Dayhiking in Banff National Park + Bonus Rant!

Alberta, Banff National Park, Canada, Canadian Rockies, Mount Temple, Pinnacle Mountain, hiking, panorama

A spectacular view of Pinnacle Mountain on the way up Mount Temple.

Alberta, Banff National Park, Canada, Canadian Rockies, Mount Temple, hiking

Looking southwest from near the summit of Mount Temple. Pinnacle Mountain and Eiffel Peak are in the center, Deltaform Mountain is the triangular one on the left, Mount Hungabee on the right. The rugged peak in the left distance is Mount Goodsir. Not only area all these peaks around here incredibly rugged, but they have a very unique and attractive character as well.

Alberta, Banff National Park, Canada, Canadian Rockies, Fairview Mountain, Haddo Peak, hiking

On the summit of Fairview Mountain (9002 ft / 2744 m), high above Lake Louise, looking towards Haddo Peak, Mount Aberdeen, Mount Lefroy, and Mount Victoria.

Alberta, Banff National Park, Canada, Canadian Rockies, Peyto Glacier, hiking

Hiking towards the Peyto Glacier.

Towards the end of July after our fantastic trek in the Height of the Rockies Provincial Park we ventured on to Banff, in the heart of the Canadian Rockies. The Canadian Rockies are undoubtedly some of the most impressive mountains on the planet, like a mix of the rugged spires of the Dolomites and the wilds of Alaska or Montana. As you drive down the highways it’s just hit after hit, one awesome mountain after another. We had hopes to do some backpacking treks in Banff and Jasper National Parks, but unfortunately this proved to be nearly impossible due to a stifling new 100% backcountry reservation policy now in effect in those parks (read my rant about that at the link below). So, with no option to do any of the treks we wanted to do, we spent our time doing some day hikes instead before moving on.


17 thoughts on “Dayhiking in Banff National Park + Bonus Rant!

  1. Great shots and a helpful rant! You look so unruffled after a 5500′ ascent!
    I hope you keep a light finger on the clarity slider or structure slider or whatever as I like a sense of recession in mountain landscapes.

  2. Awesome photos as always Jack! Welcome back home πŸ™‚
    Thanks for the “tip” regarding the reservation issue. It sucks, but that’s how it is, also with the popular treks in New Zealand. Our world is overcrowded, and that’s how the bureaucrats choose to manage it. The easy way.

    1. Thanks Yair! Yeah, the easy way, or the lazy way. I forgot about the NZ reservations; I remember when I was there in I think 2007 I had booked the Milford trek way in advance, but for all the others I was able to get reservations as I went. It makes a little more sense there since you’re staying in huts, and there’s only so many beds. Something about needing reservations for camping in my tent has always rubbed me the wrong way. And I do believe that no matter how crowed these destinations get, there should always be a percentage of walk-in permits available.

      1. They are probably doing it to prevent the over crowding of popular treks, even if the backpackers stay in tents. but I fully agree with you. They are choosing the lazy way, and they should at least save SOME percentage of available “space” for us spontaneous travelers…

  3. It is a bit funny, but on Parks Canadas Banff website they say that backcountry campsites can still only be booked in advance by phone in Banff and Lake Louise and in person at the visitor centres in Banff and Lake Louise n o t online.

    Tour companies usually do not book backcountry campsites, front country campsites are booked by them.

    Banff has many great trails east of the main range where random camping is allowed, if you are lucky you can hike a week or longer without encountering any other hiker. (Panther valley, Red Deer Valley, Clearwater Valley etc. ) so even in Banff you can get lots of solitude.

    In Jasper it is a bit different, as no random camping is allowed, even 30 years ago it was nearly impossible to get a campsite on popular trails like Skyline, Tonquin Valley, Brazeau Loop etc. in July/August, but you could always make the long South Boundary Trail, so even in the peak season you could always beat the crowd.

    I know the regulations in N.P. in Canada can be frustrating and in recent years there is unfortunately a shift to much more commercialization in the front country of Banff and Jasper, but if you see the developments in the provincial lands of B.C. and Alberta you can be very glad that a large portion of the Rockies is at least somewhat protected as a N.P. . How would the wilderness areas in the western U.S. look like after 8 years of a D.T. as president?

