If you’re looking to get away this summer, possibly to venture beyond Banff National Park, I recommend exploring the Icefields Parkway and the Jasper area. In my opinion, the drive from Lake Louise to Jasper is my favorite in Canada! The mountains seem to have a different spirit out there. They seem more grand and the scenery seems more dramatic. Since it is so far removed from large urban centers, it really feels like you are getting away from it all.
There are many backpacking trips in the area, but if you’re new to backpacking or maybe want to take a more casual approach to a weekend trip then I recommend checking out the Wates-Gibson Hut in the Tonquin Valley. Similar to Bow Hut, this Wates-Gibson is owned by the Alpine Club of Canada as well.
Trail Name: Astoria River Trail to Wates-Gibson Hut
Trailhead: The trail begins at the Edith Cavell Hostel Parking lot. About 8km south of Jasper on Highway 93, turn south onto Highway 93A (well marked) for 5.5km and turn right onto the Edith Cavell Road for 12km, parking lot will be on the right hand side.
Elevation Gain: 320m (1050ft), it’s pretty flat most of the way with a bit of a grind at the end.
Distance: ~19km one-way.
Time Required: 5-6 hours one-way, depending on your fitness level and the weight of your backpack.
Recommended Equipment: The luxury of staying in the hut is that you don’t need to bring everything you normally would on a backpacking trip. The hut has dorm style sleeping quarters (complete with mattresses) and a fully equipped kitchen. All this means you’ll just need to bring your sleeping bag, clothes, food and wine (wine gets its own category, of course). Some items you won’t want to forget are slippers, toilet paper, earplugs and a headlamp! If you have bad knees or balance issues I would really recommend in investing in a pair of hiking poles. There is no electricity at the hut, so you can leave your cell phone charger at home.
Leaving the parking lot, the trail immediately drops down the valley to follow the Asteria River. The trail winds itself through the trees, never straying too far from the river. Until you cross the river, the trail is shared with equestrian riders, so watch out for them and the horses’ droppings! Since you are never far from water and in the shelter of the trees, the mosquitos and black flies can be troublesome, but this just gives you incentive to keep moving! The terrain is easy, crossing streams, washed out hillsides, a boulder field and swampy meadows thus making the 19km slip by without much notice.
Once you reach Chrome Lake, start to pay attention to the trail signs, as there are several junctions. The terrain and multiple water flows start to take on an enchanted fairy tale feel. With the last bit of elevation gain you’ll suddenly pop out at the hut.
The hut and its surroundings couldn’t be more picture perfect. From it’s warm, traditional log cabin style to the turquoise water of Outpost Lake about 50m down the hill.
Surrounding the hut are plenty of other lakes, with fish, offering numerous day hike options for the weekend. From alpine rock routes to scrambles to meandering around an alpine lake, there is something for everyone. As well, there are a few backcountry campgrounds if you did want to opt for the true backpacking experience. More detailed trail and hut information can be found here.