Photography by Richard Giordano
Located in the Purcell Mountains of southeast British Columbia, Bugaboo Provincial Park features commanding granite spires, rippling glaciers, and mountain views for days. An adventure in and of itself, a 50-kilometer bumpy forestry service road leads visitors to jaw-dropping views of Hound’s Tooth Spire, nestled within the Bugaboo glacier with its granite pinnacle jutting into the sky. The main trailhead is a three-hour drive from Banff or an hour past the town of Radium Hot Springs.
The area is shockingly beautiful but can be tumultuous weather-wise, so the best time to visit is between May and October. This year’s late spring has delayed things with higher than average snowpack conditions. Nonetheless, even just the drive is worth it.
Where to Stay
The closest vehicle-accessible campsite is the Bugaboo-Septet Recreation Site, located 3.2 kilometers away from the trailhead.
If staying in the park overnight, wrap the base of your vehicle with the chicken wire provided at the lot. Porcupines have a penchant for chewing, and the wire prevents the little critters from feasting on your beloved brake lines and tires.
No matter your budget, there are several accommodations in the park; all are accessible from the Conrad Kain Hut.
- The Conrad Kain Hut:The Alpine Club of Canada built the Conrad Kain Hut in 1972, which is visited via a 4.5-kilometer hike (one way), with 2,400 feet of elevation gain, several chained sections, and one ladder to ascend. The hut sleeps 35 and costs $25 per person per night. Book your spot through the Alpine Club of Canada between the end of June and September.
- Boulder Camp: Located just below the Conrad Kain Hut, this spot is the quieter of the two backcountry sites and a favorite of non-climbers who want to avoid the buzz of Applebee.
- Applebee Dome Camp:Popular with climbers, this camp is located 1 km from the Conrad Kain Hut and features incredible views. This spot is located on a rock slab, so be sure to bring tent peg alternatives to secure your sleeping quarters. Weather can be extremely variable with maximum exposure, but good conditions reap massive rewards.
These first-come, first-served backcountry campgrounds can be reserved for a fee of $10 per person per night through the BC Parks Backcountry Registration System.
What to do in Bugaboo Provincial Park
There are oodles of hiking, mountain climbing, and mountaineering opportunities from the hut. Alpine rock climbing here is world-class, and folks travel from all over the globe to grip their chalky fingers on the granite walls of Bugaboo Spire.
Granite spires, ridge scrambles, and multi-day wall climbs make the Bugaboos a world-class rock climbing destination. The Bugaboos by Chris Atkinson and Marc Piché is worth a read. The guide describes over 270 alpine climbs, delves into the range’s history, and offers tips for planning your first climbing trip to the ‘Bugs.’ Even if you aren’t an experienced climber, many visitors hire a guide to tackle several objectives in this alpine paradise.
While the hike to the Conrad Kain Hut is spectacular in and of itself, Cobalt Lake and Malloy Igloo offer additional opportunities to extend your stay. Both involve glacier crossings and should only be attempted by those with appropriate skills and experience. Learn more about hiking in Bugaboo Provincial Park at bcparks.ca.
In 1965, mountaineer Hans Gmoser hosted a small group of skiers at a logging camp just outside the present-day Bugaboos park boundary, exploring the nearby terrain with a 3-seat helicopter. This marked the birthplace of heli-skiing in North America. The park is a delightful opportunity for backcountry skiers, boarders, or tourers. For those seeking an adrenaline spike, CMH HeliSkiing operates from a lodge not too far from the Conrad Kain trailhead parking lot, which offers a variety of trips.
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