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Don’t Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies

all-new ULTRALIGHT GEAR 7th edition

Don’t Waste Your Time in the™
Canadian Rockies

Sample of a Premier backpack trip

Trip 89 - Gibbon, Whistling & Healy Passes ****

Location Banff NP, SW of Hwy 1, W of Castle Jct
Shuttle trip 41.7 km (25.9 mi) one way
Elevation gain 1738 m (5701 ft)
Key elevations   Vista Lake trailhead 1690 m (5543 ft)
Gibbon Pass 2300 m (7545 ft)
Shadow Lake 1852 m (6075 ft)
Whistling Pass 2300 m (7544 ft)
Healy Pass 2330 m (7642 ft)
Sunshine parking lot 1675 m (5495 ft)
Hiking time 2 to 3 days
Difficulty Moderate
Map Gem Trek Banff & Mt. Assiniboine


T-shirts emblazoned with the names of tourist destinations are ridiculous. They’re self-awarded gold stars for deeds without merit. Having merely been somewhere is meaningless. What’s meaningful is actually knowing a place, which requires more than a cursory visit. And if it’s Banff National Park you wish to know, it requires exceptional effort. You must stride into the wild heart of it, on a journey such as the one described here.

This is classic Banff: big mountains, beautiful lakes, alpine passes, larch forest, spacious meadows, profuse wildflowers, glacial ice. Any one of the myriad sights en route would justify a hike. Here are a few of the scenic highlights:

  • Lower Twin Lake. Clutched to the chest of towering Storm Mountain.
  • Gibbon Pass. A broad, larch-fringed, alpine swath from which you can see Mt. Assiniboine (south) and Mt. Hector (north).


Before your trip

Considering the shuttle trip but lack a second vehicle? Hitchhiking is possible but will likely be difficult. It will probably require three separate rides. Try it the morning you start the hike, rather than the evening you finish.

To stay in the Egypt Lake hut, check current prices and make reservations with the Banff Info Centre.

By Vehicle

Drive Hwy 93 SW 8.4 km (5.3 mi) from Castle Jct (Hwy 1), or NE 2 km (1.2 mi) from the Banff-Kootenay boundary at Vermilion Pass. The Vista Lake trailhead parking lot is on the SE side of the highway, at 1690 m (5543 ft).

On Foot

The trail starts on the NE side of the parking lot, behind the kiosk. Vista Lake is visible below. Descend the wide trail. Within 0h20m, reach the NE shore of Vista Lake, at 1.4 km (0.9 mi), 1570 m (5150 ft). It’s an odd name for a lake at the bottom of a viewless fold.

Cross the bridged outlet stream and begin a persistently steep ascent SE. In the next 0h10m, more bridges aid your progress. After hiking about 0h50m, reach a vantage at 1799 m (5900 ft). Boom Creek valley (Trip 72) is right (NW) across the highway.

About 1h0m from the trailhead, highway vehicle noise remains audible. The impressive SW face of Castle Mtn is NE. Encounter larches at 2023 m (6635 ft), then enter a forest of primarily fir. Soon pass a pond in a marshy, treed bowl. The grade eases shortly before reaching Arnica Lake at 5 km (3.1 mi), 2155 m (7070 ft). The jade water is cupped in a cirque on the N side of Storm Mtn.

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Sample of a Premier dayhike

Trip 5 - Eiffel Peak ****

Location Banff NP, above Moraine Lake
Round trip 11.6 km (7.2 mi)
Elevation gain 1225 m (4018 ft)
Key elevations   trailhead 1888 m (6193 ft)
Eiffel Peak at 3084 m (10,116 ft)
Hiking time 6h30m to 8h0m
Difficulty Challenging
Map Gem Trek Lake Louise & Yoho


You must be present to win. Climbers know this. You’re either all there, or all is lost. Hiking is different. Without being fully present, you can follow a trail and not fall. Many hikers stride for hours in a constantly chattering group and notice little about the terrain. They enjoy their social strolls, but the transcendence born of focused attention eludes them. So scrambling—half hiking, half climbing offers hikers more than a new challenge. It suggests how to deepen the hiking experience.

Eiffel Peak is a sensible goal for hikers wanting to edge into the awareness-required arena. Slightly more than a demanding hike, it qualifies as an easy scramble....

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Sample of a Don’t Do trip

Trip 74 - Lake Agnes

Location Banff NP, Lake Louise
Round trip 6.2 km (3.8 mi) to Lake Agnes plus 3.2 km (2 mi) to Big Beehive
Elevation gain 404 m (1325 ft) to Lake Agnes plus 135 m (443 ft) to Big Beehive
Key elevations   trailhead 1731 m (5678 ft)
Lake Agnes 2135 m (7003 ft)
Big Beehive 2270 m (7446 ft)
Hiking time 1h30m to 4h0m
Difficulty Easy
Map Gem Trek Lake Louise & Yoho


On a sunny, summer day, 15,000 tourists will waddle the paved path along the shore of Lake Louise, in front of the famous Chateau. Of those, 1,000 extend their promenade to the teahouse at Lake Agnes. Aren’t these teahouse-bound lemmings missing the point? Don’t they have an abundance of beverage-dispensing machines and enterprises where they live? Isn’t it the absence of civilization that distinguishes Banff National Park from their urban homes and attracted them to vacation here?

If you’re capable of walking to the teahouse, you’ll find more fulfillment on other trails, where you might experience at least an inkling of the wildness intrinsic to the beauty of the Canadian Rockies.

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