Burstall Pass is a classic hike in Kananaskis Country and off Smith Dorrien Trail. The hike moves past several marshy lakes and streams, before a steep ascent up to an alpine meadow, and then finished on a high mountain pass with grand glaciated mountain views. We loved our time in Burstall pass and spent the majority of our time alone in the woods. It’s a long one at 16km and a little redundant since it’s an out and back trail.
Burstall Pass Trail
Burstall Trail starts out from Smith Dorrien Trail with a large parking lot that serves the trail and stunning Mud Lake. The hike starts out along Mud Lake before heading along an old road for 2.7 kilometers which can be used by bicycles. As you move along the trail be sure to keep an eye out for the trails down to the three Burstall Lakes. All of them are breathtaking and offered some of the best views on the hike until reaching the pass at the end.
From there the trail continues along through the forest and valley. It’s a prime spot for birders and we stopped multiple times to listen to their calls. When you reach the end of the first forest section you come to the alluvial fan of the Robertson Glacier.
Come prepared for some smart route finding and waterproof shoes, or perhaps some hiking sandals. The fan spreads across the trail with multiple streams and flooded sections. It wasn’t difficult, but it does take some time making it across the streams about 500m in length. There are some helpful signs marking the trail for hikers to follow across the plain. However, we used them as a reference to find the ideal route to remain dry.
After you make your way across the flooded sections of trails you reach more forest. This is where the trail begins to ascend to an alpine meadow. It’s a pretty steep climb, but easy enough for most people to handle without too much of a struggle. From there it takes around a half hour to reach a sub-alpine meadow filled with wildflowers.
The meadow continues for a while until another uphill climb that finally reaches the highest point of the pass. It comes in at 2,380 meters and then drops back down before entering Banff National Park and Palliser Pass.
From the top of the pass, you have some commanding views of the peaks in the area. Some of the famous peaks include Mt. Birdwood, Assiniboine, and Mount Sir Douglas. Assiniboine is easily one of the more popular mountains know for it’s perfectly shaped peak and is the sixth highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies. We wish we had more time at the summit to explore like the nearby Snow Peak. However, we were caught in a tremendous thunderstorm.
I really would have loved to summit Snow Peak as it looked like an easy scramble. However, the thunderstorm that rolled in just as we made the pass was one of the most threatening we’ve seen in the mountain. Heavy rain, mixed with light hail, high winds, and lighting. We had to get off the pass and into the trees as fast as we could. We’ll have to save it for a later point and time. If you’re looking to add an additional objective on the hike this would be a great option.
Burstall Trail Duration
The trail took us five hours to hike, but we kept a pretty good pace and never stopped for a meal. It’s 15km long and climbs 470m with the majority of the climb towards the end of the hike. Two steep sections in the forest, before you arrive in an Alpine area with sweeping views. I would save yourself five to seven hours to complete the hike or more if you plan to climb any of the nearby peaks or head into Banff.
How Hard is Burstall Pass?
Although AllTrails rates this as a moderate trail and we’d have to agree. There is not too much elevation gain and nothing technical with exposure. It does require a bit more stamina than most moderate trails as it is almost 16km in length.
When can you hike Burstall Pass?
As the trail lies low in elevation and has easy slopes it’s good to hike early and late in the season. Anywhere from March to October is likely a good time to hike Burstall Pass. September would be tremendous as there are a lot of larches in the area.
How Popular is Burstall Pass
Burstall pass is moderately trafficked. We wanted a quiet trail so we arrived late in the evening knowing we could complete it faster than most. We passed several groups along the way and on a nice weekend, it’s pretty popular as it’s very accessible. Burstall pass is perfect for a walk with the family, dogs, trail running, etc.
What About Dogs and Kids in Burstall Pass?
The beginning of the trail is appropriate for anyone that can walk along a flat surface. Towards the end would still be appropriate for anyone of moderate fitness. I’d say from eight years old and up, maybe even younger. Big dogs should be able to handle the trail just fine. Just keep in mind it’s 15km in length so they’ll need to be able to walk for that long.
Another Great Hike?
If you enjoyed Burstall Pass and you’re looking for another popular hike. Only a few kilometers away is Tent Ridge, it’s a hike that is more technical with a small scramble and mild exposure. The views from Tent Ridge are some of the best in Kananaskis Country. You need to check this hike out!
Wildlife Awareness In Burstall Pass
If you’re on any hikes in the area you should practice good wildlife awareness. In the region, there are frequent sightings of black bears, grizzly bears, moose, elk, and cougars. They all present a threat to humans and we should reduce our impact on their natural lives.
Before any hike or walk in Banff National Park or Kananaskis Country, you should pack bear spray, check the park websites for wildlife information (Parks Canada and AB Park), and then check again for notices at the trailhead.
When you’re on the trail make noise by banging hiking poles, talking, whistling, clapping, or singing. This is particularly important around blind bends and corners, although there aren’t many on Wasootch Ridge. It’s also a busy trail so you generally don’t need to make too much noise, but always be bear aware.
