Staying Overnight in Banff Back-Country Shelters

  • View from the Summit of Mt. Temple

  • Lake Louise's Top Panorama on Moraine Lake

  • The Ten Peaks in Banff National Park

  • Mt Balfour on the Waptas near Banff

  • Gorgeous Mountain in the Banff Area

  • View on the Columbia Icefields near Banff

  • View of Ptarmigan Lake near Lake Louise

  • Sugarloaf Mountain Shelter in Banff National Park

  • Mt Collie on the Wapta Icefields

There is usually enough wood provided but you will have to bring at least some great tinder, a newspaper and a lighter or matches to start the fire. You will sleep on wooden planks meaning that a sleeping bag and optionally a sleeping pad (not optional if you are older) are really useful. Sometimes, we are able to heat up the hut to around 20 degrees but as the huts are not well insulated the heat vanishes fast if the fire goes out. The best places to sleep are the higher up planks as there is more heat. At the beginning of the night it is really hot, sweating you cannot sleep. Then, it gets really cosy as it gradually cools down until it gets awfully cold. Starting the night more or less naked you will gradually zip up your sleeping bag and put on layers of clothing as the night progresses (very practical if you are able do this while staying asleep). Yes, it can be freezing cold in the mornings with some ice in the water bottles. To prevent this, the person who needs to go to the outhouse makes sure that the fire is kept going.

You know that you need to drink a lot but you know as well that “stepping out” can ruin a good night’s sleep. This would be one reason not to get up at night, the second reason is that the outhouse (as its name says) is not in the house and not heated (I wish). Most of the time, it is located 20 or 50 meter away. There can be wildlife around the hut and in your way which is frightening as they appear bigger at night. Most of the times, there are some stairs to climb to reach the door of the outhouse. Nobody really cares to clear them from snow and ice until there is an urgent need at night, but then it is too late. Climbing up is not too bad but climbing down the 10 icy stairs in the darkness at Egypt Shelter can be really scary.

If you have some space in your backpack you can bring hut booties which are nice in the house but not on slippery stairs at night half asleep. But trust me putting on your ski boots for this walk does not make any sense, does it? Ok, why not because you will already be all dressed up fighting temperatures way below zero. Imagine a slip and fall in your underwear. Always have a second pair of gloves in your backpack in case you drop the first ones in the toilet. Don’t even think about retrieving them from the bucket 1 or 2 meters below

The outhouse of Peyto hut is located around 40 meters away and you will be walking on a small windblown ridge path. The more wind, the more difficult it is to keep your balance avoiding to crash into the snow. Don’t miss this outhouse in a whiteout as it is right above a crevasse field 30 meters below. There is a 1 meter handhold provided to be able to safely open the door even during wind guts. In a whiteout you will be marking this trail with skipoles, just in case … Oh, by the way, being lightly dressed and discovering that the sole outhouse is occupied kills much of the fun. Although nobody is eager to read a book there anyways every minute counts for the person waiting in the cold. At night, we usually put a skipole on the trail to signal “unavailability”. This works well as long as nobody forgets to take it away once finished, so keep an eye on your buddies this is a learning experience. Some parties unfortunately decide to stay closer to the hut when nature calls, which is not recommended by Parks and well appreciated by later parties who need to melt some snow or enjoy the “porch” of the shelter at springtime.

The morning routine is really easy. The first one getting up in the freezing cold makes a fire while his buddies are still pretending to be sound asleep which involves keeping still for hour(s) or so. Second he/she goes to the river with an axe to open up the waterhole again which froze over night. I prefer this to melting snow which is really time consuming and not efficient. Yesterday, I filled up my 1 l burner to the top with snow to get 20 cl of water. Some huts on the Wapta Icefields don’t even have any heating at all. Their heating system is body heat and sunshine, if available. Here, the first one up and running needs to boil some water for tea and coffee. Most of the time, the (non-existing) smell of hot water wakes up everybody.

I really like staying in these backcountry huts and don’t care that there is no toaster or espresso machine. Following these guidelines will enhance your backcountry experience for sure and if you have any additional suggestions don’t hesitate to write them down.

The Best Hikes in Banff

  • Caldron Lake, Beautiful lake above Peyto lake. Start at the viewing platform and continue downhill heading west to the beginning of the lake. Continue toward the creek, cross it at the bridge. From there you will see a trail going up to Caldron Lake. If you continue on the moraine, there will be another beautiful viewpoint on Peyto Glacier.
  • Sentinel Pass-Larch Valley Walk up into gorgeous Larch Valley. Walk through the valley and you will see between Mt Tempel and Pinnacle Mountain Sentinel Pass from which you will have a view on the 10 Peaks and into Paradise Valley. Just walk for another 100 meters on this pass towards Mt Tempel to get the best view ever.
  • Iceline At the hostel find the trailhead going right into the forest and onto the ridge line, an ancient moraine. Some people walk to the highest point to have a great overview of Takkakaw Falls and behind the Wapta and Waputik glaciers as well as the President’s glacier.
  • Skoki Lodge is one of the oldest lodges in the Park. Walk from the Skoki parking lot on this forest road and pass the Lake Louise ski slopes into this great valley. Walk up Boulder Pass for an exciting view onto Ptarmigan Peak and the panorama. Walk around the lake until you will see the trail over Deception Pass. Now it is just a short stroll to walk to Skoki.
  • Healy Pass Its trailhead is behind the Sunshine Ski hill gondola. It goes through quite a bit of forest with enough clearings to make this trail very enjoyable. The walk to the pass is fantastic and if you are at the right time in a sea of wild flowers. The gorgeous views from the pass are definitely worthwhile one of the big panoramas in the park.
  • Lake Bourgeau is just next to Banff and one of the 4 star hikes. It goes over very diverse terrain. Your will have to cross two waterfalls . The last one has no bridge but there are exciting options. Finally at the top of the last waterfall the valley opens as you approach the lake. The best views although are from a point a little higher up to the North of this valley. Walk up to the second lake and go South on the ridge for a grea t panorama.
  • Cory-Edith Pass is a steep but very rewarding hike. It climbs up immediately but you will have views into the Bow valley instantly. At a certain point you will be following a ridge and then walk underneath wild Mt Edith slopes to the pass. The best view is 20 meters South from the pass on the ridge into the hidden valley.
  • Sulpher Mt from the North Many people experience Sulphur Mountain from the gondola, some walk up underneath the gondola and I cannot blame them if they never walk up a mountain again. The best way is the trail from the back of Sulphur Mountain as you will have views and sun all the way to the top. It is easy to find walk past the Cave and Basin and keep walking until the last turn before the Canyon. This is a trail intersection and select the one going uphill to your left. Keep your right at different other trail intersections to the top.
  • Chester Lake is an easy walk from the big parking lot. Once at the lake enjoy the panorama and should you want to get the best of it, take this trail going from the shoreline left into the woods. It leads to a boulder field and finally above treeline. The best view is from this area.
  • Highline around lake O’Hara this is the best of the best of the best. If you are lucky you have a bus ticket to Lake O’Hara. The trailhead is close to the warden cabin and goes up above treeline circling around the lake.