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Like the Matterhorn that represents The Swiss Alps, Mount Assiniboine represents the Canadian Rockies. Assiniboine is in fact sometimes nicknamed as “The Matterhorn of the Rockies”. They are both pyramid shaped mountains and are often mistaken for one another.
Although they lie approximately 13,500km apart they both share the same reputation for drawing in hikers, photographers and mountain climbers from all over the world.
Mount Assiniboine is incredibly photogenic but it’s not just the mountain that makes this area so special. The whole surrounding park, Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, is just as stunning. I think that’s the reason people flock from all corners of the globe just to stand in it’s presence.
I have already visited twice the area and have previously met people who have been coming back here their whole life! I hope this guide will help you with planning your backcountry adventure to Mount Assiniboine and the photos will convince you, it's worth undertaking!
Hiking Guide to Visiting Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park
There are three ways you can visit the park in the summer. The first is by taking a chartered helicopter flight, the second includes using the strength of your legs and hiking in, the third is combining the two aforementioned. All of them will require staying in the park overnight.
Thankfully Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park is relatively inaccesible and receives a limited amount of human traffic, otherwise I fear it would lose some of it’s charm. There are no roads that lead to Mount Assiniboine, so your 4WD will be good for nothing here.
Getting to Mount Assiniboine by helicopter
First of all I’ll cover the whirlybird option. You can either fly from the Helipad located in Canmore (On The Bow Valley Trail) or fly from the helipad at the Mount Shark Trailhead.
Flying from Canmore is a bit more expensive, but can be more convenient as the Mount Shark Helipad is a 50 minute drive from Canmore, down the Spray Lakes/Smith Dorien Road and past the Mount Engadine Lodge. Whichever option you choose from, you are permitted to bring 40lb’s (18kg) luggage per person with you.
Flights from Canmore cost CAD 200$ per person per way plus 5% GST (210$)
Flights from Mount Shark cost CAD 175$ per person per way plus 5% GST (183.75$)
Even though the flight is operated by Alpine Helicopters located in Canmore, all charter flights have to be booked through The Assiniboine Lodge. I am not exactly sure why this policy is in place, but it is how it is. Booking and general information can be found on Assiniboine Lodge website.
On the 8 minute flight you’ll be treated to incredible vistas. Try and see if you can either sit up front with the pilot or try your hardest to get a window seat! If you sit on the left site you will get a killer view of Marvel lake on the way there. If you sit on the right you will be graced with expansive vistas of Spray Lakes.
Hiking to Mount Assiniboine
The other and most popular way to get to Assiniboine during the summer months is to hike. There are two main ways to hike into Assiniboine Provincial Park. One route starts east of the park at the Mount Shark trailhead, which has a visitor parking lot, around a 50 minute drive south from Canmore.
The second route begins in Sunshine Village, which is north west of Mount Assiniboine. Both are fantastic and are similar in length (between 26-30km).
I did manage to walk from the campsite at Lake Magog to the Mount Shark trailhead in a single day but I had a special trick which I’ll share with you later. If you do plan on hiking it all in one day I can’t stress the importance of leaving early in the morning because you will be hiking for 8/10 hours. Most people however split the journey in two days.
1. Hiking from Mount Shark trail head via Assiniboine Pass
The Mount Shark trailhead is 40km south of Canmore on the Spray Lakes/Smith Dorien road. It’s a gravel road but you’ll be fine in any car during the summer months. The first half of the trail is a very wide, well maintained path with very little elevation gain.
If you are splitting the journey in two days, there are three potential campsites that you can stay after your first day's hike: Big Springs (BR9) which is 9.6km in, Marvel Lake Campground (BR13) which is 13km in and McBrides Camp (BR14) which is 14km in.
If you are hardcore and decide to tackle it in a day, after about 13 km you can make a lunch stop at the Bryant Creek shelter.
From here you can make a choice which way you prefer to go. The Wonder Pass or The Assiniboine Pass with the latter being the more popular option, but considered the less scenic. After you pass the last campsite (McBrides Camp) continue straight heading north west until you reach the Assiniboine Pass where you’ll climb steeply before gradually descending the final 3km toward the world famous Assiniboine Lodge.
It's worth mentioning that this route is closed to public during August and September to limit the human and grizzly bear interaction. However you can still hike via the Assiniboine Pass using the horse trail.
2. Hiking to Mount Assiniboine via Wonder Pass
The other option, which is the shortest of all at 26km, is the route via the Wonder Pass. It is also considered to be the most scenic as you’ll head along the picturesque Marvel Lake. Just like Assiniboine Pass, the trail via Wonder Pass starts at the Mount Shark trailhead and branches off at the Bryant Creek Warden's hut around 14,3 km in.
It is one of the harder routes though as the hike up the Wonder Pass is quite steep, and consists of a series of never ending switchbacks. Don't worry, if you’re used to hiking with a big backpack, you can totally manage it, the hike is not technical. From the top of the pass you’ll slowly descend to the Assiniboine Lodge via the Naiset Huts.
3. Hiking to Mount Assiniboine from Sunshine Village
The route from Sunshine Village, in the north west, is much easier. Sunshine Village Ski and Snow Resort is 20minutes (20km) south west of Banff. Just head west of the Trans Canada Highway and follow the sign posts. There is a shuttle that will drop you off there for 15$ from Banff.
In addition you can take the gondola up to the village to save yourself few kilometres of pretty dull beginning through the spruce forest. Getting a jumpstart with the gondola is totally worth it!
The walk from Sunshine is 30km and it's split up by two main campgrounds. Porcupine at 12km and Og Lake at 22km. Although it's the longest, it’s less strenuous than both ways in from Mount Shark and offers spectacular views of Mount Assiniboine earlier on in the hike. Once you've been up and over the Citadel Pass near the start of the hike the rest of the journey is slightly uphill towards the final destination.
Accommodation options in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park
The main campsite, Lake Magog, is right at the foot of the mountain 2km away from the lodge. It costs 10$ per person per night and up until 2017 season used to operate on first come first serve basis. From 2018 bookings for the campsites in the core area of the park are required and can be made up to 4 months in advance via Discover Camping Reservation System for BC Parks. Choose 'Backcountry' as reservation type and go from there.
There’s a good supply of non drinking water, grey water pits and several (stinky) outhouses.
It should go without saying but please use the bear lockers, don’t destroy anything and respect the land. If you are planing to camp in the high season (July/August) make sure to get there early to secure a spot.
2. Naiset Huts
The Naiset Huts are much closer to the lodge and cost 25$ per person per night. There is a communal kitchen shelter and each individual hut has its own fireplace. Wood can be purchased from the lodge. Bookings are not mandatory and they do have a drop in rate of 20$ but don’t come expecting to find a free bed!
I would highly recommend making a reservation as soon as possible as the huts tend to book out as soon as the reservation season kicks off, which is usually at the start of each year.
If you haven't secured a spot, don't worry! Cancellations are common and sometimes it is possible to get a last minute spot just few days prior to your departure. The huts are operated via the Assiniboine lodge and the reservations can be made over the phone.
3. The Assiniboine Lodge
The Assiniboine Lodge is by far the most expensive of the three options but without a doubt the most luxurious. The costs vary from 280$ per person per night to 410$ per person per night, both prices do not include the 6.2% tax.
However compared to the other two options this place is like an oasis in the middle of the desert. Apart from your lunch on the first day all meals are included, you can take as many hot showers as you want, they have an onsite sauna and you get to poop into a real toilet. No one can put a price on the comfort you get from sitting on an ivory throne.
Best hikes and photography spots in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park
Getting to the park was just half the fun, now be prepared for exploring the area! Hiking and photography go hand in hand here. After all you found yourself in the midst of the Canadian backcountry.
Whether you will be staying at a campsite, huts or lodge, all trails in the park are very well marked and relatively easy to follow. Being one of the most photogenic spots in the Canadian Rockies, Assiniboine truly is photographer's playground! You won’t have a hard time composing your shot, but here are a few hints to help you get started.
1. The Niblet/Nub/Nublet
The most famous of all the viewpoints is the Niblet. It’s also made its way onto the big screen in the thriller starring Anthony Hopkins “The Edge”.
Whether you are staying at the huts or campsite the hike will take you circa 2 hour round trip. If you plan on heading all the way to the Nub Peak then it's approximately a 4-5 hour return hike. There are two separate paths that can take you up the Nub, one from the Lodge and the huts past the Meadows and the other directly from campsite past Sunburst and Cerulean lakes.
