Top 5 Backcountry Campgrounds in Banff National Park

Baker Lake campground in the Skoki Region. Photo by Meghan J. Ward.

Baker Lake campground in the Skoki Region. Photo by Meghan J. Ward.

Note: In June 2013, Banff National Park experienced some flooding and damage to trails in some areas. Please consult Parks Canada for updates on trail conditions prior to planning and embarking on backcountry trips.

 One of the best things about Banff National Park is the access it offers to camping experiences for outdoorsy folks of all kinds, whether they’re keen to pitch a tent at a roadside campground or eager to hike to a more distant campsite. For me, however, the real “Banff” experience comes with leaving the crowds behind, hitting the trail and experiencing the remoteness and beauty of the wilderness.

For campers willing to put in a bit of work, here are my recommendations for some of the best backcountry campgrounds in Banff National Park! Some are relatively easy to access, while others are pretty ‘bucket list‘ worthy. Ultimately these were chosen because of the opportunities they offer for amazing day hiking and exploration from the campgrounds. Here I provide just a simple overview, but there is a plethora of information out there to provide you with more details. I recommend contacting Parks Canada and picking up a copy of Canadian Rockies Trail Guide by Brian Patton and Bart Robinson.

Note: This post is part of a series on The Best Campgrounds in North America, put together by a series of outdoor bloggers from all over the continent!

Top 5 Backcountry Campgrounds in Banff National Park

In no particular order.

1. Egypt Lake

From Sunshine Village parking lot: 12.4 km one-way; From Redearth Creek: 19.4 km one-way*

Using the Egypt Lake campground as a base, it is worth planning a multi-day outing to this region. A series of trails in the region allow for spectacular day hiking amidst mountain lakes. Hike in to Egypt Lake campground via Healy Pass (beginning at the Sunshine Village parking lot) or make it a longer trip by beginning or ending with the Redearth Creek Trail and Shadow Lake campground (you also have the option of staying in Shadow Lake Lodge). There is also a backcountry shelter at Egypt Lake that is available for booking through Parks Canada.

2. Skoki Region

From Fish Creek Trailhead: 7.2 km one-way to Hidden Lake, 11.8 km one-way to Baker Lake, 15.6 km one-way to Merlin Meadows

This region offers what is, in my opinion, the most beautiful and accessible backcountry terrain of Banff National Park. Three campgrounds – Hidden Lake, Baker Lake, and Merlin Meadows – are linked by trail and, as their names suggest, are located close to lakes. The hike into all three campgrounds begins from the Fish Creek Trailhead near the Lake Louise Ski Area. Not to be missed are Zigadenus and Myosotis Lakes just beyond Deception Pass. For a more luxurious backcountry experience, check out Skoki Lodge – by far one of the finest backcountry lodge experiences in North America.

My friends and me looking out over Myosotis Lake in the Skoki Region. (Photo from Meghan J. Ward collection)

My friends and me looking out over Myosotis Lake in the Skoki Region. (Photo from Meghan J. Ward collection)

3. Mount Assiniboine Region (Marvel Lake)

Via Bryant Creek: 26.7 km one-way; From Sunshine Village: 29 km one-way

The Mount Assiniboine Region lies on the border of Banff National Park and Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park (home of “The Matterhorn of the Rockies”). The Marvel Lake campground near its namesake lake (one of the largest backcountry lakes in Banff National Park) is accessed via a 13.6 km hike, starting from Mount Shark Parking Area. The very scenic Wonder Pass Trail links Marvel Lake to the rest of the lakes and wonderful trails near Mt. Assiniboine. Due to this region’s remoteness, give yourself ample time to access and explore the area. Or, book a helicopter by contacting Assiniboine Lodge (where you can also choose to stay instead of camping)!

4. Paradise Valley

From Paradise Valley Parking Area: 10.1 km one-way

This is the “other side” of Sentinel Pass, the hugely popular highpoint that is more commonly accessed via a hike up Larch Valley from the Moraine Lake side. But, Paradise Valley was given its name by Walter Wilcox for a reason. The hike into this campground offers superb views of Mt. Temple and other impressive peaks. Just beyond the campground are the Giant Steps – a series of tiered rocks creating a beautiful staircase waterfall.

Important Note: Due to grizzly bear activity, throughout the summer season hiking in this area is restricted to a group of four. When the restriction is in effect, the Paradise Valley campground is closed. Contact Parks Canada for more information.

The Giant Steps near Paradise Valley campground. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.

The Giant Steps near Paradise Valley campground. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.

