Canadian Rockies ‘Best Hike’ Draws a Crowd for a Reason

Day2DougNub
Doug hiking at “The Nub” just north of Mount Assiniboine.

Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, British Columbia

  • Total distance, plus side trips: 45 miles

When you hike to uber-popular Mount Assiniboine in the Canadian Rockies, expect to share the scenery.

Is that a bad thing? Not at all.

Hundreds of hikers joined us at the “Matterhorn of the Rockies,” but the crowds didn’t detract from the beauty of this very special place. In some ways, the diverse crowd — which included Japanese tour groups, American dirt-baggers, families with dogs, wealthy fly-in lodge lizards, and straight-up hard-core backpackers — seemed to add to the experience.

No bad actors ruined the scene, which felt a little like attending a backwoods good-vibes music festival filled with peace and love.

Maybe it was the scenery. The hike along the spine of the Canadian Rockies to Mount Assiniboine is called “one of the best hikes in the world” for a reason.

Map

The hike

The best way to take this journey is point-to-point, from Sunshine Village ski area to the Mount Shark trailhead more than 36 hiking miles away to the south.

Our group — Dale Delong, Ken Sands, Doug Orr and the SkiZer — rendezvoused in nearby Canmore, Alberta, a popular mountain town just southeast of Banff. We left one car at the exit point at Mount Shark and then headed in one car to Sunshine.

You have to love a hike that starts with a gondola ride at a ski area. By taking the Sunshine gondola (open only on weekends in summer months), we saved ourselves about 3.8 miles of hiking and easily 2,000 vertical feet of climbing.

Exiting the gondola cabin, we did a short climb to Sunshine Meadows and started what would be a stunning first day of hiking mostly above-treeline along the Continental Divide.

HikerKen
Ken climbs to Sunshine Meadows.
Day1DaleDoug
Dale and Doug hiking above treeline at Citadel Pass.

It was all scenic fun for the first 6.4 miles, but when we reached Citadel Pass (elevation 7,700 feet) it got serious. We took a knee-buckling 2,000-foot descent over 2.7 miles to Porcupine Campground, our first night’s stop.

The campground was overrun when we arrived, but a friendly, help-your-neighbor vibe prevailed. We eventually found a place for the tents and settled in.

Day1RoughCamp
Shaking off a rough first day at Porcupine Campground.

Day 2 was a 10.5-mile grinder to the base of Assiniboine. Much of the hike is done in the woods, but eventually we hit treeline near Og Lake and got a taste of what we were in for when we finally got a view of the great peak.

Day2DougLongShot2
Mount Assiniboine makes an appearance as hikers near Og Lake.

Mount Assiniboine (11,870 feet) is an amazing sight. Jagged, vertical rock, hanging glaciers, cascading waterfalls — the Matterhorn of the Rockies has it all. It stands above a gorgeous basin dominated by the high-mountain Lake Magog where we would spend our next three nights.

The Lake Magog Campground was our base for exploring the area on some excellent day hikes. It’s a huge place, complete with several cooking areas (including a covered shelter) and several pit toilets. The scene is festive and cooperative — everyone is there to enjoy the beauty.

Day3Dinner
The covered cooking shelter at Lake Magog campground.
Day3Beer
SkiZer pounds a Kokanee at the Assiniboine Lodge “tea time.”

Our journey out to Mount Shark would span 16 miles over two days. We stayed at Big Springs (10 miles from Assiniboine), an excellent forested campground with a frigid spring-fed river made for soaking sore feet.

The final day was a sprint for the car, followed by showers and a burger run in Canmore, the perfect end to a week in the Rockies.

Day3Dudes
Our group, from left: Doug Orr, the SkiZer, Dale Delong and Ken Sands.

SkiZer suggests

Assiniboine Lodge “tea time”: The rich folks fly in and stay at Assiniboine Lodge, about 2 km (1.2 miles) from the Lake Magog Campground. From 4-6 p.m., the lodge hosts a popular tea/happy hour where cakes, tea, lemonade, beer and wine may be purchased. It’s fun (the SkiZer heartily enjoyed his three $7 beers) and quite a people-watching experience.

Helicopter services: If you don’t have the juice to make it to Assiniboine on foot, you can purchase helicopter transport. Many at the Lake Magog Campground were doing just that, saving their energy for day hikes around the area. In addition, if you want to lower your hiking weight, you can also send gear via helicopter (our group sent 30 pounds of food) and pick it up at the Assiniboine Lodge.

Best day hikes: We did two excellent hikes — “The Nub,” a beautiful 1,200-foot climb just north of Assiniboine, and Wonder Peak, a taxing 2,250-foot scramble to a spectacular viewpoint to the southeast.

Bear worries: Considerable time and energy are spent worrying about grizzly bears in this area. We saw none. That said, we carried bear spray and saw some hikers carrying air horns.

Blister rating: Five out of five. Doug can attest to the pain.

Day3Ouch
Doug’s feet took a pounding, ending up with a visit to the doctor.

6 thoughts on “Canadian Rockies ‘Best Hike’ Draws a Crowd for a Reason

  1. Wow, you didn’t use the term ” glamping” but it sure comes to mind. Is it possible the skizer is mellowing with age or just a respite from the rigors of the Cascades?

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  2. Excellent write up! I did a very similar trip in 1997 and it was relatively uncrowded. But given the beauty of the area, I knew the crowds would eventually discover this area. When I was there, they were filming a movie, The Edge, with Anthony Hopkins. You can see some of the beautiful scenery in the movie.

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