The Banff Highline Trail is a wonderful journey through the Canadian Rockies where we encounter much of the diversity to be found in these beautiful mountains. Day after day we cross spectacular passes interspersed with alpine lakes. Craggy peaks constructed of multi-hued quartzite give way to the massive limestone slabs typical of the Front Ranges.
Different elevations feature a variety of flowers and vegetation from the delicate moss campions of the alpine zone to the flowering shrubs and berries of the forest floor. A daily constant will be Mount Assiniboine’s massive pyramid, first seen from Arnica ridge on Day 2 then gradually getting closer until we reach its base three days later.
We picked the most beautiful and accessible sections of the Continental Divide and hike south through Banff National Park, passing through both British Columbia and Alberta. There is excellent wildlife viewing opportunities throughout this whole trip. We will hike more than 100km of trails.
This is one of our most popular backcountry hikes – and for good reason!
A perfect trip, everyone was so friendly and help-full, from booking the trip, to being picked up from the hostel, everything was handled in a relaxed but very professional manor. The trip itself was exactly as advertised, absolutely breathtaking scenery, the conditions did make it a little more challenging in places however for me this just added to the truly inspiring experience.
—Ian, August, 2012
Day 1: At 5:00pm we meet at the Yamnuska Mountain Adventures office in Canmore. We’ll go over the trip logistics with you and check to see that you are properly outfitted.
Day 2: Vista Lake to Shadow Lake
We will pick you up after breakfast, deal with last minute gear issues, pack our food then drive to the trailhead (1hour). From a view point above the emerald waters of Vista Lake view point, we descend to the shore from where we commence the long climb past Arnica Lake to Arnica Ridge (2285m). Here we’ll have our first views of Mt. Assiniboine nearly 100km in the distance. A short hike takes us down to the Twin Lakes before our final climb for the day to Gibbon Pass (2300m) with its extensive meadows. We drop again towards Shadow Lake and to the campground. Distance: 14 km, Total elevation gain: 1100 meters, Elevation loss: 830 meters. A great first day!
Day 3: Shadow Lake to Egypt Lake
Today we continue on towards Ball Pass junction (1950m) and through Whistling Valley, named for the whistling marmots found on the Pass. We hike past Haiduk Lake to Whistling Pass (2300m) with excellent views towards Mt. Ball. After taking in the vistas, we head down towards Egypt Lake (1995m). After setting up camp we can walk the short distance to the lake, to swim, fish or relax and watch for Bald Eagles that frequently circle above. Distance: 14 km, total elevation gain: 480 meters, elevation loss: 300 meters.
Day 4: Egypt to Howard Douglas Lake
Leaving Egypt Lake, we start climbing towards Healy Pass (2330m) where we emerge from the forest into the extensive alpine meadows. We’ll hike through Simpson Pass (2350m), which was discovered in 1841 by Sir George Simpson, Governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company. We continue with a long, gradual contouring climb which will bring us to the Wawa ridge overlooking the expansive Sunshine Meadows. The Monarch viewpoint here has one of the best views of the entire trip. Weather permitting we bypass Sunshine Village (famous ski hill) and cross several kilometers of meadow before the final short climb over Quartz Ridge to the Howard Douglas campground at 2275m. Distance: 19 km. Total elevation gain: 630 meters, elevation loss: 350 meters. It’s a stunning day today!
Day 5: Howard Douglas to Og Lake
More meadows lead us to Citadel Pass (2360m) and the long descent into the Golden Valley (1960m) and the unique ‘Valley of the Rocks’. We’ll be gently ascending towards Og Lake campground (2060m). Distance: 16.4 km. Total elevation gain: 400 meters, elevation loss: 600 meters.
Day 6: Og to Magog Lake
With only 7 km of easy hiking to the campground at Lake Magog we can afford a well deserved leisurely start. Five kilometers of spectacular meadow hiking brings us to historic Mt. Assiniboine Lodge with the campground another 1.5 km beyond the Lake. We can spend the afternoon doing a short hike to Sunburst Lake or just take a well-earned nap! Distance: 7 km. Total elevation gain: 120 meters.
