Photography by Richard Giordano
Located south of Banff and within the traditional territory of the Ktunaxa or Kootenai First Nations, Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park is a culmination of the Canadian Rockies’ finest. Bright alpine lakes border jutting rocky ridges, while spruce, fir, and pine trees shade blazing wildflowers in fiery orange, pretty pink, and delicate purple. The park’s main attraction, Mount Assiniboine, does not disappoint. At 11,870 feet, its pointy peak is the highest in the southern continental range of the Canadian Rockies and is often compared to the Matterhorn in the Alps due to its distinctly pyramidal shape.
Hiking in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park has been on my bucket list for years, so we decided to prioritize it this summer. Despite lengthy winter and spring seasons, the snowmelt finally retreated enough for us to tackle the backcountry passes en route to Magog Lake. Although this was the worst mosquito season I’ve experienced in the Rockies, the multi-day trek more than lived up to my expectations. It was also a social experience. Campsites were filled with folks from Europe, the US, and Canada, and we eagerly chatted over mosquito coils and steaming Thermacell devices during mealtimes, at camp, or on the trail.
There are many ways to enjoy Assiniboine, and the park isn’t solely for hikers. This UNESCO World Heritage Site also offers fishing, rock climbing, horseback riding, hunting, and winter recreation opportunities. The biggest hurdle is securing much-coveted accommodations via the parks reservation systems.
Getting to Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park
The park is accessible by flight, on foot, or by horse. There is no private vehicle access.
Visitors may fly to the park from Canmore or the Mount Shark Helipad, located about an hour’s drive from Canmore. Flight reservations can be made through the Assiniboine Lodge; rates are listed on the lodge’s website. I haven’t flown in, but I imagine the views are incredible.
If you wish to enter the park on foot, there are two access points: the Mount Shark parking lot or Sunshine Village ski resort in Banff. Both options require a 26- to 30-kilometer hike to the main campground, huts, and lodge at Magog Lake. Fortunately, campgrounds are located along the trail, so breaking up the hiking days is possible.
If you start from Sunshine Village in Banff, I highly recommend riding the gondola to the upper village and Citadel Pass trailhead, which is your backcountry access point. This will shave off six kilometers and 500 meters of elevation gain.
Note: A Conservation Pass is required for Kananaskis Country (where the Mount Shark parking lot is located), and a Parks Canada pass (yearly or daily) is mandatory for visiting Sunshine Village and any backcountry campsites in Banff National Park.
Where to Stay in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park
Assiniboine Provincial Park has three accommodation options: backcountry campgrounds, huts, or at the Mt. Assiniboine Lodge. This BC Parks map helps clarify the lay of the land.
If you are entering the park from Sunshine Village, the following campgrounds are located in the park’s northern section on the way to the central hub of Magog Lake.
- Howard Douglas Lake (first-come-first-served, located in Banff National Park)
- Porcupine (first-come-first-served, no fees)
- Og Lake (reservation required)
- Magog Lake (reservation required)
In 2022, reservations for Og and Magog Lake sites opened two months prior. For example, if you want to book your campsite for July, you will need to book it in May via the BC Parks website. Reservations open at 7 am PDT and can be challenging. Don’t give up! The more flexible your dates are, the better. Watch for cancellations on the reservation page. Camping fees are $10 CAD per night plus a $6 per day reservation fee. Bring a printed copy of the reservation with you; permits are checked in the park and must be displayed at your site. Many campers bring a transparent plastic envelope which works well in the rain.
From Sunshine Village, we hiked to the Porcupine campground, Lake Magog, for two nights and then returned to Porcupine before heading to Sunshine the following day. In retrospect, the best way to experience the park would have been to park two vehicles (one at Sunshine, one at Mount Shark) and complete the entire hike through.
If you are entering from the Mount Shark trailhead, the following campgrounds are located en route to Magog Lake. All are located in Banff National Park and require a backcountry permit before arrival.
- Big Springs Campground
- Marvel Lake
- McBride’s Campground
- Allenby Junction
Reserve your spot online through the Parks Canada Reservation Service. The cost is $10.02 CAD per night, per person, in addition to your National Parks admission fee. Reservations typically open in January.
If ground tenting isn’t your thing, or if you’re eager to tackle long hiking days with minimal gear, the park’s huts are a great choice:
- Naiset Huts and Hind Hut (contact the Assiniboine Lodge to book)
- Surprise Creek Cabin and Mitchell River Cabin (first-come-first-served, no fee)
This BC Parks list of campgrounds, huts, and shelters provides valuable information about reservations, food storage, grey water disposal, and more.
Mt. Assiniboine Lodge:
If you stay at the Assiniboine Lodge, delve into its history. Built in 1928, it was North America’s first backcountry ski lodge which now offers guest cabins and rooms. Open for the summer season from June to October, and in the winter from February to April (seasons vary, so double check the website), visitors enjoy various seasonal activities and the breathtaking views of Magog Lake and Mount Assiniboine. Rates are listed on the lodge website at assiniboinelodge.com.
- Keep track of conditions at Mt. Assiniboine by tuning into the Webcam
- Trail reports are posted periodically on the lodge website
The Mount Assiniboine Lodge offers afternoon tea from 4 to 5 pm on non-helicopter flight days (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday). Campers are welcome to attend, and various beverages and snacks are served from the front patio, including black and herbal tea, beer, wine, and cake.
What to do in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park
Hiking is arguably the most popular activity in the park, and there are many scenic trails to choose from. Check out BC Parks’ Hiking in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park guide for more information and regularly updated trail reports.
With one full day to explore, we opted for Nub Peak hike, which includes Niblet and Nublet Peaks and Cerulean and Sunburst lakes. The 10-kilometer loop offers spectacular views of Mount Assiniboine, nearby valleys, and endless 360-degree vistas of the surrounding snow-capped summits. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I would gladly enjoy again. Despite the relentless mosquitos, difficulty booking, and questionable weather leading up to the multi-day hike, it was all worth it, and I can’t wait to go back.
For those seeking more information about climbing, fishing, horseback riding, hunting, and winter activities, visit the BC Parks website at bcparks.ca.
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