Mt Assiniboine Provincial Park is a wondrous Provincial Park hidden away just southwest of Banff National Park. This park is special for its tranquility and incredible scenery. Part of what makes Mt Assiniboine such an incredible place for backpackers is its relative inaccessibility. To access Mt Assiniboine, you either have to hike in or take an expensive helicopter. This severely limits the number of visitors and eliminates all of the tourists that can dilute the experience such as on trails in Banff or Jasper. The serenity of Mt Assiniboine was the true highlight of this spectacular Provincial Park. Technically a part of British Colombia, Mt Assiniboine will impress you with all the natural wonder that has become expected with the Canadian Rockies.
Time Required: 3-4 days
Total Distance: 43.85 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 6,797 ft
Minimum Elevation: 5,587 ft
Maximum Elevation: 8,894 ft
Getting to Mt Assiniboine
Mt Assiniboine is located nearest to the town of Canmore, Alberta. You can reach Canmore by flying into Calgary International Airport then driving through Banff to Canmore. Getting from Canmore to Mt Assiniboine Park is tricky because of how remote it is. Part of the beauty of Mt Assiniboine is its inaccessibility. There is no way to drive directly into Mt Assiniboine, which greatly reduces the number of visitors. You have two options for getting to Mt Assiniboine: hike in or take a chartered helicopter.
The helicopter option will be a good one for those who want to save their energy for inside the provincial park, but will cost a pretty penny. Those choosing to hike in can still use the helicopter service to transport gear into the provincial park and pay by the pound. Helicopter flights run throughout the summer and on certain days during the winter. Flights depart from either Canmore or near the Mt Shark Trailhead.
Mt Assiniboine Provincial Park has two different access points: the Mt. Shark Trailhead to the southeast and Sunshine Meadows trailhead to the north. It is possible to arrange for a shuttle service ($90/person) so that you can do the complete hike, but for our budget, we decided to hike Mt Assiniboine as an out and back from the Mt. Shark Trailhead. The hike in is definitely worth it for the views you get along Marvel Lake and on the Wonder Pass. You could see these on day hikes from Mt Assiniboine, but I would recommend really earning your entry into the provincial park by hiking in. The hike in from Mt Shark is a bit over 18 miles, but can either be done in one day or split into two.
Reserving Campgrounds for Mt Assiniboine
You absolutely need to plan far in advance in order to get campground reservations for Mt Assiniboine. Reserving campgrounds is a little confusing for this trek because some of the campgrounds are operated by Parks Canada since they are technically in Banff National Park, and the others are operated directly by Assiniboine Provincial Park. It's the same difference between national and state parks in the US.
Big Springs - Br9
Marvel Lake - Br13
McBride's Camp - Br14
Lake Magog Campground
Og Lake Campground
Mt Assiniboine Recommended Itinerary
Depending on what time of day you are able to get to the park will definitely change the recommended itinerary for Mt. Assiniboine. The journey into Mt Assiniboine is beautiful, but it is a challenging hike. You absolutely need to plan on a full day of staying inside the park. Besides that there is a great variety of ways you could plan your adventure to Mt Assiniboine.
Day 1: Mt Shark Trailhead to Lake Magog Campground (18.8 miles, 8 hours)
This day is only possible if you are able to get to the Mt Shark trailhead in the morning. Depending on where you are coming from this might not be possible. At the end of this day's explanation, I'll explain my recommendation for if you are arriving in the afternoon or evening. The Mt Shark Trailhead is a 1.5-hour drive (27 miles) southwest from Canmore, Alberta. The drive runs along the beautiful Spray Lakes Reservoir until it goes on a gravel road for the last ten miles or so. The parking lot is very large, so you won't have any issues with parking availability.
Mt Shark Trailhead Parking Lot
18.8 miles sounds really daunting. It was the most mileage I had ever done in a single day. It definitely was a challenge, but for those backpackers who are confident in their physical abilities, it is definitely possible. The first 8 miles from the Mt Shark Trailhead to the first stop on Day 1, Marvel Lake Campground, takes about three hours and is pretty flat for most of it. The trail traverses through the woods on a cross country ski trail that is really easy to get some easy miles under your feet pretty quickly.
Have a nice lunch at the Marvel Lake Campground, then suit up for the most challenging section of the trail. From Marvel Lake Campground you'll hike around 5 miles along Marvel Lake to the bottom of the Wonder Pass. It is an extremely beautiful hike along the ridgeline overlooking the tourquoise waters of Marvel Lake.
Climbing to the top of the Wonder Pass
The climb up to the top on Wonder Pass is definitely a battle against gravity with about 1,700 feet of elevation gain in just 2-3 miles. Once you reach the top of the Wonder Pass, you have officially left Alberta and entered British Colombia! From the top of the Wonder Pass to Mt Assiniboine Provincial Park is another 3 miles. Lake Magog Campground is on the north side of Lake Magog. By the time you arrive to the campground, you'll be ready to take the pack off and let the legs recover from a really challenging hike.
