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The Berg Lake Trail

August 27, 2013

Mt Robson and Berg Lake

The Berg Lake Trail is an approximately 46km out and back trail (~ 23km each way) just inside the British Columbia border in the Canadian Rockies (bordering Jasper National Park in Alberta). It is located in Mount Robson Provincial Park, and is best known for its spectacular views of Mount Robson and its glaciers. Basic information can be found at the government website. The Berg Lake Trail also connects with the Moose River Route and the North Boundary Trail that crosses Jasper National Park.

Mount Robson is the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies at 3954m, and is summitable only by skilled mountaineers as it requires traversing glaciers and technical climbing gear. So most visitors do not make this attempt, but if you’re luckily, you can see climbers from the Snowbird Pass Route. We were there during the 100th anniversary of the first summit of Mount Robson and the Alpine Club of Canada was having a summit party in the area.

The park is located along Yellowhead Highway (Highway 16), and is a reasonable drive from most of Western Canada or the Northwest US. For those coming from away, the closest major international airport is YEG (near Edmonton). Most people from away were pairing the trail with trips to Jasper and Banff National Parks. I have been to both parks many times and highly recommend them. For accommodations near the trailhead, there are a few B&Bs and campsites within a few kilometers. Otherwise you’re most likely to find accommodation in the town of Valemount, approximately 30 minutes from the trailhead, and some good food at the Caribou Grill.

The trail is open roughly May to September, but most hike the trail in July or August. The trail crosses into high elevations, the campgrounds along Berg Lake are above 1500m, so even in the height of summer it’s fairly cold at night (but if the sun shines, very warm during the day). So layers!

It can be done as a very long day hike, but seeing as there are a lot of options for day hiking from the campsites along Berg Lake that offer the best views of the mountain, I would recommending staying at least two nights.

It is a very busy trail, so reservations are recommended well in advance if you have a preferred campsite or a large group, though some walk on spaces are available at the information office at the trailhead. We booked two months in advance for three sites and were somewhat limited in campground choices. Either way, if you are camping in the backcountry, you must register at the trail office before hiking and watch a short video. The trail office hours are reasonable, 8am-7pm PACIFIC TIME during peak season, 8am-5pm in the shoulder seasons. You can check in the day before or the day of.

Campsites

There are campsites approximately every 2-7km with varying services and numbers of sites. All have designated tent pads (that can fit 1 large or 2 small tents), waste water pits, outhouses, and bearproof food lockers. Kinney Lake, Whitehorn, and Berg Lake campgrounds have shelters with picnic tables, while the rest do not. The Berg Lake campground is the most popular and best equipped in the Berg Lake area, but if your taste is for something a little quieter, Marmot or Rearguard Campgrounds are perfectly nice.

Marmot Campground Whitehorn Campground

The Trail

The majority of the trail is fairly easy, with two sections of switchbacks between Kinney Lake and Whitehorn, and Whitehorn and Emperor Falls campsites. There were plenty of families with smaller children on the trail, and we hiked it with a few inexperienced hikers (most of them made it). To make it easier on the way in, we stayed at Whitehorn Campground, which was 11km from the trailhead, and hiked the more difficult 8km to Marmot the next day. We spent two nights at Marmot and hiked out 19km the next day. As it is mostly downhill, even our inexperienced hikers found this acceptable.

My creation

Dayhiking

From the Berg Lake Campgrounds (Berg Lake, Marmot, Rearguard, and Robson Pass), many spectacular day hikes are available. My group did the Hargreaves Lake Route, which is approximately 2km straight uphill and gives you great views of Mount Robson and Hargreaves Lake and Glacier the day we hiked from Whitehorn to Marmot, and the Snowbird Pass Route the next day. If we had more time, we would have also done the highly recommended Mumm Basin Route.

Coleman Glacier from Snowbird Pass

The Snowbird Pass Route is one of the most difficult hikes in the area, but one of the most rewarding. The less experienced hikers in our group only hiked the beginning of the trail along the river. It is a full day hike, from Berg Lake Campground it is approximately 9km one way (18km total), with 800m of elevation gain. The trail is generally well marked, though requires a little bit of scrambling and navigating by cairns, and can be a bit psychologically difficult in places. The terminus of the trail is Snowbird Pass, which overlooks Coleman Glacier, but there are great views of Robson Glacier and Mount Robson all along the trail, and there is a beautiful marmot filled meadow approximately 5km in. We started the trail around noon (which is probably too late to start unless you are a strong hiker), I was one of the last people up to the Pass, and we were back at Marmot Campground by 6:30pm with plenty of daylight left. The views were so beautiful, I will inundate you with more photos!
Snowbird Pass Route

I also made a map of the Snowbird Pass Route (from the main trail) using my Spot GPS, GPS Utility, and Google Earth. I tried to make a map of the whole trail, but the signal was patchy due to trees (and rain). Click to enlarge.

Snowbird Pass Route

Notes:

Very basic free trail maps are available at the Trail Office, the trail is so well marked you don’t actually need a more detailed map, but if you like to have one you may be able to buy one at the trail office and I found some at MEC in Vancouver.

There is the possibility of encountering bears, though it is pretty unlikely. You should use precautions and store your food in the bearproof lockers provided, but I felt comfortable not having any bear spray with me.

Sunset on Mt Robson

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. August 28, 2013 11:58 am

    Such an impressive area. I love BC

  2. Nate permalink
    August 30, 2013 8:38 pm

    Wow, what an odd coincidence. I found your blog just before my wife and I went up to the Canadian rockies parks 2 weeks ago and we went up to berg lake while up there. We had a phenomenal time–we’ve backpacked all over the world and Berg lake is, without doubt, the highest reward-to-effort trip I’ve ever done. Almost indescribably gorgeous for a 12 mile hike.

    Anyway, while at the Mt Robson visitor center we bought a detailed topo map of the area. They are certainly available there for about 12 dollars. I’ll also point out that they reserve a number of sites for day-of permits, keeping them away from the reservation pool so you can get a campsite without booking so far ahead of time (unlike the byzantine process for reserving a backcountry pass within Jasper, for example). And the Marmot campsite kicks butt–much quieter but with amazing views of mist and berg glaciers.

    • August 30, 2013 9:43 pm

      I guess I should have actually asked at the Trail Office and not just assumed they didn’t have them because I couldn’t see one 🙂

      I liked Marmot a lot, but some people in my group were concerned about not having a shelter in case it rained. Otherwise it was great.

  3. Jared permalink
    May 30, 2014 11:39 pm

    Hi there. planning a trip to mount robson this July. how difficult and how long (roughly) would it be to hike to the rearguard campground on day 1?

    • May 31, 2014 10:24 am

      It’s a bit of a long day, 22km with ~800m gain in elevation. It depends on how strong a hiker you are, but I would say a strong hiker could do it in 8-10 hours.

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