant enough campground, keep in mind that it is a only a fast 2 to 3 hour hike to/from the trailhead.

Wooden bridge leads to wide, flat forested trail
The path between Marvel Lake and Big Springs is very flat for the most part

Marvel Lake BR13

Location: 13km from Mount Shark (Bryant Creek) trailhead
Facilities: 10 dirt tent pads, two outhouses, open cooking area, food cache
Water access: Creek
Campfires allowed: No
Popularity: High
Reservation required: Yes

Located almost exactly half way between Mount Shark and Magog Lake, Marvel Lake campground is the ideal place to stop when hiking the Wonder Pass route.

The only catch is that this forested campground is not actually located next to Marvel Lake. The turquoise shores of Marvel Lake are 1.4km away.

Bridge view of river in valley, with wildflowers on right hand bank with mountains rising on both sides
Bryant Creek

McBride’s Camp

Location: 13.4km from Mount Shark (Bryant Creek) trailhead
Facilities: 10 dirt tent pads, outhouse, open cooking area, food cache
Water access: Creek
Campfires allowed: No
Popularity: High
Reservation required: Yes

McBride’s Camp is also ideally placed for an overnight stop on the way to the Mount Assiniboine core area from the Mount Shark trailhead. There are some peek through mountain views.

This mostly forested campground is well placed for hikers heading to the Wonder Pass route as well as Assiniboine Pass.

Wooden boardwalk leading away from camera on left, with alpine scenery on right - scattered trees and mountains rising above
Heading towards Wonder Pass

Allenby Junction BR17

Location: 16.5km from Mount Shark (Bryant Creek) trailhead
Facilities: 5 cleared tent stops, outhouse, open cooking area, food cache
Water access: Creek (may dry up in late summer)
Campfires allowed: No
Popularity: Medium
Reservation required: Yes

This campground is the most rustic of those mentioned and is most commonly used by Great Divide Trail hikers. Cliffs tower above the sites, which are mostly forested.

Bryant Creek shelter

There is a basic shelter at Bryant Creek, located 13km from the Mount Shark Trailhead, but it is currently closed pending redevelopment.

Looking down on forested valley from hiking trail with mountains rising above
Valley below Citadel Pass

Fees and permits

There is no fee to hike in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park itself, but the majority of the associated campgrounds have an overnight permit fee.

Most hikers travel through Banff National Park to access Mount Assiniboine. A valid national park pass is required.

Camping fees – BC Parks

Magog Lake – $10/per person/per night
Og Lake – $10/per person/per night

Reservation fees for camping – BC Parks

Online – $6/per tent pad/per night, up to 3 nights maximum ($18 total)
Phone – $6/per tent pad/per night, up to 3 nights maximum ($18 total) plus $5 surcharge

Camping fees (Wilderness Permit) – Banff National Park

Howard Douglas Lake SU8 – $12.75/per person/per night
Big Springs BR9 – $12.75/per person/per night
Marvel Lake BR13 – $12.75/per person/per night
McBride’s Camp BR14 – $12.75/per person/per night
Allenby Junction BR17 – $12.75/per person/per night

Back view of JR hiking on dirt trail through rocky landscape on the way to Mount Assiniboine (Sunshine route)
Hiking through the Valley of the Rocks

Reservation fees for camping – Banff National Park

Online – $11.50/per reservation
Phone – $13.50/per booking

Day use fees (park pass) – Banff National Park

Adult – $10.50/per day
Senior – $9.00per day
Youth and children receive free entry

Visiting the Banff area for longer than seven days? It may be better value to purchase a Discovery Pass.

Discovery Passes are valid for 12 months and include free admission to all national parks in Canada as well as national historic sites.

In 2022, Discovery Passes were $72.25/adult OR $145.25 for a group (up to 7 adults).

Looking up to castle lake rock formation high above a dirt hiking trail
Citadel Pass

Mount Assiniboine reservation system

While there is no permit or reservation required to hike in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park itself, most of the nearby campgrounds require reservations.

Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park

Magog Lake (in the core area) and Og Lake are the two most popular campgrounds. Campers must have a reservation to stay overnight in these campgrounds from 26th June to 30th September. This restriction has been in force since 2018. 

O’Brien Meadows Group Campground is available by reservation only, 15 people minimum (reserve through Assiniboine Lodge). O’Brien Horse Camp is for visitors arriving on horseback only.

Back view of tent on gravel pad in front of calm Og Lake
Camping at Og Lake

Hikers without reservations are still allowed to hike to the Mount Assiniboine core area but can only camp at Porcupine or Mitchell Meadows campgrounds, which work on a first come first serve basis.

Reservation details:

  • In 2023, reservations for Og Lake and Magog Lake will run with a rolling four month booking window* e.g. it will be possible to book for 14th July on 14th March
  • Reservation availability refreshes at 7am
  • In addition to the $10/night per adult camping fee, there is a $6 per night reservation fee (up to $18 max)
  • Reservations can be made online or by phone 1-800-689-9025
  • If you missed out on a reservation, it’s worth checking often for cancellations
  • Making a reservation guarantees a spot in the campground, not a specific tent pad. Individual tent pads are allocated on arrival via a first come, first serve system
  • Check in time is 1pm and check out time 12pm
  • An on-site Park Facility Operator (PFO) checks reservations and permits

Click here to read our tips for reserving backcountry camping in provincial parks in BC

*BC Parks is reverting back to a four month rolling window, as used pre-pandemic, for frontcountry campgrounds. It is assumed this will be the same for backcountry

Looking up to unusually shaped mountain with square shaped double peak at Wonder Pass
The Towers above Wonder Pass

Banff National Park

The alternative option is to camp in Banff National Park on the way to/back from Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park at Howard Douglas Lake, Big Springs, Marvel Lake, McBride’s Camp or Allenby Junction.

A backcountry permit is required and must be secured prior to arrival.

  • The best way to secure a backcountry permit is to make a reservation
  • The above campgrounds are all reservable via the online Parks Canada Reservation Service. Reservations cost $11.50
  • Alternatively, you can call 1-877-737-3783 to make a reservation. Telephone reservations are $13.50
  • Backcountry permits cost $10.02 per night, per person. This is charged in addition to the National Parks daily admission fee
  • When hiking from Mount Shark, select ‘Bryant Creek’ as your starting trailhead
  • When hiking from the core area to Mount Shark, select Wonder Pass or Assiniboine Pass as your starting trailhead
  • In 2023, the reservation system launch date for Banff National Park’s backcountry campgrounds is February (date to be confirmed in January)
  • Marvel Lake, Big Springs and and Howard Douglas are all popular backcountry campgrounds (not just for Mount Assiniboine hikers) and spots go fast. I would suggest being ready for reservation launch to secure a spot
  • Allenby Junction is the least used campground of those mentioned
  • Maximum length of stay is 3 nights at each campsite

Click here to read our tips for reserving backcountry camping in national parks in BC

Mount Assiniboine accommodation

Camping isn’t the only way to stay overnight in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park. For a more luxurious experience, consider the Naiset Huts or Assiniboine Lodge. 

Mount Assiniboine sign in front of wooden boardwalk and red roofed Naiset Hut in forest
One of the Naiset Huts

Naiset Huts

The Naiset Huts are a collection of five basic one room huts located close to Assiniboine Lodge in the core area of the park.

Owned by BC Parks, the huts are operated by Assiniboine Lodge. Telephone reservations open in mid January. There is a three night maximum. It is still worth checking for cancellations if you don’t manage to get a spot. 

Each hut sleeps 5-8 people, dormitory style on plywood bunk beds with foam mattresses (provided).

There is a wood burning stove, with compressed fire logs available for purchase at Assiniboine Lodge for $7 a piece. 

The huts share three outhouses as well as the enclosed Wonder Lodge Cooking Shelter. This modern log cabin has running water, lighting and two propane cooking stoves. Each hut is allocated an outside food locker for storage. 

Assiniboine Lodge also operates the Hind Hut, a mountaineering cabin located at the base of Mount Assiniboine. 

