Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park

Sitting along the Continental Divide, 3,618-meter (11,870’) Mount Assiniboine is the centerpiece of this eponymous backcountry park. Affectionately nicknamed the ‘Matterhorn of the Rockies’ for its resemblance to the iconic Swiss peak, Mount Assiniboine is the highest summit in the Southern Continental Range of the Canadian Rockies. Like its Swiss counterpart, it’s one of the most recognizable and striking peaks in the area. While it’s visible from a host of other summits around Banff and Kananaskis Country, getting up close and personal with Mount Assiniboine is much more challenging.

Our experience

While Stephan and I have explored more than 1,000 km (600+ miles) of trails in the Canadian Rockies, we hadn’t yet made it out to Mount Assiniboine. The small provincial park is much more difficult to access than the surrounding mountain parks. With no roads to mar this unspoiled swath of wilderness, the remote park can only be accessed on foot or by helicopter. Additionally, both means of ingress require a reservation: either a highly-coveted booking at the pricey Assiniboine Lodge or equally sought-after Naiset Huts, or a backcountry permit for one of just 50 primitive campsites within the park’s core.

Campsite reservations for the two core campgrounds, Magog and Og Lakes, open four months ahead of one’s intended arrival date and sell out within seconds. If you don’t have the reaction time of a house fly (around 20 milliseconds) when bookings open at 7 a.m. PST, prepare for disappointment. While my reflexes didn’t come close to earning me top marks in the animal kingdom (8 seconds here), Stephan managed to score a three-night stay at Magog Lake – the most sought-after spot with just forty wilderness sites.

Booking four months in advance, you never quite know what you’re going to get in terms of weather. While the mountains in general are notorious for unpredictable weather, Mount Assiniboine seems to be particularly fickle. In addition to the typical erratic weather, the summer of 2023 also saw record levels of wildfires and smoke across Canada; southern Alberta and BC were no exceptions. Before summer had even come to a close, Calgary had smashed its record for number of smoke hours recorded in a single year at nearly 500 hours. For weeks we watched suffocating smoke move in, lingering for days before temporarily pushing out.

As our reservation date in early September quickly approached, we began to have reservations of our own. On the Tuesday we were supposed to hike in, the forecast called for terrible air quality and heavy rainfall – not exactly ideal for a 26-kilometer (16 mile) hike. However, multiple forecasts suggested the smoke might push out that Wednesday along with the cold front. With that morsel of hope, we quickly searched for a last-minute booking to see if we could extend our camping reservation by a day.

Given Stephan’s initial stroke of luck, I sent him back onto the BC Parks reservation system. Nothing. Just as he went to dejectedly close the page, however, an opening popped up. Dumbfounded, he added it to his cart thinking it was some sort of system error or cruel joke. It was neither. We were able to delay our trip by 24 hours and hope that conditions improved. Wednesday’s weather still looked a bit iffy, but it looked infinitely better than the previous day.

Day 1: Magog Lake via Assiniboine Pass

We departed the Mount Shark trailhead around 8:30 a.m. under cloudy but dry skies. As we made our way through the forest, we could feel and smell that essence of rain in the air, yet nothing transpired. Ten miles into our hike, the clouds were still building but there was still no rain. We began to think the weather gods were with us and that we’d make it to our campsite totally dry. With that fleeting flicker of optimism, the skies suddenly opened up. For the next six miles, the weather gods reminded us of exactly who was in charge as we trudged through every kind of precipitation imaginable. A light drizzle gave way to pounding rain as we detoured around a bear-restricted closure. Pounding rain gave way to pelting sleet around Assiniboine Pass. Pelting sleet gave way to an unexpected thundersnow which, in turn, gave way to a proper shelling with marble-sized hailstones as we neared Magog Lake.

When we reached the Magog Lake Backcountry Campsite, we considered briefly seeking refuge at the cooking shelter. However, we were more interested in finding an open tent pad with a decent location. Given the somewhat hostile conditions and no desire to wander aimlessly around the labyrinth of paths, we quickly settled on site 19 and threw up our permit. It was a short walk to the cooking pavilion and restrooms, yet still had a sense of privacy, tucked beneath the trees with just one neighboring site.

We attempted to time our camp setup with a break in the weather, but it wasn’t to be. Swearing and grumbling, Stephan pitched our tent in an absolute downpour as his waterlogged girls looked on. It was a valiant showing of both skill and speed, but still no match for the now sheeting rain. Everything was soaked. As we endeavored to effectively wipe down a muddy street dog before tossing her unceremoniously into the tent, she let us know in no uncertain terms that she was thus far totally unimpressed with this camping shit.