Day 7: Day hiking at Magog Lake
We’ll stay at the Magog Campground again tonight, so we have the whole day to explore the Assiniboine area, or have a rest day. There are many options, from easy wandering in the meadows, to a scramble up Nub Peak where the views of Mt. Assiniboine are just fantastic. We can finish off with tea and cake at the Lodge before returning to camp. Distance and elevation change subject to group will! (8 – 14km).
Day 8: Magog to Mount Shark
We should be in great shape for our final day out to the trailhead. We’ll head over Wonder Pass (2395m), where we leave Mt. Assiniboine Provincial Park. Continuing down a steep trail, we have views of three beautiful blue and green lakes and we travel above the largest one, Marvel lake. Rejoining the main valley trail from Assiniboine Pass, we’ll stop for lunch before setting out on a pleasant forest trail for the final 12km leg to the Mt. Shark (1770m) trailhead. A further 50 minute drive brings us back to Canmore for hot showers and an evening in which to celebrate our trip and life in the mountains. Distance: 26 km. Total elevation gain: 280 meters, elevation loss: 690 meters.
As you may already be aware, in summer 2017 there was an unprecedented fire hazard across Western Canada. Numerous fires were started in the mountain regions due to lightning and human activity. As a result, some of our Banff Highline trips last summer were re-routed to avoid fire hazard and closures. In all cases, we ran the hikes and feedback from our guests was overwhelmingly positive. Some of the campground closures ran into late 2017 up to when snow started falling. As a result, the trail we normally use to approach Mt Assiniboine from the North is currently still closed. This closure was only made known to us when we started making our campground reservations. The closure means that our normal campground (Howard Douglas) and northern access point to Assiniboine Provincial Park (Citadel Pass) are not accessible at this point.
It is entirely possible that Parks re-opens these areas prior to trip start since, from what we understand, Parks Canada is still in the process of assessing and repairing the area. When we encountered this issue last year, we approached Assiniboine Park from the south. It was a fantastic trip that was well-received by our guests. We did, however, want to advise you that it is possible the itinerary posted on our website may change if the closure stays in place. The south approach itinerary is here:
Day 1: Pre Trip Meeting 5pm at Yam Office
Day 2: Drop-off at Burstall Pass, hike to Birdwood Campground.
Day 3: Hike to Big Springs Campground
Day 4: Big Springs to Aurora Lake (via Owl Lake/Marvel Pass Trail)
Day 5: Aurora Lake to Magog Lake/Assiniboine via Wonder Pass.
Day 6: Magog Lake/Assiniboine, day hike.
Day 7: Magog Lake/Assiniboine, day hike.
Day 8: Assiniboine to Mount Shark- pick up.
Trail and campground closures are a regular occurrence for us which is why we always have back up plans. Bear closures, wildfires, bridge wash outs and any number of events can create unplanned closures but over the years we have developed excellent alternatives. We design re-routes to be in similar distance, difficulty and scenery while trying to retain as much of the original itinerary as possible. We have run this particular back up itinerary many times in the past so we can assure you that we are very familiar with the area and trails.
Please let us know if you have any questions about this new itinerary. We are terribly sorry that the 2017 fire incidents have had a lingering effect into 2018 but transparency, guest safety and complying with National/Provincial orders are our top priorities.
Thank you for your understanding and we look forward to seeing you all.
Meeting Place and Time
We will meet you at our Yamnuska Mountain Adventures office at 5:00pm (MST) the evening of Day 1.
Our office is located at 200, 50 Lincoln Park, Canmore. See this map for location.
For your greater convenience we offer a pre-meeting shuttle service within Canmore. Please let us know in advance where you will be staying if needing this service. Pickup will occur between 4:30 and 4:50pm.
Please ensure that you have your hiking equipment with you.
Guides and Group Size
Yamnuska Mountain Adventure guides are certified through the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides. Our professional guides have extensive experience in the Canadian Rockies. Guides also have advanced wilderness first aid training and heritage interpretation accreditation. Guides carry emergency equipment including a first aid kit, bear spray and radio.
There will be a maximum of eight guests and a minimum of four.
Accommodation and Meals
On the trail you will be staying in modern, lightweight 2- and 3-person weather-proof tents.
