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 in Burstall Pass. 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.
We always have a down jacket with us on every single hike. 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.
We always carry a water-resistant shell jacket on hikes in the mountains. You never know when inclement weather is just around the corner. We have never regretted having a jacket in our packs. It’s a piece of clothing that is lightweight and could save your life.
We wear a wide range of hiking jackets dependent on style and objective. To learn more about our favorites jackets check out our article.
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.
Fjallraven’s Keb Pant
Our favorite pants for rough hikes and climbs are Fjallraven’s well known Keb pants. Fjallraven’s Keb pants are a mountaineering staple with tough materials and excellent temperature management.
The active panels and a. These are, without a doubt, my favorite pants to hike in the Canadian Rockies. If you think it’s going to be a cold day you can easily wear long johns under these as well.
Your Guide To Banff
If you want more tips on Banff National Park and the Canadian Rockies head over to our other blog. The Banff Blog covers everything in the region in detail with lots of great tips and suggestions to plan your trip.
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