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Canadian Rockies Trail Guide

Asulkan Valley 

Some of the most scenic day hikes in the first edition of the Canadian Rockies Trail Guide went missing in the second edition. Here is the story behind these trails and why they disappeared.

Some of the most spectacular views from any day hiking trails in Western Canada are on display in Glacier and Mount Revelstoke National Parks. These trails were certainly a highlight in the first edition of the Canadian Rockies Trail Guide.

Yet, folks who read the first edition of the trail guide must have been a bit surprised when the second edition appeared and these trails were suddenly gone.

The decision to remove Glacier and Mount Revelstoke National Parks was a difficult one. First off, the Canadian Rockies Trail Guide expanded considerably with the second edition, adding a lot more detailed trail descriptions, particularly in Banff and Jasper National Parks. Plus, Glacier and Mount Revelstoke were in the Columbia Mountain range, not the Canadian Rockies.

But as I look back today, it was a bittersweet decision. The hikes we measured and photographed there were amongst our favourites during that long-ago summer of fieldwork.


Memories of Glacier and Mount Revelstoke

We had already spent around eight weeks on the trails of Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Kootenay and Waterton Lakes when we headed for Rogers Pass during the first week of August. Skies had been mostly cloudy and grey in the Rockies. But when we got to Glacier, we were greeted by blue skies, white fluffy clouds, fields of wildflowers and more glacier ice than we’d seen anywhere in our two months in the backcountry.

Asulkan Glacier

Bart and I hiked, measured and photographed separate trails with our hiking partners from a base camp at Illecillewaet Campground—Hermit Hut, Asulkan Valley and Glacier, Perley Rock, Avalanche Crest, Abbott Crest (Ridge), and a backpack into Mount Revelstoke’s Jade Lakes.

View from Perley Rock

Bart and I seldom hiked together that summer (trying to cover as many trails as possible). But on the last day of our fieldwork at Rogers Pass the weather and wildflowers were so glorious, he joined me and my hiking partner Louise for the trip to Balu Pass. 

Balu Pass summit overlooking the Cougar Creek valley

As we wrote in the first edition of the trail guide: “Balu (or Baloo) is an Indian word for bear, a name which is undoubtedly appropriate for the Balu Pass trail in Glacier National Park.” We continued with how the “hiker may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a handsome black bear hard at work in a berry patch.”

Little did we know that black bears are rare in Glacier National Park. The following summer, when the first edition of the trail guide was published, a hiker was badly mauled by a grizzly bear on the Balu Pass trail. Lucky indeed! (Today, there are grizzly bear warnings on virtually every trail in the park, and the Balu Pass trail has a 4-adult hiker group requirement from June 15 until September 30.)

Soon after the publication of the second edition of the Canadian Rockies Trail Guide, Parks Canada stepped up and released a free 41-page guide—Footloose in the Columbias: a hiker’s guide to the trails of Mount Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks. And in 1987, Chief Park Naturalist John Woods authored Glacier Country: Mount Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks—a general guide to the parks including trails.

Mirror Lake on the Abbott Ridge trail


Hiking the trails of Glacier and Mount Revelstoke today

Much has changed with the trails of both parks since those early days. There are far more hiking options than when we described the parks, particularly for shorter, interpretive walks. Today, hikers can download pdf trail guides containing trail descriptions and maps for both Glacier and Mount Revelstoke National Parks. Another excellent source of information is goldenhikes.ca, which provides more detailed descriptions for trails in both parks.

Millar Lake in Mount Revelstoke National Park

I’ve only hiked the trails of Glacier and Mount Revelstoke on a couple occasions since that August week during the trail guide summer. The trouble with both parks, we don’t think of them as destinations like those in the Rockies. We’re usually zooming somewhere on the Trans Canada Highway and don’t linger.

Aside from basing in the town of Revelstoke for Mount Revelstoke National Park, the only accommodation near Glacier’s prime trails is one of the park’s two highway-accessible, frontcountry campgrounds. Illecillewaet Campground (60 sites) and Loop Brook Campground (20 sites) are just west of Rogers Pass. Or the Alpine Club of Canada’s A.O. Wheeler Hut (capacity 30) provides highway-accessible accommodation a stone’s throw from the Illecillewaet Campground.

It’s not likely you will be able to wander into Illecillewaet Campground and find a campsite the way we did in the “old days” when we were completing fieldwork for the first edition of the trail guide. If campsites are full on your planned arrival, check out the private commercial campgrounds west of the park at Albert Canyon and Revelstoke. The cost of a tent site is around double what it is at Parks Canada sites, but still pretty reasonable compared to a motel room in Revelstoke or Golden.

All photos by Brian Patton