Backpacking Berg Lake is an amazing adventure found in the wilderness of Mount Robson Provincial Park in British Columbia, Canada. This post focuses on our experience of hiking the trail. For more information on trail stats and how to acquire one of the coveted camping permits check out our Berg Lake Trail Guide.
Backpacking Berg Lake Trail Report
Jennifer and I arrived to a full parking lot at the Berg Lake trailhead. We parked a short distance down the access road and set off on our adventure. When we left several days later there were vehicles parked along the road almost to the visitor center 2-miles away. Our recommendation is to arrive early especially if setting off on a weekend.
Through the Forest
Once we made it onto the trail the path immediately crossed over the Robson River and we were on our way. The first 3-miles of the journey to the southern tip of Kinney Lake (3,210’) loosely follow the flow of the river which in late September was a rushing torrent. The path never ventures beyond earshot of the ragging water. This part of the journey is through a dense and lush forest with massive western red cedar and western hemlock trees reaching for the sky, high above. Lichens, mushrooms, and smaller plants dotted with red hues in late September covered the forest floor. Most of the stroll through the woods is rather leisurely with only the occasional moderately steep sections. There are also informational signs along this part of the path with information about the plants and the geology of the area.
We quickly arrived at the junction for Kinney Lake where we crossed over the first well-made bridge and found the first split in the trail and the first pit toilet. We chose to take a left and enjoy the hike along the edge of the lake. The south side of the lake has several picnic tables setup up and we took the opportunity to relax and have an early lunch.
Rounding the tip of the lake the trail climbs about 40’ before descending back to the eastern shore where the path splits. This is the first spot where the horse traffic ventures away from the footpath. This is nice as it helps keep the main footpath from being inundated by horse excrement and potted by horse hooves. The main trail continues to hug the lakeshore passing through a gorgeous aspen grove before arriving at the first campground.
Kinney Lake Campground
The Kinney Lake Campground is beautiful with a covered shelter complete with about eight picnic tables. The campsite has many of the other amenities found at most of the park campsites found in the Canadian Rockies like bear boxes, pit toilets, and, rarer but common on the Berg Lake trail, grey water disposal pits. Some of the camping pads are located right on the shore of the lake. Given how easy it is to get to this campground this would be a great backpacking destination for beginners but is too close to the trailhead for those backpacking Berg Lake.
The Bridge Beyond Kinney
Beyond the campground, the path enters into the woods and then crosses over a new and seemingly overbuilt bridge. The water must get very high here during the spring runoff but when we were here it was a low creek and the high railing on the bridge looked almost laughable. There is an older bridge that still remained next to the new one but I feel that it will either collapse or be removed within a few seasons.
Kinney Flats Cutoff Trail
Next, we arrived at the intersection for the Kinney Flats cutoff trail. This is also the terminus for those ridding bikes into the backcountry. Thus far bikes are permitted on the mostly wide path but from here the terrain isn’t conducive for riders and hikers to share and so there is a bike rack located here for those who ride in and wish to continue on foot. The Kinney Flats cutoff trail is a horse trail that leads through the headwaters of Kinney Lake and would be impassible on foot for most of the summer hiking season. However, in late September the water levels are low enough that most hikers take the cutoff and bypass the rolling 3/4-mile section that climbs up and down hundreds of feet through the cliff laden terrain adjacent to the Kinney Flats delta.
Kinney Flats Delta
We headed into the Kinney Flats and really enjoyed the traverse across the delta. For the most part, the footing was dry and the few creek crossings that were needed had adequate small bridges in place. Nearing 7.5-miles on the trail we climbed out of the Flats and back into the lush forest before dropping back down to a set of small bridges that crossed one final time over the headwaters of Kinney Lake. All the remaining bridges to Berg Lake are rated for single person crossings and all are signed stating “one person on bridge at a time.”
The Climb into the Valley of a Thousand Falls
On the western side of the delta, the Berg Lake Trail arrives at the first major hill climb. Over the next 3/4 of a mile, the trail climbs just over five-hundred feet. It first climbs along the cliff line through an aspen grove and enters back into a lush forest. You are then quickly descending 75’ and emerging from the forest at a gorgeous swinging bridge that serves as a kind of gateway to the Valley of a Thousand Falls. Just before crossing over the bridge there is the first of the two ranger huts located straight ahead on the western side of the Robson River.
Immediately after crossing over the swinging bridge the path arrives at the Whitehorn Campground. This is a great spot located at the mouth of the Valley of a Thousand Falls. In late September there are not a thousand waterfalls coming off the high cliffs. but there is still some impressive water careening off the cliff faces. A glacier can be seen perched high atop the western wall. This whole scene makes the Whitehorn campground one of the best backcountry campgrounds in the Canadian Rockies and the distance also makes it a nice stop to end the first day on the trail. But, this isn’t where Jennifer and I ended our first day.
