Canada is a beautiful country. Some of the most epic hiking trails in the world wind through this country’s untouched backcountry. Forests cover half of the land in Canada and range from temperate rainforests to the sprawling boreal forests. Western Canada in particular shows a great diversity in climate, so you don’t have to travel too far to experience some very different hikes.
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 next to 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.
10Hikes Founder, Richard Campbell, shares his personal list of the 10 best backpacking trails in Western Canada.
#1: Lake O’Hara
OK, Lake O’Hara (located in the Yoho National Park in British Columbia) isn’t really a full-fledged backpack. But we think of it as the backcountry because the area has restricted access, limiting guests to a historic mountain lodge and a backcountry campground. In the summer guests get transported in on an 11km road by bus: no other vehicles are allowed. The reason for this limited access is an attempt to preserve the stunning, fragile beauty of the area.
If you can get a reservation, plan on 2-3 nights here minimum and treat your campground as a base to explore the nearby lakes, peaks and valleys. This pristine sky-blue Lake O’Hara lays in a valley surrounded by spruce trees and the jagged snow-capped summits of the Canadian Rockies. There are lots of great hikes, such as heading up to Lake MacArthur or taking a 2mi stroll around Lake O’Hara. The highlight is the All Souls route and the stunning views as you explore the mountains around the lake.
#2: Rockwall Trail
The Rockwall Trail is a scenic trail in Kootenay National Park located in beautiful British Columbia. This trail extends 55km (a one-way route) through the Canadian Rockies. This hike is the most beautiful section of Canada’s famous Great Divide Trail. The highlight of this trail is the 18mi section of nearly unbroken limestone that tops out at over 2,350m.
Most people complete this hike in three to five days, depending on their experience and weather conditions. The trailheads for this hike are almost 13km apart, so once you exit the park you can hitchhike back to your car, or hike the 12.9 km 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!
Our forth and final morning of Rockwall trail - sunrise at floe lake. It still boggles my mind that we get completely unforgettable opportunities like this through work. Definitely the highlight of my summer!💕 photo cred to @kirkworkbaking 🙏🏻 #goodtimesoutside #explorebc #mecstaffer #rockwalltrail #sunrise
#3: Mount Assiniboine
Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park is home to one of the most renowned mountains in the entire world. This is often called “the Matterhorn of Canada”, because of it’s unique pyramid shape. Mount Assiniboine tops out at 3,618m and is the highest peak in the Southern Continental Ranges. This 60km 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.
Hike out via Sunshine Ski Hill for more spectacular views. That route passes over the stunning Citadel Pass. Upon reaching Sunshine Meadows you can hike or bus the remaining trail to the parking lot (check when transportation is running before getting there!). Note that doing this route will require a second car to act as a shuttle. This hike will take roughly three to six days to complete.
#4: Chilkoot Trail
The Chilkoot trail is the same route that 49ers used during the gold rush, starting in Alaska and crossing the border to British Columbia. This 53km hike is a one-way destination that starts in Skagway, and ends 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 five-day hike requires a lot of planning, and a permit is required during the busy months from June to August.
That's a wrap: Five of the best days of the season hiking and guiding the Chilkoot Trail, a key part of the Klondike Gold Rush. Difficult to imagine a place with more surreal views, variety, and poignant (albeit whacky) history jammed into 33 miles. It's worthy of a spot on every adventurer's life list...especially if you measure riches in grand vistas, muddy trails, and gourmet camp meals.
#5: West Coast Trail
The famous West Coast Trail is in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve of British Columbia. This entire 76km route runs along the temperate rainforest coast of Vancouver Island. 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. The trail takes you along sandy shorelines and up fern-covered hills. Most people complete this hike in four to six 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 45km hike will take three days to complete (it has been done in one-long day for those who can’t spare three days). There are six campsites located along the route, so you can leisurely walk the route and take in the mountaintop views.
The second day of hiking is the best section of the route with an 18km stretch of trail that is above the tree line. 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.
#7: Berg Lake Trail
Mount Robson Provincial Park is home to the Berg Lake Trail, which is one of the most traveled Canadian trails with over 4,000 visitors each year. It is 21km to Lake Berg from the trailhead, and an additional 11km to Snowbirds Pass if you are up for an additional day hike. The hike is typically done is three days if you include the hike to Snowbirds Pass. At the Berg Lake campground, you will have a perfect view of Mount Robson’s Emperor face and the turquoise water dotted with small, bobbing icebergs.
It's been a busy week here in Glacier so here's a shot from early July when we backpacked into Berg Lake in Mt Robson Provincial Park. This was the evening where we noticed some smoke and haze coming in. Most of our hikes this summer have been smokey since this evening. There are currently a few fires burning around @glaciernps so we've kept busy with dayhikes and some scrambles in Two Medicine. I think we should all focus on one big rain dance...💦💦💦 who's in??? ... #hellobc ... #bns_mountains #tourcanada #imagesofcanada #canadiancollective #fs_longexpo #worldprime #fs_sunset #nature_brilliance #superhubs #wearethewild #sunset_stream #majestic_sunset #master_gallery #globalcapture #mthrworld #earth_shotz #igworld_global #ig_shotz #igbest_shotz #canada150 #LOVES_UNITED_CANADA #sunset_vision #opcmag #outdoorphotography #sunsetstream_westside #GreatCanadianPhotoContest
#8: Skoki Lodge
The Skoki region has a stunning historical backcountry Skoki Lodge as well as a backcountry campground and is a great trip if you want to explore a stunning corner of Banff National Park. This lodge can only be accessed by hiking, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing the 11km trail from Lake Louise.
This route leads you past pristine lakes, lovely glacial blue waters, grassy meadows, and a thriving 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 can explore a vast network of nearby trails, mountains and lakes.
The past couple of days have been the most challenging, tiring and fulfilling days I've had in a long time. When you leave the back country, you leave with life lessons learnt and experiences that you'll never forget, this trip pushed me to the edges and brought me back refreshed and renewed. We hiked out today and got picked up by a Lake Louise guide and he told us "whenever you get caught up in the fast paced, busy world, think back to here and always remember the peace, love and granola". These places are my little slice o' heaven and there is no where I would rather be, thanks Skoki #peacelovegranola
#9: Panorama Ridge
Panorama Ridge takes you through the Garibaldi Provincial Park to give you 360-degree mountaintop views of alpine lakes and the surrounding terrain. The most beautiful route through the park will take you through Garibaldi Lake, Black Tusk, and end along Panorama Ridge. This hike is 51.5km and will take you three to five days to complete depending on how many side journeys you want to take.
Along the way, you will see the beautiful views of Western Red Cedars and Evergreen trees dotting the valleys, wildflowers brightening green meadows, the volcanic black rock of Black Tusk, and the greyish brown ranges of the Canadian Rockies contrasted by their white drape of snow.
#10: Lake Minnewanka
This is a favourite for rookie backpackers and people who want to get away for a night or two. Located just a short drive from the town of Banff, this short, relatively flat trail leads along Lake Minnewanka. 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! The easy hike means you could pack a fancier meal than usual.