North side of "The Towers"
Naiset Point along Lake Magog
Mt Assiniboine near Lake Magog Campground
Before you reach Lake Magog Campground, you will pass by the Assiniboine Lodge. If you completed the entire hike from Mt Shark Trailhead to Lake Magog Campground, you likely won't make it in time for tea time at 4-5PM. But don't worry that's part of the plan for Day 2. After you've set up camp at one of the marked campsites with Lake Magog Campground, take a walk to the lake and enjoy the incredible view of Mt Assiniboine.
If you are only able to arrive at the Mt Shark Trailhead later in the day, you definitely will not be able to handle the entire 18-mile hike into Lake Magog the day you arrive. I would suggest splitting it up by staying at either Big Springs or Marvel Lake Campground the first night, then spending the next day getting to Lake Magog Campground. The full day is definitely doable in one day for well-seasoned hikers, but it was a challenge, especially towards the end of our trip.
Day 2: Mt Assiniboine Day Hike to Nub Peak
6.74 miles, 3-4 hours
After a long day to arrive at Mt Assiniboine Provincial Park, Day 2 will allow you a more relaxed day with not quite so many miles, but so many breathtaking sites. You could easily spend 2-4 days just enjoying the inside of Mt Assiniboine Provincial Park, but one day is enough to see the highlights. We woke up nice and early in hopes to see the sunrise on Mt Assiniboine. The time of year didn't put the sun in the right spot, but it was still gorgeous seeing the park light up in the morning.
Early morning views from Lake Magog of Mt Assiniboine
The day hike up to Nub Peak is an absolute must for anyone visiting Mt Assiniboine. It provides incredible views of Sunburst Peak. If you do a google search of Mt Assiniboine, the pictures were likely taken from Nub Peak or the intermediary point known as the Niblet. The hike is really unique particularly because of the rock surface you ascend up. It really feels like you're walking up another planet.
From Lake Magog, head on the trail towards Sunburst Lake. This is a gorgeous spot to enjoy the view before you begin the final ascent.
Sunburst Peak from Sunburst Lake
From Sunburst Lake it is only 30-45 minutes up to the Niblet. The Niblet is the halfway point up to the top of Nub Peak. The actual Niblet spot isn't clearly marked, but it's the first good spot where you can get a great view of Sunburst Peak and if you're lucky with a clear day you can see Mt Assiniboine in the background. Most visitors only hike up to this lookout point, but I would highly recommend continuing all the way until you reach the summit of Nub Peak. Unfortunately the fire smoke from neighboring forest fires limited the visibility, but even so it was a grat view and really fun day hike.
Views form the Niblet, halfway up to Nub Peak
Hiking up to the top of Nub Peak
Descent from Nub Peak summit (far back of the picture)
We enjoyed a nice lunch at the summit of Nub Peak, and then eventually descended back down to the base for tea time at the Assiniboine Lodge. The cake and tea was a welcome treat after a series of challenging backpacking days out in the wilderness. Make sure to bring cash and get there for the one hour that they are open to the public from 4-5PM.
Lake Magog and Mt Assiniboine
Day 3: Lake Magog to McBride's Campground
9.36 miles, 4-5 hours
On the way back to Mt Shark Trailhead, you have the choice to either hike out all 18.8 miles again or split up the mileage into two days. Our original plan was to split up the mileage into two days, but upon arriving at the McBride Campground by about 2PM, we decided to continue on to the parking lot so that we would be able to start our road-trip back to Chicago as fast as possible the next day. But I would suggest planning on splitting up the mileage on the way back as you will likely be fatigued from all the hiking getting to and within Assiniboine.
Spend the early morning hiking around Assiniboine Provincial Park one last time before beginning the ascent up once again to the summit of Wonder Pass. The hike to McBride Campground will take 4-5 hours and includes a lot of descent after reaching the summit of Wonder Pass. You'll get great views of Marvel Lake!
You could stay at either McBride Campground or Marvel Lake Campground, whichever you can get availability for. McBride is not the prettiest campground, mostly just some sites hidden in the trees. But the section of trail that leads into McBride Campground is really pretty, leading you into the heart of a gorgeous valley that shouldn't be missed.
Day 4: McBride's Campground to Mt Shark Trailhead
8.93 miles, 3-4 hours
The final segment of the Mt Assiniboine hike is from the McBride Campground back to the Mt Shark trailhead. It is a pretty quick nine miles, mostly tracking along the cross country ski trail frequently used by winter sport goers. These nine miles shouldn't take more than four hours of hiking if you and trekking at a decent pace.
More Information on Mt Assiniboine
Another option which we were unable to do because we were too exhausted was to climb up to the top of the Towers. One of the park rangers we met tried to describe a way to hike up the southern face of the Towers. After two weeks of hiking this was not as attractive an option as it would have been at the beginning of the trip. But if you have time and energy, ask one of the workers at the Assiniboine Lodge about how to do this hike.
There are actually two different hiking routes from Mt Shark Trailhead to Mt Assiniboine Provincial Park. The first is the Wonder Pass as described, but there is an additional pass option called the Assiniboine Pass. This was not an option for us because it is closed during August and September. According to the rangers I spoke with, the Assiniboine Pass is closed during those months because of bears. The pass is reportedly not as scenic as the Wonder Pass, but would be a good option if you want to not fully retrace your steps and see something new on the return t