News on hiking and backcountry access in the Canadian Rockies during the COVID-19 pandemic

Updated May 26, 2020

Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, Parks Canada is still restricting visitation to mountain parks in the Canadian Rockies. This includes closures of all day use areas, trailhead parking areas and many trails.

Parks Canada initiated restrictions on March 19. On March 29, the agency suspended motor vehicle access on non-commercial highways and to parking areas. Further restrictions followed.

As announced on May 14, some trails and day use areas are scheduled to reopen June 1. All camping facilities, including backcountry campsites, remain closed until at least June 21. Campsite reservations, front-country and backcountry, prior to June 21 will be refunded.

What about this summer?

Most hikers and other backcountry users are wondering how long Parks Canada restrictions will stay in place? (A number of long-distance backpackers have contacted me as they try to plan trips for later this summer.)

I can only point to the following from Parks Canada: “While the Agency looks forward to resuming services, anyone planning a visit should be aware that these measures may extend beyond May 2020 and any resumption of services will take time or be incremental in nature.”

Service centre limitations 

Towns that are usually sources for support, supply and accommodation in and around the National Parks are virtually closed and discouraging visitation. These include Banff, Jasper, Canmore, Radium and Waterton. Expect staged reopening of these facilities in June.

Meanwhile, residents make it quite clear that visitors are not welcome until the pandemic is under control. Small grocery stores and other essential services can’t comfortably handle additional customers. This is especially true of medical facilities and local hospitals.

British Columbia Provincial Parks

British Columbia is generally following federal guidelines during the COVID shut down. B.C. Provincial Parks have been closed since early April. But on May 6, officials announced that parks would open mid-May (Victoria Day weekend) for day use. However, the Berg Lake trail remains closed to day hikers.

BC Parks’ backcountry campsites are scheduled to reopen 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).

There is no indication whether the Berg Lake trail will open to campers this summer, but Mount Assiniboine seems to be moving towards a limited opening. For the best information on the Lake Magog area of Mount Assiniboine Park, check out the Assiniboine Lodge website (the lodge manages campgrounds and the Naiset Cabins).

Grassi Lakes trailhead parking above Canmore on the Victoria Day weekend. Alberta Parks photo.

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: Parks Canada / B.C. Provincial Parks /  Alberta Provincial Parks