Hiking and backcountry access in the Canadian Rockies during COVID-19
Updated July 28, 2020
Parks Canada began lifting COVID-19 restrictions and closures in the National Parks on Monday, June 1.
Most trails and day use areas are now open throughout the Mountain Parks. All camping facilities, including backcountry campsites, remained closed until June 21.
Service centre limitations
Towns that are usually sources for support, supply and accommodation in and around the National Parks were virtually closed and discouraged visitation from mid-March until June. These included Banff, Jasper, Canmore, Radium and Waterton. Most businesses gradually reopened in June with strict physical distancing and sanitation protocols. Banff has also instituted mandatory masking in all interior spaces and along a two-block stretch of the Banff Avenue mall.
Provincial authorities are doing their best to limit interprovincial travel. In other words, it is hoped Albertans will limit themselves to Banff, Jasper and Waterton Lakes National Parks, and British Columbians to Yoho, Kootenay and other National Parks in B.C.
British Columbia Provincial Parks
B.C. Provincial Parks were closed since early April due to the pandemic. But on May 6, officials announced that parks would open mid-May (Victoria Day weekend) for day use.
BC Parks’ backcountry campsites reopened on a limited basis on June 1. The Discover Camping reservation system was back online May 25 at 7am PDT to accept camping reservations (reservations are limited to B.C. residents).
The Berg Lake trail in Mount Robson reopened to day hikers and backpackers on June 15. But as of July 27th, a new day-use reservation system came into effect for the Berg Lake Trail. The day-use reservation is free of charge. Passes are available starting at 6AM for a same day visit through the Discover Camping website. You will need your pass before arriving at the checkpoint along Kinney Lake Road.
Reservations for Berg Lake overnight trips are also made at the Discover Camping website.
Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park is also open. (For the best information on the Lake Magog area of Mount Assiniboine Park, check out the Assiniboine Lodge website.)
Alberta Provincial Parks
Alberta’s Provincial Parks were closed throughout April, but reopened on May 1. This included all trails and trailhead parking areas. Hikers were asked to respect physical distancing (2 metres) and skip busy trailhead parking areas. (Hmm, that certainly got interesting… see photo.)
Alberta’s online campground reservation system reopened on May 14 for bookings starting June 1. This includes both front country and backcountry campgrounds (expect site limitations and specific restrictions for backcountry campsites).
Keeping track during the pandemic
Federal and provincial governments are continually reassessing the situation as the COVID-19 pandemic progresses. All are working towards easing of restrictions.
However, don’t expect the U.S.-Canada border to reopen this summer. The same will be true for international travel. Even long-distance travel within Canada is currently discouraged and will likely remain so.
To stay on top of the latest response to COVID-19, especially as it affects hiking and the backcountry use in the Mountain Parks, check the following links: