Zach Bergamin is a photographer living and working in Banff National Park. Follow Zach on Instagram for more film photography and outdoor adventures.
What comes to mind when you read the word Matterhorn. The famous mountain in the Swiss Alps most likely. In Canada though, we have our own, secluded in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, on the eastern boarder of British Columbia and Alberta. Our Matterhorn offers stunning glaciers, nourishing waterfalls that trickle down into lakes and lush unspoiled alpine meadows—it’s quite the magical place. Visiting in the summer involves fields of alpine wildflowers, whereas fall reveals stunning larch trees that turn a brilliant orange. And all can be appreciated under some of the most star-filled skies in North America.
If an escape is what you’re looking for, you’d be hard pressed to find a better place to do than Assiniboine. With no road entry the only way to access is by trail. Luckily, the park’s trail system is well developed, and offers some seriously epic hikes and access to world class mountaineering.
Backpacking into Assiniboine is a daunting physical task that involves a good amount of planning to ensure a good time. Though the Sunshine Village to Mount Shark trip can be made in as short as three days, it’s best to extend your stay, stopping at various campsites along the way to really embrace the offline experience—and to shorten distances hiked per day.
We recently tackled the ~35 mile trail, hiking the trail as a one-way point-to-point trip, as opposed to the typical there-and-back route.
"Fires are prohibited in the park year round. Cook stoves are OK though, so at least a warm meal isn’t out of the question."
Starting at Sunshine Meadows, we headed through craggy mountain valleys before ending up at the Lake Magog campground, right and the base of Mount Assiniboine. Day two involved waking early for sunrise and hiking up into the neighboring Nub peak zone–offering the best vantage point view of the whole park. Hanging around Lake Magog is the ideal place to savor the quiet only true wilderness can deliver, and some wine, beer, cake, and inside jokes.
On the final day, our hike out was easier than in, as our group descended out to the Mount Shark trailhead, where we had parked a second vehicle days before prior to starting the trek.
If all that sounds enticing (it should!), read on for essential gear and useful tips for making the trip yourself.
5 Gear Essentials for Backpacking in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park
Black Diamond Headlamp, $30
A no brainer while camping. Packing spare, fresh batteries is a must.
Buff Bandana, $20
Great for covering your head in the hot sun, and amazingly convenient for covering your ears in the cooler temperatures in the evening and night too.
Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol Sleeping Pad, $35
An aboslute OG, the accordian folding Z Lite has been a thru-hikers' go-to for decades. It's lightweight, packable, and completely failproof—unlike all air pads, you can't pop this closed-cell foam pad.
Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent, $8
Mozzies in the Rockies are as hangry as you are after hiking eight hours.
LifeStraw Water Filter, $20
A decent water treatment option that’s small, lightweight and cheap if you’re on a budget.
10 Do’s & Don’ts for Backpacking to Mount Assiniboine via Sunshine Village
DO book individual campsites well in advance—up to four months out should do it. It’s very competitive to get camping permits at Lake Magog and Og Lake, and all backcountry campsites are by permit only.
DON’T forget to bring a book, or journal. Tools of the trade when disconnecting and reconnecting with the environment around you.
DO park one car at the Mount Shark Parking lot to shuttle back to Sunshine Village after the point-to-point hike. Just be sure to park in the main lot, and not the helipad parking lot which is confusingly located right before the main lot turnoff. The helipad adds another 2 km/1mile or so distance to your total trip.
DON’T forget your bear spray and remember to make noise while hiking to avoid accidentally sneaking up on any animals. It’s bear country out there!
DO bring extra layers and be prepared for all types of weather in the Rockies. Hail, or even snow, in the middle of July is a real possibility.
DON’T bring firewood or expect to spend evenings gathered around a campfire. Fires are prohibited in the park year round. Cook stoves are OK though, so at least a warm meal isn’t out of the question.
DO bring some sort of GPS, and or mapping app. OpenStreet Maps and AllTrails can help guide you offline and identify mountains and landmarks in the area. Physical maps are available, waterproof, and easy to use.
DON’T forget gloves! Hand warmers are a nice addition too if you’re staying up late to watch sunset and the stars.
DO wake up at night to enjoy the stars. If you’re keen enough, head down to Lake Magog, or Sunburst Lake where the stars mirror over the water.
DO bring some extra cash for treats at the Assiniboine Lodge, located at Lake Magog near the main campground. Teatime is from 4 to 5pm, offering mouthwatering cakes, tea, coffee, beer and wine (obvious necessities). Treat yourself.