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Banff National Park of Canada

Backcountry Trip Planner

Banff National Park protects an ecosystem unique to the Canadian Rocky Mountains. The park's trail system allows you access into the heart of this precious landscape. Careful planning will help you enjoy your trip safely and with minimum impact to this sensitive area.

Healy Pass, Banff National Park
Healy Pass, Banff National Park
© Parks Canada

The Backcountry Trip Planner has been developed to help you plan a backcountry trip in Banff National Park. This guide can be used by all potential backcountry users from first time travelers in need of detailed information on how to plan a trip, to those with advanced skills needing a quick refresher or an introduction to the park.

A wide range of backcountry experiences are available in Banff National Park and are supported by over 1,600 km of trails, 53 backcountry campgrounds, 2 rustic shelters, 4 commercial backcountry lodges, 7 Alpine Club of Canada huts, 2 commercial horse outfitters, and numerous guide services.

Trails and Campgrounds

Although Banff National Park covers a vast area, some parts of the park are more heavily used than others. That is why the park is subdivided internally to better manage areas in terms of visitor use and wildlife conservation. In the more heavily used areas, campers are required to stay at designated campgrounds that contain food storage cables, tables, privies, and metal fire rings (where fires are permitted). In these areas, trails are better maintained and contain bridged river crossings. In the more remote regions of the park, random camping is permitted (certain restrictions apply), few facilities are provided, and expert route-finding skills are required.

Horse & Bicycle Use

Be prepared to encounter horses since many park trails are shared with horse users. Trails with commercial outfitter use will have the most 'traffic'. The key commercial horse use areas in the park are Mystic, Flints, Stoney Creek and the Brewster Valley. As well, there are two organizations with rotating camps in the park that are routinely serviced by horses. Bicycles are only permitted on designated trails.

Hiking Season

Hiking and camping can normally be undertaken from mid-May to mid-October. From mid-May to late-June many passes are still snow-bound with most trails being accessible only at lower elevations. Water levels are also at their highest due to spring run-off. Beware of ticks in dry slopes where ungulates congregate. Trails generally tend to be muddier at this time with spring melt, and June being the month to receive the greatest volume of precipitation. Towards the middle of July passes should be open. Watch out for berry patches during August, particularly buffalo berry which is a major food source for bears. Extreme caution should be used when traveling through these areas. From September to mid-October although dryer, temperatures are lower with greater chances of snowfall occurring, particularly at higher elevation. Regardless of what time of year, prepare for all-season travel. You may just wake up to find yourself under a carpet of snow in mid-August!

Fees & Booking

The wilderness experience in Canada's Mountain National Parks is one of the best in the world. Wilderness Pass and reservation fees are used to offset the costs of trail and campground maintenance, bridge building, backcountry assistance, and other services backcountry users have come to expect.

Wilderness Pass

The Wilderness Pass is a mandatory permit for anyone planning an overnight trip into the backcountry of Banff National Park.

The Annual Wilderness Pass is a discount card' that allows the holder to an unlimited number of nights in the backcountry of Banff, Yoho, Kootenay, Jasper, Waterton Lakes, Mount Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks for one year from date of purchase. In order for the park to monitor backcountry use and not overbook campgrounds and shelters, you are still required to reserve and pick up a Wilderness Pass before traveling into the backcountry. The Annual Pass covers the cost of your Wilderness Pass, but does not include shelter or reservation fees.

Bryant Creek and Egypt Lake Shelters are primitive backcountry shelters operated by Banff National Park. Reservations are recommended for these shelters and follow the same booking procedures as the Wilderness Pass. There is an extra fee required to stay in a shelter and visits are limited to three consecutive nights. Please note that as of October 15, 2000 dogs will not be permitted at the shelters.

Booking Your Trip

Backcountry campsite and shelter reservations are advisable during the peak hiking months of July and August. For a small fee, you can make a reservation up to 90 days in advance of your trip.

Reservations can be made by phone, fax, or in person at Park Information Centres and the Western Canada Service Centre in Calgary. If your wilderness pass is mailed or faxed to you, we strongly recommend that you contact a Park Information Centre prior to departure for updates on trail conditions, closures and other pertinent information.

The wilderness experience in Canada's Mountain National Parks is one of the best in the world. Banff's spectacular, unspoiled backcountry offers superb opportunities for solitude, personal and physical challenge, freedom and adventure. Wilderness Pass and reservation fees are used to offset the costs of trail and campground maintenance, bridge building, backcountry assistance, and other services backcountry users have come to expect.

Fees
Wilderness Pass

$9.80 / person / night
Children 16 years and under are free

Shelter Fee

$6.80 / person / night - in addition to the Wilderness Pass

Reservation Fee (non-refundable)

$11.70 / reservation for any booking made more than 24 hours in advance

Modification Fee (non-refundable)

$11.70 / modification for any reservation change

Annual Wilderness Pass (non-refundable)

$68.70 / person / year - does not include shelter, reservation or modification fees

Backcountry Safety
Your safety is your responsibility.

