Reaching Assiniboine’s epic views involves some logistics, and planning but it isn’t very difficult. Getting there with dogs is a whole different experience! For all the right reasons, dogs are not encouraged in the park and there are loads of limitations that can take quite a bit of researching to find out. I’m all for limiting the backcountry to dogs that are trained and have experience (imagine if anyone at your local dog park could fly their dog in for the weekend) as this place is so special and is chalk full of wildlife and there are a list of things to consider before attempting to come.
There are 3 main ways of arriving into the main campground at Lake Magog (there’s others that are less well travelled, I’ll stick to the 3 main ones). The first and easiest is a quick helicopter ride from Mt Shark Trailhead but dogs are not allowed. The second is hiking in from Sunshine Village, however dogs are not allowed on the bus to Sunshine village, nor are they allowed up the gondola (so you can still do this, however it would likely involve at least one night camping along the way and more distance and incline than the next option). Lastly you can hike from Mount Shark trailhead taking either the Wonder Pass or Assiniboine Pass (the trail splits at about 15km mark).
The trail from Mt Shark is about 30km to the campsite give or take 2kms and dogs are not allowed in the shelters along the way. The camping along the route isn’t very special (also buggy!) so I’ve always hiked straight in. There is also a special trick to make the whole thing easier- although dogs are not allowed on helicopters, you can pay to fly in your bag, or gear. However, there are a couple things to note with this “trick”. The first is that you pick up your gear at Assiniboine lodge which is 2kms away from the campgrounds so you must be able to walk your bag over and back easily (I do not suggest a 50lb duffle bag at the end of a 30km hike!). In order to fly your gear in, you must check in your gear in Canmore prior to driving to the trailhead so make sure you time it right or you might not get your gear in time! The second time I did this hike, there was no such option available during Covid, so we had to carrying everything in.
Last note is that it makes much more financial sense to fly in a person with 40lbs allotted gear if you have that possibility (instead of paying per lb for gear) but I’ve never been in a group large enough that we could fly someone in. Also if you have a problem, they will not fly your dog out, so make sure you have everything you need to hike yourself and your dog out!
I’ve done this trip twice, and each time it’s not gone to plan. Mother Nature likes to remind us that she’s boss and we need to roll with whatever she throws. The first time I did this hike in September we got snowed in the second night waking up with more than 1 foot of snow on our tent. The weather report said there was more coming and everyone started clearing the campgrounds, however we couldn’t join the exodus into the cabins because of Whiskey (no dogs allowed), so we ended up hiking out early several days early during an early winter storm. It was a mentally tough hike in snow that turned into relentless rain for a really really long day and at the point our minds had become really numb we almost walked right into a bull moose in the middle of the trail. Thankfully the moose didn’t charge us and went into the forest and we continued on until we got back to our car and into warm dry clothes.
The second trip I came with Erica and her hiking pole broke early on and she experienced some really bad leg pains with an already injured knee. Since we had to carry all our gear in (45lbs+packs), our hike slowed to a crawl and we adjusted our trip to have many more rest days and cancelled a side camp trip to Og Lake. On both trips the weather was very difficult to predict and far from perfect (I have this luck that it’s always freezing on my trips). However the bad weather seemed to coincide with rest days and just makes me want to go again so I can finally experience the elusive Assiniboine experience that doesn’t need all my winter and rain gear.
What I’ve learned from these adventures to Assiniboine is
- Book extra nights at the campgrounds so you can adjust your trip accordingly. Let the rangers know if you are leaving early though, so someone else can take your tent spot.
- Fly some of your gear in, but pay attention to drop off and pick up times (non-covid times)
- Use an Inreach Garmin to get an accurate weather report of the day (pay for the detailed report) and for a safety communication device. The ability to predict weather is worth so much if you’re heading out on a 6 hour hike alone in spotty weather.
- Train for this hike if you are doing it in one day, train your dog, and train carrying the weight!
- This location is PACKED full of wildlife including meadows full of ground squirrels, marmots under the outhouses, grouse, rabbit, deer, grizzly bear, and moose (I’ve seen every one of those on this trail!). You MUST have control of your dog (and I’m not just talking about hooking up a leash!) because if your dog pulls you towards every single squirrel you are going to be damaging your dog’s neck and you’re going to be dragged around like a puppet. You’ll have a much better time if you can hike and watch the wildlife with a dog calmly at your side.
- Use hiking poles, your knees will thank you
- If you are camping with dogs, study the campground map and find a quiet corner to camp at. I like site 16, although furthest from bathrooms and the shelters/bear caches, I will bother the least amount of people. Whiskey will have less chances to feel like she needs to warn me of people approaching (less anxiety for everyone) and I’ll be able to relax more.
Mt Shark trailhead starts from a long dirt road from Canmore with loads of potholes and corrugation that might have your teeth rattling. The road is exceptionally beautiful at sunrise and sunset if you can time it well! The trail head has great facilities including bathrooms, picnic tables and a large garbage. The trail actually take you across province lines (from Alberta to BC) and across park lines (although NOT timezones funny enough).
There are several side trails so make sure you have a good GPS map when you start (every wrong turn will cost you extra this day). The beginning of the trail is nice, wide and flat and is the quickest part of the hike. Once you pass the bridge over spray river/lake you start into the forest where the trail narrows but is till really easy to follow and hike. You’ll pass by BR9 campsite and keep going towards Bryant Creek Shelter. There is water at the Spray Lakes bridge, at the campsites, and at Bryant Creek Shelter (with Br 13 and 14 close by). Remember dogs are not allowed in the shelter but perhaps during a storm it could be life saving.
Here you need to decide if you are continuing onto Wonder Pass or Assiniboine pass. This is where the incline starts and you need to start working! Assiniboine pass is easier if you are carrying a ton of weight- it’s slightly longer but feels easier overall. Erica and I chose this way as she was in pain and it was the least impact. I also chose the for the way down during the storm I was hiking in on the first trip. Assiniboine pass has two options- hikers trail or horse trail. The hikers trail is higher with better views but is technically harder with more bridge crossings. The horse trail is lower in the valley and can be muddy with lots of shallow water crossings. Earlier in season I wouldn’t suggest the horse trail unless you don’t mind your feet being soaked but later in season the hiker’s pass may be closed and that may be the only option (as we experienced during the storm).
Wonderpass takes you to Marvel lake, around the side of the lake, and up some switchbacks into the pass between Wonder Peak and The Towers. If you miss this pass on the walk in, it’s definitely worth a day hike from the campground! In the right season the larches are just amazing and the pass is a very easy hike from the lodge. During the height of summer, watch carefully your water sources if it’s warm and know that not all the creeks on the maps may be flowing.
Once you have set up camp, you have loads of day hike options. The money shot is from the Nublet/Nub, a quick 7km+ (to Nublet) hike return from the campground. There’s loads of places to scramble and climb depending on your comfort level, as well as your dogs. Remember this is very remote and wild country with no rescue or fly-outs for your dog so please know your level and stay well within it. Even the Nub hike can have grizzlies so always bring bear spray and call out for bears.
We’ve scrambled halfway up Sunburst Peak (no trail), all the way up Chucks ridge (no trail), Nub Peak via Elizabeth Lake (no trail), Windy Ridge (14km trail) and there’s still so much I want to do! For rest days you can walk around Lake Magog, Sunburst Lake, Cerulean Lake and Elizabeth Lake. In all, remember that the goal for your 30km hike isn’t to just get to Lake Magog, it’s to get there to start hiking so make sure you’re up for it!
There are very few wild places like this that still allow dogs so please represent us dog owners well! Clean up after your pup, keep clear of other campers, keep on leash, and respect the wildlife. There are loads of birds and chipmunks at every eating station, a marmot lives under one of the outhouses, and we saw deer and grouse right at our tent (and a grizzly mom and cubs had been through our campsite while we were out). Scrambles are not easy so please hike well within your dog’s limits and please do not use earphones so you can hear and see wildlife! Lastly, don’t let your dogs lick the frogs on the trail, Bodhi had a bit of a reaction when he (on leash) had a taste of one!
Here’s a list of dog camping gear that I can’t live without
and a list of human hiking gear that I’ve grown to depend on over the years