Canada is a beautiful country with some of the most epic hiking trails heading through untouched backcountry. It is the second largest country in the world by landmass, with nearly 4 million square miles of land. Forests cover half of the land in Canada, which makes for some of the best backpacking in the world.
Backpacking in Canada is a bit different from Europe. Your party is often alone, the nearest road is where you left your car and there are no friendly mountain huts with hot food and cold drinks. Instead, you get untouched wilderness the way the wild places have been for thousands of years. Animals are abundant, views unspoiled and the tranquility extreme.
Here at 10adventures.com we’ve spent a lot of time hiking in the Canadian wilds. Here is a comprehensive list of the 10 best backpacking trails in Western Canada.
#1: LAKE O’HARA
Lake O’Hara is in the Yoho National Park in British Columbia and makes an excellent day hike, or a low-key backpacking trip. Access to this delicate alpine region is restricted, via an 11.0km road that can only be traversed by local bus. you’ll need to book well in advance, but you’ll enjoy access to the historic mountain lodge and backcountry campground, in addition to enjoying the remarkable natural treasures of the Lake O’Hara region. The reason for this limited access is the stunning beauty of the area. If you can get a reservation plan on spending a minimum of 2-3 nights here. The pristine, sky blue Lake O’Hara lies in a valley surrounded by spruce trees and the jagged snow-capped mountain tops of the Canadian Rockies. There are many great hiking options, such as heading up to Lake MacArthur or taking a 3.2km stroll around Lake O’Hara itself. The highlight is the All Souls route and the stunning views as you explore the mountains around the lake.
The Rockwall Trail is a scenic trail in Kootenay National Park located in beautiful British Columbia. This trail extends 54.7km (one way) through the Canadian Rockies. This hike is the most beautiful section of Canada’s infamous Great Divide Trail. The highlight of this trail is the 29.0km section of nearly unbroken limestone that tops out at over 3353m. You’ll also enjoy tremendous variety out on the trail, with glittering lakes, creaking glaciers, cascading waterfalls, gushing creeks and plenty of opportunities for wildlife watching. this is the ideal wilderness escape, and the perfect place to get away from it all.
Most people complete this hike in 3-5 days, depending on their experience and weather conditions. Make sure to book well in advance to secure a spot in the campgrounds. The trailheads for this hike are 12.9km apart, so once you exit the park you can hitchhike back to your car, or hike the 12.9km back. Be warned though, this is a tougher trail than it looks and is often hit by inclement weather. If you get good weather then this is an epic trip!
Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park is home to one of the most renowned mountains in the world. It is often called the Matterhorn of Canada, because of its unique pyramid shape. Mount Assiniboine tops out at 3618m and is the highest peak in the southern Continental Ranges. A backpacking trip here will provide you with jaw-dropping views over some of the most impressive scenery in Banff National Park
This 59.5km trail starts at the Mount Shark trailhead and heads to Lake Magog. Camp here or stay at the exquisite Mount Assiniboine Lodge and explore the wonderful hikes nearby, such as Wonder Pass, Marvel Lake or Sunburst Lake. Assiniboine Lodge is a bucket list destination all by itself, but you’ll need to book well in advance to secure a place. The way out can be even more spectacular if you chose to hike out via Sunshine Ski Hill. This route passes over the stunning Citadel Pass. Upon reaching Sunshine Meadows you can hike or bus the remaining trail to the parking lot. Note that doing this route will require a second car to act as a shuttle. This hike will take roughly 3-6 days to complete.
#4: CHILKOOT TRAIL
TThe Chilkoot Trail is the same route that 49ers used during the gold rush, starting in Alaska and crossing the border to British Columbia. This iconic trek is steeped in history, as you’ll be walking in the footsteps of thousands of men, women and children who made the arduous journey in search of better fortune. This trek is for fit, experienced hikers, as you’ll be passing through some challenging terrain, including snow-covered peaks, rocky talus fields, and high mountain passes. Nevertheless, the rewards are plentiful, with spectacular views and a sense of walking through an important piece of North American history.
This 53.1km hike is a one-way destination, beginning in Skagway, and ending in Bennett Lake. Once you’ve reached Bennett Lake, you can hop on the White Pass and Yukon Railway and ride the train to the nearest town. This 5-day hike requires a lot of planning, and a permit is required during the busy months from June to August.