Accommodation in Canmore is not included. A variety of accommodation options exist in both Canmore and Banff, including campsites, hostels, all levels of hotels as well as condo style accommodation with kitchens or suites. We recommend that you book your own pre and post-trip accommodations well in advance as all levels of accommodations in the Bow Valley fill quickly. You can find information about accommodation options at http://www.tourismcanmore.com/accommodations/overview as well as on TripAdvisor.
Excess luggage can be left at your hotel or our office.
We supply all meals and trail snacks from lunch on Day 2 to lunch on Day 8. Groups generally go out for dinner in Canmore on the final evening (own cost).
Trail cuisine is prepared from lightweight wholesome ingredients including our Yamnuska custom-made dehydrated dinners. For guests with dietary restrictions, we are able to modify the program food pack to meet your individual needs. As food pricing and preparation for these diets is more costly, we have implemented the following surcharges. For vegan, gluten free, lactose free, soy free, nut free or any similar type of single restriction menu requests there will be a $16/day surcharge. For a diet requiring any 2 restrictions a $25/day surcharge will apply. For any 3 restrictions a $30/day surcharge will apply. Vegetarian meals will not be surcharged. For more complex diets our kitchen staff will assess the restrictions to inform you if the diet can be accommodated and what surcharge would apply.
Getting to Canmore and Transportation
Canmore is situated 100km (65miles) west of Calgary on the Trans-Canada Highway. It is well served by scheduled bus lines both from Calgary (airport and downtown), Banff (20km west) and points further west. Calgary International Airport is well connected to major cities throughout North America and Europe. Once in Canmore we will supply all transport needed for the trip.
Equipment and Clothing
We supply group camping and cooking equipment, as well as an emergency communication device, trip food, bear spray, water purification equipment and a full expedition emergency first-aid kit. You will need to bring personal backpacking equipment and clothing. When purchasing gear consider both functionality as well as weight. Lightweight packs, sleeping bags, sleeping mats and clothing are readily available and will lighten your load substantially.
What you bring will have a big impact on the quality of your experience. Please take the time to read the information below, and cross check with our Traveling Light and Making Backpacking Fun. The list below will keep you very comfortable in the field. Make sure you have all your clothing and gear before you arrive, and reserve any rentals with us in advance. Your guide will go through your clothing and gear with you prior to the trip.
When hiking in the mountains, it is important to be able to adjust for the changing conditions. We recommend bringing clothing that can be layered to achieve comfort as you change from periods of activity to periods of rest. We discourage cotton clothing as it causes rapid heat loss when wet.
You will need to bring:
- Wool or fleece hat / toque
- Sunhat – Wide brim or baseball style
- Long underwear top and bottoms – Lightweight synthetic or merino wool
- Socks – Preferably a synthetic / merino wool blend. Bring at least three pairs.
- Light Synthetic Shirt
- Jacket – A midweight synthetic jacket
- Insulated Jacket – synthetic or down jacket
- Waterproof / Breathable Rain Jacket
- Rain Pants – Also waterproof / breathable. Ideally with side zips so they can be put on without taking off your boots.
- Hiking Pants – Preferably windproof and quick drying. No blue jeans or cotton pants.
- Light Gloves / Mitts
- Light Footwear – Crocs, Tevas, or running shoes for the occasional creek crossing and use around camp.
You will need to bring:
- Boots – Spend some time walking around in your boots before you arrive for your trip and get used to how they feel. They should have good ankle support and tread, with sturdy soles. Your boots will make or break your holiday so some time getting used to them is time well spent. Ensure they have been waterproofed or have a good waterproof liner material.
- Gaiters – Recommended early & late season. Really help to keep feet dry, keep socks and pants clean from mud and keep debris out of your boots.
- Large Backpack – This should be between 55 and 75 Liter capacity depending on the bulk of your personal gear and length of the trip. In it you will carry your clothing, sleeping bag and mat, plus your share of group camping gear and food which is typically an extra 10 – 20 liters of space. Lightweight packs with good suspension are recommended. If bringing an additional day pack, this should be very light and compressible in order to fit inside the bigger pack on the approach hike.
- Pack Cover – This should be waterproof and large enough to cover the outside of your pack to keep the contents dry in a rain storm. You can also line the inside of your stuff sacks with plastic bags to keep gear dry.
