Hiking Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park
A Thru Hike from Sunshine Village to Mount Shark
Part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain UNESCO World Heritage Site, Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park is a shining example of true, untouched wilderness. The iconic Mount Assiniboine (pointy peak on left in picture below) with an elevation of 3,618 metres is located in the continental divide near the southeast corner of the park. With its entire eastern side jutted up against the Alberta border and no roads in the park, travel through Assiniboine typically includes some travel through Alberta as well.
The most beautiful area along this route in my opinion, such as the photo above, is near Assiniboine Lodge. This iconic scene that pops up first in google image searches of Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, is a view only seen from the dayhike near the lodge called The Nub. The big towering mountain in the centre is Sunburst Peak, with Cerulean Lake below it (Sunburst Lake is smaller lake on the left).
Sunshine Village to Mount Shark (+ dayhike to Nublet) Trail Stats
Closest City: Banff
Park: Banff National Park, Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, Spray Valley Provincial Park
Driving Time from Vancouver: 9 hours
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Camping Allowed: Yes
4 X 4 Needed: No
Class: Multi Day
Trip Trail Distance in KM: 73 (one way)
Hiking Time: 5 days
Average Grade %: ?
Elevation Gain in M: 2,084
Elevation Loss in M: 2,710
Highest Point in M: 2,472
Map & Elevation Profile
There are many ways to access this destination but below is the route and plan we took for an 8 day trip over the August long weekend. We had a group of 6 people and two vehicles (one compact car and one minivan). Our intention was to take it easy, have shortish hiking days with lots of time to enjoy the scenery along the way. It would be very easy to shorten this trip with longer hiking days.
Drive from Vancouver to Golden (8 hrs) to camp at Golden Municipal Campground.
Drop off vehicles (5 hrs driving) then hike from Sunshine to Porcupine Campground (13.6 km)
Depart 6am to drive 1.5 hours to Sunshine Village ski resort. Dropped off 4 people, while other two drove both vehicles to Mount Shark trailhead (free parking in the huge gravel lot, where our hike would be ending) to drop off minivan there and then head back with compact car (1 hour 45 mins each way) to park for the week (free in the only one big main lot, leave note in windshield explaining). While the others were dropping off the car, the 4 people had breakfast at the cafe at the bottom of the mountain, then caught the shuttle (because the gondola wasn’t operating) which takes 30 minutes up to Sunshine Meadows to explore some easy trails while waiting. The other two then returned, caught the shuttle and met us at the top. We had a packed lunch at the picnic tables outside the lodge before beginning the trek together. Note there are a couple of cafes and restaurants up there should you wish to do that instead. We could have started the trek right from here but decided to take the chairlift (free with shuttle ticket) to the very top for better views.
Hike from Porcupine to Og Lake campground (9.3 km)
Hike from Og Lake to Magog Lake campground (7 km)
Nub Peak dayhike (12 km)
Hike Magog Lake to Bryant Creek Shelter via Wonder Pass (13 km)
Hike Bryant Creek to Mt. Shark Trailhead (13.5 km) + drive to Pierre’s Point Campground in Salmon Arm (6 hrs)
Drive home (5.5 hrs) after checking out some Kelowna wineries en route
View photos from the trip by clicking the photo below to open the album.
It was a great trip that worked out well but if I were to do it again, this is what I would have changed:
- Book helicopter one-way out from Assiniboine Lodge to Canmore.
- If you don’t drive or have access to a vehicle, it’d be an expensive trip but you could helicopter both ways and fly to Calgary from Vancouver as there is a shuttle from Calgary to the helipad in Canmore.