5. Fish Lakes

From Mosquito Creek Trailhead: 15.2 km one-way

The hike to this campground offers hikers an incredible experience, especially during wildflower season. The trail climbs steadily through forest and into a huge meadow before climbing to the high point of North Molar Pass. The trail then descends down to Upper Fish Lake, where the campground is located. Upper and Lower Fish Lakes (located less than a kilometre apart) are two of the most beautiful backcounty lakes in Banff, in my opinion. From here, backpackers have the option of continuing down the trail towards the Pipestone Pass region.

Permits and Passes

Camping in the backcountry of Banff National Park requires both a Park Pass and a Wilderness Pass. Contact Parks Canada at 403.762.1556 or visit the Visitor Information Centre in Banff at 224 Banff Ave. to purchase your passes. You can also purchase a Park Pass at the gates.

Backcountry Lodges

As I have mentioned in this post, a few lodges in Banff and the surrounding area offer amazing backcountry experiences, complete with gourmet meals and warm duvets. These include:

Skoki Lodge

Shadow Lake Lodge

Assiniboine Lodge

Alpine Huts

The Alpine Club of Canada operates a series of alpine huts in the Canadian Rockies, all accessible via hiking (some require a bit of scrambling). These huts range in terms of their amenities, but all include bunks for sleeping, cooking stoves and equipment, and seating areas. Call 403.678.3200 (ext. 0) to inquire and make reservations.

*Distances are taken from Canadian Rockies Trail Guide by Brian Patton and Bart Robinson.

What are your favourite backcountry campgrounds in Banff National Park?

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Categories: Around the Campfire

Author:Meghan J. Ward

Meghan J. Ward is an outdoor, travel and adventure writer based in Banff, Alberta. Her work has been published by a variety of magazines throughout North America, including IMPACT Magazine,, Kootenay Mountain Culture and She specializes in creating marketing materials and web content for the tourism industry and beyond.

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39 Comments on “Top 5 Backcountry Campgrounds in Banff National Park”

  1. May 21, 2013 at 12:47 pm #

    Banff is so beautiful. Fish Lakes sounds like a nice place to camp. But the Giant Steps look like they’d be worth visiting too. How far apart are those two areas?

    • May 21, 2013 at 1:00 pm #

      Hi Tim – The two trailheads are about 30 minutes drive apart, so you can’t link the two. Fish Lakes trailhead is off the Icefields Parkway whereas the Paradise Valley trailhead is located just outside of Lake Louise Village. If you’re a strong hiker you could tackle both. It does involve about 50 kilometres of hiking, but is of course worth it!

  2. May 26, 2013 at 7:34 pm #

    A few of my favourite Rockies campsites:

    Og Lake in Mt. Assiniboine Prov. Park

    Helmet Falls in Kootenay Natl. Park

    Chown Creek in Jasper Natl. Park

    Cataract Pass in White Goat Wilderness Area

    Burstall in Banff Natl. Park

    Norman Lake in Banff Natl. Park

    • May 26, 2013 at 10:13 pm #

      Thanks for the comment! These are great suggestions! I could write a whole other post about backcountry campgrounds in the rest of the mountain parks. We’re so lucky to have so many options around here.

  3. July 18, 2013 at 5:46 am #

    Thanks for the sharing of such information.

  4. August 15, 2013 at 2:18 pm #

    Great post Meghan! I’m looking to do a camping trip next week at Skoki, and we don’t have a car. Are we able to do a 3 night camp trip to Hidden Lake, Baker, and Merlin Meadows? Originally going to camp at the base at Lake louise campground, but heard it’s pretty crappy there, so thinking now we can maybe buy 3 days worth of food and go up to skoki region. And does it still have snow up there? Just making sure I pack enough warm clothes just in case :) Thanks for your advice!

    • August 15, 2013 at 9:57 pm #

      Hi Lydia! A camping trip to any of Hidden Lake, Baker Lake and Merlin Meadows would be amazing. You can link one or two of them or you can also do great day trips from any of these campgrounds if you wanted to base yourself at just one of them. It depends on how much you want to carry and how you want to carry it! It is a busy area in terms of campground bookings, so inquire as soon as you can through Parks Canada.

      The area is snow free (it’s actually a rather dry year in the Rockies overall), but you can of course get snow at any time of year in the mountains. Have some warm layers on hand just in case and check the forecast prior to going in case you need to pack in even more. Generally temperatures dip pretty low at night, even in summertime.

      Bring some cash in and drop by Skoki Lodge between 2-5pm (I think) for Afternoon Tea. It’s such a treat.

