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Guide to Hiking Lake Magog {Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park}

Guide to Hiking Lake Magog {Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park}

Lake Magog {Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park}

  • Distance – 58.5 km (Sunshine via Citadel Pass – Magog Campground – Mount Shark via Wonder Pass)
  • Elevation – 899 gain / 1098 loss (Sunshine via Citadel Pass) 597 gain / 1046 loss (Shark via Wonder Pass)
  • Difficulty – Moderate
  • Trailhead LocationsMount Shark Trailhead in Kananaskis and Sunshine Village in Banff
  • Logistics – Can be done as an out and back or shuttle hike and helicoptering your stuff in for camping is an option so you can hike without being weighed down.

Mount Assiniboine stands out like a beautiful sore thumb in the Rockies.

Often while hiking in the Rockies, I have found myself saying, “Oh look, there is Mount Assiniboine. I just love that mountain!” To have the opportunity to hike to the base of it, stand in its shadow, and soak up its beauty was an absolute treat.

Lake Magog sits at the base of Mount Assiniboine and is well worth all the work to be able to enjoy its beauty – especially at first morning light.

Lake Magog Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park
Always take your camera with you when you wake up at 5:45 am – you never know what you will see on your way to the outhouse!

It is even worth the backcountry camping.

I tend to be a bit of a high maintenance hiker – I love my showers and hauling 20 pounds of stuff on my back sounds terrible; I prefer to have a 12 hour day of hard hiking with a shower and real bed at the end of the day rather than sleeping in the backcountry. Washing my legs off in a cold mountain stream and then crawling into a sleeping bag in a tent that just spent the last 8 hours on my back isn’t really my thing.

Imagine my dismay when I started researching the logistics for Lake Magog.

I quickly found out that it was at minimum 27.5 km one way, a shuttle hike or an epic out and back – not a loop, and the backcountry campgrounds were completely full so going wasn’t even an option … even if I wanted to haul my tent on my back and crawl into my sleeping bag covered in mud.

To be able to see everything I wanted to see and make it a day hike, it would be a 54 km day with 1,900 meters of climbing and over 2,000 meters of elevation loss … and that was only if I got back to the Sunshine Gondola by 5:45 pm, which would be impossible since the gondola doesn’t even open until 8:00 am.

So I decided to embrace the idea of backcountry camping and see if I could check this epic adventure off my list.

Somehow I made it all work and it was a simply amazing two days and I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone who loves hiking and beautiful mountains.

Everything you need to know about the hiking to Mount Assiniboine and Lake Magog is below.

View over Lake Og
20 km into the hike, this incredible vista greets you. Lake Og, the Valley, and Assiniboine off in the distance.

Overnight shuttle hike vrs. day out and back hike.

I highly recommend doing a shuttle hike from Sunshine through to Mount Shark via Wonder Pass and staying overnight in the backcountry campground. It takes a lot more planning and logistics, but the eye candy is worth the effort. And by hiking this route, you have the least amount of climbing and your second day is much easier than the first.

If you want to do an out and back in one day, the only way that makes sense is to go in from Mount Shark and come back the same way. If you are an extremely strong hiker, you could add in Wonder Pass on the way out as there is very little additional climbing but a lot more downhill.

  • Note: The views of Citadel Pass, Lake Og, and finally Lake Magog as you come from Sunshine would be lost if you did an out and back from Mount Shark as most of the hike is in the trees. Due to how gentle this leg of the hike is, it is the one that makes sense to do as a day hike but over half the amazing views would be lost.

When you start at Sunshine, you start at the top of the gondola which removes a ton of climbing. The gondola closes at 6:00 pm and it is unlikely that you will be back in time to catch it down to the car. If you miss the gondola, plan on adding another at least 5 km and a ton of downhill to your day in order to get back to your car. 55+ km with 1900 meters of elevation gain and loss, this makes doing an out and back in a day from Sunshine nearly impossible unless you are a mountain runner and a genetic wonder like my significant other.

Marvel Lake on the other side of wonder pass
Hiking down from Wonder Pass is a wonderful experience! Views of Marvel Lake follow you for about 3 km and there is nothing but glorious downhill!

Logistics of the shuttle hike from Sunshine to Mount Shark.

You will need two cars or take a shuttle from Mount Shark back to Sunshine.

Dropping a car at Mount Shark requires a chunk of time the day before. Driving 41 km down Spray Lakes Road (AB-742) to the trailhead is a bumpy, gravelly mess. You can take Highway 40 to the junction of Spray Lakes Road and go north 26 km to the Mount Shark trailhead which will save your car, but add some time. I suggest doing this if you are coming from Calgary but if you are staying in the Banff / Canmore area, drive north on Spray Lakes Road (AB-742) as it will save you about 30 minutes of drive time or an hour round trip.

  • If you don’t have two cars, you can get a shuttle back to Banff from Mount Shark.

White Mountain Adventures will shuttle you back to Canmore or Banff Sunshine Village. The cost is high at $90 a person (summer 2019), but makes the shuttle trip doable and worth it. The only catch is that the shuttle leaves at 4:30 pm from the Mount Shark trailhead, so you have to be sure that you will be out by 4:15. The trail out of Mount Assiniboine to Mount Shark is quite gentle if you take Assiniboine Pass; mostly downhill and about 300 meters of climbing at the 18 km mark and most of the views cease after 14 km. Wonder Pass requires a bit of climbing, but not much. Once you reach Marvel Lake, it is literally all downhill until the last bit of climbing around the 18 km mark. If you get an early start, getting out by 4:15 pm shouldn’t be a problem.

The best case scenario is to have two cars in your group and drop one off at Mount Shark. There are some fabulous hikes in the area, so if you do drop your car off the day before, make sure to do something like Tent Ridge before you head back to town for the night.

  • NOTE: If you get shuttled back to Sunshine and don’t have a car, you will need to organize a ride from Sunshine back to Banff and then back to Sunshine the next morning. There are shuttles with hotels that you could use or simply get a taxi – the Sunshine website had a ton of ideas so you can sort our your specific logistics. 
On the way to Lake Magog
After you reach Citadel Pass, you climb halfway down the mountain and then traverse the mountainside for a few km before reaching Rock Garden. Watch your step!

How to helicopter your gear up to Lake Magog.

As I mentioned, I embraced backcountry camping and I did not die, mostly with a little help from my friend, helicopter.

Spending the day hiking and enjoying the views without wanting to die halfway through the day is the way I prefer to hike. This might make me weak, but I prefer to think it makes me smart.

Canmore Alpine Tours flies gear and people up to Mount Assiniboine on Fridays, Sundays, and Wednesdays (Mondays instead of Sundays on the long weekend). You simply have to show up before 8:30 am, put a green sticker on your gear with the date you are arrive at the Lake Magog and your name, and leave your backpack with a stack of other people’s gear and it will be at the Mount Assiniboine Lodge when you arrive. You pay for your gear at the lodge, the helicopter company really has nothing to do with it other than being the gear mule.

  • At three dollars a pound each way, you want to really think about what you need versus want up on the mountain, but it makes the hike so much more enjoyable.

The morning you are leaving Lake Magog, simply show up at the lodge and let them know you are flying your gear out – no need for advance notice.

They weigh, sticker, and fly it out for you. On flight days, your gear will be available mid afternoon back at Canmore Alpine Tours. They close at 5:00 pm, but you can pick up your gear later. We showed up at 6:00 pm and there were some guys still there so they helped us find our stuff.

  • When you drop your gear off, ask about the logistics of picking it up as coming back another day is less than ideal.

Also note that no one is officially at Canmore Alpine Tours when you show up that early as they aren’t really open, so call ahead to ask all your questions.

Lake Magog hike
Because when you’re on the hike home and only 12 km from the car, you should take time to be silly and frolic!

Where to stay at Lake Magog / Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park

The idea to hike into Lake Magog only came onto my radar in July, so everything was booked when I started to make plans. Everything about this place requires patience and advanced planning.

You can stay in the lodge, huts, or backcountry camp.

Mount Assiniboine Lodge

The lodge overlooks the lake, feeds you gourmet meals, has showers, and is adorable. It is also expensive and completely booked up. If you want to stay here, request for dates are made August – September the year before.

I have to say, hiking in and then sleeping in a real bed and having someone else cook for me sounds rather amazing. If you can swing it, spending one night in the lodge sounds amazing … but then again, I am a high maintenance hiker.

