The Rogers Pass area of Glacier National Park is famous in the world of backcountry skiing and people travel from all over North America to experience it first-hand. While not as well-known as Glacier National Park in the United States, Canada’s own park by the same name is situated between the cities of Golden and Revelstoke in the province of British Columbia. It is Canada’s second oldest national park and in winter, this is the place to be for powder lovers looking for some of the deepest snow on the continent.
Searching for a “Snowshoe-Friendly” way to Explore Rogers Pass in Winter
A quick search across the internet for “snowshoeing Rogers Pass” turns up very little information and backcountry skiers would have us believe that this is their private winter playground. The national park website isn’t very encouraging either with very strict warnings about avalanche danger, large areas closed or restricted to the public, and a permit system in place for backcountry skiers (allowing them to only ski slopes not currently being blasted for avalanche control.)
I did one final search to see if I could find a single trail that would be open to a winter hiker like me, somebody with limited avalanche training, and somebody wanting to play it safe with their family on a gentle hike. The result was that there are no listed or recommended winter trails in Glacier National Park for recreational winter hikers. Families generally don’t visit the park in winter and most people wouldn’t step off the highway without serious avalanche training in this part of the Rockies.
My research should have turned me off wanting to visit Rogers Pass in winter (and it almost did) were it not for the knowledge of a small backcountry hut located a mile off the highway, in a prime location in the vicinity of the Rogers Pass area, and in an area that is 100% safe from avalanche threat. I booked spots at the hut for my family and friends, and the trip was on! We would get to visit the park after all, and we would explore what limited terrain was available to us once we got to the cabin. If we couldn’t step more than five feet away from the cabin for risk of avalanches, we’d play cards and build a snowman. At least we’d be at Rogers Pass and I’d see the famous snow!
Finding our Backcountry Home at the Wheeler Hut
The A. O. Wheeler Hut is maintained by the Alpine Club of Canada (ACC) and is one of 30+ cabins, huts, and shelters operated by the ACC. It is also one of the easiest huts to reach in winter with a short 1.2 mile hike or ski in from the TransCanada Hwy. We chose to snowshoe to the hut since we were traveling with children and because we knew we wouldn’t be straying too far from the hut on skis. The hike in was easy enough to do in the dark after work on Friday and other than a short hill at the beginning, was completely flat the entire distance (which made pulling a sled with gear very easy.)
A short 45 minute hike takes you right to the door of the hut and the trail is usually well packed down for easy travel. Once at the hut, we were greeted by friends and were happy to see that they had started the two wood stoves in the cabin. It was slowly starting to heat up. The hut sleeps 24 people in winter, and it was near capacity both nights we were there. Users wanting a quieter experience will want to go mid-week or travel in the off-season when the snow is poor.
The Alpine Club Experience
The Alpine Club huts are not fancy by any means but they offer a comfortable rustic way to stay in the backcountry without having to pitch a tent – and for that I am extremely grateful! Most ACC huts are equipped with a wood stove (two at Wheeler,) at least one propane stove for cooking on with all necessary dishes and kitchen supplies. The huts also have foam mattresses so that you just have to bring a sleeping bag for night time, and there are propane lanterns for light.
The Wheeler Hut is larger than many of the ACC huts and is made up of three separate rooms on the main floor (kitchen, living room with wood stove, and drying room with a second wood stove.) Each of the three rooms has a table for users to sit at while eating or socializing and so it never feels that crowded. The second floor also has three separate rooms for sleeping. Bring ear plugs as there are no doors between the rooms and it can get noisy at night between snoring and bathroom trips to the facilities outside the hut.
Lack of indoor plumbing aside, things at the Wheeler Hut are pretty luxurious for backcountry lodging and you’ll be dry, warm, and safe inside the cabin as winter storms howl outside.
Snowshoeing at Rogers Pass
We were delighted to find out that we could actually hike a good 4 miles round trip without getting into avalanche terrain from the Wheeler Hut. We were also outside of the winter permit zone so didn’t have to worry about getting those for our short adventures while at the hut.
Visitors to the Rogers Pass in winter can snowshoe or ski up the Asulkan Valley to the first bridge and back in safety, and the trail is relatively easy for the whole family. We never got past the “Meeting of the Waters view point” which was a short 2 mile round trip hike from the hut. At the view point, we got to see the Asulkan Brook and the Illecillewaet Rivers join in a winter wonderland of ice and snow. It was stunningly beautiful and made for a lovely short one hour trek from the hut. The bridge was out on our trip so we didn’t do the full summer loop hike but it was still a fun outing.
We also enjoyed exploring the snow covered stone ruins of “Glacier House,” one of the original mountain lodges of the Rockies. The ruins are a short 20 minute hike away from the hut and are a great place to explore with children who will delight in climbing on the snowy pillars, crawling down into the foundation, and jumping off of the rocks.
Other Ways to Pass the Time in Rogers Pass
Most visitors on snowshoes will find that one or two days is sufficient for exploring the small amount of available terrain outside of the hut. When not hiking, we spent most of our time outside playing on a sled track that had been built the previous weekend. The hill from the hut to the campground below made for an excellent “luge track” and entertained the children for hours.
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