Backcountry camping

Banff National Park

Banff National Park is a very special place to enjoy a backcountry experience. As a backcountry user, you can access treasured natural wonders not seen by most park visitors—and experience them without the crowds associated with the park’s more accessible attractions.

This section of the Banff National Park website is designed to help you plan a safe and enjoyable visit of Banff National Park’s backcountry, while keeping the natural environment as healthy as possible.

Most backcountry users in Banff National Park are hikers but travel by horseback or bicycle is also possible on designated trails.


When to go

The main hiking season in Banff National Park is from May to October. Until late June, many mountain passes and trails at higher elevations remain snowbound and may be impassable. Stream flows are highest during June and July; more remote trails have few bridges and require stream fording. July and August are the prime backcountry hiking months but even in summer, snow is not uncommon at higher elevations. September is generally drier than July and August, although temperatures are lower and there is a greater chance of snowfall.

Safety

Safety is your responsibility. There are always hazards associated with outdoor recreation. When planning a backcountry trip to Banff National Park, at least one person in your party should be able to recognize natural hazards and have training in wilderness first aid. Caution and self-reliance are essential. Minimize your risk by planning ahead.

  • Check the current trail conditions, warnings and closures or ask for advice at a Parks Canada visitor centre.
  • Be prepared for emergencies. Mountain weather changes quickly and it can snow any month of the year. Ensure that you have adequate food, water, clothing and equipment for your trip. Don’t forget essentials including toilet paper. See a complete list of suggested equipment to bring on your backcountry trip in the recommended packing list below.
  • Study trip descriptions, topographic maps and expected hazards before heading out. Do not solely rely on web or mobile applications. Guidebooks and topographic maps are available at visitor centres and retail outlets in Banff and Lake Louise.
  • Know your physical limits. Always choose a trip suitable for the least experienced member in your group.
  • Boil, filter or chemically treat all water before drinking. Surface water may be contaminated and unsafe for drinking.
  • Carry a first aid kit, bear spray and a satellite emergency communication device like SpotX, inReach or Zoleo, and know how to use them.
  • Tell a reliable person where you are going, when you will be back, and who to call if you do not return: Banff Dispatch – 403-762-1470.
  • Prepare gear and supplies for at least one day longer than your planned trip.
  • Ticks, which could carry Lyme disease, may be present in the park. It is important to check yourself and your pet after hiking.
  • Be alert for wildlife at all times. Avoid wearing earbuds or headphones.

Snowy Trails

Snow can remain on some trails well into the summer. When trails are snow covered, routefinding can be difficult and travel through deep or hard snow and ice can be unsafe. Be prepared and check trail conditions before heading out.


Seasonal Avalanche Risk

Avalanches are possible from early winter to early summer. Travel only in terrain appropriate for your group’s experience, abilities and equipment. Training and experience can help you recognize and avoid dangerous avalanche conditions. For more information on avalanche conditions, visit a Parks Canada visitor centre or check the Mountain Safety section.

Recommended Packing List

This is a list of suggested equipment, which you can adjust to suit your personal preferences. Mountain weather is unpredictable; be prepared for winter conditions at any time of the year. Snow may persist in high mountain regions into the summer and avalanche danger may be in any season. This equipment list does not account for the special knowledge and equipment required to travel in avalanche terrain.


Shelter

  • tent with waterproof fly and groundsheet
  • sleeping pad
  • sleeping bag
  • repair kit

Clothing

  • backpack
  • hiking boots with ankle support and good soles, extra socks
  • sandals or runners for fording streams and at camp
  • socks and underwear
  • pants and/or shorts
  • short and long-sleeved shirt
  • insulating base-layer and outer layer (long underwear)
  • rainwear or shell, and gaiters
  • hat and gloves
  • sunscreen, sunglasses, sun hat or baseball cap

Dry clothes go a long way to making you feel comfortable. Pack light but bring something dry to change into when you reach camp.


Food and cooking

  • water treatment or filter (Drinking Water in the Great Canadian Outdoors)
  • water bottle or camelback, 1L minimum
  • food, including enough for an extra day
  • stove and fuel, with waterproof matches or a lighter
  • cooking and eating utensils
  • water storage container
  • garbage bags to pack out all food and personal trash
  • sturdy food sack (or backpack) for hanging
  • bear-resistant food container approved by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (mandatory in random camping areas between April 1 and November 15)

For your safety and that of wildlife, your food must be suspended from the food storage cables or lockers in your campground. Ensure you have a sturdy food sack that will stand up to wind and the elements. To stay safe and protect wilderness, manage your food, food smells and garbage.