Which means staying alert, traveling in a group, minding children and pets, and finally carrying bear spray and knowing how to use it. If you’ve come to the park without bear spray Valhalla Pure Outfitters in town sells spray and holders with employees who will demonstrate how to use properly.
What To Wear On A Day Hike?
The most basic principle of what to wear hiking is layering. Anyone that has spent time in wilderness or mountains can speak to the fact your temperature can fluctuate a lot on a hike.
So the goal of clothing is to help regulate your body temperature, element protection, and moisture management. Temperature management is best done through a layering system. If you want to learn more about what to pack for a day hike or what to wear on a hike you can see ours.
Our Outfits in Burstall Pass
Outdoor Research Ferossi Pant
The pants are really lightweight but similar to a softshell pant with great water resistant and windbreaking capabilities. With that in mind, it keeps you warm in cool weather, but the breathability of the pants keeps you cool in hot weather. They also have a lot of water resistance and are more comfortable than a pair of rain pants.
Outdoor Research Shirt Echo Series
I have six Outdoor Research Echo shirts and rotate them on all my hikes. They are lightweight and moisture wicking. Seriously, you don’t want to be stuck with a cotton shirt while hiking it traps all your sweat and then when you get cold it becomes a problem.
Outdoor Research shirts provide full coverage with their long sleeve collections, but you won’t get hot under the sun. These shirts are built with UPF sun protection, AirVent™ moisture management, and ActiveFresh™ odor control technology.
I ALWAYS have a down jacket with me on every single hike I go on. It’s a just in case jacket that I usually end up wearing when I reach the summit, and it gets cold.
Down jackets pack up light and small so there is no reason NOT to have one in your bag. Seriously it could save your life in a bad situation. We wrote a whole post on our favorites (hint – Arc’Teryx Cerium LT Hooded Jacket, Patagonia Down Sweater, REI Coop Down Jacket)
Goretex Shell Jacket
We’re building up a collection of shell jackets. We always carry one in our pack and they’ve come in handy a number of times. They are lightweight, durable, packable, waterproof, and windproof. We have a bunch of different shell jackets after several years, but my favorite right now is from Arc’teryx. Any jacket can do the job, but the top dollar ones will hold up and really help in inclement weather. This was especially true in Burstall Pass when we were caught in a terrible thunderstorm.
I bring a Buff on everytrip in case my ears get cold or I want to have one to cover my face (which I did on this trip). We have a collection of buff headbands and bring them everywhere. They’re great for a multitude of reasons such as sun/wind protection, a scarf, headband, or an ear warmer.
We always have one in our suitcase or backpack no matter the destination and consider it one top travel accessories. I imagine most people have one or two of these by now!
I have a pair of Outdoor Research gloves in my hiking pack at all times. They are great for when you are scrambling and I always end up using them. I never want to come back with bloody hands and they protect against that.
We’ve learned to love our feet with a good pair of merino wool hiking socks. You will want to keep your feet nice and dry while you walk around. Most importantly wool socks stay fresh for several days as they have natural antimicrobial properties.
We travel with a couple pairs of the Darn Tough Merino socks and our feet have never felt cold or wet. As a bonus, they’re produced in Vermont!
If you’re not on a long hike a large multiple day hiking backpack may not be necessary. Expect to still carry several pounds of gear on your pack so it’s important to have a backpack that sits well on your back with good suspension. However, you don’t need a 50L+ backpack instead opt for a size around 35L that should be enough to carry all of your necessities.
We have a large number of hiking backpacks and they range in sizes. If you have plans for other short treks that may or may not have a porter you can go with a 50L that will lend more versatility without being so large its unnecessarily cumbersome on the trail.
We personally like to use between a 30-40L pack for most day hikes in the mountains as it allows for us to carry everything we could need. Major plus side is a large bag means we can bring things like a stove to make coffee or a hot meal for a nice rest. As far as our recommendation on smaller backpacks we love the Traverse from REI and the Exos/Tempest from Osprey.
While I like having a water bottle on my hikes I like having a bladder even more. A bladder keeps me drinking regularly since I never have to stop hiking and take out my bottle. It’s always readily available for when you need it.
You should consume at least two liters a water a day while hiking in the mountains, often this means you either carry two bottles of water. The better option for carrying that much water on your treks is to carry a water bladder. A water bladder additionally allows for you to carry extra water if needed.
Most hiking backpacks and even daypacks designed for hiking have a sleeve for carrying your extra water.
Make sure to protect your eyes from the sun since you’ll likely spend a lot of time hiking in the sun at elevation. There are a lot of options for sunglasses and everyone should own at least a pair. It’s best to make sure they do have UV protection for the health of your eyes. Sunglasses are particularly important if you plan to visit any glaciers or high alpine passes as sun reflection from the snow is damaging to your eyes.
We made our first investment in quality polarized sunglasses with a pair of SMITH Optics Lowdown 2. Truthfully, not everyone needs to invest $150 in a pair of sunglasses; however, we love ours and will never buy cheap ones again. Polarized glasses are great at enhancing vision in bright environments and removing glare from windshields and the water.
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