Valley of a Thousand Falls
Past the Whitehorn Campground, the path is nearly flat for the next half mile as it follows the flow of the river upstream through the valley. Nearing the end of the valley the path passes closely by the confluence of the Robson River and a large tributary. Here you can see the blue water flowing down from Berg Lake mix with and the grey water of the tributary. Where the two flows meet makes for a rather stark dividing line in the middle of the river.
White Falls Overlooks
The path crosses over another well-built bridge below a large waterfall. There is a smaller footpath that traverses 100’ or so closer to the waterfall. While this is a nice viewpoint there is another spur just up the main path. It provides amazing views of the much larger White Falls situated above this lower waterfall. This unsigned, well-established, narrow footpath is located on the outside of the second switchback. I highly recommend exploring the area before continuing the climb.
The Real Climb When Backpacking Berg Lake
Also on the other side of the bridge, the path begins a sharp ascent. Over the next 2.5-miles, we climbed nearly 1,600’ up the steep cliffs adjacent to the Robson River. While steep, this is also a beautiful section of terrain. The path first climbs through a rocky cliff area to a higher overlook of White Falls and a few thinner but higher adjacent waterfalls.
Falls of the Pool
The path then switchbacks up to another overlook, the Falls of the Pool. This is a beautiful waterfall. Look closely you will see a pool of water behind the waterfall about halfway up. The Berg Lake trail leaves the waterfalls and climbs along a ridge-line adjacent to a gorge where a tributary of the Robson River flows far below. The river careens down a channel at nearly eye level across the gorge. Before long the massive Emperor Falls can be seen plunging over a cliff wall in the distance.
At just over 9.5-miles the path temporarily levels off and we arrived at the spur trail that leads directly to the crashing waters of Emperor Falls. The uniqueness of this waterfall is that hikers can walk directly up to it. If you were brave/stupid enough you could walk into it (Do Not Do That!). In September it is far too cold for that. The spray alone from the water’s mighty crash was a cold that chilled us to the bone.
Emperor Falls Campground
After leaving the Emperor Falls spur the Berg Lake trail climbs another 250’ in a half a mile to arrive at the top of the steep 1600’ climb and the Emperor Falls Campground. This is where Jennifer and I called it a day and set up our tent on the edge of the rushing Robson River. The campsites are amazing with the only downside being the constant rush of the water adjacent to the tent. It had me up several times during the night having to pee. The campground has no shelter which would have been handy as it started to rain just as we arrived. All in all, this was an amazing spot to camp on a first day’s adventure backpacking Berg Lake.
Backpacking Berg Lake – Day 2
We left the Emperor Falls campground late the next morning as the terrain was covered in a dense fog and rain for the entire morning. As mid-day drew near the rain and clouds started to lift, finally revealing the peak of Mount Robson. Shortly after we set out on the short traverse to the Berg Lake Campground.
The trail ahead follows the flow of the Robson River upstream as it flows directly from the west. It was only a matter of feet before we caught our first glimpse of the Mist Glacier that clings to the western facing wall of Mount Robson. This icy facade was an ever-present and beautiful part of the landscape for the remainder of the hike to Berg Lake.
The Boulder Field
The path ahead climbs through a boulder field but the path is well maintained, mostly flat and easily traversed. On the eastern edge, the path turns to the north and crosses over a tributary stream before passing through a flat empty section of terrain. Large cairns mark the path ahead. On the far side, the trail crosses over a wide section of the stream coming from the unseen Hargreaves Lake high above.
We rounded another corner and then found ourselves standing on the shore of Berg Lake with Mount Robson rising directly out of the saturated turquoise waters. Located here on the shore is the small Marmot Campground which would be our first choice (if reserved ahead of time) as an alternative to the Berg Lake campground. It is situated right on the lakeshore. While little and more secluded, it has no shelter for inclement weather.
Hiking the Shore of Berg Lake
The remaining 1.25-miles to the Berg Lake Campground is an easy undulating path that clings to the tree-covered shore of Berg Lake. The entire length of which has stunning views of the beautiful mountain terrain. Shortly after leaving the Marmot Campground there is a narrow side trail that leads up to Hargreaves Lake and this is a side trip that we recommend coming back to sometime during your stay at Berg Lake.
Berg Lake Campground
After 13-miles of hiking, we arrived at the Berg Lake campground. The campground is large with basically two sections. The larger of which is on the south side of the Toboggan Falls Creek bridge. It has three communal bear boxes, two pit toilets, a greywater sink and an enclosed shelter with an emergency-only wood fed heater. The northern part of the campground on the other side of the creek has a hand full of sites with a few picnic tables in the open air, two communal bear boxes, a pit toilet, and a greywater pit. The views from these sites aren’t as good as the south side area so we recommend arriving early enough to snag a site on the south side of the creek.