Essentials

  • backcountry permit and reservation
  • bear spray
  • sunglasses & sunscreen
  • headlamp or flashlight
  • pocketknife or multi-tool
  • rope and carabiner (approx 8 m)
  • trip plan (left with a reliable person)
  • insect repellent
  • topographic map and trip description: guidebooks and topographic maps are available at visitor centres and retail outlets in Banff and Lake Louise.
  • GPS/compass
  • first aid and blister kits
  • whistle
  • extra batteries for your devices
  • compact emergency kit (i.e. waterproof matches or lighter, flashlight or headlamp and extra batteries, signaling device such as a whistle or mirror, emergency blanket, pencil and paper)
  • basic toiletries & toilet paper

It is recommended that you carry bear spray and know how to use it.


Other items you may find helpful...

  • personal locator beacon
  • camera with charged batteries and an empty memory card
  • notebook and pencil
  • deck of cards
  • fishing permit
  • binoculars
  • biodegradable soap
  • camp towel
  • watch or alarm clock
  • candle
  • trowel
  • altimeter
  • field guide(s)
  • trekking poles
  • satellite phone
  • change of clothes and sandals for the drive home
Backcountry etiquette and regulations

Stay on trails

Shortcutting between trail switchbacks damages both the soil and vegetation, making the area susceptible to further damage by erosion. You must stay on designated trails at all times.


Campgrounds

Camp in designated campgrounds as indicated on your backcountry permit and use the tent pads provided to minimize impact on vegetation. The length of stay for any campground cannot be more than three consecutive nights. The maximum group size for a reservation is 10 people and 5 tents. Only 4 people and 1 tent are allowed per tent pad/site. Campers must have a copy of their backcountry permit (paper or a screen shot) and present it to Parks Canada staff when requested.


Random camping

Random camping is permitted in designated areas only. Make sure you camp 5 km or more from either the trailhead or any designated campground. Pitch your tent at least 50 m from the trail and at least 70 m away from the nearest water source. Cook and store food well away from your tent. Bear-resistant food containers are mandatory between April 1 and November 15. Remember to bring a stove and fuel as campfires are not permitted in random camping areas.

A backcountry permit is required for random camping and can only be obtained in person at Parks Canada visitor centres in Banff and Lake Louise, or by calling 403-762-1556 or 403-522-1264.


Climbing, mountaineering and glacier travel

Mountaineers require a backcountry permit to bivouac, and may do so in non-vegetated areas only. Get your permit in person at Parks Canada visitor centres in Banff or Lake Louise, or by calling 403-762-1556 or 403-522-1264.

Alternatively, the Alpine Club of Canada (403-678-3200) operates several alpine huts in the park that are ideally located for these pursuits.


Cooking and campfires

All backcountry travellers should carry a portable fuel or propane stove for cooking. Cook and eat in the designated cooking area. Campfires are permitted only in the shared metal fire rings provided. Rock rings are prohibited. Not all campgrounds allow fires. If you have a campfire, use only downed deadwood, keep it small and do not leave it unattended. Be sure fires are fully extinguished by using the soak, stir, soak method.


Food storage

To avoid attracting bears and other wildlife to your campsite, all food, garbage, toiletries and cooking equipment must be stored in the food lockers or on bear poles provided at designated campgrounds. For areas where random camping is permitted, bear-resistant food containers, approved by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, are mandatory between April 1 and November 15 and should be hung when possible. Bring a rope to hang your food downwind of your campsite (see illustration). For more information, contact a Parks Canada visitor centre. Remove all garbage, food, gear and personal belongings at the end of your stay.

illustration on how to hang food in the Banff backcountry


Fishing

To fish in Banff National Park, everyone aged 16 or older is required to have a National Park Fishing Permit. Children under 16 do not require a permit but must be accompanied by a permit holder. Any harvest by the child counts towards the permit holder’s limit. These permits can be purchased at a Parks Canada visitor centre or at most local retail outlets that sell angling supplies. Provincial fishing licenses are not valid. See the Fishing Regulations page for more information.


Washing

Wash well away from any water sources and keep the use of soap to a minimum (even biodegradable soaps are pollutants). When washing dishes, strain bits of food waste and pack them out. Disperse strained water on the land.


Pack out garbage

If you pack it in—pack it out. Littering is unlawful and hazardous to wildlife. Do not dispose of garbage in outhouses or in food lockers.


Properly dispose of human waste

Use the outhouses provided. If there are no outhouses nearby, select a spot away from trails and campsites, and at least 70 m away from water sources. Dig a hole 12 to 16 cm deep to reach the dark-coloured soil layer. When refilling the hole with soil, do not pack it down. Pack out toilet paper and used hygiene products.


Take only photos

Leave all rocks, fossils, horns, antlers, wildflowers, nests and other natural or historic objects where they are for others to enjoy. It is unlawful to remove, deface, damage or destroy any natural or cultural resources within national parks. Visit leavenotrace.ca for information on low-impact backcountry travel.


