Update July 14, 2021: A flash flood seriously damaged the Berg Lake trail and bridges on July 2. As a result, the trail is closed to day hikers and backpackers until July 31. The Moose River and Mount Fitzwilliam trails were also damaged and are closed indefinitely.
The reservation system for free day use passes was instituted by BC Parks last year in an effort to control visitor numbers (pandemic considerations) and reduce the environmental impact on several of the province’s most popular hiking trails.
With the exception of Mount Robson’s Berg Lake trail, all other day use pass requirements are for parks and trails in BC’s Coast Range (Garibaldi, Golden Ears, Joffre Lakes and Stawamus Chief).
Registering for day use passes
There is no charge for the passes, but hikers must register with Discover Camping to start their hike in the morning or afternoon (prior to or after 1 pm PDT).
Last year, reservations could only be made on the day of the hike. This year visitors can register as early as 7 am on the day prior to their hike. (First day for registration this year is June 22 for hikes on the 23rd.)
Morning hikers are not required to complete their hike before the afternoon, and no passes are needed after 4 pm. Passes will be reviewed at a control point on the 2-km access road leading to the trailhead parking area. Since cell service is spotty at Mount Robson, BC Parks recommends printing out hard copy of your pass. The Mount Robson Visitor Centre is available to help (8am to 4pm PDT).
Last year, there was a quota of 50 passes issued in the morning and 50 in the afternoon. This year, that quota has been reduced to 35 morning, 35 afternoon. The quota is flexible, however. While every day hiker requires a pass, the quota is attached to vehicles (maximum of 8 passengers per vehicle). Also, visitors staying at one of the park’s frontcountry campgrounds can day hike the trail without a reservation.
Backpackers bound for Berg Lake are still required to reserve sites and purchase camping permits to overnight on the trail ($10 for adults 16 years and older, $5 for ages 6 to 15). However, sites were already reserved for the 2021 season when last I looked (and cancellations are scarcer than hen’s teeth).
Day hiking Robson’s Berg Lake trail
In 1996, I worked as an interpreter in Mount Robson and guided hikes to Kinney Lake. Coming from Banff, I assumed the busiest trails in the Rockies were between Banff and Lake Louise. Boy, was I wrong!
The Kinney Lake trail was an overwhelming experience. Even back then, it was home to a steady stream of day hikers as well as the comings and goings of Berg Lake backpackers. I’ve only hiked the Berg Lake trail in its entirety once since (on the last day of the hiking season), so I can only imagine what summertime foot traffic is like today.
Back then, very few hikers attempted the gruelling 40-km round-trip to Berg Lake in a day. Then, as now, nearly every day hiker was only going to Kinney Lake (4.5 km).
But today, campsites along the trail to Berg Lake are pretty much booked up throughout the summer. As a result, more and more people are trying to reach the lake and return in a day. In addition to being young and fit, that requires a very early start and a round trip that will likely take at least 8 to 12 hours.
Another incentive for Berg Lake day trippers is mountain bike access, which is allowed to the lock-up at km-7.2, just beyond Kinney Lake campground. And for those riding electric-assisted bikes, the trip is even less gruelling. In other words, you can subtract 15 km from your hiking day.
The future of hiking on popular trails?
Day use passes are in use at many popular park and forest recreation areas across North America. Usually, a nominal fee is charged and reservations can be made well in advance of your visit. Passes aren’t really a cash cow for management agencies, but are primarily used to control visitation at popular day-use areas and trails that are being loved to death.
Ontario charges for day use in Algonquin Provincial Park. Alberta has instituted a fee for people using Crown Lands in the uber-popular Kananaskis Country (a bit more problematic since Kananaskis Country isn’t a true park and many people live within its boundaries.)
In many cases, it’s not just overcrowding on trails. Passes are also used in an attempt to control gridlock at overflowing parking areas.
BC Parks is still experimenting with free day use passes for the province’s most popular hiking trails. Will the program succeed if passes remain free? Or will the parks department need to attach fees so its reservation website is not instantaneously overwhelmed each morning?
If day use fees prove a success in controlling numbers in parking lots and on trails, you’ll likely see a similar reservation system for many popular trails in the Mountain National Parks.