Burstall Pass {Peter Lougheed Provincial Park}

Burstall Pass {Peter Lougheed Provincial Park}

Burstall Pass Hike

  • Distance – 15 km round Trip
  • Elevation – 470 meters
  • Difficulty – Medium
  • TrailheadBurstall Pass Parking Lot
  • Logistics – Driving down an unmaintained road, some route-finding required

If you like mountain views on every side and a wonderful half-day of hiking without extreme climbing, Burstall Pass is the hike for you! If you don’t like beautiful places and incredible views, you should give this hike a pass.

The only thing I don’t like about Burstall Pass is the fact that you have to drive down the Smith Dorrien Trail to get to the trailhead.

One of my least favourite things to do is to drive down the Smith Dorrien Trail (Highway 742) south of Canmore.

Washboard, holes, and more dust than you can even imagine are standard on this drive. Last weekend as we bumped along, there were pieces of cars that had fallen off other cars littering the road. If it isn’t securely attached to your car, it will definitely be rattled off when you drive down the Smith Dorrien!

The speed limit is anywhere from 60 kmph to 80 kmph, which seems fast for a poorly maintained road. But here’s the thing. If you drive faster, you seem to skim the massive washboard, rather than get stuck in it. Be careful of the edges of the road which are deep with gravel – I have nearly spun out as I have followed a curve and tried to stay in my lane.


burstall pass hike
Views like this making driving down terrible roads worth it!


I have come to realize that there is no point in trying to keep to your side of this highway, per se. Drive down the middle and when you seem a dust storm coming your way, slide over and make room for the oncoming traffic. Just don’t slide over too far or you will be doing donuts.

With a road like this, you would think that you would have all the hikes and beautiful places to yourself. This is not the case. The road is usually busy and the hikes can be overrun with people, especially at places like Ha Ling. If you go further down the highway, you lose most people but even so, oftentimes cars line the side of the highway, spilling out of full parking lots.

Burstall Pass is one of the many beautiful places down this terrible road. And the hike is worth the teeth rattle!

What can I say? Terrible roads oftentimes lead to beautiful destinations!

Hiking Details.

From Canmore, you can go via the Smith Dorrien nearly the whole way (46 km of terrible roads) or via Highway 40 and the Smith Dorrien (20 km of terrible roads but about 15 more minutes of driving).

There is a nice, big sign on the west side of the highway that says, “Burstall” – this is your parking lot for the hike.

Park at the trailhead and take the path next to Mud Lake. The first few kilometres of the hike are on an old logging road and bikes are allowed on the trail. As you hike through the trees, you will see glimpses of Burstall Lakes on your right. Take one of the many offshoot trails to check out the lake. At about 3 km, you will see some bike racks and be at the end of the lake.


Mud Lake
This gorgeous scene made me want to abandon hiking plans and find a canoe … and I don’t even like boats!


After this point, bikes aren’t allowed on the trail.

At about 4 km into the hike, you will enter an open marshy area where Burstall Creek has braided into the flats and created a floodplain. Some route finding is required as you need to navigate left to pick up the trail. Hiking signs are posted throughout the area, but the bushes often obscure them. Head left after crossing the first bridge and expect that your feet might get wet.

Bring extra socks if you are clumsy and have a tendency to slip off wet logs that are crossing deep streams … or if your name is Donloree. Water shoes would be extremely beneficial here.

After stream hopping and log crossing Burstall Creek for about 300 meters, you should find yourself back in the wooded area and on a very defined trail.


Crossing Burstall Creek
There are logs to cross on and rocks to hop, but sometimes you slip and … SPLASH!


Now the climbing begins. 

For the remainder of the hike, expect to be climbing with a few small flat areas to enjoy and recover. At about 6 km, the views will start to make your jaw drop.

Continue climbing up to the pass and enjoy the incredible 360-degree views of mountains. If you are feeling fit and have some energy in the tank, continue on the trail and enjoy the views and mountain pass. It can be extremely windy up here, so make sure to pack some layers and a windproof coat, even on the hottest days.


Burstall Pass trail
Once you’ve crossed the floodplain, which has amazing views, and hiked about 2 km with some climbing, the trail opens up into beautiful views for the rest of the hike.


Burstall Pass Hike
Views from the pass!


wildflowers at Burstall Pass
The wildflowers are stunning in their own right.


Past burstall pass
You can continue on to Leman Lakes, a backcountry campground, and Birdwood Traverse. Because I had already done 70 km of hiking that weekend, this was as far as I could go!


Larches cover the area. This hike would be incredible in the fall when the larches are turning colours. If you love larches as much as I do, put this on your autumn hiking list!

As out and back hikes go, when you have had your fill, head back the way you came.

Happy hiking!

1 thought on “Burstall Pass {Peter Lougheed Provincial Park}”

  • This is a perfect information for a hiker like myself. Thank you for writing your hiking experience in details. Awesome.

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