A couple weekends ago I was privileged enough to spend the long weekend with a group of rad girls and a cute mountain dog in the backcountry. While most people were packing up their trailers, battling the highway traffic to endure a couple days of crowded car camping, we quickly loaded up our packs and slipped into the wilderness.
The plan was to spend 3 nights in the backcountry, hiking and camping to a different campground every day. The route settled upon was Healy Pass to Egypt Lake, onto Ball Pass Junction and finishing at Twin Lakes with a short hike out via Vista Lake to where we left a second car. If you are new to backpacking, have done a couple one nighters and want to pick it up a notch, I highly recommend this route! This route is EPIC; wild flowers, alpine vistas, emerald lakes and towering peaks will leave you wanting to hike longer.
Trail Name: Egypt Lake, via Healy Pass, to Twin Lakes
Trailhead: There are two approaches to Egypt Lake. Either you start in the Sunshine Village parking lot and hike up Healy Creek behind the lodge or you pay ~$16 ($27 return) for the shuttle that take you up to the village and you hike up and behind the Wawa chair. We hiked along Healy Creek and enjoyed every minute of it, not to mention the constant reminders that there was a Grizzly somewhere on the trail.
For this trip you will need to either leave a second car at the Vista Lakes turnoff on Highway 93 (8km from the Highway 1 turnoff) or arrange for someone to pick you up. Cell coverage is non existent so you’ll have to arrange this ahead of time. We left a car, it’s about a 15 -20 minute drive between trailheads.
Elevation Gain: Ranges from day to day, but expect around ~700m each day as you do go over a mountain pass everyday.
Distance: ~40km total Get a copy of the Gem Trek Banff Egypt Lake map, not only will it help you on this trip but will show you all the other backpacking options in the area.
- Day 1 Sunshine Village to Egypt Lake via Healy Pass 12km
- Day 2 Egypt Lake to Ball Pass Junction via Whistling Pass 8km
- Day 3 Ball Pass Junction to Twin Lakes via Gibson Pass 10km
- Day 4 Twin Lakes to Vista Lake 7km.
Time Required: For a leisurely pace; time to smell the flowers, take topless photos and quick dips in the lakes, you’ll need 4 days and 3 nights. Expect 3-5 hours of hiking each day.
Recommended Equipment: Everything you need to survive you will be carrying in your backpack; tent, stove, pots, eating essentials, sleeping bag, air mattress…you get the idea. You also need to be wearing sweat wicking, breathable clothing, aka NO COTTON. Hiking boots are essential and hiking poles are recommended. This trip we encountered a couple nights of rain which reinforced the necessity to pack rain gear, rain covers for your pack and a tarp, luckily we were prepared. This only scratches the surface of the key items you need to pack. For more details you can shoot me a question or check out this blog post on what to pack and this post on how to pack it. Just remember, you’ll be carrying all your equipment plus food over mountain tops for 4 days, so be selective in what you choose to bring. That being said, don’t forget the wine!
Since you will be camping in the backcountry, you will need to reserve spots at the campgrounds as well as purchase backcountry permits, ~$10/night. This can all be done by calling the Banff Park Visitor Centre.
The hike up to Healy Pass is mostly through an enchanting forest filled with resilient mosquitos and black flies. Layer on the bug spray and just keep moving is my only advice. After crossing numerous mountain streams you’ll reach the expansive meadows of Healy Pass. Filled with wild flowers and surrounded by mountain peaks you’ll be too busy looking around to realize you’re already heading down the other side. Egypt Lake campground is just at the bottom of Healy Pass.
The next day you’ll enjoy a short grind over Whistling Pass. When I’m in a grind and my muscles are burning I just think about the toning affect that comes with it as well as how it’s a form of dry land training for the upcoming ski season. Whistling Pass will also delight you with meadows of wildflowers, as well as the numerous marmots and pikas, hence it’s name. As you crest Whistling pass the views will open up to several glacial lakes below. You will wind your way around these lakes to Ball Pass Junction campground.
From Ball Pass Junction it is a flat skip and a hop to Shadow Lake. At Shadow Lake you can find a private lodge in similar caliber of luxury to Lake O’Hara and Skoki Lodge. If you’re passing through in the afternoon, tea and cookies can be purchased. We poked our heads in but decided with the oncoming storm clouds we’d make for Gibson’s Pass before things turned wet. A switch back climb over and down Gibson Pass plunks you right into Twin Lakes campground before you even know it.
The last day is the easiest and quickest, since it is mostly downhill. It’s about 2.5 hours from Twin Lakes to Vista Lake, with a short climb up to your car/pickup.
All campgrounds are equipped with outhouses, but bring your own toilet paper. There are designated cooking areas with bear hangs. Please adhere to cooking and storing food in these areas as you are in a highly populated bear country! This will help keep you and the other campers safe. And as always, pack out what you pack in, don’t leave any garbage behind!
This three night backpacking trip is a blast! Super buff trails, top notch scenery and lots of reward for your effort. Happy hiking!