    May be Claudia and you should go back sometimes to the Canadian Rockies in September/Oct., you will enjoy it probably much more than in July.

    P:S. Thank you for the photos, many fond memories.

    1. Hi Jack,

      I agree to open the backcountry reservations 3 months in advance is certainly no good idea . All the time I was backpacking there it is was opened only 14 days in advance, you had to phone or walk in at an information centre. Popular trails in Jasper were often full in July/August but if you could wait several days they always tried to accommodate you at an slightly later date, so it worked quite well.
      There is a problem with your idea to keep some sites open without reservation : it would not be possible in the peak season to book a multi day hike then (whether a loop Trail or a through hike) because even if you hike in remote areas the first and last night you would have to spend in more popular areas closer to a road so they would have to tell you that you cannot make the hike because there are open spots on your first or last night out, but this sites are blocked for people who might show up or not, I would not be very amused about such a situation.

      You were told by some people book up ten days in advance and later sell this sites they do not need, well, you are not allowed to stay more than three days in one campsite, so it is simply not possible what they tell you, many people mix up backcountry and frontcountry car camping and locals who are not able to make a backpacking trip in Banff or Jasper in the summer months are not, lets say, very imaginative in their planning.

      The people from Parks Canada you spoke with – never call them Rangers, in Canada they are called Park Wardens πŸ™‚ – are certainly people who only have a summer job with Parks Canada and are not very well informed, at least most of them, unfortunately they have no knowledge of the backcountry but can show you the way to the next gondola or Starbucks, if you meet a real ” Warden”, there are not that many, they will admit, that they do not agree with many policies Parks Canada has implemented the last couple of years, but I will stop here, otherwise I will start another rant here.

      Excuse my bad English, but I am German, ( maybe Claudia has to edit it) I am visiting the Canadian mountain parks for 30 years now, so I know the area pretty well, sometimes I went to Kluane, great to see a picture of Kathleen Lake again. Looking forward to your next posting of your trip, hopefully some more hikes in Kluane, starting at the Alaska Highway near Kluane Lake. Or some hiking in the northern Rockies, in the Muskwa Ketchika area ?
      My backpacking times are more or less over now, better to say my knees are over the top, so the more I enjoy your travels.

      1. Hi Uwe, thanks for all your clarifications! You have exposed my relative ignorance of Canada; after all I’ve only been there on this one trip. Just a few comments to your comments:

        >> on Parks Canadas Banff website they say that backcountry campsites can still only be booked in advance by phone in Banff and Lake Louise and in person at the visitor centres in Banff and Lake Louise n o t online.

        Yes, I think you’re right about this. We experienced the online reservation fiasco in Yoho, Jasper, and Mt. Robson parks, so I incorrectly lumped in Banff with the others.

        >> Banff has many great trails east of the main range where random camping is allowed, if you are lucky you can hike a week or longer without encountering any other hiker.

        I hear you. Again I have very little experience and knowledge of the Canadian Rockies, so I do believe you that there are places around there with solitude and wild camping. However, I still have the sense that the proportion of permit-regulated places here is much much greater than what I’m used to in the western US. And perhaps my negative reaction to all this is simply because of the overall impression I got when arriving in Banff/Jasper/Yoho/Robson and not being able to do ANY of the treks I had researched prior. As a tourist with limited time I would have loved to have a chance to do at least one of the more famous treks.

        >> if you see the developments in the provincial lands of B.C. and Alberta you can be very glad that a large portion of the Rockies is at least somewhat protected as a N.P. . How would the wilderness areas in the western U.S. look like after 8 years of a D.T. as president?

        Oh, God help us if Drumpf is elected (seems doubtful to me, but you never know!). At least in theory, the designated wilderness areas will remain wilderness indefinitely, but there’s a LOT of wild land still that is hanging in the balance, with industry eager to drill, or where it’s already being drilled. So yeah, I agree that the national parks in Canada are a good thing, of course; all I’m ranting about here is how they manage their backcountry recreation permitting.

        >> May be Claudia and you should go back sometimes to the Canadian Rockies in September/Oct., you will enjoy it probably much more than in July.

        We actually did! On our way back down in September we managed to get permits for Berg Lake up by Mt. Robson. It was fantastic! Oh, and by the way, there were quite a number of vacant spots we saw when other people were saying it was all booked up. Meaning that people had reservations but didn’t show up, which does nobody any good. Another flaw of the reservation system.

        >> You were told by some people book up ten days in advance and later sell this sites they do not need, well, you are not allowed to stay more than three days in one campsite, so it is simply not possible what they tell you,

        It is certainly possible — you don’t need to book the same campsite for ten days; you just book a long itinerary in various campsites leading up to the days you actually want at the campsite you actually want. Then you cancel or sell all the earlier dates, just keeping the ones you originally wanted. I read about this in a news article that was complaining about the reservations system, and apparently lots of people do this.

        Anyhow… thank you again for your comments!

        1. Hi Jack,

          thanks for the reply, sorry to learn that you are right with the new reservation system in the mountain Parks, the last couple of years I was there in Sept./Oct. so I did not encounter these problems.
          I am afraid nothing will change in the near future, Parks Canada is very unresponsive to any criticism to their park management right now, the people to blame are sitting in Parks Canadas headquarters in Ottawa, unfortunately the change in the federal government, about a year ago, has brought no improvement so far.
          Glad to learn you could at least make the Berg Lake Trail, besides Lake o Hara the most regulated area in the Rockies, well the Rockwall Trail in Kootenay N. P. is not much better., you have to know some people very well to get a spot.

          so, thanks again, looking forward to your next great shots

  4. Hello Jack-

    Aaron Johnson formerly of SP here. My friend follows your travels and made me aware of your excellent post of photos and descriptive report, which I thoroughly enjoyed. We have often thought about climbing Temple Mountain ourselves, but we haven’t managed it yet. To read about your frustrations with Canada’s National Park service is greater cause to consider other destinations. We’ve been into desert hiking more recently, and I’m even considering Israel and Jordan in the unlikely event that things simmer down in the Middle East.

    The reservation scam you refer to is a growing concern in America as well. I fear our visit to The Wave back in 2011 is a glimpse of things to come. You can view my report and rant at SP by going to my profile page or searching “The Best Things in Life are Free?” I read your rant and could totally relate! I’m not surprised to see this though. Canada is practically a socialist government now, overrun with overzealous and fanatic environmentalists bent on protecting the environment at all costs. But if man cannot enter and enjoy these glorious places, then they are not witnessed by anyone, then would good are they? They were created and given to us for our enjoyment. Otherwise, they are worthless, other than being home to the critters that live there. This is the direction America is headed under our current Democrat-run government, co-opted by socialistic and even communistic interests. Sadly, I doubt the American people will wake up to this nightmare and it will only get worse. Thankfully we in America aren’t facing such restrictive conditions, not yet anyway.

    It’s great to see you both having such a great time. Like me, you’ve been blessed with a beautiful and very capable hiking partner (that we have yet to meet). Perhaps we’ll get that opportunity sometime in the future. We still fondly recall our outing with you during a very chilly fall outing on Marcellina Mountain. I am pleased to see you are doing well.

    Godspeed on your continued journeys!

    Aaron Johnson

    1. Hi Aaron, good to hear from you! Yeah, that was a great day on Marcellina. My wife and I actually just moved from Ouray to Crested Butte last year, so I’ve been spending quite some time up around Kebler. Love it there!

      I can’t say I share your negative views about socialists and environmentalists; frankly I think we could use more of both of those, especially in the west where so much wild land is being degraded and polluted for energy development. I also don’t share your view of man as the center of the universe, that the entire world exists solely for human use and appreciation. I think there is value in wilderness for wilderness sake.

      Also, are you aware of how gung-ho Canada has been in recent decades with all their tar sands and wholesale environmental destruction? For example: see Garth Lenz’s video. Think about all the pipelines heading down through the US from Canada. So your characterization of the country as overrun with fanatic enviros seems a bit mythical.