Day 2: Niblet/Nublet/Nub Peak

After a subpar night’s sleep, we awoke a little groggy. Given how soaked everything had gotten, it took us a while to shiver ourselves to sleep (pro tip: for those minimalists who are too proud to pack an extra pair of socks, pack the friggin’ socks). And while we were largely warm by morning, we were both unenthusiastic about shoving our finally-dry feet back into cold, wet boots that didn’t have the opportunity to dry out.

Of course, Stephan and I weren’t the only two weary campers in the group. Sanchez woke up looking exceptionally miffed that she was back to sleeping on the cold ground after the last six years in a warm house filled with cushy furniture. We had repeatedly tried to cover her with all the warm, snuggly gear we had throughout the night, but she would begrudgingly shake it all off, content to curl up as a sparsely-furred, naked donut. With daybreak, we tried our best to amp her up about this camping thing. However, she made it clear that we were both still sitting firmly atop the street dog shit list. Little did she know she had a full day of [dry] hiking and tasty summit snacks ahead of her.

With the tail-end of the front still moving out on our first full day in the park, the weather wasn’t outstanding. That said, there was no rain, sleet, snow or gales. We were happy.

Under stubborn clouds, we headed for Nub Peak. Of the few maintained hiking trails within the park, this one is undoubtedly the centerpiece. A 14-km lollipop route that skirts the shores of Sunburst, Cerulean and Magog Lakes, the trail winds its way to the top of 2,746-meter (9,009’) Nub Peak. Along the way, two lower knobs – The Niblet and Nublet – offer sweeping views of all three lakes, framed by the towering peaks of Mount Magog, Mount Assiniboine, Sunburst Peaks, and The Marshall. If you choose to hike all the way to Nub Peak’s summit, a mildly exposed ridge also offers a fantastic look at Elizabeth Lake.

After an enjoyable (and dry) day on the trail, we all returned to the campground in brighter spirits. Stephan and I were stoked that our shoes had finally dried out, and Sanchez was starting to dig the routine of boundless exploring and outdoor meals at the cooking shelter. Being her first camping trip, we were a little worried it would turn into an absolute shitshow. We were so proud of her for being so adaptable and for eventually settling into her backcountry adventure like a champ.

Day 3: Nub Peak (take two) & random ramblings

While we fully intended to explore a different trail on our second full day, we surprisingly found ourselves back at Nub Peak. We departed the campsite early and without breakfast as we wanted to catch the first rays of light at Sunburst Lake. It was gorgeous. We began to imagine what Mount Assiniboine would look like from the previous day’s vantage point and couldn’t resist continuing up. From there, we found ourselves racing back up to the Nublet while the light was near its best. Shrouded in the clouds the day prior, we really wanted to catch mercurial Mount Assiniboine in all its sun-drenched glory.

It may have been a repeat of the day prior, but the return was worth it. The light on the peaks was spectacular, and the pillowy fog that had settled over Magog Lake made the scene that much more dreamlike. We couldn’t believe we were the only two up there. With such a stunner of a morning, we imagined everyone that had scored a coveted park reservation would want to just sit there and soak up Assiniboine’s sunlit magic.

After our duplicate trip, we returned to the cooking shelter to stuff our faces, starving after forgoing our morning meal. From there, we headed back to Magog Lake to scour some more photo ops, and eventually made our way around the far south side of the lake in the direction of Hind Hut. As we wandered directly beneath the summits of Assiniboine and Magog as the sun sank lower in the sky, we once again couldn’t believe there wasn’t another soul around.

By the end of her third day, Sanchez had really started to embrace the camping life. She loved all the excitement and tasty potential associated with the cooking shelter. She loved waking up to the wilderness just beyond her tent flap, floored that she could be on the trail in seconds rather than suffering through a one- to two-hour car ride. She even now loved returning to the tent at night. When we asked, ‘do you want to go home?’ she’d make a beeline for her snazzy new red tent. It may not have been the plush accommodations to which she’s become accustomed, but she had a little nest rife with sniffs that she could claim as her very own.

Being one of the rare dogs to trek that far into the backcountry, she also delighted in being a novelty that charmed the other campers. Much to our surprise, our normally reserved, timid introvert began making friends left and right. She befriended park rangers, campers, and Mount Assiniboine Lodge guests alike. She entertained her fellow campers with a trick show she performed with a complete stranger, and even got a special piece of blueberry cake delivered to her by her friends at the lodge on our last afternoon. By the end of our stay, we kind of felt like we were towing around a scruffy little celebrity.

