Hiking and Backpacking in Alberta: Tips & Trails

Backpacking in Alberta: Canada, Alberta, Saskatchewan River Crossing, Mistaya Canyon Trail Head

In this post, we'll take a look at:

Alberta offers amazing opportunities for hiking and backpacking enthusiasts.

Rugged mountain trails wind through the spectacular Rocky Mountains and picturesque foothills regions, with elevations ranging from rolling prairie to rocky alpine peaks over 10,000 feet high.

In this post, we’ll delve into the world of ultralight hiking and backpacking in Alberta, providing tips to help you prepare for your upcoming outdoor adventure.

We’ll share Alberta’s TOP 5 day hikes (under 25 miles) and the best trails for longer multi-day adventures, unlocking the beauty of Canada’s outdoors.

Key Tips for Hiking and Backpacking in Alberta

  • What to expect: Hiking trails wind through mountains, forests, meadows, and valleys, offering encounters with wildlife like bears and moose. Be prepared for changing weather, with paths ranging from easy walks to challenging climbs, rewarding hikers with stunning views.
  • Essential gear: Remember to pack clothing layers for different weather, a first aid kit, water filtration or treatment, a headlamp, and tools for navigation like a GPS or a map and compass. If you’re in an area with bears, keep bear spray in an easily reachable holster.
  • Wildlife: Watch out for bears (black and grizzly), especially if they feel threatened or have cubs. Wolves in small packs generally avoid people but should be kept at a distance. Moose can get aggressive during rutting season. Be cautious of venomous snakes like the prairie rattlesnake in the southern areas.
  • Wild camping also known as random camping, is permitted on Crown land in Alberta with some restrictions. Campers must be at least 3,280 feet away from any occupied dwelling or trailhead, cannot stay more than 14 days, cannot damage vegetation or build permanent structures, and must practice ‘leave no trace’ principles. However, random camping is prohibited in Alberta’s provincial parks and protected areas.
  • Best time to go: The best times for outdoor activities in Alberta are from June to September, with warm and dry days. Mosquitoes and black flies are less bothersome than in May and June. September and October in the fall also provide great weather and fewer crowds on the trails. However, any trip from April to October can be ideal for hiking, as long as you’re ready for unpredictable weather or early snow at higher elevations.

Top 5 Day Hikes (Under 25 Miles)

  1. Johnston Canyon to Ink Pots (7.0 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  2. Plain of Six Glaciers Trail (9.1 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  3. Sulphur Mountain Trail (6.7 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  4. The Big Beehive (6.7 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  5. Sentinel Pass (6.9 miles).
    See on AllTrails.

Top 5 Multi-Day Trips

  1. Skyline Trail (27.9 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  2. Tonquin Valley Trail via Astoria Trailhead (25.7 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  3. Lake Minnewanka Trail (36.3 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  4. Elbow Loop Trail (26.1 miles).
    See on AllTrails.
  5. Assiniboine Pass – Wonder Pass (31.8 miles).
    See on AllTrails.

Annual Weather Averages

Alberta, Canada, has a diverse climate with four distinct seasons:

Spring (April to June):

  • Temperature: Ranges from 32°F to 68°F (0°C to 20°C).
  • Conditions: Spring is a transitional season with melting snow, budding vegetation, and occasional rain. Trails can be muddy, and some higher-elevation routes may still have snow.

Summer (July to August):

  • Temperature: Typically between 59°F to 77°F (15°C to 25°C), but it can go higher.
  • Conditions: Summer offers warm weather, longer daylight hours, and generally dry conditions. It’s the most popular time for hiking and backpacking in Alberta.

Fall (September to October):

  • Temperature: Ranges from 32°F to 59°F (0°C to 15°C).
  • Conditions: Fall brings cooler temperatures and stunning foliage. Some trails may be less crowded, but there’s a risk of early snowfall at higher elevations.

Winter (November to March):

  • Temperature: Can range from 14°F to 41°F (-10°C to 5°C), but it can be much colder, especially in January and February.
  • Conditions: Winter is not recommended for general hiking and backpacking due to snow and cold temperatures. However, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are popular winter activities.

Before grabbing your backpack and heading to the trailhead, take a look at some weather statistics for Alberta (Edmonton):

JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
High °F222737536470747264503223
Low °F8112033435155524333199
Rain/Snow (D*)32347101075432
Note: This table is approximate; weather can change with altitude.
D* – Days of rain or snow.

FAQ

Can I have a campfire while camping in Alberta? 

Campers in Alberta’s parks and recreation areas are permitted to have campfires, but there are restrictions in place to prevent wildfires. Fires are only allowed in established fire pits or grates and must be fully extinguished with water before leaving a site. From March to June, a province-wide fire ban is in effect to protect public safety due to dry conditions. Provincial forest areas may have additional seasonal or total bans as fire risks rise.

What are some safety tips for backpackers in Alberta?

Backpackers embarking on Alberta’s trails should remember key safety practices to enjoy a trouble-free nature experience. Always travel with a companion if possible and ensure someone knows your plans/route. Being properly equipped with navigation tools, first aid supplies, and weather-appropriate layers allows one to explore diverse natural settings. Signaling devices like a whistle, mirror or flare help summon aid in an emergency. Food, scented items and trash need protection from wildlife like securing in a bear-resistant container or high hanging when camping. Respecting posted advisories helps avoid risky situations, while basic outdoors knowledge can prevent injuries far from roads.

How to deal with wildlife encounters while hiking in Alberta?

If you’re exploring the backcountry in Alberta, be ready to encounter various wild animals, including bears and moose. If you come across a predator, avoid direct eye contact, slowly back away, and use bear spray only if necessary. Keep a distance of at least 50 yards from all wildlife, and don’t approach, feed, or pet them. Make noise on trails to avoid surprising animals, check for signs like scat before camping, and if large herbivores charge defensively, run sideways, not straight on. Following safety guidelines, such as traveling in groups and heeding advisories, helps hikers peacefully coexist with Alberta’s natural inhabitants.

Which national parks are the most popular in Alberta?

Banff and Jasper National Parks see the highest visitation numbers and offer incredible trail opportunities for outdoors enthusiasts. Within Banff, scenic trails like Lake Louise and Moraine Lake attract hordes of hikers daily. Jasper entices with majestic mountain routes like the Skyline Trek. Waterton Lakes sits in the southwest corner featuring magnificent alpine scenery and vibrant wildlife watching. Elk Island close to Edmonton provides a wildlife-rich experience, while Kootenay boasts glacial lakes and painted canyon lands. Whether it’s the stunning glimpses of towering peaks and turquoise waters in Banff or vast remoteness of Kootenay, Alberta’s national parks reward visitors with natural beauty and ecological diversity along their extensive trail networks.

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