#5: WEST COAST TRAIL
The famous West Coast Trail is in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve of British Columbia. This entire 75.6km route runs along the rainforest coast of Vancouver Island. The West Coast Trail follows the ancient paths and trails used by the peoples of the First Nations for trading and travel purposes. This route is a challenging trek and you’ll need to be fit and well prepared for the trail, as the terrain is varied and parts of the routes are very strenuous. Be prepared for wild weather conditions, wet stream crossings, and the adventure of a lifetime!
The recommended route for this hike is to start in Pachena Bay and hike south to Gordon River. The southern half of this hike is more strenuous, so it’s easier to hike at the end when your pack is lighter. Most people complete this hike in 4-6 days depending on how leisurely they hike. Permits are available each year on April 1st, as well as same day permits to fill available spaces.
#6: SKYLINE TRAIL
The Skyline Trail is located along the Maligne range of the Canadian Rockies in Jasper National Park. This stunning 45.1km hike will take 3 days to complete (although it has been done in one-long day for those who can’t spare 3 days). There are six campsites located along the trail, so you can walk the route at your own pace and take in the mountain top views at your leisure.
The Skyline Trail is deservedly popular, so you’ll need to plan in advance to secure your place at the campgrounds. The weather can be unpredictable, and campfires aren’t allowed anywhere on the trail, so bring plenty of warm clothing. However, the trail itself makes all your efforts worthwhile, with staggeringly beautiful views in some epic countryside. The second day of hiking is the best section of the route with an 17.7km stretch of trail that is above the treeline. Along this trail, you will find meadows of green grass and snow-capped ridges that drop down into desolate brown and grey valleys with bright blue alpine lakes. This is undoubtedly one of the best backpacking trips in Canada.
#7: BERG LAKE TRAIL
Mount Robson Provincial Park is home to the Berg Lake Trail, which is one of the most popular Canadian trails, attracting over 4,000 visitors each year. It is 20.9km to Lake Berg from the trailhead, and an additional 11.3km to Snowbirds Pass if you are up for an additional day hike. The hike is typically done in 3 days, if you include the hike to Snowbirds Pass (and we recommend that you do if you have the time!).
One of the best features of this trail is the varied terrain, passing through lush valleys and rocky hillsides, with several beautiful cascading waterfalls. The crowning glory of the trip is the view of the Berg Glacier, which descends as far as the lake itself, showing off its impressive ice caves and deep crevasses. This is a wonderful place to stay for a while – at the Berg Lake campground, you will have a perfect view of Mount Robson’s Emperor face and the turquoise water with small icebergs floating by.
#8: SKOKI LODGE
The Skoki region has a stunning historical backcountry log cabin as well as a backcountry campground and is a great backpack to explore a stunning corner of Banff National Park. The lodge itself is simply stunning, built in a classic wood style and set in spectacular mountain scenery. Skoki Lodge can only be accessed by hiking, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing the 11.3km trail from Lake Louise.
This route leads past pristine lakes with lovely glacial blue waters and in summer, the wide, expansive meadows are covered in stunning wildflowers. The trail passes through lush forest before reaching the grey snow-covered mountains in the distance. It will take a day to reach the lodge or campground. From there you have enormous possibilities of exploring nearby trails, mountains and lakes.
#9: PANORAMA RIDGE
Panorama Ridge takes you on an epic hike through the Garibaldi Provincial Park, providing 360-degree mountain views. You’ll see serene alpine lakes set off beautifully against the stunning landscape. The most beautiful route through the park will take you past the spectacular Garibaldi Lake and up to Black Tusk, before ending along Panorama Ridge.
This hike is 51.5km and will take you 3-5 days to complete depending on how many side journeys you want to take. Along the way, you will see the most beautiful views of Western Red Cedars and evergreen trees dotting the valleys below, wildflowers brightening green meadows, the volcanic black rock of Black Tusk, and snow contrasting greyish brown ranges of the Canadian Rockies.
#10: LAKE MINNEWANKA
This is a favorite for rookie backpackers and people who want to get away for a night or two. It’s also an excellent family-friendly trail that is a great opportunity to introduce kids to the joys of backpacking! Located just a short drive from the town of Banff, this short, relatively flat trail leads alongside Lake Minnewanka. It’s also a great option for an early season hike, as it’s sometimes accessible as early as May.
A two-hour walk gives you the solitude and wonderful views of the lake and mountains that surround it. Even better, if you do this midweek you’ll probably have the entire place to yourself. We’ve even used this backpack as a great date-night! However, seasonal restrictions mean that you may have to hike this as a group of four if you’re traveling between 10 July and 15 September, as you’ll be passing through prime grizzly bear territory.