- Sleeping Bag – We recommend a ‘3 season’ bag rated 0ºC to –6ºC as temperatures can drop to below freezing at night. Make sure you bring a stuff sac lined with a plastic garbage bag that will reduce your bag to its minimum size (i.e. one with compression straps). This will provide enough space in your pack for everything else. A down bag will be lighter and more compressible for the weight than a synthetic bag.
- Sleeping Mat – Lightweight “Therm-a-rest” mats are recommended (Not Required on Wapta Ice Hike and Lake O’Hara Hiking Tour).
- Pillow – A small, compressible pillow or a spare stuff sack into which you can stuff extra clothes to create a pillow.
- Trekking Poles – Must be collapsible.
- Sunglasses – With 100% UV protection and a hardcase.
- Headlamp – With fresh batteries
- Water Bottle / Bladder – 1-2 litre capacity.
- Blister Kit – Moleskin, Second Skin, etc.
- Personal First Aid Kit – Our guide carries a group first aid kit so keep this small. Band Aids, Tylenol/ibuprofen, etc.
- Sun Block & Lip Balm – Extra strength with UV protection.
- Eating Utensils – Bowls, sporks, a large mug, light pocket knife, etc. (Not required on the Lake O’Hara Hiking Tour)
- Personal Toiletries – Keep to a minimum with no scented items.
- Insect repellent
Please book as early as practical to avoid disappointment. A 35% deposit CDN (including GST) is required at time of booking. Final payment is due eight weeks before the start of the trip.
For detailed Booking Instructions and Conditions, click here.
Please note that you will be required to sign our waiver before commencing the trip. Click here for waiver copy.
There are two basic types of insurance that most travelers need to consider: Medical and Cancellation/Trip Interruption Insurance. We offer our guests coverage for both and highly recommend you purchase it.
Emergency Medical Expenses Insurance:
It is wise to ensure that your health plan will cover you in case of illness or accident during your trip. Obtain extra coverage if necessary. There is no charge for rescue in the National and provincial Parks, however costs such as air or ground transportation, long term care and other services are not covered.
Cancellation/Trip Interruption Insurance:
We recognize that our guests’ schedules may change for many reasons; business, family, flight delays, injuries and other unplanned events.For these eventualities the Trip Cancellation/Interruption insurance is a great way to protect your investment.
For all your travel insurance requirements we recommend the Simpson Group. This agency offers a wide range of travel insurance options including Trip Cancellation/Interruption, Travel Medical and Personal Effect Loss for Canadian Travelers. We highly recommend purchasing this insurance. For more information and to purchase a plan, visit the Simpson Group’s website.
Please note that this coverage is for Canadian residents only. For guests who are not from Canada and who are interested in the ‘Visitors to Canada’ insurance package please contact the Simpson Group directly at JSimpson@simpson-group.com and reference your Yamnuska Mountain Adventure’s trip.
$1695 CDN Includes guide, out-trip meals, Park ‘Wilderness Pass’, group camping gear and local transfers.
Not included: Canmore accommodation, Gratuities for guide & 5% Goods & Services Tax (GST).
Trip Cancellation Insurance is available through the Simpson Group.
How difficult is it?
How fit and experienced need you be?
This trip is rated challenging due to the succession of longish days (14 – 19km) plus the final 26km day (largely downhill). By using food drops at Sunshine Meadows and Mt. Assiniboine, backpack weights are moderate. Participants will be carrying personal clothing and gear plus a fair share of food and group gear (tents, stoves, etc.). By keeping personal gear light, pack weights need not exceed 16kg (35lbs). Please read our Traveling Light & Making Backpacking More Fun for information and suggestions for clothing and equipment.
Prior hiking experience is not a prerequisite but is recommended. Participants must be in good physical condition able to carry a backpack over hilly terrain for a succession of longish days.
The trails are generally good. We will hike a regular and steady pace that conserves energy but you still must be in reasonably good hiking shape before you come. We cannot emphasize enough that training pays great dividends in enjoyment. We suggest you train by hiking or walking in hilly terrain with weight on your back (use flights of stairs if in the city). Break in those hiking boots!