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Banff National Park

Backpacking
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 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, commercial horse outfitters and licensed guide services.

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. 

Where to Go

Trip ideas | Trail conditions | Warning and Closure Notices

Trail Shelters

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.

Backcountry Camping

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. 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.

Random Camping

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. 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. 

  • More detailed trail guidebooks and topographic maps are available.
  • Hikers share the trails and campsites with horse parties and/or mountain bicyclists in certain parts of the park.
  • Trails that have commercial horse use may be muddy.
  • Trailheads can be difficult to get to without a vehicle.

Rules & Regulations

Fees

  • The Wilderness Pass is mandatory. It specifies the campsites you are using and the number of people and tents in your group.
  • The maximum group size is 10 people.
  • You will also require a National Park Pass for entering the national parks.
  • National Park fishing license is required for angling, 
  • Any park warden you encounter in the backcountry will ask to see your Wilderness Pass and Fishing Licence
  • You are required to camp at designated primitive campsites or stay at trail shelters indicated on your Wilderness Pass.
  • Dogs must be on a leash at all times in a National Park, and are not permitted in backcountry shelters.

Safety

Backpacking Hazards

  • Caution and self-reliance are essential.
  • Ensure that there is some flexibility in your plans in the case of severe weather or encounters with other natural hazards. 
  • Let a responsible friend or family member know about your travel plans
  • Check the trailhead kiosk prior to your hike for important updates.
  • Check conditions prior to departure.

Food Storage

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.

Food Storage 

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.

Washing

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.

Human Waste

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.

Garbage

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.

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.

Reservations

To book a backcountry campsite please contact the Park Visitor Centre (by phone or in person).

  • Backcountry campsite & shelter reservations can be made up to 3 months in advance of your trip
  • Reservations are advisable during the peak hiking months of July and August.
  • A non-refundable reservation fee applies.
  • If your Wilderness Pass is mailed or faxed to you, contact a Park Visitor Centre prior to departure for updates on trail conditions, closures and other pertinent information or check conditions on-line.

Continuing beyond park boundaries?

Alberta Parks and Protected Areas - Kananaskis Country
tel (403) 678-5508

B.C. Provincial Parks 
tel (250) 489-8540