After camping in Magog Lake in freezing temperatures twice, we will definitely be trying to stay at the Naiset Huts next time!

Interior of Wonder Lodge Cooking Shelter with countertops, cooking equipment and seating
Wonder Lodge Cooking Shelter

Assiniboine Lodge

Assiniboine Lodge was built in 1915, becoming North America’s first backcountry ski lodge.

With seven cabins, five lodge rooms, indoor flushing toilets, a bathhouse (with sauna!) and all meals included, Assiniboine Lodge offers the most comfortable overnight experience in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park. 

Looking across alpine landscape to red roofed hut in background
Assiniboine cabin

Prices start at $360/night per person for a lodge room, rising to $440/night per person for a private cabin. Assiniboine Lodge can be booked out up to a year in advance

Assiniboine Lodge hosts afternoon tea for hikers on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 4 to 5pm. As well as cake, tea and coffee, wine and beer can also be purchased. It’s a lovely treat during a backpacking trip. Be sure to bring cash!

Assiniboine Lodge, with a two story lodge building on the left and A frame cabin on the right, connected by one story building. There is a picnic table in front of the Lodge
Assiniboine Lodge

Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park is a popular hiking destination and, as such, the three access routes mentioned in this post (Sunshine, Wonder Pass and Assiniboine Pass) are well established and regularly used in the summer months.

These paths are well signed too, with brown national park and provincial park signage at all junctions.

One thing to keep in mind, however, is that the signage usually mentions campgrounds (Magog Lake, Og Lake) and passes (Citadel Pass, Wonder Pass), rather than just ‘Mount Assiniboine.’

Close up of Mount Assiniboine signage with Sunburst Lake (1km), Mount Assiniboine Lodge (1.5km), Naiset Huts (1.5km), Assiniboine Pass (3.5km) and Wonder Pass (4km)
Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park is well signed

In Banff National Park, campgrounds are often referred to with code names e.g. Marvel Lake = BR13. These code names are used on the reservation system and will be listed on your permit.

A significant amount of the trails to Mount Assiniboine are located in exposed areas (few trees) so it is usually straightforward to spot the route ahead. Snow and fallen trees may obscure some sections during the early hiking season.

GemTrek produces a waterproof and tear resistant map of Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park and the surrounding area.

While hiking, we also used the Maps.me app, mostly for checking how much more elevation we had to climb or the distance to the next campground. Please note that the location of BR13 (Marvel Lake) is slightly inaccurate.

Organic Maps is an alternative option, maintained by the original creators of Maps.me. It has very similar functionality, accuracy and offline maps feature.

Back view of JR walking on very wide flat Watridge Lake Trail on the Mount Shark route. Trees line the path
Watridge Lake Trail (first part of the access routes from Mount Shark)

Wildlife

Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park is home to a variety of mammals and almost 100 species of birds.

Both grizzly and black bears roam this area, along with mountain goats, moose, mule deer, elk and bighorn sheep. Marmots and chipmunks are easy to spot, along with pika in rocky areas.

Wolverine, badger and coyote also live here but are not often seen. Common birds are the grey jay, white tailed ptarmigan, boreal chickadee and Clark’s nutcracker.

Negative wildlife encounters are rare. Parks Canada promotes coexistence and there are a few things hikers can do to help:

  • Make noise while hiking. This alerts wildlife to your presence and gives them a chance to avoid you. As a general rule, animals don’t want to be close to humans
  • Leave No Trace. After eating, make sure you haven’t left any food or wrappers at your location
  • Store food properly. Feeding animals is illegal and also harmful. This includes accidently feeding wildlife as well. Use the provided food caches and bear hangs at the campgrounds to store food, cooking equipment and smelly items when not in use
  • Give wildlife space. If you do see any animals, keep your distance – ideally 100m or more. This offers them an escape route
  • Know what to do if a bear approaches. Depending on the behaviour of the bear, different techniques are required (read our bear safety post for more info)
  • Carry bear spray. An aerosol deterrent made with chili pepper oil, bear spray is a ‘last resort’ tool intended to be used only when other methods have failed

As a side note, expect to see mosquitoes and deer flies in the campgrounds and on the trails in July and August. They become more prevalent around sunset.

We have never had major issues with bugs in this area as it’s always been cold on our trips but I know many hikers who have said that the bugs can be ferocious when it’s warm.

Bryant Creek valley, with mountains rising up on left, forest on right and creek in middle
Bryant Creek

Safety information

Mount Assiniboine is a popular provincial park with a lodge, but it is still located in remote mountainous terrain. Hikers must be self sufficient.

  • Weather conditions can vary and change quickly. Snow is possible at any time of year
  • There may be snow on the trail and in the campgrounds until mid July, sometimes even later
  • Water availability is very limited between Howard Douglas Lake and Og Lake on the Sunshine route to Assiniboine. Bring plenty of water, especially when warm weather is forecast
  • Some sections (such as Sunshine Meadows) are very exposed, with no trees for shade or cover. Hikers should know what to do in the event of a lightning storm
  • There is no phone signal anywhere in this area (except Sunshine Village. Tell someone where you’re going and when you plan to be back (check out our outdoor safety guide for more tips). We carried an InReach device in case of emergencies
  • Always purify water before drinking. On our most recent Assiniboine backpack, we utilised a gravity hydration bladder system with the MSR Thru-Link In-Line Microfilter
  • There may be fallen trees on sections of the trail at any time – this is more common during the early season (July)
  • Besides these hazards, it’s also important to stay aware of wildlife, particularly bears (see previous section)
Back view of JR gathering water at edge of calm Og Lake, with mountains rising behind
Collecting water at Og Lake

Mount Assiniboine packing list

Backpacking is all about balance – keeping your pack weight low while still ensuring you have everything you need to be self sufficient and comfortable.

Keep in mind though, that the lighter you pack, the easier (and likely more enjoyable) the actual hiking will be.

Here are all the items we carried to Mount Assiniboine in 2022:

My Assiniboine wardrobe included:

Back view of Gemma looking ahead to dirt trail leading towards snow covered mountains
Hiking between Og Lake and Magog Lake (Sunshine route)

Essential items

Beyond your regular backpacking gear and the 10 Essentials, I’d recommend bringing these items:

  • Cash – Assiniboine Lodge usually welcomes hikers between 4-5pm Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays for afternoon tea. Beer and wine also available. Purchases must be made with (Canadian) cash – in 2019, the price was $10 for a plate of six cake slices and unlimited tea/coffee
  • Warm layers – As mentioned, the weather in the Mount Assiniboine area can change fast. It can be cold even in summer. Bring a mixture of layers, including some warmer clothing (we love merino wool) and waterproofs (jacket)
  • Bear spray – The Canadian Rockies are home to both black and grizzly bears. It is imperative to keep alert, make noise and know what to do if you see a bear. Carry bear spray in an accessible place and know how to use it 
  • Hiking poles – We always hike with at least one hiking pole each. I like using poles for balance when hiking with a pack. They can also help to reduces knee strain when descending. Black Diamond’s Carbon Zs are super light and pack down easily
  • Water filter or purification method – Prepare to treat all water sources during your Mount Assiniboine backpacking trip. There are three water taps in the Magog Lake campground but BC Parks recommends to treat the water
  • Camping reservation confirmation – If staying at Magog Lake, Og Lakes or any of the Banff NP campgrounds, print off your reservation and bring it with you. Keep it dry in a Ziploc bag
  • Bug protection – Mosquitoes, deer flies and horse flies can be a real problem in the Mount Assiniboine area, especially in July and early August. Be sure to have repellent and consider bringing a head net
  • Visiting from outside of Canada? Be sure to have travel insurance before heading out on this hike. We use World Nomads whenever we travel. If you’re from the UK, check out True Traveller
JR stands in front of Magog Lake in blue jacket, carrying large green backpack. The lake is calm and the peak of Mount Assiniboine can be seen behind. JR has a bright orange bear spray holster on his shoulder strap
We carry two bear sprays, with one on JR’s shoulder strap (very easy access)

Where to stay before or after the hike

Finishing in Sunshine Village? Enjoy the alpine for a little bit longer with a stay at Sunshine Mountain Lodge. This upscale boutique hotel, situated at 2,400m, is the only one of its kind of Banff. Think gorgeous mountain views, spa-like bathrooms, private balconies and more.

