Hiking Mount Assiniboine: Sunshine Village to Mt. Shark in 5 days
Updated: Dec 2, 2020
Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park is the true hidden gem in the Canadian Rockies. Filled with sparkling glacial lakes, impressive glaciers, rugged mountain peaks, and awe-inspiring alpine meadows, this provincial park is a world-class playground for hiking, climbing, camping, and other outdoor enthusiasts. Its most famous peak is Mount Assiniboine itself, often referred to as the “Matterhorn of the Canadian Rockies”. At an elevation of 3,618m, this peak can often be seen from miles away.
However, what is truly special about this place is that it is kept wild. There are no roads that lead to or traverse this provincial park. This means that the only way to access Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park is by lengthy hiking trails (or by helicopter... but we prefer the full hiking and camping experience)!
We explored this spectacular mountain range during the summer of 2020. We decided to hike for 5-days, starting at Sunshine Village and ending at Mt. Shark Trailhead. We highly recommend to spend at least 4-5 days in the park to truly enjoy the landscapes. In this article, we describe our 5-day hiking itinerary in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, which was our most memorable backpacking trip to date. We also highlight essential things to know before you go!
Watch our YouTube video with all the details on the trail below.
Things to know before you go
The best time to visit Mount Assiniboine is during the summer months of July and August when the snow is usually melted and the summer days are long. However, the weather in the mountains changes constantly! This means that even in the summer it can be cold (or sometimes even snowy). Hiking Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park means that you have to be prepared for any kind of weather. Our 5-day hiking trip at the end of July started off cloudy and rainy on the first two days, while the other days were dry and sunny. In the last 2 days, the temperatures reached nearly 30°C. We consider ourselves very lucky!
In order to stay overnight near the iconic peak of Mount Assiniboine, you will need a reservation. We highly recommend booking as far in advance as possible as the camping, huts, and lodge spots book out fast. We booked a campsite at Lake Magog on the day reservations opened, and two hours later all spots were filled! The upside of this is that the booking system also limits the number of visitors.
If you are too late to book a spot, there are few alternative campsites that don’t need a reservation (but are further away). These are explained in the camping options below.
As we already mentioned, there are three types of accommodation options in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park:
Camping (multiple campgrounds in and near Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park)
We recommend staying at least 2 nights in the core area of Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, as this is where all the beauty lies. The only places that are near the mountain peak are Lake Magog Campsite, the Naiset Huts, and Assiniboine Lodge. We stayed for 3 nights at the Lake Magog Campsite and absolutely loved it!
Campground options in and near Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park:
Porcupine Creek - FREE first-come-first-serve campsite with limited spots. 18 km / 11 mi away from Mount Assiniboine/Lake Magog. No need to book.
Og Lake - Reservation required via BC Parks, 7.2 km / 4.5 mi away from Mount Assiniboine/Lake Magog, C$10 per night per person. Book in advance.
Lake Magog - Reservation required via BC Parks, right next to Mount Assiniboine/Lake Magog, C$10 per night per person. Book in advance.
Marvel Lake - Backcountry camping permit required via Parks Canada, 15 km / 9.3 mi away from Mount Assiniboine/Lake Magog.
Bryant Creek Campsite/Shelter - Backcountry camping permit required via Parks Canada, 15 km / 9.3 mi away from Mount Assiniboine/Lake Magog. Backcountry permit required.
McBrides Camp - Backcountry camping permit required via Parks Canada, 12.4 km / 7.7 mi away from Mount Assiniboine/Lake Magog.
The latter 3 campgrounds are all located in Banff National Park, and therefore require a reservation via the national “Parks Canada” reservation system. All campgrounds provide bear caches, water sources, and an outhouse (no toilet paper!).
Mt. Shark Trailhead / Sunshine Village Shuttle
For the itinerary suggested, you will need a car at Mt. Shark Trailhead once you complete the hike. If you only have one car (that you need to drive to the start of the trailhead), it is possible to arrange a pick-up by shuttle. White Mountain Adventures offers daily shuttles to both Sunshine Village and Mount Shark Trailhead from late June to late September.
We were lucky to have two cars, so we parked one at Sunshine Village and the other one at Mount Shark Trailhead. If you are hiking this trail with some friends, we'd suggest doing the same so you aren't tied to a pick-up time.
For a multi-day backpacking trip, it is important to pack light and smart! Below are the camping essentials you SHOULD take with you.
Sturdy hiking backpack - We suggest at least a 75L backpack with an adjustable fit-on-the-fly hip belt for a comfortable feel on the hike.
Waterproof, lightweight tent - MSR has a range of high-quality tents that are both lightweight and waterproof, which is essential when camping in the Canadian Rockies!
Lightweight sleeping pad - We have a Therm-a-Rest NeoAir mattress which is easily (and quickly) inflated and can be used in all seasons.
Cold-weather sleeping bag - Nights at Assiniboine can reach 0°C or below during summer!