2. Lake Magog
The view from the northernmost tip of Lake Magog, is by far the best the lake has to offer. This vantage point is only a few hundred metres away from the lodge!
3. Sunburst lake
Sunburst lake, directly below Sunburst peak, is only 15 minutes from the lake Magog campsite and around 30/40 minutes from the lodge or the huts. It’s also has beautiful reflections with clear pristine water.
4. The Meadows
One of the paths leading from the campsite to the lodge will take you through the meadows. Here small tarns and ponds can be found which change continuously through the seasons and depending on what dead fall is around that year you can go for some really interesting compositions.
The reflections of Mount Assiniboine in the ponds are top notch, just look at the photos above!
5. Cerulean lake
This easily accessible lake (ca. 30 minute walk from campsite) is another gem waiting to be photographed. Its pristine clear waters and reflections of the Sunburst peak - another recognizable summit in the park, are unrivaled.
6. Wonder Pass
If you haven't walked this way already when you hiked in, then you should definitely give Wonder Pass a chance on a day excursion when staying in the park. The whole area is covered in larch trees making it the ideal hiking location for September when the trees turn bright yellow.
Planning checklist and visitor tips to make the most of your time
Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park lies within the subarctic zone, where the winters are long and cold and summers are short, but warm. The weather in the mountains is highly unpredictable. Chinook winds, which sometimes occur in this region can raise the temperature over 30 degrees celsius in a day!!!
Within 5 days I spent there in September we had temperatures as low as -16C and as high as +20C. There was snow, rain, sun and wind. As long as you come prepared for the elements with a warm and lightweight sleeping bag, rain jacket and thermals you will be fine!
2. What to bring - the essentials
It's entirely up to you how many pairs of socks and underwear you want to bring, but if you are hiking both ways you should follow a simple rule: the less you carry the happier you (and your back) will be! Pack as light as possible!
Bring dry food and meals which you can prepare by adding hot water to them. It's smart to prepare portions before you head off, so you don't bring too much or too little. Remember that all trash needs to be taken out of the park with you.
All information on backcountry fees, campsite fees etc. can be found on BC Parks website. The campsites used to be operated on a first come first serve basis, but from 2018 season reservation system is in place.
Bookings for the Naiset Huts are not mandatory but you'd be naive to arrive without a booking during the summer months. If you didn't manage to secure your booking when the reservation system opened for the current year, then check for cancellations as they do occur regularly. The Lodge is open for campers daily after 5pm. You can purchase some beer, wine or even freshly made biscuits from them and they do accept credit cards.
4. Bear awareness
Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park has some serious bear action. I ran into one on my last day whilst hiking out. DO NOT GO WITHOUT BEAR SPRAY! Sing songs, make noise and keep your eyes open for tracks and other signs of bears. Upon encountering a bear DO NOT RUN, make the bear aware of your presence and speak calmly.
If it retreats proceed with caution never getting too close, if it aggresses (which is highly unlikely, as bears are very shy animals) then stand your ground and be ready with your spray. Don't worry, bears are more scared of you then you are of them.
The way I've done it.
To finish off I am going to share with you how I planned my journey. I spent 4 nights in total camping at the lake Magog Campground in Assiniboine Provincial Park. On the first day I flew in from Mount Shark with my heavy backpack and enough food to last 5 days.
On the last day before heading out I left most of my camping gear in the Assiniboine lodge and paid for it to be flown out back to Canmore where I picked it up the next day.
With most of my equipment left behind, the weight was literally lifted off my shoulders and I was able to walk out back to Mount Shark trailhead, where my car was parked, in just one day. It took me approx. 10 hours.
The helicopter company charges 1.40$/lb or 3$/kg to fly your stuff to/from Canmore and you don't need to decide straight away. I've made the decision to fly out my gear the day before I hiked out, and paid at the lodge for the drop off.
Because I already carry a lot of photography equipment with me, leaving some stuff behind was a no brainer and totally worth it! It made my walk back that much more enjoyable!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
I am Marta Kulesza - the photographer and creator of www.inafarawayland.com. I come from Poland, but I've been living, travelling and working around the globe since I turned 18. A few years ago, during one of my trips to Scotland, I bought my first DSLR and my adventure with photography began. When I am not stuck to my computer editing photos, you can find me hiking somewhere in the mountains.