Sunrise over Sunshine Village, with golden clouds over mountains and chairlift, with hotel building visible on left
Sunset at Sunshine Village

There’s a huge outdoor hot tub as well, perfect for soaking after the long hike out of Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park. To treat yourself even more, consider booking into a spa treatment.

There is a choice of three on-site restaurants at Sunshine Village. We enjoyed dinner at the Chimney Corner – more amazing views, elevated cuisine (the best steak JR has had in years) and personable service.

Close up of salmon dish at Chimney Corner restaurant with cauliflower, carrot and salsa. There is a glass of white wine next to the white plate. Windows are visible in the background, with mountains beyond
Dinner at the Chimney Corner

Mount Engadine Lodge is the closest accommodation to the Mount Shark (Bryant Creek) Trailhead. This road accessible wilderness lodge has all the comforts of civilisation (en-suite bathrooms, electricity, cooked meals, limited wi-fi) in the most one of the most enviable locations around.

Trails start right outside the door, but it’s possible to just enjoy the spectacular mountain views if you’re all hiked out. All meals are included – breakfast, lunch, dinner and afternoon tea as well.

Two story Mount Engadine Lodge building with Canadian flag in sky and large mountains behind
Mount Engadine Lodge

The towns of Banff and Canmore offer a wide choice of of accommodation options for Assiniboine-bound hikers.

Moose Hotel is my favourite downtown property, conveniently positioned right on Banff Avenue, a short walk from many restaurants and shops. It has a good mix of rooms and spacious suites.

A cheaper option is to camp. Tunnel Mountain Village 1 is my top pick in the Banff area as it has showers and is ten minutes to downtown by bus (the outbound journey is free!)

Read these other Canadian Rockies hiking guides next:

Iceline Trail, Yoho National Park

Rockwall Trail, Kootenay National Park

Great Divide Trail

Lake O’Hara, Yoho National Park

Kananaskis Valley

Burgess Shale, Yoho National Park

BC hiking guides:

HBC Heritage Trail

West Coast Trail

Heather Trail, Manning Park

Nootka Trail

Jumbo Pass

Check out these recently published articles next

Jacqueline

Thursday 5th of January 2023

Thanks for your fantastic guide! I was wondering where you stayed in between the Rockwall (Floe Lake) & Assiniboine (Sunshine)? Cheers :)

Gemma

Saturday 7th of January 2023

Hi Jacqueline! So glad you found the guide helpful :)

That's a great question. I didn't include too much info in this post as I figured it was long enough already (!) and I shared the details within our Great Divide Trail post here.

After finishing the Rockwall, we drove our vehicle up to Johnston Canyon frontcountry campground for the night. We returned to the Floe Lake parking lot the next morning to hike up Ball Pass. We then stayed one night each at Ball Pass Junction and Egypt Lake. We were unable to get the Ball Pass Junction reservation for the night we wanted but it worked out for the best anyway as we were able to have showers, wash clothes, enjoy a meal at a restaurant and have plenty of time to resupply before returning to the trail.

Ben

Wednesday 28th of December 2022

Hey! I am reading on your blog that there is a four month reservation window? I am seeing everywhere else that it is two months before? Can you confirm?

Gemma

Thursday 29th of December 2022

Hi Ben,

Prior to the pandemic, BC Parks used a four month reservation window. During the pandemic, this was changed to two months. BC Parks has indicated a return to this policy (four months) for 2023.

Faisal

Friday 8th of July 2022

Hi Gemma,

This is an incredibly detailed guide for anyone interested in venturing into the Mount Assiniboine PP. Great work! I sincerely thank you for putting up all this awesome information.

Although this article is quite a bit old now, I landed here searching for the relevant info for planning our trip this summer.