Firearms are prohibited

Firearms, including pellet guns, bear bangers, bows, slingshots and similar devices, are prohibited in national parks. For protection from wildlife, Parks Canada recommends carrying bear spray and knowing how to use it.


Share the trail

Backcountry trails are shared by hikers, trail runners, mountain bikers and horseback riders. Please be respectful and let others pass to ensure safety.

Wildlife and People
grizzly bear on trail in summer

Banff National Park is home to wildlife including elk, wolves, cougars, grizzly bears and black bears. To successfully raise their young and sustain a healthy population, wildlife need access to as much quality habitat with as few human surprises as possible. Be aware of possible encounters with wildlife in all areas of the park, including paved trails and roads.

Tips


More information

Public Transit and Shuttle Services

Suggested itineraries with a bus symbol indicate that the trailhead is accessible by Roam Public Transit and/or private shuttle service. Parking at trailheads is limited and fills quickly. For the best experience, take public transit or a shuttle.


Where to go

In more popular and accessible areas of Banff’s backcountry, you will find maintained hiking trails and designated campsites with outhouses, tent pads, food storage cables or lockers, picnic tables and metal fire rings where fires are allowed. More remote areas of the park provide a greater opportunity for solitude, although trails may not be regularly maintained and hikers must be self-reliant. Route finding and navigation skills are required and hikers should be prepared to safely ford streams. Pre-trip planning and preparedness are essential for travel in the backcountry.

To see a map of Banff’s backcountry trails and campground locations, use the brochure Backcountry Trails in Banff National Park to help you plan the best trip for you and your group.


Two day trips

Lake Minnewanka Shoreline Trail

7.8 km, 9 km or 11.1 km one way

Campgrounds: Aylmer Pass Junction (Lm8), Aylmer Canyon (Lm9), Mt. Inglismaldie (Lm11)

Roam Route 6 (summer service) from Banff

This is a popular early or late season hike or bike along the lakeshore. The trail starts from the trailhead at the Lake Minnewanka Day-use Area and returns by the same route. Stay an extra night and explore Aylmer Pass or Aylmer Lookout. If paddling to these campgrounds, be aware of strong unexpected winds which can make travel difficult or dangerous.

July 10 to September 15 - Trail restrictions are in effect to minimize disturbance to grizzly bears. No dogs and no bikes allowed. Bear spray and groups of 4 are required.

 

Glacier Lake

8.9 km one way

Campground: Glacier Lake (Gl9)

A popular early season hike that departs from a trailhead north of Saskatchewan Crossing on the Icefields Parkway (93N). This trail brings hikers to a campsite at one of the largest backcountry lakes in Banff National Park.


Three day trips

Egypt Lake

12.4 km one way

Campground: Egypt Lake (E13)

Sunshine Shuttle (summer service) from Banff

Hike from the Sunshine Village ski area parking lot via Healy Pass to the Egypt Lake Campground. Stay two nights if possible to explore the multiple lakes and stunning mountain views.

 

Skoki Loop

36.8 km round trip

Campgrounds: Night 1 – Baker Lake (Sk11); Night 2 – Merlin Meadows (Sk18)

Roam route 8X to Lake Louise Village from Banff. Trailhead is a 40 minute/3.5 km walk from the village of Lake Louise

Beginning at the Fish Creek trailhead near the Lake Louise ski area, this trip starts with a 4 km hike up the Temple access road (no vehicle access). Climb over aptly named Boulder Pass and pass by Ptarmigan Lake before descending to Baker Lake. The second day involves travelling around Fossil Mountain and past Skoki Lodge National Historic Site to Merlin Meadows. After climbing Deception Pass, re-join the access trail at Ptarmigan Lake.


Four day or longer trips

Sunshine – Assiniboine – Bryant Creek

53 to 56 km

Campgrounds: Night 1 - Howard Douglas Lake (Su8); Night 2 - Lake Magog Campground (Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park*); Night 3 – Marvel Lake (Br13) or McBride’s Camp (Br14).

Sunshine Shuttle to Healy Pass trailhead (summer service) – No public transportation or shuttle back available from Bryant Creek trailhead

This is an iconic trip, which follows a section of the Great Divide Trail. The trailhead at Sunshine Village ski area can be reached by riding a fee-based gondola. Be careful to stay on the trail as you hike through the ecologically-sensitive alpine area to Howard Douglas Lake campground. On day two, prepare for a long journey to Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park via Citadel Pass. Hike over Assiniboine Pass or Wonder Pass to arrive back in Banff National Park and camp at either Marvel Lake or McBride’s Camp on night three. The trip exits via Bryant Creek at the Mount Shark parking lot in Spray Valley Provincial Park.

