Andrew Sunter and his 7-year-old son Aidan hiked the world-renowned Berg Lake Trail around Mt. Robson this summer. The trail brings you to the foot of Mt. Robson (3954 m), a “big mountain with big hazards” and the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies
Trailhead (Elevation 862 m; Distance 0 km)
The Berg Lake trail is in Mt. Robson Provincial Park, British Columbia. It’s one of the most scenic trails in Canada, and that’s saying something. The trail gains some 800 m in 23 km. (Berg Lake Trail map )
The trail to Berg Lake campsite is 21 km from the trailhead and is well marked with opportunities for both beginner and advanced hikers.
The hike starts in the parking lot of the Visitor’s Centre at Robson Junction on Yellowknife Highway 16. We drove there from Calgary, going up to Jasper and crossing into BC through the Robson Pass. This is one of the most popular hikes in Canada so think about making a reservation.
What to bring
There are seven campgrounds along the trail: Kinney Lake, Whitehorn, Emperor Falls, Marmot, Berg Lake, Rearguard, Robson Pass. We camped at the Whitehorn and Berg Lake sites. All sites have bear-proof storage lockers and pit toilets.
You have to bring in a camp stove because no fires are allowed.
The weather was just about perfect when we were there in July but extreme changes in weather have to be expected.
The trail to Kinney Lake (Elevation 985 m; Distance 4.2 km) is quite easy and good for a day hike. The wide trail climbs gradually along the Robson River through old-growth cedars.
Bridges across the Robson River
You cross several bridges, some spanning the Robson River, others crossing gravel streams created by fluctuations in the level of the river.
At each crossing I would remind Aidan to take his time, one foot in front of the other. He was always careful.
After Kinney Lake the trail splits. The official trail continues up rolling terrain through the forest and the unofficial one follows the riverbed. You gain and lose elevation on the official trail so we chose the unofficial one, which was well marked and interesting. We did hear that the unofficial trail can be difficult earlier in the year because of high water.
After several kilometres the trail crosses the Robson River on a suspension bridge (one person at a time) and you enter Whitehorn campground.
Whitehorn Campground (Elevation 1128 m; Distance 10.5 km)
The elevation gain has been gentle to this point compared to what lies immediately ahead so this is a good place to stay if you are not going the whole way up. You’re about half way in, the campground is really nice with a good eating shelter. Besides, you’re in the wilderness and the water is fresh.
Food can be an issue with a 7-year old who is not too keen on freeze-dried meals. We brought a big sausage and that was a hit along with granola bars. Needless to say, we ran out of his preferred foods quite quickly.
One of Aidan’s jobs was treating the water, and he enjoyed doing that.
You cross another suspension bridge when you leave the campground.
Valley of a Thousand Waterfalls
Now the trail climbs steeply above the west bank of the Robson River into the Valley of a Thousand Falls. There are thee major waterfalls on the Robson River: White Falls, Falls of the Pool, and the Emperor Falls.
Hiking is very difficult for about 5 km after Whitehorn. Basically you have all your elevation gain in that 5 km. It’s switch backs, it’s tough, you’re sweating, you’re in pain.
You have to use caution near the unfenced cliff edges. You’re basically going along a cliff face with a sheer drop and if you fall it would be fatal. Aidan and I talked about the need to stay on the inside, to touch the rock with his hand, to not play around.
Emperor Falls is at the top of the valley. Aidan was hurting and had a bit of a meltdown.
Near Emperor Falls campground (Elevation 1631 m; Distance 15 km) the trail levels; you’re in an upper valley and walking along an alpine meadow. Three km later we reach the shores of Berg Lake and from there it’s about 2 km to the Berg Lake campground.
Upper Robson River Valley
The cliffs of Mt. Robson and the glaciers soon dominate the scene: Mist Glacier, Hargreaves Glacier, Berg Glacier. You can get up close to the glaciers and you hear the rumbling sound as large pieces of ice calve from a glacier and fall into the water.
Berg Lake Campground (Elevation 1646 m; Distance 19.6 km)
Berg Lake is fed by glaciers and you can see icebergs in the water, even in July. Rearguard and Robson Pass campgrounds are just beyond here.
Snowbird Pass alternative day hike
We didn’t do the Snowbird Pass hike because it would have been a little too hard for Aidan and he needed a rest day. Instead, we hiked part of the trail but instead of going up to the pass we went down to the glacier. This is not an official hike but it is not so difficult and certainly well worth it. We saw like two people the whole time.
We were going to stay another night but we ran out of food and toilet paper—at least the kind of food that Aidan would enjoy.
Aidan had a second meltdown near the end, not because it was difficult but because he thought he was almost finished only to find out he had 5 km to go. It was the only time he took off his knapsack in protest.
But in the end Aidan put his knapsack on again and we hiked to the finish.
We rewarded ourselves with a great dinner and comfortable sleepover in Jasper.
By Andrew Sunter
Photo credits Andrew Sunter
© Riding the buses 2014