Our Berg Lake Campsite
We were lucky enough to grab one of the few sites that overlook the lake. Our site even had a little rock bench to enjoy the view. If you aren’t lucky enough to grab this spot, don’t worry. There are plenty of places to grab a seat along the lakeshore or on the porch of the Berg Lake shelter and marvel at the beauty of this alpine terrain. After setting up our tent we did just that. We first went to the lakeshore and had a late and cold/blustery lunch before heading up to the deck of the shelter and sitting for well over an hour taking in the landscape.
New Icebergs in Berg Lake
We even got lucky and watched a huge piece of ice calve off the tip of the glacier and splash down into the water. That night was an active one as well and we were awoken several times to the thunder of the glacier calving. Having heard the story of the glacier at Edith Cavell breaking loose and causing a tsunami that wiped out the parking lot in 2012, we laid awake after each thunderclap and prayed that a tidal wave wasn’t about to crash down upon us. We survived the night and awoke to a lakeshore dotted with icebergs that weren’t there the night before.
Day 3 – Berg Lake Day Hikes
After breakfast, we sat about a busy day of over 13-miles of day hikes. We don’t actually recommend attempting to do all these hikes in a single day, but it’s what we had. Highly recommended to extend your trip to two full days at Berg Lake!
We did about 4 miles of the hike up Snowbird Pass. Check out the details and our full trip report for the Snowbird Pass Trail. While Snowbird Pass is a strenuous hike we highly recommend the Snowbird Pass Trail. It should be done early when the light is on the Robson Glacier.
Robson Pass and Adolphus Lake
On the way back from Snowbird Pass we took a detour over Robson Pass. First passing by the Berg Lake Ranger Station and the Robson Pass Campground, then crossing over the pass itself and into Jasper National Park and the province of Alberta. Hiking over Robson Pass is an easy stroll and the bluish-green waters of Adolphus Lake lie just on the other side. It makes for a great lunch destination in an entirely different province.
We returned to the Berg Lake Campground for a late lunch before setting off on our final day hike in the Berg Lake area. The hike up to Hargreaves Lake from Berg Lake is difficult but the views are more than worth the effort. Continuing on the 4-mile loop we marveled at the aptly named Toboggan Falls before arriving back at the Berg Lake Campground just before sunset. Click here to see our Hargreaves Lake & Toboggan Falls hiking report.
Mumm Basin Trail
Adding the Mumm Basin Trail would have been a nice way to go about making Day 3’s trips into a long figure eight type of adventure but there was a rock slide that closed down the trail. As of 2019, there is no timeline for reopening the popular route.
A Dinner Guest
After a full day of strenuous hiking, we sat down on the porch of the Berg Lake shelter and set about making dinner as we watched the sunset. During dinner, the campground was captivated by a porcupine nearby that came for his meal of wooden boards found on the woodshed next to the shelter. Many, including myself, approached the wild creature to snap a pic in the dark only to have him look annoyed before continuing his meal. I also took the opportunity to grab a few night shots of the Milky Way before the clouds once again rolled in.
Backpacking Berg Lake – Day 4
The next morning we awoke early to dense fog and a soft rain that came and went with each rolling wave of the clouds. At times we couldn’t even see across Berg Lake to the glaciers. In some ways this made us appreciate the beautiful day we had previously enjoyed in the Mount Robson wilderness even more. For half of the long 13-mile hike out, we found ourselves in these clouds. It wasn’t until we dropped into the Valley of a Thousand Falls that we finally made our way out of the sky.
Back at Whitehorn
We stopped at Whitehorn for lunch which would make a great spot to camp on the way out if unconditioned for the long hike out. The entire path can be hiked downhill in about 7 – 8 hours which is why we chose not to reserve a site on the way out.
The Beauty of Backpacking Berg Lake
We continued our descent, once again marveling at all the sites that we had seen on the way up to Berg Lake: the mountain peaks and the glaciers above, the columns of water falling out of the clouds, the split turquoise and grey river, the saturated color of Kinney Lake, the autumn yellow and orange hues on the larks and aspens, and the lush greens found in the lower forest. It was all so beautiful. Every mile when backpacking Berg Lake is one wonderful and unique environment after another.
We finished our four days in the Mount Robson wilderness feeling blessed at our luck and timing. This was our final backpacking adventure of a long summer season and the best had been saved for last. This wasn’t intentional. We hadn’t realized the camping reservations opened in October of the year before so when we did our planning in early January these late September dates were all that was available. It was as if we were granted this special place at the perfect time, but maybe whenever one is able to venture to Berg Lake is really the perfect time. I can’t imagine a journey backpacking Berg Lake ever being a disappointment to anyone who comes here with a sense of adventure and prepared for the unpredictable weather.