The nightly rate starts at $350 per person per night (includes breakfast and lunch the second day) and everything is booked up about a year in advance, so you probably will find yourself camping!

Naiset Huts

There are a few very nice looking backcountry huts adjacent to the lodge. These also book up quickly each year and the bookings are done in advance (check Mount Assiniboine Lodge website for details).

Bunk beds, cooking huts, and a log cabin await you.

We just saw these out of the corner of our eye as we hiked to Wonder Pass. They look wonderful and would be great for a group of people if you and some friends want to make the trek together.

Lake Og and Lake Magog Campgrounds

There are two main backcountry campgrounds on this hike – Lake Og and Lake Magog.

If you are traveling in with your gear from Sunshine, stopping for the night at Lake Og wouldn’t be a bad idea. At 20 km into the hike, it is a good stopping point. The views are beautiful but you are also out in the open, next to the lake.

Lake Magog is where you want to camp if you are only camping one night. This backcountry campground is 2 km away from the Lodge but right at the foot of the lake. Getting up with the sun and watching the sunrise over the mountains as the early light reflects on the water is like nothing else.

  • The sites are usually full, but there are often cancellations. If you want a site, check back constantly and you will probably find something. I am an early riser and have found that checking for cancellations at 5:00 am usually yields good results. You have to book through the BC Provincial Parks websites – Discover Camping

Sunshine Gondola

This is the most wonderful way to start the hike! By taking the gondola up to the top of the mountain, you cut out a lot of elevation and slogging up fire roads. A one way ticket for the gondola and chair lift is $39 (summer 2019) and well worth the investment.

Within about 20 minutes, you find yourself at the top of the ski hill and within meters of Rock Isle Lake, a beautiful way to start the day. You will find yourself cresting Citadel pass within 2 hours and glad to have so much elevation behind you.

If you don’t take the shuttle, plan on adding much time and elevation onto your day. The gondola does a great job of setting you up for a wonderful day of hiking and ensuring your climbing is minimal (900 meters) and broken up in different chunks throughout the day. The decent is just over 1,000 meters and comes mostly in the form of climbing down the backside of Citadel Pass before you hit the 5km stretch of the rock garden.

If you decide to start from Mount Shark and hike through to Sunshine, know that you will have a harder second day with a some large climbs and will have to find yourself at the top of the mountain by 5:30 pm as the gondola shuts down at 6:00 pm each day. After such a long day, the last thing you would want to do is add onto it by having to descend another 1,070 meters, which may just end up shredding your quads after a very long day of hiking!

Mountain wildflowers lake magog
Oh, and by the way … the wildflowers are out of control gorgeous!

Leaving your car overnight at the one or both of the trailheads

If you leave a car at the Mount Shark trailhead, all you need to do is leave it there. Easy peasy!

Leaving your car at Sunshine Gondola is easy as well. I was told to register my car with backcountry camping with Parks Canada. You can call them at 1-877-737-3783 to register your car. Just let them know that you are hiking into Mount Assiniboine overnight and that you are leaving your car there. They will ensure that Parks Canada is aware in case your car is there for days and they need to go looking for you.

Also when you purchase your gondola tickets, let them know you are leaving your car overnight and they will also register your car with their security.

  • Remember to take all your valuables with you. Unfortunately there have been break ins especially at the Mount Shark trailhead as it is somewhat remote. Just put anything that might look interesting in your trunk and take all your money and ID with you. 
And there you have it! When are you coming to this amazing place?

And there you have it – all the things you need to know to make your trip a success!

Of course if you area planner like I am, it will also take a few packing lists and much more detailed planning. But isn’t that half the fun, the anticipation before for the adventures?

All in all, it is rather easy. Book a site, drop your stuff off at the helicopter, leave a car (if you only have one, book the shuttle to pick you up), take the gondola, hike, pick your stuff up at the lodge, hike 2 more km, set up camp, sleep, wake up at sunrise and run down the the lake to get glorious pictures, pack up, drop your stuff at the lodge, hike out, grab your car, grab your stuff, and have a glorious dinner in Canmore.

I would love to hear about your adventures with overnight hiking and backcountry camping – especially if you have been to Lake Magog and Lake Og in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park.

Go to Lake Magog, you won’t regret it!



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