- Day 1 drive both vehicles 9 hours to Canmore. Leave one vehicle there and drive 30 minutes back to Sunshine Village. Catch shuttle up to Sunshine Meadows (30 minutes, last one departs 6pm) and then hike 6 km (1-2 hours) to backcountry camp at Howard Douglas Lake in Banff National Park. It would be a long day but you can make your trip a day shorter, Howard Douglas Lake is so beautiful, and Porcupine Campground was nothing to write home about (super basic forest site) and the hike down to it was awfully steep. If you were to do this same route, Golden Municipal Campsite is also not recommended. It is extremely busy, full of RVs, near a loud train track, and it’s very developed (street lights lighting the paths, etc).
- Stay in Naiset Huts instead of camping at Magog Lake. The campsites at Magog are nothing special (majority have no views, just forested). Or if you’re a baller (see prices), stay at the lodge or in one of the cabins.
- Instead of hiking to Bryant Creek Shelter, stay an extra night at Magog Lake/Naiset Hut/Assiniboine Lodge and hike over Wonder Pass to the view of Marvel Lake as a dayhike before helicoptering out.
- Add an extra day to do some other dayhikes around the area. Then heli out from the lodge. The hike along Marvel Lake to the shelter is pretty but seems never-ending. The hike from the Bryant Creek Shelter to Mount Shark has some pretty views but for the most part is pretty boring for a long time – a wide, flat trail through the forest. Apparently moose frequent the area though, which would have been awesome to see.
- If you haven’t experienced the Rockies much, consider taking a longer drive up to Jasper and down along the Icefields Parkway. It’ll add at least another day to your trip but there are so many stunning viewpoints you can quickly see along the way.
What We Did Well
- Hiking from Sunshine to Mt Shark versus the other way around was definitely the better choice. There is less elevation gain this way overall, and the biggest descent aside from Porcupine was down to Marvel Lake; everyone we saw hiking up that was miserable. It’s a really long slog up a steep path and you’re not treated to the same beautiful views you are when descending it.
- It was really nice to have short hiking days. It allows you to have the time to hike at a slow pace to take in the sights, to not have to wake up at the crack of dawn (I don’t know about you, but I like to sleep in at least a little bit when on vacation), and to have time to set up camp and enjoy a leisurely dinner before dark. Especially for days near Assiniboine Lodge (see why below ;).
- HAPPY HOUR AT THE LODGE! Assiniboine Lodge serves “afternoon tea” from 4-5pm – the only time they will sell f&b to campers. They sell tea, coffee, juice, beer and wine. They also have a platter of cakes (which are awful, don’t bother – just dry, packaged sliced cakes like banana bread you’d get from Starbucks, and sadly that’s the only food they’ll sell campers), BUT having a glass of wine or warm tea when it’s cold on their beautiful patio or in the heated lodge room is a really nice treat. Note they only serve people paying cash first. If you want to pay with a credit card, you have to wait until everyone has got their orders before trying to put your card through as their signal is weak and takes a long time to process sometimes (and no, they do not have wifi or cell signal).
- Og Lake is the most beautiful campsite en route. You get great views of the lake from most campsites. It’s also a great swimming lake. It’s not warm but there’s a fun rock island to swim out to. Don’t miss camping here.
The trail begins in Sunshine Meadows – at the top of the gondola/shuttle route above Sunshine Village Ski Resort in Banff National Park, approximately a 9 hour drive from Vancouver. The trail is accessible by any motor vehicle (4×4 not required) as it is accessed via a paved road. Click the map below to navigate to Sunshine Village.
For public transit access, it would take a really long time but you could take a bus to Banff, and then shuttle to Sunshine Village.
Parking is free at both ends (Sunshine Village and Mount Shark). Just be sure to put a note in your car at Sunshine Village about when you’ll be back and that you’re camping in Assiniboine Provincial Park so Parks Canada staff don’t ticket you. Given that your car is in Banff National Park, one could think you need a national park permit, but you don’t if you’re staying in the provincial park. Note this is the advice I was given by Sunshine staff. I couldn’t find anything to that effect online, nor could any national parks staff I called answer my question with any degree of certainty. I put the note and didn’t get a ticket so I guess they were right 🙂
From the parking lot at Sunshine Village you need to either hike up or take the shuttle or gondola to the Sunshine Meadows to access the trail. The gondola/shuttle is expensive but the hike up is a boring, steep gravel road climbing 500 metres over 4.5 km. The shuttle and gondola run from 8am to 6pm and cost $35/$42 pp (as of August 2018). You can book online here.