Rain jacket or poncho - Vaude has high-quality rain jackets at affordable prices
Stove, lighter, and kitchenware - MSR has camping stove sets that come with cutlery, plates, bowls, etc.
Dehydrated meals - These are essential as they pack light, small, and only need water.
Nutritious snacks - like tuna cans, nuts, granola bars, and peanut butter sandwiches.
Bear spray - ALWAYS carry bear spray! There are tons of grizzly bears roaming around Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park.
Mosquito repellent - You'll thank us later... the mosquitoes are surrounding at all turns!
Sunscreen and hat - The sun in the mountains is intense, so bring at least a SPF 30.
Medical aid kit - Especially some bandaids for blisters!
Flashlight - You'll need this when you're going to the toilet at night.
Of course, in addition to this, you will need to take enough warm clothes and your camera for pictures and videos.
5-Day Hiking Itinerary in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park
Our 5-day hiking itinerary covers the distance from Sunshine Village to Mount Shark and two day-hikes from Lake Magog Campground. The total hiking distance on our itinerary seems longer than most ones you'll find on the internet because we included the most gorgeous must-see lookouts and detours!
Total distance: 95.83km / 59.54mi
Total ascent: 3946m / 12,946ft
Total descent: 3822m / 12,539ft
Day 1: Sunshine Village to Porcupine Campground
Distance: 22.61km / 14mi (17.5km / 10.8mi if you take the gondola)
Elevation gain: 727m / 2385ft
Duration: 6.5-7 hours
Start early on day 1 and park your car in the Sunshine Village Ski Area parking lot. You have two options from here:
Take the gondola up to the Upper Alpine Village and start hiking from there; or,
Start the hike at the parking lot, which adds another 5km / 3mi and 500m elevation to the day. Take the dirt road on the left of the Sunshine Base Station.
As the gondola was closed for the summer of 2020 due to covid-19 regulations, we hiked the additional miles. We wouldn’t recommend hiking this part as it isn’t scenic and you may want to save your legs for the remainder of the days! For information on hours of operation and prices of the gondola check their website.
When you reach the Upper Alpine Village, you will be rewarded with the splendid alpine meadows. Fields of flowers, wide-open spaces, and pristine lakes will start to surround you. Take the Citadel Pass Trail which is marked on the boards (or check your maps.me if not certain!). Soon you will come to a junction. Take a right here towards Rock Isle Lake (also marked). Marvel at the lake before continuing towards the Standish viewpoint. From here, you will have amazing views over multiple lakes and the meadows. After spending some time enjoying the views, trace back your steps to the junction. Note that this is a 3km / 1.86mi detour, but we highly recommend it!
Continue on the Citadel Pass Trail and enjoy the alpine meadows for miles to come. The elevation change is very low, which makes it a very enjoyable trek. Once reaching Citadel Pass, you will be rewarded with views of Howard Douglas Lake below and Mount Assiniboine in the distance (if it’s clear!). Go down to the lake to have a snack and continue from here on the Citadel Pass Trail until you reach a junction. There will be a sign that points towards the Porcupine campground. Porcupine campsite is free and on a first-come-first-serve basis so no reservations are required. We recommend this campsite for these reasons as well as it includes all basic facilities, like an outhouse, fire pit, tables, and bear boxes.
Day 2: Porcupine to Lake Magog
Distance: 18.79km / 11.6mi
Elevation gain: 415m / 1361ft
Duration: 6-7 hours
The second day promises to be another long day of hiking. Fill up your water before heading out as there are limited water sources along the way. From the Porcupine campground, you have two trail options: the easy and short option versus the longer but more scenic way. We decided to go for the scenic route, which adds 2-3 km / 1.2-1.8 mi to the total length.
Start tracing back your steps to the junction, which is a steep and short uphill grind. Take a right this time and you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful panoramic view over the valley. This scenic trail will last for a few miles until you go down into the woods and through the valley of the rocks and over Og Lake Pass. The pass marks about half-way and offers magnificent views of Og Lake and Mount Assiniboine.
Take a lunch break at the lake, before continuing on the trail towards Lake Magog. The elevation gain is minimal from here! After a few hours, you will reach Lake Magog, which is situated at the base of Mount Assiniboine. Here, you can finally rest your shoulders for a few days and explore the area.
We got caught in a rain and hail storm for a few hours from Og Lake to Lake Magog, which totally drained us. That’s why we can’t emphasize enough to be prepared for any weather!
Day 3: the Niblet, Nublet, and Nub Peak
Distance: 13.55km / 8.42mi
Elevation gain: 549m / 1801ft
Duration: 5-6 hours
Day 3 promises to be one of the most beautiful days of your hiking trip to Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park! You can start your day a little later as you’ll cover less distance. However, you’ll want to take many short breaks and pictures today. The views from the Niblet, Nublet, and Nub Peak are one of the most iconic (and breathtaking) in the entire Canadian Rockies.