August 1 to September 30 - Trail restrictions and closures on Allenby Pass and Assiniboine Pass are in effect to minimize disturbance to grizzly bears.

This trip traverses three different districts including BC and Alberta provincial parks. Make sure to get the appropriate backcountry permits and passes required for each district.

*Lake Magog Campground is only reservable through BC Park's Discover Camping Reservation Service: discovercamping.ca or 1-800-689-9025.

 

Sunshine - Egypt Lake - Vista Lake

41.5 km

Campgrounds: Night 1 – Egypt Lake (E13); Night 2 – Ball Pass Junction (Re21); Night 3 - Twin Lakes (Tw7)

Sunshine Shuttle to Healy Pass trailhead (summer service) – No public transportation or shuttle back available from Vista Lake trailhead

A series of beautiful, high country trails link the Sunshine Village ski area (access by riding a fee-based gondola) to the Vista Lake viewpoint on Highway 93S. Explore the alpine lakes of Simpson Pass, Healy Pass and the Egypt Lake area en route. Hike to Ball Pass Junction Campground, along a majestic section of the Great Divide Trail, which travels over Whistling Pass. This area boasts incredible views of the Ball Range–be sure to listen for the whistle of the local hoary marmots! Make your way over Gibbon Pass to a campground at Twin Lakes. The remainder of the trail meanders past a series of scenic lakes before the final descent to the highway.

 

Sawback Trail

74 km

Campgrounds: Night 1 - Mystic Junction (Fm19); Night 2 - Larry’s Camp (Jo9); Night 3 - Johnston Creek (Jo18) or Luellen Lake (Jo19); Night 4 - Badger Pass Junction (Jo29); Night 5 - Wildflower Creek (Ba15); Night 6 - Baker Lake (Sk11)

Norquay Shuttle to Cascade Amphitheatre trailhead (summer service) – Roam Public Transit in the village of Lake Louise, 40 minute/3.5 km walk from the Fish Creek trailhead.

This challenging trip takes you over three spectacular mountain passes. The trail traverses a good portion of Banff National Park, linking the Town of Banff with the hamlet of Lake Louise. Trailheads are located at Mount Norquay ski area and the Fish Creek trailhead (near the Lake Louise ski area). Various routes are possible, a suggested 7-day itinerary is provided above. Portions of this area are frequented by commercially guided horse trips.

Where to stay

Backcountry campgrounds

To see a map of Banff’s campground locations, use the brochure Backcountry Trails in Banff National Park to help you plan the best trip for you and your group.


Trail shelters

Please note: All backcountry shelter bookings are cancelled for the season.

Rustic trail shelters located at Egypt Lake and Bryant Creek can be booked online (reservation.pc.gc.ca) or by calling: 1-877-RESERVE (1-877-737-3783). They can be booked in the same way as campsites with an added surcharge per person per night. Dogs are not allowed in backcountry shelters.


Random camping

Random camping is allowed by permit only in designated areas of the backcountry. A backcountry permit for random camping can be obtained only in person at Parks Canada visitor centres in Banff and Lake Louise, or by calling 403-762-1556 in Banff or 403-522-1264 in Lake Louise.

In remote areas of the park, be prepared for fewer maintained trails and to be more self-reliant. Pre-trip planning and preparedness are essential for travel in the backcountry. Make sure you camp 5 km or more from either the trailhead or any designated campground. Pitch your tent at least 50 m from the trail and at least 70 m away from the nearest water source. Cook and store food well away from your tent. Bear-resistant food containers are mandatory between April 1 and November 15. Remember to bring a stove and fuel as campfires are not permitted in random camping areas.


Alpine huts

Alpine huts and the Shadow Lake Lodge maintained by the Alpine Club of Canada are available to club members and non-club members. For information and reservations, visit the Alpine Club of Canada.


Commercial lodges

There are commercial lodges located in the backcountry of Banff National Park.


Beyond park boundaries

Continuing beyond park boundaries? Find out more about backcountry opportunities in areas connected to Banff National Park.


Reserve your backcountry permit

A backcountry permit is mandatory for anyone planning an overnight trip into the backcountry of Banff National Park. Campers must have a copy of their permit (paper or a screen shot) and present it to Parks Canada staff when requested. Advance reservations are required.

 Reserve your backcountry permit:

  • Online 24/7 at: reservation.pc.gc.ca
  • By calling: 1-877-RESERVE (1-877-737-3783)
  • Random camping is restricted and permits must be purchased in person at Parks Canada visitor centres in Banff and Lake Louise, or by calling 403-762-1556 or 403-522-1264.

    A non-refundable reservation fee applies to all bookings.

    You also require a National Park Pass to enter Banff National Park.

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