The Bryant Creek Trail is a popular hiking route to Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park. Starting near the end of the Spray Lakes, the trail follows Bryant Creek up through the forest, into meadows and eventually up over Assiniboine or Wonder Pass. This is a long route and there are plenty of campgrounds along the way to break up your travel – just be sure to book a backcountry pass with Banff National Park.
Trailhead: Shark Mountain, off the Smith-Dorrien/Spray Trail
Distance, One Way: 27.5km via Assiniboine Pass or 26.1km via Wonder Pass
Elevation: +460m via Assiniboine Pass or +580m via Wonder Pass
The trailhead is at Mount Shark, about an hour drive from Canmore.
While Bryant Creek is the fastest, easiest hiking route to Assiniboine, it is certainly not the most scenic. The majority of the hike will be done in the forest, with views finally opening up into meadows at McBride’s camp about 13km in.
The first 6km of the hike follows the Watridge Lake trail through a cross-country ski area. The trail is pretty much a road, wide and gravely, easy to follow.
Up Bryant Creek, Into Big Springs
After passing Watridge Lake, the trail climbs up (and way down) a ridge and keeps to the dark forest. You’ll cross Currie Creek, then Bryant Creek, then continue along the river valley.
The first backcountry campground is Big Springs at 9.6km. We started our hike in the late afternoon and arrived at Big Springs just in time for dinner. There are 5 tent pads, as well as an outhouse, cooking area, and a place to hang food.
Guess what? Big Springs is a big spring. If you have 10 minutes, you can cross the bridge and take the faint trail on the right, following the spring up to its source: an impressive billowing waterfall pouring out of the rock.
Mt Cautley and Meadows
The next milestone is McBride’s Camp, a further 3km down the trail. Beside a backcountry campground and a ranger’s cabin, the trail hits a junction for Wonder Pass. Most hikers choose to take the more gentle Assiniboine Pass up and the more spectacular Wonder Pass back down. And that is what we did.
The trail finally opens up into sunny meadows with views of Mount Cautley to the left.
Up Assiniboine Pass
Assiniboine Pass has two approaches: the hiker trail and the horse trail. The hiker trail is closed from August 1 to September 30th each year to reduce human-grizzly encounters, so it was the horse trail for us.
The climb up Assiniboine Pass is steady, but manageable. We felt the elevation gain more than usual because of our 40lb backpacks, and the trail didn’t ease into switchbacks until it neared the top.
The top of the pass was a welcome relief and is marked by a bench (so thoughtful!) and a kiosk welcoming you to Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park (and also to BC).
As you continue down the trail, the first glimpses of Mount Assiniboine appear on the left. You’re almost there!
The final 3.4km down to Lake Magog campground were painful, our feet were aching by this point. We snagged the last free tent pad in the campground, set up camp, and collapsed.
We spent the next 3 nights at Lake Magog, day hiking, before we trekked out. Here are our day hikes:
- Mt. Assiniboine: Nub Peak
- Mt. Assiniboine: Sunburst, Cerulean, Elizabeth Lakes
- Mt. Assiniboine: Lake Magog
Down Wonder Pass
Wonderful! Marvellous! Glorious! There’s no doubt about it, the best way to hike back out the Bryant Creek Trail is over Wonder Pass.
The trail starts near the Naiset Huts and steadily climbs up past Lake Gog. You’ll leave the trees behind for alpine meadows and the view will open up quickly. Looking back is Nub Peak. To the east is Mount Cautley and Wonder Peak. To the west, the Towers make an impressive wall with pinnacles of rock.
At the top of the pass, the view opens up to the mountain tops beyond:
As you carry down the other side of the pass, Lake Gloria comes into view (along with some impressive glaciers) and Lake Marvel sparkles below. The trail descends in a long series of switch-backs before walking along the scree slopes high above Marvel Lake. By mid-August, most of the wildflowers had bloomed, but we saw lots of aster, arnica, and the occaisional spark of Indian Paintbrush.
Marvel Lake is long. Almost 5km! And our toes were get feeling pretty squashed after the descent from Wonder Pass.
We weren’t in a hurry to keep moving as we had planned to spend the last night camped at Big Springs again. So we headed down to the far end of Marvel Lake and dipped our feet in the water. What a place! Sparkling blue waves, darting dragonflies, and Gloria Peak in the distance!
After spending our 5th and final night at Big Springs, we packed out early and made it back to the car at Mount Shark.