All outdoor activities involve some degree of risk. Caution and self-reliance are essential. Although the Banff Warden Service rescues over one hundred visitors each year, the backcountry is huge and park search and rescue services may be far away. You should have knowledge of natural hazards, experience in avoiding them and a plan to deal with them successfully when required. Pick trips that reflect your level of ability, working gradually towards more challenging expeditions.

Although no one can completely know what to expect in the backcountry, the Hazards section outlines the most common risks you might encounter in Banff National Park. This information is meant as a guideline and further research is required. We highly recommend enrolling in related courses and reading guidebooks for detailed information.

Black bears and grizzlies are of special concern to backcountry travelers in Banff. You can significantly reduce the risk of bear encounters by following the Bear Safety guidelines .

Physical and Mental Conditioning: If you have never carried a heavy pack before, start with short trips to build up experience and strength. Differences in elevation and climate can also alter your performance. You may wish to take a day or two to acclimatize before heading out on the trail.

Electronic Communication: In the case of emergency, you cannot rely on cellular phones in Banff's backcountry. The mountainous terrain and lack of repeater antennas limit their range.

Safety Registrations: Does anyone know where you are going?
Leave a detailed plan with a friend or family member including: your route and alternative routes; campgrounds; departure and return dates; colour of tent and packs; colour, make and license plate number of vehicle. If you do not return home on time, that person should notify the Banff Warden Office at (403) 762-1470 (24 hour service).

An optional Safety Registration is also available at no extra charge. It is a contract you sign with the park ensuring that if you do not return by a set time, a search will be initiated on your behalf. Safety registrations are recommended for high risk activities such as mountaineering, climbing, glacier travel, canoeing, kayaking or backcountry skiing. Safety registrations are voluntary and it is your responsibility to record an accurate description of your route, including any side trips. You must report back to park staff by the set time. If you fail to do so and an unwarranted search is initiated on your behalf, the costs of the search may be charged to you.

Hazards
Bear Safety: Bears and People

Park Regulations

Park regulations protect natural and cultural resources, ensure visitor safety and provide visitors with quality recreational opportunities. Every individual has the responsibility to use the park wisely, to minimize their impact and to understand and respect park regulations.

The following regulations apply to backcountry use in Banff National Park:

  • A valid Wilderness Pass is required and must be kept with you and accessible, at all times.
  • Group size is limited to 10 people, including the trip leader.
  • Campers can stay for a maximum of 3 nights at any campsite, shelter or random camping site.
  • Pets must be kept on a leash at all times. Please consider leaving them at home.
  • As of October 15, 2000, dogs will not be permitted at the Egypt Lake and Bryant Creek shelters as a courtesy to other shelter users.
  • All food and toiletries must be properly stored; use bear cables if available or rope between two trees.
  • Pack out ALL garbage, including food waste, tampons, sanitary napkins, diapers and foil.
  • Bicycles are only allowed on designated trails.
  • Fires are only permitted in designated campsites with metal fire rings and in random camping areas. Please practice Leave No Trace principles.
  • Do not disturb or remove any natural or cultural objects.
  • Do not feed, touch or harass wildlife.
  • Obey closures. Areas may be temporarily closed for safety or environmental reasons and are marked with signs and/or tape. If your intended route takes you through an area that has been closed you must turn back or find an alternate route around the closure.
  • If you wish to fish, you must be familiar with park Fishing Regulations and have a National Park Fishing License.
  • In random camping areas, campsites must be at least 50 m from trails, 70 m from water bodies and 5 km from trailheads. Please practice minimum impact camping techniques.
Minimum Impact Travel and Camping

With visitation to Banff National Park increasing every year, greater demands are being put on the park's wilderness areas. Minimum Impact Travel and Camping provides answers on how to make your trip safer and lessen your impact on the environment.

Before You Arrive
Research

Banff's backcountry is extensive, with numerous possible routes. In order to plan a trip that suits your interests and abilities ask yourself the following questions:

  • How far do I want to travel each day, considering both distance and elevation gain?
  • Do I want to stay at a one site and do day hikes, or change locations every night?
  • What do I want to see? - Forests? Glaciers? Wildlife? Alpine wildflowers?
  • Do I want to camp, stay in a shelter or enjoy the comfort of a backcountry lodge?
  • How important is solitude?
  • How will I get to and from the trailheads?

