SNOWSHOE MAGAZINE FEATURED ARTICLE:

The Best Backcountry Basecamps in the Canadian Rockies (no tent required)

I’ve spent the past 14 years exploring the Canadian Rockies and one thing I’ve really discovered is that having a good base camp is the first step in planning the perfect backcountry adventure. Find that gem of a lodge, cabin or even campground and you can spend up to a week exploring the best that an area has to offer. And for those of us that prefer a bit of comfort while camped out in the backcountry, my favourite basecamps below do not require a tent. You’ll have to bring a sleeping bag for some of them but you won’t be hunkered down on the ground and you might not even have to cook!

Families love the Elizabeth Parker Hut

Families love the Elizabeth Parker Hut

One: The Alpine Club of Canada’s Elizabeth Parker Hut

This family-friendly hut is located in Yoho National Park, British Columbia, and is reached via a short bus ride and a five-minute hike. While it is challenging at best to get reservations in the popular hut, try for mid-week and you’ll have better success. You can also enter the annual lottery to win spots at the hut if you know when you’ll want to go the following year.

From the hut, you’ll have access to the incredible Lake O’Hara area and surrounding hiking trails. The Alpine Circuit does a loop of the area traversing narrow ledges to connect the Opabin Plateau with Lake Oesa while Lake McArthur is another popular hike from the hut. No matter what you hike in the area, you will be in one of the premier hiking locations in the Canadian Rockies and daily quotas for trail users guarantee you’ll find solitude.

Hiking at Lake O'Hara in September

Hiking at Lake O’Hara in September

In the winter, the hut provides a cozy basecamp for ski touring and snowshoeing in the valley above. While there is no vehicle access, one can reach the hut in an easy seven-mile ski on the summer road.

The Elizabeth Parker Hut in winter

The Elizabeth Parker Hut in winter

The hut is furnished with sleeping pads, propane stoves and dishes. Bring your sleeping bag and food.

Lake O'Hara's Opabin Plateau

Lake O’Hara’s Opabin Plateau

Two: The Alpine Club of Canada’s Stanley Mitchell Hut

This hut is reached via a three- to four-hour easy hike from Takkakaw Falls in Yoho National Park, British Columbia. The easiest approach is via the Little Yoho Valley Trail which passes by a beautiful little backcountry campground at Laughing Falls. From the hut, day hike the Whaleback Trail to Twin Falls which can be done as a loop from your front door. Return to Takkakaw Falls on one of Canada’s best hiking trails, the Iceline Trail, where you’ll be traversing high above the valley bottom close enough to glaciers you’ll almost be able to reach out and touch them.

Hiking the Iceline Trail from the Stanley Mitchell Hut

Hiking the Iceline Trail from the Stanley Mitchell Hut

In winter the hut can be reached via a very long 14-mile ski including the summer road from the highway to Takkakaw Falls that is not plowed. Expect a fabulous but grueling ski tour and be prepared to camp out near the Takkakaw Falls parking lot if you cannot make the full distance in a day. If you are on snowshoes, you’ll definitely be camping out on your first night.

The hut is furnished with sleeping pads, propane stoves and dishes. Bring your sleeping bag and food.

The Stanley Mitchell Hut in summer

The Stanley Mitchell Hut in summer

Three: Egypt Lake Wilderness Shelter

This simple shelter offers a roof over your head from the elements, a couple of wooden sleeping platforms, picnic tables, and a wood stove for heat. That’s about it. What it lacks in comfort it more than makes up for in location though! Egypt Lake is one of Banff’s most popular backcountry destinations and can be reached from the Sunshine Village ski resort offering you the chance to hike in the high country during your whole journey.

Take a shuttle bus up to Sunshine Village with White Mountain Adventures and then hike over Simpson and Healy Pass to reach Egypt Lake in an easy 8 mile hike. From the shelter, you can day hike to Whistling Pass and visit several small lakes in the area. Most people hike down the Healy Creek Trail to return to the Sunshine Village base parking lot at the end rather than hiking back up to the Village.

Scenery near Sunshine Village

Scenery near Sunshine Village

Multiple options exist for backcountry trips in the Egypt Lake area including the popular Egypt Lake to Shadow Lake traverse. See below if you want to spend a night or two at Shadow Lake Lodge to do a multi-day trip with no tent.

Backpacking to Shadow Lake

Backpacking to Shadow Lake

The shelter is also a popular winter destination via the Healy Creek Trail for ski touring and snowshoeing but solid route finding skills are required and the small cabin can be hard to find in the snow so allow for lots of time before dark.

Four: Brewster’s Shadow Lake Lodge

Shadow Lake is considered to be one of the most beautiful backcountry lakes in Banff and you won’t find finer accommodations than at Brewster’s Shadow Lake Lodge. This fully catered lodge provides all meals, packed lunches for your day trips, and afternoon tea. Sleeping is in individual cabins with two double beds per room. Upgrades to queen or king cabins are also possible.

Cabins at Shadow Lake

Cabins at Shadow Lake

Usual access to the lodge is via the Red Earth Creek Trail and while it isn’t the most exciting trail in the Rockies, it is the most popular way of reaching the lodge which can be reached on foot, bike, snowshoes or skis in an easy nine-mile trip.

Shadow Lake

Shadow Lake

From your cozy home at Shadow Lake, you can day hike to Gibbon or Ball Pass which are both fabulous destinations in the fall when the larch trees turn golden. Shadow Lake itself is a short jaunt from the lodge as well and makes for a nice walk after dinner.

Fall hiking at Gibbon Pass

Fall hiking at Gibbon Pass

For alternate approaches to the Lodge, consider hiking in or out via Egypt Lake, Ball Pass or Gibbon Pass for a longer but more spectacular journey. The options for backcountry exploration in this area are limitless.

Five: Skoki Lodge

This is a lodge that even royalty will approve of. In fact, England’s Prince William and Kate stayed at the lodge in 2011 as part of their tour of the Canadian Rockies. Built as a ski lodge back in the early 1900s, this lodge continues to be a premier destination for ski touring, snowshoeing, or hiking in the summer. The lodge is accessed via a seven-mile trail that crosses two alpine passes and circles around the beautiful Ptarmigan Lake which you’ll ski or hike across in winter.

Skoki Lodge in September

Skoki Lodge in September

Once you arrive at the lodge you’ll feast on gourmet cooking at its finest and find all of your meals provided for you including packed lunches for day trips and afternoon tea with decadent desserts and homemade soup. Many people even ski or hike in for the day just to enjoy the afternoon tea! Sleeping is in small lodge rooms with all bedding provided or in one of three cabins outside.

Skoki Lodge in winter

Skoki Lodge in winter

Please note that all distances above are one-way and not round trip numbers. Many of the areas mentioned above have backcountry campgrounds nearby as well if this is more to your preference. For more information on backcountry camping in the Canadian Rockies visit the National Park website for your chosen park.

This entry was posted in Destinations, Features, Homepage Featured by Tanya Koob. Bookmark the permalink.

About Tanya Koob

I am the mom of a spunky 7 year old boy and I live in Calgary, Canada at the doorstep to the fabulous Rocky Mountains. Our family makes it a priority to get out to the mountains most weekends for big adventures from hiking, camping, biking, and paddling in summer to skiing and snowshoeing in winter. I am the author of the blog, Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies, www.rockiesfamilyadventures.com.

One thought on “The Best Backcountry Basecamps in the Canadian Rockies (no tent required)

  1. Hi Tanya,
    Is there any Huts to access on the coast, along the sea to sky corridor in BC? I live in Vancouver with my two daughters and we want to do an overnight trip.

    thx Karen

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