Day 4: Magog Lake & Wonder Pass

With another crystal-clear morning on tap, we again rose early – this time, to catch sunrise over Magog Lake before hiking out. The air was frosty and still, and wisps of mist clung to the evergreen trees around the lake. Given the dodgy weather and choking smoke conditions we’d had across the Rockies for the previous ten or so days, we couldn’t believe how lucky we were to have a pair of such stunning days.

With Assiniboine Pass offering very little in the way of scenery, we decided to return to the Mount Shark Trailhead via Wonder Pass. The first half of the 28-km (17.6 mile) trek was indeed more scenic, although the last 13 km (8 miles) from Marvel Lake to the trailhead shared the same mind-numbing stretch of trail as the Assiniboine Pass route.

As we made our way past the Naiset Huts and Gog Lake toward the high pass, we marveled at the countless stands of larch trees. A few had the slightest tinge of gold, and we imagined how breathtakingly beautiful this area would be when the needles peaked. By the time we reached the top of Wonder Pass, we were already dreaming of a return trip.

Descending from Wonder Pass, we enjoyed some lovely views looking out to Mount Gloria and Eon and Aye Mountains. Below the pass, the trail follows a long ridgeline above the northern shore of Marvel Lake. Consequently, for the next 5 km (3 miles) we were treated to views overlooking the jewel-toned pool as well as neighboring Marvel Peak. As we neared the Bryant Creek Shelter on the east side of the lake, we made a short detour down to the shoreline. Having bypassed the lake on our dreary hike in, Marvel Lake now made the perfect spot to pause for lunch.

After reveling in the scenic lakeshore, it was a tedious 13-km (8 mile) march through the woods to return to the trailhead. By the time we reached the Subie, we were feeling totally fulfilled with our trip… yet also both longing for a real meal and a hot shower. Hungry and tired, we hightailed it to Canmore for a picnic in the park with some fare from our favorite spot, Communitea Café before making the drive back to Cochrane.

It seemed we got a little of everything with our first Rockies backcountry trip, and every bit lived up to my expectations (except maybe the wet sleeping bag). Moreover, now that we know we’ve got a fuzzy little camper on our hands, we can’t wait to start planning the next adventure.

Trip stats

Mount Shark to Magog Lake via Assiniboine Pass
16.3 miles | 2,728 vertical feet | moving time: 5 hours 30 minutes | 3.0 mph

Magog Lake to Mount Shark via Wonder Pass
17.6 miles | 1,826 vertical feet | moving time: 5 hours 45 minutes | 3.1 mph

Niblet/Nublet/Nub Peak
7.5 miles | 2,370 vertical feet

Four-day distance: 54 miles (87 km)
Four-day elevation gain: 10,000 feet (3050 m)

Getting there

There are exactly two ways to reach Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park: (1) by helicopter or (2) on foot. The first is pricey, and flights are offered just three days a week in summer and twice weekly in winter. The second requires a bit more effort, with the shortest route clocking in at 24 kilometers.


Alpine Helicopters offers flights to the helipad near Assiniboine Lodge departing from either Mount Shark or Canmore. The ten-minute flight from Mount Shark costs $205 CAD/person one way in winter and $215 CAD/person one way in summer. The twelve-minute flight from Canmore costs $235 CAD/person one way in winter and $245/person one way in summer. Any gear that exceeds 40 pounds will cost an additional $10 CAD per pound each way. Flight prices do not include the 5% tax.

Flight days are Wednesday, Friday and Sunday during the summer operational season, and Wednesday and Sunday only during the winter season. You must provide proof of accommodations to book a flight. A reservation confirmation number for either the lodge, Naiset Huts, or a campsite in the core area of the park is required. Flying in and hiking out same day is not allowed. Dogs are not allowed on helicopters and must hike in.

For comprehensive helicopter booking information, check out the Mount Assiniboine Lodge website.

Hiking routes

There are three main backpacking routes into Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park. Two begin at the Mount Shark Trailhead in Spray Lakes Provincial Park, while the third departs from Sunshine Village in Banff National Park. The routes are listed below from shortest/easiest to longest/most challenging:

Assiniboine Pass

Assiniboine Pass is the shortest route to Magog Lake, but also the least scenic. Aside from a couple small breaks in the forest, you’re hiking through trees the entire way. This route begins at the Mount Shark Trailhead, just off the Smith-Dorrien in Kananaskis. The route clocks in at just over 24 km (16 miles) with around 800 meters (2,700 feet) of vertical gain.

Wonder Pass

Although it shares the first 13 km (8 miles) with the Assiniboine Pass trail, Wonder Pass offers a bit more interesting scenery. With views of Marvel Lake, Mounts Eon and Aye, and panoramas looking down into Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park toward Nub Peak, it’s slightly longer at 28 km (17.6 miles). This route is also a bit steeper than Assiniboine Pass, even though the total gain is just an additional hundred meters (900 meters; 2,900’ vertical). Most hikers – us included – seem to hike in via Assiniboine Pass and out via Wonder Pass if starting from Mount Shark.

Sunshine Meadows to Og Lake via Citadel Pass

The third backpacking route into Mount Assiniboine begins at Sunshine Village in Banff National Park. This route is the most scenic, but also the longest. If you take the Sunshine Sightseeing Gondola up to Mount Standish, you can shave 5 km (3 miles) and 500 vertical meters (1,600 feet) from the trip. However, it’ll cost you $65 CAD to ride the lift. If you’re hiking in with your pup, it’ll be a long day, as pets are not allowed on the gondola. Additionally, you’ll want to be mindful of water stores if hiking in this way, especially if you’re with your dog. There is no potable water for the 17 km (10.5 miles) between Howard Douglas Lake (before Citadel Pass) and Og Lake. Distances and elevation gains are listed below:

Sunshine Meadows (via gondola)DistanceElevation gain
To Og Lake21 km13 miles600 m2,000’
To Magog Lake27 km17 miles750 m2,400’
Sunshine Village parking lot (no gondola)    
To Og Lake26 km16 miles1100 m3,600’
To Magog Lake32 km20 miles1250 m4,000’

If we had two vehicles, we probably would have chosen to hike in via Sunshine and out Wonder Pass (most agree this is the most scenic option). With Sanchez in tow, the extra distance from Sunshine would have been fairly aggressive but easily doable since we flew in our gear (more on that below). If you can align your reservations, I think the best option would be to hike in via Sunshine, spend one night at Og Lake, then continue to Magog and spend another 2-3 nights. If we ever get the chance to visit Assiniboine again (and have a shuttle vehicle), we would definitely do this as a thru hike.

Helicoptering Gear

If you’re camping and want to hike in/out without the heavy pack, it is possible to fly your gear to Assiniboine Lodge and pick it up there on the way to your campsite. Because we’re essentially living out of a Subaru as we Airbnb our way across North America, we haven’t yet made extra space to accommodate camping gear. Consequently, we were forced to rent gear locally. Not knowing what we were getting or how heavy and/or bulky it would be, we cheated a bit and flew in our big packs, choosing to hike in with just a day pack. After seeing how clunky and weighty some of the antiquated gear was, we were ultimately happy with our decision. Additionally, it was nice to be able to keep our usual fast hiking pace on the two longer days. It was by no means cheap – $5/pound one-way – but was worth it under our circumstances.

Note: Because flight days are only W/F/Su, your gear will be held for 48 hours for free on either end of your trip. You may have to drop it off a day or two early and/or pick it up a day or two after you hike out depending on what day of the week you’re hiking.


As previously mentioned, any accommodation within Mount Assiniboine is difficult to come by. Additionally, if you wish to stay at the lodge, things can also get pretty expensive. While the lodge obviously offers more amenities than camping, you should still be prepared for a few rustic elements to your stay (e.g. outhouses and a communal shower house):

Assiniboine Lodge

The historic Assiniboine Lodge was built in 1928 and was the first backcountry ski lodge in North America. The lodge was renovated in 2011, but still retains the original, rustic charm from nearly a century ago.

Reservations at the lodge are both pricey and extremely hard to secure. A booking request form must be submitted a year in advance, and the lodge can accommodate just 30 guests total at any one time with 1 to 3 guests per room/cabin. Accommodations are cozy but basic, and include a communal shower house and sauna. Outhouses are available for daytime use, while there is an indoor communal toilet that’s restricted to nighttime use.

For the 2024 summer season, prices start at $440 CAD per person per night (not including 6.2% tax). For the 2024 winter season, prices start at $525 CAD per person per night (excluding tax). The minimum stay is two or three nights, and prices include all meals including a packed lunch and afternoon tea. Helicopter flights are not included in the price of lodging.