Park Information Centre staff are available to help you with your travel plans. However, ultimately, it is your responsibility to plan and prepare for a trip that suits your interests and abilities. The best way to research your trip options is to study one of the excellent guidebooks specific to hiking and backpacking in Banff National Park. The following titles are available from the Friends of Banff National Park:

Reading
HIKING
  • The Canadian Rockies Trail Guide, 2005 (Brian Patton and Bart Robinson)
  • Classic Hikes in the Canadian Rockies, 1996 (Graeme Pole)
  • Backcountry Banff, 1997 and Hiking Lake Louise, 1999 (Mike Potter)
  • Banff - Assiniboine: A Beautiful World. Scenes, Tales, Trails, 1993 (Don Beers)
NATURAL HISTORY
  • Handbook of the Canadian Rockies, 1999 (Ben Gadd)
  • Birds of the Canadian Rockies, 1999 (George Scotter, Tom Ulrich, and Edgar Jones)
  • Mammals of the Canadian Rockies, 1999 (George Scotter and Tom Ulrich)
OTHER
  • Bear Attacks, Their Causes and Avoidance, 1998 (Stephen Herrero)
  • Safe Travel in Bear Country: safe camping, hiking, fishing and more, 1996 (Gary Brown)
  • Far From Help! Backcountry Medical Car, 1991 (Peter Steele)
  • Leave No Trace, 1997 (Will Harmon)
Maps

A good quality map is highly recommended for all backcountry trips in Banff National Park. Trail conditions vary greatly from one area of the park to another. In more remote areas of the park, trails are less defined and demand expert route finding skills. Adverse weather conditions can also alter the landscape unexpectedly, requiring you to find your own way to safety.

A 1:50,000 scale topographic map provides the detail required for safe backcountry travel. If you are inexperienced in reading topographic maps, consider using a Gem Trek map, which combines contour lines with 3D colour relief shading. Use a map to help plan your trip, taking into consideration daily distances and elevation gains and losses. Maps can be purchased from the Friends of Banff National Park:

Learn how to use a map and compass before your trip. For Map Reading Basics contact the Centre for Topographic Information of Natural Resources Canada.

Equipment

Proper equipment is essential for a comfortable and safe backcountry trip.

There are several shops in Banff and Lake Louise that rent backcountry equipment and sell bear spray and campstove fuel. Food supplies are available from grocery stores in Banff.

Banff / Lake Louise Tourism for shopping & rental details.

Hiring a Guide

Before booking your guided activity, you should ensure that the company you are considering is legally licensed to operate within the national park. Please report any illegal or inappropriate guiding activities to Parks Canada by calling 403.762.1470.

If you are considering a guided hiking, snowshoeing or mountaineering experience, look for guides who are accredited by either or both the following professional organizations, for the highest standards of local knowledge and safety:

The Mountain Parks Heritage Interpretation Association (MPHIA)

The Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG)

Transportation

Although the town of Banff has abundant services, do not rely on having easy access to trailheads. Many visitors have to delay departure into the backcountry because they have no readily available or affordable access to trailheads. Choose your trip carefully as some routes require a personal vehicle.

Banff / Lake Louise Tourism for transportation.

Accommodation

If you plan to stay in the towns of Banff or Lake Louise before or after your backcountry trip, there are many hotels, motels and hostels available. However, during the summer be prepared to book your room well in advance.

Banff / Lake Louise Tourism for an accommodation guide or for more information.

Important Trail Updates

Conditions change quickly. When planning your trip and again, immediately before departure, check the latest trail and weather reports.

Trail Report

Trail conditions will influence your decision on whether to go ahead with your current itinerary or make alternate plans. Check the latest Trail Report or call (403) 760-1305.

Weather Forecast

Mountain weather can change quickly and is difficult to predict. Snow and freezing temperatures can occur in mid-summer, particularly at higher elevations. Heavy rainfall can make river crossings dangerous. The weather conditions may severely alter your plans. Before you begin your trip call (403) 762-2088 for the latest Banff National Park Weather Forecast . Remember, however, that a forecast is only a forecast and you need to be prepared for any and all weather conditions.

Warnings and Closures

Trails may be temporarily closed for public safety or environmental reasons, for example aggressive wildlife, and are marked as such with signs and/or tape. Do not enter a closed area. If your intended route takes you through a closed area you must turn back or find an alternate route.

Other trails may remain open but have warnings placed upon them for similar reasons. Be extra cautious when traveling on these trails. In fact, where warnings are in effect, we strongly recommend choosing an alternate route. Contact a Park Information Centre for current Warnings and Closures.

Information Centres

Park Radio Station

Weather and trail reports are repeated regularly throughout the day on the park radio station. If you are in the Banff Townsite or driving into Banff National Park from the east, tune into the park radio station at 101.1 FM. In addition to the latest conditions, you'll hear excellent programs on Banff's natural and cultural heritage.

Other Parks

Many trails in Banff National Park continue into other adjoining parks or designated wilderness areas. If you wish more information on the surrounding areas please contact the following agencies: