By Dawn Green
- Location – Mt. Robson Provincial Park, B.C.
- Hiking Time – 7 hours one way
- Round Trip – 46 kilometres
- Elevation Gain – 800 metres
- Difficulty – Moderate
Threading its way alongside the raging Robson River before meandering upwards at a knee-grinding rate, the Berg Lake Trail is one of stupendous beauty and considerable challenge. Situated in Mt. Robson Provincial Park, under the watchful eye of Mt. Robson – at 3,954 metres, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies – the Berg Lake Trail is a renowned backcountry hike, consisting of jaw-dropping vistas, thunderous waterfalls and culminating at an exquisite lake fed by three ice formations – the Mist, Berg and Robson glaciers.
The mountain for which the park is named stands as a sentry at the park’s western entrance. Mt. Robson was likely named after Colin Robertson, who worked as chief factor at various trading posts for the Hudson’s Bay Company in the early nineteenth century. The earliest inhabitants of the region, the Texqakallt, a Secwepemc people, call it Yuh-hai-has-kun, the Mountain of the Spiral Road.
Mt. Robson has inspired travellers and adventurers for centuries. The explorers Milton and Cheadle, who sighted the mountain in 1863 on a cross-continent expedition, once wrote:
On every side the snowy heads of mighty hills crowded round, whilst, immediately behind us, a giant among giants, and immeasurably supreme, rose Robson’s Peak.
First attempted in 1907, it was not until 1913 that the summit of Mt. Robson was reached. On that day W.W. Foster, A.H. McCarthy and guide Conrad Kain beheld a view none had witnessed before.
Mt. Robson Provincial Park was established in 1913 and is the second oldest park in B.C.’s park system. Designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1990, the park consists of more than 217,000 hectares of alpine wilderness and contains the headwaters of the mighty Fraser River.
Today this wilderness area is easily accessible by car. Bordering Alberta, Mt. Robson Provincial Park is a 338-kilometre (five hour) drive from Banff up the Icefields Parkway. If you are travelling from Jasper, it is a 54 kilometre (one hour) drive on the Yellowhead Highway.
The Berg Lake Trail kicks off at the parking area behind the visitor centre at the top of Mt. Robson Pass. Come prepared for a massive day hike or better yet, bring a tent and gear to make it a two to three-day expedition.
You can opt to pedal your mountain bike for the first seven kilometres to Kinney Lake, or hike it. Towering trees and rushing water characterize this first section of the trail. A bike lock-up station is located at the lake, and from there continue onwards and upwards on foot, marvelling at the wonders of nature as you pass through three different vegetation zones along the way.
Flora and fauna abound and more than 182 species of birds have been documented in the park. Mule and whitetail deer, elk, moose and black bear call the lower elevation home while grizzly bear, caribou, mountain goat and mountain sheep inhabit the higher elevations.
The trail becomes more challenging as it progresses beyond Kinney Lake, featuring switchbacks galore until it flattens out before reaching the ranger station near the suspension bridge.
Entering the Valley of a Thousand Falls, you will discover why people rave about this particular hike. What follows is four kilometres of steep uphill trekking, but it is the expansive views and waterfalls which make for an unforgettable experience.
When you finally reach Berg Lake (elevation 1,628 metres) rest your weary limbs and enjoy an up-close look at Mt. Robson and the Emperor Face. Of the three giants resting on the lake’s shoreline, Berg Glacier is one of the few advancing glaciers in the Canadian Rockies.
Stretching for two kilometres, Berg Lake has a backcountry campsite perched on either end of its shores. Pick one of these campsites to use as a base and then choose your own adventure as you explore the area. There is a trail to the toe of Robson Glacier or continue past Robson campsite for a more challenging wilderness excursion.
Seven campgrounds are scattered along the trail. Each one has a cluster of tent pads, bear-proof food storage lockers, pit toilets and washbasins. Camp stoves are mandatory for cooking.
Trail fees are applicable and reservations are required for those camping overnight on the Berg Lake Trail.
Although this trail is easy to navigate, this is backcountry hiking so be prepared for sudden weather changes, bugs and bears. Bring your first aid gear, good boots, food and lots of water even if on a day hike.
The Berg Lake Trail is definitely a must-do on any adventurous hiker’s list for its overwhelmingly dramatic and contrasting landscapes – a sure recipe for a classic adventure under the dramatic flanks of Rockies’ highest peak.
Five Perks of the Berg Lake Trail
- You’ll feel small, but mighty as the spray of Emperor Falls and the roar of thousands of litres of water rushing down silences you. Shouting is the only way to communicate to hiking companions, so it’s best to stay silent.
- The gain in elevation is tough on the legs, but the staggering views make up for it.
- Non-stop adventure: from mountain biking thrills to suspension bridge swinging and climbing up and up, there is never a dull moment on this trail.
- Walking in the shadow of Mt. Robson is a highlight in itself.
- At Berg Lake, dip your toes in the frigid waters. Don’t be alarmed by loud splashes; it’s not uncommon to see huge sections of ice break off or “calve” in the blue-green waters of the lake.