      You’ll never regret a hike into Skoki and it will provide a much more authentic experience in Banff National Park. ;) Let me know how it goes if you can!

      • August 16, 2013 at 2:56 pm #

        Thank you so much Meghan! I will definitely let you know how our experience went. Do you suggest buying 3 nights worth of groceries from the village base first as I’m assuming there’s not much once you head up?

        • August 20, 2013 at 4:58 pm #

          There’s nothing once you hit the trail. Try to buy your groceries in Canmore, or at least Banff. It gets very pricey once you’re in Lake Louise. You can buy dehydrated dinners at Monod’s in Banff or Wilson’s in Lake Louise.

  5. luwuscamp
    December 7, 2013 at 1:33 am #

    Wow….. great article, this is very useful information for me

  6. January 25, 2014 at 1:30 pm #

    Being In the UK we have some lovely places to enjoying camping, but nothing quite like these, good article and even better images, beautiful.

  7. February 13, 2014 at 9:28 am #

    Banff is stunning. One of the best places to go if you are looking to get off the beaten path and spend a few days in solitude in nature.

  8. Steve
    July 26, 2014 at 11:51 am #


    I am looking for shorter overnight treks to get my little ones in to backpacking. They are 7 and 5. I would prefer in and around the Banff area.

    Thanks in advance.

    • July 26, 2014 at 3:46 pm #

      Hi Steve,

      Off this list, Paradise Valley might be the only option. It’s still about 10-11 kilometres in though. Taylor Lake campground is a good beginner one, about 6.7 kilometres one way (and there are a few little hikes you can do from there). If I think of some more that would be good introductory backcountry camping spots, I’ll let you know.

      You may also want to look into the Alpine Club of Canada huts. Some are very accessible and great for children (so long as they can stick to some hut etiquette). Elizabeth Parker Hut in Yoho NP is a great option since you can take the O’Hara bus in and just have to walk 15-20 minutes to the hut. Same for Wheeler Hut in Glacier NP. Bow Hut in Banff is about a 9km hike in. Elk Lakes Cabin is a popular one for families too.

  9. Bruno Vaes
    July 29, 2014 at 9:36 am #

    Hi Meghan – thank you for those good advices.
    We are travelling to Banff NP from Saturday this week, with a nice camper RV from Calgary. I am finding out that all campgrounds are … full…. Wondering if there are specific rules, advices for wild camping with a camper van in the region. Can I simply park somewhere in the park for the night? Would much appreciate your opinion… thanks … Bruno

    • July 29, 2014 at 1:58 pm #

      Hi Bruno,

      You ask a good question! The reality is I see people parked, especially on the Icefields Parkway, but to my knowledge it is not allowed. There is not “freedom camping” in Banff NP.

      Have you contacted the Banff Visitors Centre to inquire? 403-762-8421

  10. Jill
    October 1, 2014 at 3:49 pm #

    Hi Meghan,

    Thanks so much for the very helpful article. I am considering a trip to Skoki Lodge next summer. Would the mosquitoes and flies still be bad in that area at the end of August? How about mid-September?

    Thanks so much for your help.

    • October 1, 2014 at 7:05 pm #

      Hi Jill,

      By mid August, mosquitoes have generally subsided in this region. By September – gone! It’s a lovely time of year to go in. I highly recommend September. The temperatures are cooler and it is less busy.

  11. Colin
    January 26, 2015 at 1:43 pm #

    Heya Meghan,

    Any advice as to which backcountry campgrounds are open for winter camping? I was looking for a fairly short hike in (maybe 10km?).

    • January 26, 2015 at 8:38 pm #

      Egypt Lakes has a shelter which, as far as I know, is a good place to go in the winter. I also recommend you look into some of the Alpine Club of Canada huts – specifically Wheeler Hut, Bow Hut and Elizabeth Parker Hut. I should note, though, that you’re better off on skis in the winter around here.

      • Colin
        January 27, 2015 at 2:48 pm #

        Wonderful! Thanks Meghan!

  12. rebecca
    March 1, 2015 at 6:23 am #

    Hey! My brother and I are planning a hiking trip this year (2015) either in late June or late July. We would get into Banff on a Friday and leave for Calagary the following Saturday. We definitely want to do some day hikes with our dad, but then my brother and I are wanting to hit the backcountry for maybe 5-6 days (So 4-5 nights in total). We can do a loop or a one way since our dad can pick us up at any place we finish. We want to see spectacular stuff. Any itinerary recommendations? I am just so lost with all the options out there and all the different websites telling me what to do. But I haven’t really found what I am looking for. We would like to stay away from “difficult” trails.


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