You have chosen a very special place to enjoy a backcountry experience. Canada's oldest national park protects large tracts of stunningly beautiful mountain wilderness. As a backcountry traveller, you will be able to visit natural wonders seen by only a small percentage of Banff National Park visitors. A wide range of backcountry experiences are available, supported by over 1500 km of trails, 50 backcountry campsites, 2 trail shelters, 4 backcountry lodges, several alpine huts, 2 commercial horse outfitters, and numerous licensed guide services.
Backcountry visitors have a special responsibility to minimize their impact on the park's rich natural and cultural heritage
This guide will help you plan a safe and enjoyable visit, while keeping the park's natural environment as healthy as possible.
Have a wonderful trip!
© Parks Canada
The trip ideas are a good starting point for selecting a hike. More detailed trail guidebooks and topographic maps are available. Park Information Centre staff can also provide you with up-to-date trail conditions, warning and closure notices, and other essential information.
When to Go?
The hiking season usually lasts from May to October. From mid-May to late June, many passes are still snow-bound with most trails accessible only at lower elevations or on drier, south facing slopes. Trails tend to be muddier during the spring. Towards the middle of July, most passes are usually open.
Trailheads can be difficult to get to without a vehicle. Public transportation to outlying park trailheads is limited. Park Information Centre staff can assist you with information about available options.
The Wilderness Pass is a mandatory permit for anyone planning an overnight trip into the backcountry of Banff National Park. It specifies the campsites you are using and the number of people and tents in your group.
You will also require a National Park Pass for entering the national parks. A National Park fishing license is required for angling, and a Grazing Permit if you are traveling by horse.
Backcountry campsite and shelter reservations can be made up to 3 months in advance of your trip by phone or in person at Park Information Centres and the Calgary Service Centre. Reservations are advisable during the peak hiking months of July and August.
If your Wilderness Pass is mailed or faxed to you, contact a Park Information Centre prior to departure for updates on trail conditions, closures and other pertinent information.
Wilderness Pass and reservation fees are used to offset the costs of trail and campground maintenance, bridge building, backcountry assistance, and other services that help shape memorable visitor experiences in the national parks.
Continuing beyond park boundaries?
Alberta Parks and Protected Areas - Kananaskis Country
tel (403) 678-5508
B.C. Provincial Parks – Kootenay Regional Office
tel (250) 489-8540
- Select a trip which best suits your party's abilities and experience, interests, equipment and the time you have available.
- The maximum group size is 10 people.
- Familiarize yourself with the trail you have selected.This includes using additional reference guides and topographic maps. These are available through the Friends of Banff National Park.
- You may reserve the campsites you wish up to 3 months in advance. A non-refundable reservation fee applies. Book early for popular campsites.
- Obtain your Wilderness Pass from a Park Information Centre.
- Check conditions prior to departure. Weather, trail, road reports are available at Park Information Centres (see Information Sources).
- Be prepared to be self-sufficient during inclement and rapidly changing mountain conditions by packing the right clothing and camping gear.
- Bring along a backpacker's camp stove and fuel for cooking.
- Let a responsible friend or family member know about your travel plans, or use the safety registration system.
- Check the trailhead kiosk prior to your hike for important updates.
© Parks Canada
Playing it safe
Your safety is your personal responsibility. All outdoor activities involve some degree of risk. Caution and self-reliance are essential. You or your trip leader should have a knowledge of natural hazards, experience in avoiding them and a plan to deal with them successfully when required. Ensure that there is some flexibility in your plans in the case of severe weather or encounters with other natural hazards.
Giardia lamblia and other water borne parasites are spread by humans and some domestic and wild animals. These parasites can be in any surface water and may contaminate the water supply. Boiling, filtering or treating the water is recommended.
Consider leaving your dog at home. Wild animals see dogs as either prey or predator, and this can provoke confrontations with wildlife and affect your safety. Dogs must be on a leash at all times in a National Park, and are not permitted in backcountry shelters.
Wildlife is Wild
Never forget that park animals are wild and can be dangerous. Any animal can become aggressive if it feels threatened, so keep your distance 30 metres from most animals, and at least 100 m from carnivores (such as bears, cougars, wolves).
Learn more about how to reduce the risk of bear encounters by reading Bears and People: A Guide to Safety and Conservation on the Trail.
On the Trail
What to Expect
Banff National Park offers a range of backcountry experiences. In more popular and accessible areas, you may find maintained trails and designated campsites with amenities like outhouses, tent pads, food storage cables, rustic picnic tables, and metal fire grates at sites where campfires are allowed. You are required to camp at designated primitive campsites or stay at trail shelters indicated on your Wilderness Pass.
In more remote parts of the park, trails are not as well maintained and travellers must be prepared for random camping (certain restrictions apply). You will have to ford rivers as there are few bridges. Route-finding skills may be required in remote areas. Remote areas provide a greater opportunity for solitude with minimal evidence of human presence.
Sharing the Trail
Hikers share the trails and campsites with horse parties and/or mountain bicyclists in certain parts of the park. Respect for others can go a long way towards reducing conflicts. You may wish to plan your trip to avoid encounters with other user groups. Trails that have commercial horse use may be muddy.
Trail Shelters and Backcountry Lodges
Rustic trail shelters are provided at Egypt Lake and Bryant Creek . They can be booked in the same way as campsites by paying a surcharge on your Wilderness Pass. Commercial backcountry lodges provide a higher level of service than the shelters, and should be booked through the commercial operators.
Camp in designated campsites as indicated on your Wilderness Pass and use the tent pads provided to minimize impact on vegetation. The maximum length of stay at one site is 3 consecutive days.
If your route passes through a random camping area make sure your campsite is a distance of 5 km or more from the trailhead. Choose a campsite at least 50 m off the trail and 70 m from the nearest water source. The maximum length of stay at one site is 3 consecutive days. Sleep well away from food storage and cooking areas. If you have a fire, remove all traces, including stone fire rings before moving on.
To reduce your campsite's attractiveness to bears, all food, garbage, toiletries and cooking equipment must be suspended from the food storage cables provided at designated campsites. In random camping areas, if you do not have a bear resistant storage canister, find two stout trees and hang your food at least 4 metres above the ground and 1.3 metres from each tree trunk (bring two 20 m lengths of rope along with you). Please remember that food left in vehicles may encourage damage by bears. Avoid leaving excess food in your vehicle.
© Parks Canada
Cooking and Campfires
Consider campfires a luxury and bring a stove. Campfires are not permitted in some backcountry areas (see map). Keep your fire small and use only deadfall. At designated campsites, fires are permitted only in metal fire rings – where provided. Tend your fire at all times and ensure it is completely out before moving on.
© Parks Canada
Wash well away from any lakes, streams or rivers and keep the use of soap to a minimum. Even biodegradable soaps are pollutants. When washing dishes, strain out those last bits of food waste and pack them out. Disperse grey water on land, spraying it around over an area that is a good distance from water sources and campsites.
Use the pit privies provided if possible. If there are no facilities nearby, select a spot away from trails, campsites and at least 70 m from water sources. Dig a hole 12 to 16 cm deep with a stick, the heel of your boot or a small trowel to reach the dark-coloured biologically active soil layer. Fill the hole with soil afterward–do not pack it down. Use as little toilet paper as possible. Pack out feminine hygiene products.
Please, if you pack it in–pack it out. By law, you are responsible for everything you take into the backcountry and this includes garbage. Litter in the backcountry is both unsightly and hazardous. Animals may be injured by scavenging in garbage left lying around. Do not dispose of garbage in pit privies–it may attract animals.
Collecting Natural or Cultural Objects
Please leave rocks, fossils, horns, antlers, wildflowers, nests and all other natural or historical objects as you found them for others to enjoy. It is unlawful to disturb, damage or remove any natural or cultural resources within a National Park.
© Parks Canada
Stay on the Trail
Shortcutting between trail switchbacks damages both the soil and plant life. This not only ruins the look of an area, but also makes it susceptible to further damage by erosion. Staying on the trail is especially important when soils are wet and susceptible to damage, and in fragile vegetation communities like the alpine.
For more information on low impact travel in the backcountry contact:
Leave No Trace Canada, 1-877-238-9343,
Be prepared to encounter horses, since many park trails are shared with equestrians. Be aware that some areas are frequented by commercially guided horse trips. Park Information Centres have information about guided day or overnight horse trips in the park. Consult the Horse User's Guide and the Banff Warden Office to obtain information about a backcountry horse trip and required permits and fees.
Fishing is permitted in most backcountry lakes, however, some lakes are catch and release only. A National Park Fishing Permit is required to fish any park waters. Fishing permits can be purchased at Park Information Centres and at several Calgary and Banff retail outlets that sell angling supplies. Be sure to obtain the Fishing Regulations Summary brochure . It covers opening seasons, bait and tackle restrictions and catch and possession limits. Seasonal closures may be in effect on some lakes to allow fish populations to recover from over-fishing.
National park wardens conduct backcountry patrols throughout the year. They are there to assist you in case of emergency, provide information, and ensure that the park's natural and cultural resources are protected. Any park warden you encounter in the backcountry will ask to see your Wilderness Pass and Fishing Licence. Since their duties require them to travel long distances, you should not count on being able to find a warden in case of emergency. Prepare to be self-reliant.
© Parks Canada
are a threatened species, which are sensitive to human disturbance. Please do not approach them and, if feasible, leave the area to avoid disturbing them. Your observations are important. Report sightings to Park Information Centres .