Naiset Huts

Just a few hundred meters from the lodge sit the five Naiset Huts. Meaning ‘sunset’ in Sioux language, the Naiset Huts were built in 1925 by the founder of the Alpine Club of Canada (ACC).

The one-room cabins provide basic overnight shelters, and are equipped with bunk beds with foam camping mattresses and wood-burning stoves. There are three outhouses near the cabins. A communal cooking hut offers gas-burning stoves, fuel, and pans as well as bear-proof food storage.

You will need to bring your own sleeping bags, bowls, cutlery and matches. All waste must be stored appropriately and packed out when you leave. If you are flying in via helicopter, your pack cannot exceed 40 pounds. Click here for a full recommended gear list.

Like the lodge, reservations for the Naiset Huts are required and sell out months in advance. Reservations can only be made by phone. Five, six, or eight-person huts are available and cost $150, $180, and $240 CAD per night, respectively. Prices do not include helicopter flights or fire logs ($7/each).

Magog & Og Lake Campgrounds

Magog and Og Lake are the only two campgrounds within the core of Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park. While there are a few other campgrounds (25 total sites outside the core), they are much further out from the main area of the park.

Because of its proximity to the main trails, more sheltered location, and additional amenities (e.g. a covered cooking shelter and water spigots), Magog Lake seems to be the favorite of the two campgrounds. The Magog Lake Backcountry Campground offers 40 gravel tent pads, 4 outhouses, 2 gray water pits, 3 drinking taps (boil/filter), a covered cooking shelter, as well as food lockers and hanging caches. The less-developed Og Lake Campground is equipped with just 10 campsites, 1 outhouse, 1 gray water pit, a non-covered cooking area with tables and benches, and food lockers and hanging caches. There are no drinking taps, so water will have to be collected and boiled/filtered from Og Lake.

Click here for a detailed list of all backcountry accommodations and their respective facilities.

Know before you go

  • Camping reservations are required year-round for Magog and Og Lake. Walk-ins are not allowed at either of the two core campgrounds. Reservations can be made online four months in advance at
  • You must have a printed copy of your camping permit. The permit must be displayed at your campsite for the duration of your stay. Rangers patrol daily and verify permits each evening.
  • Tent pads are not assigned during the reservation process. Tent pads are selected upon arrival at either Magog or Og Lake on a first-come, first-served basis.
  • Mount Assiniboine’s summer season is short. Snow is often not fully melted until mid-July. By early September, nights are already well below freezing with the potential for snow. Additionally, weather conditions change quickly any time of the year. No matter what month you visit, be prepared for all temperatures and weather.
  • Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park is prime grizzly habitat. Make sure you carry bear spray at all times.
  • Bring plenty of warm clothes and layers. The Magog Lake Campground sits at an elevation of 2,000 meters (6,500 feet), so you should expect cold temperatures.
  • Backcountry camping fees are $10 CAD/night ($5 CAD/night for children aged 6 to 15 years) plus the non-refundable online booking fee ($6 CAD per tent pad per night with an $18 CAD maximum).
  • Campsite reservations go on sale four months in advance of your intended arrival date and book up insanely quickly. If you have the luxury of flexibility, there are cancellations throughout the season, and you may be able to grab a site at the last minute. Don’t count on it, but it does pay to check the website regularly.
  • Fires are prohibited within the core of Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park. If camping, you’ll need to pack a camping stove and fuel.
  • Dogs are allowed in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, but only in campgrounds and on trails. Dogs are not allowed in Assiniboine Lodge, the Naiset Huts, Hind Hut or any other indoor structure. Dogs are also not allowed to fly in on helicopters. Additionally, pets must be on a leash at all times. Grizzlies perceive off-leash dogs as a threat, so it’s paramount that they be restrained at all times.
  • If camping, all food must be prepared and stored at designated cooking areas. Grizzlies frequent the area, so it’s super important to secure all food and waste items properly. In reality, anything with a scent may attract curious bears. It’s best to keep anything with an odor (dog treats, deodorant, etc.) secured in your bear-proof locker or cache.
  • Regardless of what campground you are visiting, be prepared to boil and/or filter all drinking water.
  • If you need to rent camping gear, we used the Outdoor Centre at the University of Calgary. It was by no means lightweight, and some of the stuff (e.g. cooking equipment and sleeping mats) was pretty old-school, but it did the trick. Importantly, the service was great. When we called to extend our rental by a day, they didn’t even charge us that day’s fee.

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