I will cut to the chase. The problem is I and my friend don't have reservations for any of the accommodation in the core area of the park. August 2022 long weekend is our only shot at exploring it. I have called and spoken to the folks at BC Parks and the Mt. Assiniboine Lodge but (obviously) there's nothing available for those dates and even for the weeks after.

Since you have explored this area, my question would be this - can there be an itinerary that doesn't involve staying at the core area of the park but still allowing us to explore much of it without missing much? Studying and researching it for a couple of days, I am fully aware that it wouldn't be ideal and will involve longer hikes before and after each day of activity. That is exactly why I wanted to ask you this.

Nobody on the internet seems to have shared this information. I am sure there would still be people who hike in without reservations but still manage to do something? I mean if someone gets there and if nights falls, what happens in this situation? I am a photographer and I specifically wish to capture some interesting sunrise/sunset panoramas from atop some areas but that would mean even later in the day and would see us attempting to hiking back to our campsite in the dark which I want to avoid.

Is there a non-reservation campground still close enough to the core area that would allow us to explore the core area in a couple of days and get back relatively easily after sunset compared to the campsites that are several kms far away such as Porcupine campground?

We would have one car but if planning such an itinerary means hiking thru, then maybe we can arrange for a ride back to wherever we park our car (Mt. Shark or Sunshine), but I really really want to do it.

Will greatly appreciate any help/ideas.

Thanks and regards, Faisal.

Gemma

Monday 11th of July 2022

Hi Faisal,

Glad you have found the guide helpful. It was published in late 2019 (just a few summers ago) and is regularly updated.

If you haven't managed to secure a reservation for Magog or Og Lake, you have two options (as mentioned in the post) to camp close to the core area - Mitchell Meadows or Porcupine. These sites are operated with a first come, first serve system with no reservations possible. For your needs, it sounds like Mitchell Meadows would be the best campground to head to. You can see it marked on the park map here.

When hiking into Assiniboine's core area, you must have a reservation to stay at Magog/Og Lake or be prepared to stay at one of these first come first serve campsites.

Happy trails!

Linda M

Friday 10th of June 2022

Hi Gemma,

We have our reservations July 2-6th and I'm really worried with the remaining snow. There are about 3.5 feet left at Sunshine and we only have three weeks remaining. I don't mind using our spikes but just curious about the trail from Sunshine to Magog and whether it is steep and/or exposed in areas. Would love any advice you have. I saw that it snowed on your trip in.

Thanks!

Linda M

Saturday 11th of June 2022

@Gemma, thank you so much for the detail! I looked on the BC Parks FB page and I can't find that post. Do you mind letting me know when it was posted? Would like to read it.

Gemma

Friday 10th of June 2022

Hi Linda,

I just saw a memo from BC Parks today (on Facebook) confirming that there is around 150cm of snow on the trail to Magog Lake right now. The route from Sunshine to Citadel Pass is completely above the treeline, so it is exposed in that regard. There is a short climb up to Quartz Hill, then downhill into Howard Douglas campground. The landscape narrows a little here as you go through the pass and then down into the valley. This section features many switchbacks, some steep. Even though we had plenty of snow in Sunshine Meadows, there was none in this valley. For your trip, however, I would expect some (as confirmed by BC Parks, mentioned above). If you don't go down to Porcupine, the trail then continues on a side slope. There is a fairly steep drop here and the trail is narrow. The alternate route from Porcupine is less exposed. Both trails join to travel through the Valley of the Rocks (plenty of small ups and downs). The trail opens out again at Og Lake and stays wide and flat until Magog.

Leona

Monday 6th of June 2022

Hi, I really appreciate your detail and kind information. It's so helpful for my first backpacking. I booked Mcbride, Magog lake and Marvel lake camp ground for Assiniboine area during mid July. My concern is burner and fuel. Can I use propane or isobutan gas for burner at that area? Or do I have to prepare liquid burner and fuel like gasolin? Let me know please. Thanks.

Gemma

Friday 10th of June 2022

Hi Leona,

Just to confirm (as per my reply to your email), yes, you can use isobutane stoves at Mount Assiniboine. Most backpackers do (we did also). If you're concerned about performance, by the four season isobutane gas and bring a stove with a regulator.