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.
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.
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.
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:
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.