      All that said, I don’t really see how the issue of backcountry reservations has much to do with red/blue politics anyways, and I’m not sure why you see this through such politically tinted lenses. But whatever our views may be, I think they overlap on this issue, and generally speaking I feel like the national parks (in both the US and Canada) are too restrictive on how many people can camp and where they can camp. Most NPs that I’ve backpacked in could easily accommodate twice the people if not more, in my opinion. It’s like the NPs do everything they can to encourage drive-though tourism, while simultaneously discouraging backcountry use. It’s like an unwritten policy of “Look, but don’t touch”. Sure, they’ll put all kind of roads and tourism infrastructure throughout the parks, but God forbid if you want to go wander off and pitch your tent somewhere without a permit.

      ANYHOW… thanks for reading my rant and for your comments! I hope you guys are doing well too!

      1. Hello Jack! I’m setting up a new blog site and wanted to link to your fabulous page for my future readers, so I returned here to find your comment, a pleasant surprise!

        In managing the wilderness, a balance needs to be struck, and I doubt either side of the political spectrum will ever get it right. The environmentalists want to keep you and me out of the wilderness. Commercial interests want to tear it up and transform it into a commodity, and there appears to be no common ground in sight.

        I know first hand about how wilderness access is affected by both red and blue politics. I dealt first hand with the fee scam currently ongoing in this country, first in Ouray, where it was successfully run out of town, and then on Mount Evans. I partnered with the Western Slope No Fee Coalition for eight years in a civil lawsuit against the Arapaho Forest over the illegal fee at Mount Evans and we WON, in conjunction with a similar lawsuit over Mount Lemon near Tuscon, Arizona. These illegal fees were attempts by commercial interests crawling into bed with the FS to bleed the public and make a profit on lands we taxpayers already own.

        In the case of Mount Evans, the FS was ordered into create a drive-thru lane at the fee entrance booth and cease the compulsory collection of their illegal fee. Those that are informed know they can simply drive through the entry area because the fee is no longer mandatory. Most Americans are uninformed, though, despite our best efforts. They stop and pay the fee. This scheme is like many throughout the nation, supported by bills devised by opportunistic Republicans, the chief offender being Ralph Regula from Ohio. Known as the FLREA, this clandestine attempt at commercialization of our public lands has met with considerable grass roots resistance and serious setbacks, such as recent rulings in California. Of course the general public is unaware of this battle on their behalf (which I finally retired from two years ago) that has been going on for decades. Even with our victories, the FLREA in various deviant forms is rampant in states like Washington, Oregon and Utah, where our greatest natural treasures are located.

        At the other end of the spectrum we have environmental extremists that want us kept out of even areas that have been historically open to at-large camping and backpacking, such as all of Colorado’s wilderness areas. Check out Agenda 21 (now morphed into a new resolution that I cannot directly recall), which is a testament to the true madness behind their motivations. If they had their way, you and I wouldn’t be going anywhere, all people would be crowded into urban centers (such as Colorado’s front range metro area) with no human presence allowed in places like the wilderness surrounding Crested Butte for ANY reason. This is the insanity we potentially face going forward from both sides of the spectrum.

        As for the tar sands project, companies need to be held accountable for their actions, ignorance and misconduct concerning care for the environment. I believe Canada and America can be energy independent and environmentally responsible. Canada’s tar sands project needs to be better managed, clearly. The government has to be careful, because it’s a revenue generator, so they’re forced into a hypocritical situation.

