Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park is one Canada's most remote, beautiful parks, and this hike to Lake Magog is one of the best routes into the heart of this phenomenal place. The towering majesty Mount Assiniboine, the Matterhorn of the rugged Canadian Rockies, dominates the landscape with its spectacular profile. This hike crosses from Alberta into British Columbia, ensuring a full immersion into the rugged country. While it is possible to access Lake Magog by bike, horse, or helicopter, hiking presents incredible rewards and opportunities. Multiple trailheads allow for multi-day trips and thru-hikes. This adventure describes the route from the Mount Shark Trailhead that uses the Bryant Creek Trail to cross Assiniboine Pass. After a stay at the Lake Magog backcountry campground, the route continues out via Wonder Pass, along Marvel Lake, and back to the Bryant Creek Trail and the Mount Shark Trailhead.
Accessing the Mount Shark Trailhead requires a significant amount of travel along gravel roads through Spray Park. Depending on how far you plan to hike your first day, an early start is recommended. There is a large parking lot at the trailhead with space for many vehicles to be left for multiple days. Consult the bulletin board for a detailed map of the area and any trail closures and bear information.
The trail is quite wide initially, very much like a road. This area near the trailhead is also a cross-country ski course with many routes that crisscross the area, so be sure to adhere to the trail signs until the route becomes more trail-like after a short distance. Soon the subalpine forest obscures much of the view, with the exception of views from footbridge river crossings. After linking up with the Bryant Creek Trail at the end of Spray Lake, the trail becomes mostly straight and mostly flat through dense forest. Options for camping along this section of the trail include Big Springs and McBride's Camp. Every designated campground in the area does have at least one toilet. Just as it seems you'll never see the mountains through the trees again, the forest separates to reveal an expansive meadow.
At the edge of the meadow is a backcountry warden's cabin where Banff National Park staff are occasionally stationed. This meadow that Bryant Creek runs through is surrounded by rugged peaks: Mount Cautley, Gibraltar Rock, and Cascade Rock to the west with Mount Mercer and Mount Allenby looming immediately to the east. Enjoy these scenic views and watch for wildlife while you don the insect repellant you surely remembered to pack. The trail continues to meander along Bryant Creek as it veers west, becomes quite steep, and ascends to Assiniboine Pass, which marks the border between Alberta and British Columbia. Here you'll find an informational bulletin board with another helpful map and detailed descriptions of accommodations for the park. There are approximately 75 designated backcountry sites in the park, each obtained on a first-come, first-served basis.
Enjoy the gradual downhill slope as you encounter your first views of the impressive 3,618-meter Mount Assiniboine. The trail levels out through O'Brien Meadows, where a group and horse campground can be found. Just as you think you're never going to get to your campsite, the forest opens once again to the home of the Assiniboine Lodge. Stop in the lodge for a welcome cup of hot tea and to visit with the incredibly friendly family that operates it. There are several cabins scattered across this bench to the west of Lake Magog, all operated by Assiniboine Lodge. You may be able to find out whether Lake Magog campground is full and if your plans must change to another campground in the park.
Lake Magog campground is a luxuriously developed backcountry site by wilderness standards. It consists of 29 tent pads, a semi-enclosed log cooking shelter, a bunch of bear-proof food storage lockers and hoists, two grey water pits, three water taps, and five outhouses. The water still must be filtered, but it runs from a faucet, one of which is conveniently placed right next to the shelter. Fires are, of course, prohibited. Hopefully you're able to find an unoccupied platform, but there is an overflow area as well. Consult the detailed map of campsites found on an informational board along the trail.
Be sure to plan enough time to fully explore this area. There are many day hikes through the park, and there are many different views to see. Relax a bit on the porch of the lodge and take in the view of the massive Mount Assiniboine, enjoy tea and cake in the dining room, and warm your cold feet by the stove. Take a short walk along the shore of Lake Magog.
The most popular day hike is a small bald peak known as the Niblet and the Nub. Lying just north of the mountains surrounding Mount Assiniboine, the 2,747-meter Nub offers sweeping views of the rugged rampart peaks and the lakes far below. There is a trail that begins in the campground and travels along Sunburst Lake and Cepulean Lake, passing by another warden cabin between them. It is a steep hike, but you'll see it is worth the effort as you take in the unobstructed, 360-degree view of the park. Come prepared with a head lamp and stay up here for sunset to earn a unique view of the mountains as the light changes. In summertime, there might even be enough light after the sun has gone down for you to get back to your tent at Lake Magog Campground.
When you have to leave, you can either take the route you took to get here along Bryant Creek or take the trail to the south up and over Wonder Pass to loop back to Bryant Creek Trail. After meandering through the lodge cabins, the trail starts its gradual climb, passes Gog Lake, and crosses the creek that feeds it below Naiset Point. The view from Wonder Pass is somewhat desolate as the trees become shorter in the altitude. As you descend down the other side of the pass you'll be met with seemingly unending mountain views. Far below to the west you'll see the vibrant Lake Gloria, and above you the familiar Mount Assiniboine.
The trail takes multiple switchbacks through the forest down a steep grade until it becomes more gradual above the aptly named Marvel Lake. Many avalanches and rock slides have provided mostly open views of the lake and the surrounding peaks: Marvel Peak sits to the south of Marvel Lake, and Wonder Peak looms behind you to the north. The trail finally descends to the lakeshore at its east end just before becoming surrounded by trees once again. There is another campground, Marvel Lake, that you'll encounter just before you meet the familiar Bryant Creek Trail that returns you to your vehicle.
There is no way to fully express the beauty of this area. Nothing compares to witnessing the astonishing scenes of Assiniboine Provincial Park and the nearby Banff National Park. It's obvious how much the glaciers of Mount Assiniboine have reduced in size after looking at historical pictures found in the lodge. Perhaps this place can inspire one to do their part to preserve our wildernesses. As is always the case when traveling in this area, remember to adhere to the bear aware guidelines, and know of what to do when you encounter a bear.
A larger loop hike incorporating Marvel Pass and Owl Lake is also available for those who have the time and energy.