From the top of the shuttle/gondola, you can begin the hike, or take the Standish Chairlift (free with gondola/shuttle ticket) to begin higher (recommended).
Campsite Reservations & Permits
Reservations are required for all campsites and huts in Banff National Park, but only in the core area of Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park. For this trip, we needed a reservation for all campsites except for Porcupine, as well as the Bryant Creek Shelter.
Reservations will be required during peak season (June 26 – September 30) for overnight stays in the core area (Magog Lake and Og Lake campgrounds ) in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park. Reservations can be made up to 4 months in advance of your arrival date. Camping is permitted only within designated campsites in this core area. Reservations must be made in advance of arrival, through the Discover Camping Reservation Service and choosing backcountry wilderness as reservation type. You cannot make reservations or self-register at the park. There is no cash payment accepted in the park. Reservations hold a spot in the campground selected, but not a specific site. Site selection is available to reservation holders on a first-come, first-served basis when they arrive at the campground. Each tent pad, with a total maximum size of up to 10’ x 10’, will hold a maximum of two tents and 1 to 4 people (all ages). There are no registration or camping fees for camping in any other campground in the park (including Porcupine).
You can reserve the Bryant Creek Shelter in Banff National Park by calling 1-877-737-3783. Your reservation includes your park pass and backcountry permit.
Navigation & Gear
The best map for this hike is the Banff & Mt. Assiniboine waterproof trailmap and guide by Gemtrek. It’s the only map that I’ve found that includes the entire trail as it crosses through three different parks. Unfortunately, I was not able to find it in any MEC or other stores located in Vancouver, but you can buy them at Amazon or direct from Gemtrek. Apparently, they’re easy to find in stores closer to the Rockies if you’re OK to wait.
Before you lose an internet connection, downloading an offline trail app like Gaia GPS or maps.me is a really good idea too (see more awesome hiking apps here). Make sure you download the area you’re hiking in! There is no cell signal or wifi anywhere along this trail after you leave Sunshine Meadows.
There is a major water source at every campsite. The water is not treated anywhere though so you should bring a filter, tabs or be prepared to boil it. I have the Platypus Gravityworks 4L Filter System and it’s AMAZING. It’s super easy to use and is way faster than most other filters and pumps. Takes just 2.5 minutes to filter 4L of water, and only weighs 305g. I also carry the Katadyn BeFree and its the best water filter investment I’ve ever made. Insane that MEC doesn’t sell it but you can get it on Amazon or Canadian Tire. It’s super lightweight and compactible.
Some of the outhouses had toilet paper, others not. Bring a roll.
There are no waste receptacles so you must pack out everything you pack in. All campsites do have grey water holes, and bear caches or poles to hang food. Obviously with a multi-day backpacking trek you want to keep your pack as light as possible. To keep it light but still tasty, Mountain House and Happy Yak make my favourite premade dehydrated meals, especially the Sweet and Sour Pork and Shrimp Curry with Rice.
See my review of backcountry meals here.
The weather in the Rockies is notoriously fickle. Every trip I’ve ever had to the area has always had a huge range from scorching hot sun to rain, hail and snow – yes, even in the summer! Make sure to have solid gear to protect you from the elements. I swear by my Arc’teryx Zeta LT rain jacket, Mountain Hardwear StretchDown RD Hooded Jacket and LOWA Lady Light GTX Ws hiking boots. The Arc’teryx especially is hella pricey but it’s worth every penny. Nothing but goretex will actually keep you fully dry in a torrential downpour.
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