        On the other hand, transporting the fuel, which can be a clean burning fuel with the right applied technology, is a chore that can be conducted safely. I also now this first hand because I worked on pipelines all of my career (also retired from that). Pipeline constructors and operators are highly regulated for safety, efficiency and environmental concerns here in America, and for good reason. I built natural gas pipelines, both plastic and steel, both welding and fusing, and I know first hand what is involved. Transporting any fuel is regulated by the DOT, and is done safely around the clock. Oversights by both the DOT and pipeline operators (such as the oil line spill in California or the recent gasoline leak in Alabama) are bound to happen, due mostly to human error or ignorance and occasionally material failure, but compared to the massive volume of safe operation of millions of miles of pipelines throughout America alone on a daily basis, at least for me, renders the fear of “all those pipelines running down through America” moot. Considering the big picture, successful and safe operations of various fuel lines throughout history far outweighs the number of accidents. Energy independence is essential for America’s success and energy reliability going forward. This is a HUGE concern for all Americans, but they don’t think about it until their lights go out and the heat doesn’t come on. Then everyone rapidly changes their tune.

        I’m in total agreement with you on wilderness access. Wilderness should be open and FREE to those willing to venture in. My view is we taxpayers have that right. The FEDERAL government however doesn’t see it that way. The amount of visits to a remote corner of Glacier National Park is so tiny compared to the Holy Cross Wilderness that the impact would not be measurable. The NP’s thinking is to concentrate people in the designated areas, which are sacrificed for the greater good of the rest of the Park. I don’t have a problem with that thinking, but the NP should also understand and actively support those who desire to have a true wilderness experience, which is what a place like Glacier is all about. A limiting permit system as we both have experienced is not the answer. So in the meantime, you’re wise to go elsewhere while you still can.

        Unfortunately, we do have overused places, like Holy Cross or the Maroon Bells, which must be protected and monitored, but not privatized for profit, or used as a fund generator for a Federal entity claiming it needs money. The FLREA scam has proven this out. Unfortunately though, as I can attest, red and blue politics DO matter, and you can count on the pendulum swinging wildly in the direction of the party that gains control of the White House.

        Incidentally, I was a Democrat but abandoned the party three years ago because it has become not much more than an organized crime syndicate. It’s not the party I grew up with. I got so mad at them a year ago I became a Republican. Now I’m so mad at the Republicans for so many reasons I won’t list here that I’m considering going back to being an independent. Both parties are extreme and leading us on a path to self destruction. Perhaps they’ll be so distracted by their greedy motivations that these “threats” to wilderness they both pose and we’re discussing here will go unaddressed, and we’ll have plenty of wilderness to enjoy as we like for years to come.

        Thanks for your replies!

  5. Thank you for posting these astonishing pictures. I have been to Banff several times, but usually not with advanced hikers. And the hiking guides I found there showed only rather lame hikes. Glad to see that one can do some exciting day hikes there. I will definitely look for inspiration in your pictures when I get back there.

    Your description of the permit system in Canada makes the one here in California almost look benign. Fortunately, the desert hiking season is coming up now. At least there no red tape (yet).

    Thanks again for the pics!

  6. I’m so glad the shot we got of you at the top turned out ok! Great meeting you! Sorry to hear that your experience in the Canadian Rockies was marred by the backcountry reservation system. We had some similar difficulties with car camping in the parks.

  7. Jack,
    A few thoughts that I hope will help you enjoy more of the back-country in Canada’s National Parks in the decades ahead.

    1. Absolutely lovely pictures

    2. You and your partner are nature enthusiasts and deserve to learn that you can simply hop into the National Park wilderness with just a tad more planning. BIVOUAC is the key.

    From the National Parks Website:
    “Mountaineers require a Backcountry Permit to bivouac, and may do so in non-vegetated areas only. ” is the official language.

    To show you WHERE you can get to in the National Parks, see Vern’s excellent site and his links. (scroll past the technical mountaineering stuff if you want)

    Your world has just now opened up in terms of what you can legally go see in Canada’s National Parks. VIRTUALLY NONE require any pre-booking or administrivia …………. just a C$70 Back-country Permit and some imagination.

    3. Sorry you were not able to get where you wanted in 2016. But you are young and have decades to go explore valleys that remain unvisited in the Parks (en route to your “mountain bivouac”)

    Bonne chance.

    1. Hi Jim, thanks for your comment and for the bivouac tip! Next time I visit the Canadian Rockies I will be sure to look into this. And I’m sure I’ll be back — those mountains are too incredible for just one trip, regardless of the permit woes!

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