From the campground, take a left towards Sunburst Lake and Cerulean Lake. Both lakes are tranquil with a beautiful mountain backdrop.
Now ascend to the first astounding lookout in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park... the Niblet. From here, you’ll be able to see Lake Magog, Cerulean Lake, Sunburst Lake, and Mount Assiniboine.
Continue uphill to the Nublet, which offers a more elevated view of Mount Assiniboine and the lakes below. Most hikers return to the lodge or campsite from this lookout. However, we highly recommend continuing along the ridge to Nub Peak. Even though it is at some points scary because of the steep cliffs and narrow ridge trail, it is totally worth it! As long as you’ll stay on the trail, you’ll be fine. The path is sometimes tricky to find, so it is best to follow others or double-check with offline maps. We did lose the trail for a while, which ended up being a lot scarier than it should have been. From the Nub peak, you’ll be able to see Elizabeth Lake and the encircling valley.
Take in the 360-panorama and have a lunch break before returning the same way to the Niblet. From the Niblet, take a left this time instead, making a loop of the trail. Top off this magical day with a swim at Lake Magog (if the weather allows!). You’ll notice that the water is surprisingly warm for glacial lake standards.
Day 4: Wonder Peak
Distance: 13km / 8.07mi
Elevation gain: 669m / 2194ft
Duration: 5-6 hours
On day 4, you will be pushing your limits! The day-hike to Wonder Peak is steep and not to be underestimated. However, Wonder Peak is also one of the most beautiful vistas we have ever witnessed in Canada. And what is truly special about this peak is that it is a true hidden gem! We saw literally NO ONE on our way to the peak.
Follow the trail from the Lake Magog campground towards the Assiniboine Lodge. There will be a sign that indicates the Wonder Pass / Marvel Lake Trail. The trail will soon get interesting as you’ll be walking through fields of meadow flowers and crossing little streams. The incline is rather gradual until you reach Gog Lake and the forest. From here, you will ascent steadily until you reach the top of Wonder Pass. This is marked by the BC / Alberta border marker. Take a short break here before persevering in a steep uphill battle.
Look for a trail on your left (which can be tricky to find at first). Offline maps or a physical map of the area will come in very handy here as there are no markers for the “Cautley to Wonder Route”. After 15-20 minutes, you will find yourself at the base of Wonder Peak. From here, it gets very steep and rocky (lots of loose rocks) until you reach the first ‘false’ summit. The views from here expand all the way over Lake Magog, Assiniboine, Marvel Lake, and Lake Gloria. We’d recommend turning back here if you are satisfied with the view and are afraid of heights.
From the ‘fake’ summit to Wonder Peak, it becomes tricky and even frightening at some parts of the trail. Loose rocks and sudden drop-offs shape the trail. We didn’t make it all the way to the peak as it became too dangerous and unsteady. The ultimate peak can inly be accessed with full rock climbing gear. However, we made it ⅘ up, which presented us with phenomenal 360-views reaching far beyond Marvel Lake towards the Spray Valley.
Note: We wouldn’t recommend attempting Wonder Peak when it is wet or the weather seems changeable, as it could become slippery and treacherous. When we scaled Wonder Peak, it was a blue-sky, hot day.
Follow the same trail back down to Lake Magog and have some rest before the big hike out!
Day 5: Wonder Pass to Mt. Shark Trailhead
Distance: 27.88km / 17.32mi
Elevation gain: 667m / 2188ft
Duration: 7.5-9 hours
Day 5 is the longest and most tiring day of your 5-day hiking trip in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park! This is not only because of the distance with a large backpack but also because your legs will be very sore by now. Think about the comfy bed you will be sleeping in later. It makes the final leg easier!
Start your day early so you can take enough breaks in between. Follow the same trail as yesterday (the Wonder Pass Trail) until you reach the BC / Alberta border marker. From here, you will hike down into the valley of Marvel Lake, providing stunning views of Lake Gloria and Marvel Lake. Stay alert at all times, as you are entering critical grizzly bear country! There is a viewpoint along the way, adding an extra 1.2 km / 0.7 mi (very steep!). However, if you have scaled Wonder Peak the day before, we wouldn’t recommend taking the extra hour to trek to the lookout.
Continue your way downhill until you reach the Bryant Creek Shelter. Here, the trail will join the Assiniboine Pass Trail through an endless forest. Those final miles will feel long as the scenery is underwhelming. You will finally arrive at Mount Shark Trailhead, where your car or shuttle awaits!
Alternative route on day 5: Assiniboine Pass to Mount Shark Trailhead
An alternative route on day 5 is the Assiniboine Pass. It is shorter and less steep than the Wonder Pass, but with fewer views and no lake view. We would recommend hiking Assiniboine Pass if you have already ascended Wonder Peak or don’t feel like another long and exhausting day.
You can also decide to split up the last day by staying at the Bryant Creek Campground. However, we’d recommend pushing through as the last 13.5 km / 8.4 mi of your journey will be the easiest ones.
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