Distance: 20km to Berg Lake, allow 7-10 hours one way or 2-3 days, backpack or day hike. For a more detailed set of distances between campgrounds, info on booking, and trail safety see http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/mt_robson/berg.html
Access: The information center is located on the Yellowhead Highway (16). The trailhead is found just down the Kinney Lake Road north of the gas station/restaurant and information center. At the end of the road is the parking lot. The hike begins across the Robson River bridge at the far end of the parking lot. If you see a huge snow-capped mountain you’re in the right place.
Tip: Bring a small shovel or pick if you’re making it an overnight trip. Each campground has large tent pads covered with wood shavings but under the wood there is dirt and surprisingly large rocks that make it difficult to hammer in tent pegs. Many a tent peg has been bent during my travels in this area. You’ll also have to book your campgrounds ahead of time; high season fills up months ahead so you may want to think about booking in May or April if you’re planning on going in July.
Berg Lake is one of the premier backpacking trips in any mountain park in Canada. It’s also one of the most popular and busy throughout the summer. I’ve done this hike twice in two different ways and it’s always been busy. Fortunately the hike is long enough that you will occasionally find a little time to yourself and most of the traffic will be found within the first 4 km as day hikers and families make their way to Kinney Lake then turn back.
The hike is in the backcountry but in a sense it really is more luxurious than any other backcountry hike I’ve ever been on. Each campground has covered toilets, bear proof storage lockers, washbasins and grey-water pits. Some of the campgrounds have open shelters and closed shelters.At times there are even park rangers stationed at Whitehorn and Berg Lake so if there is an emergency there is a way of communicating with those at the trail head.
So where to begin? Well obviously at the trail head. Although there is a select few hikers that journey from the North Boundary Trail beginning in Jasper or Moose Pass in Mt. Robson. But we’ll focus on the main hike beginning at the lower trail head.
From the bridge crossing the torrent of Robson River, the trail follows a broad road along the river through what can only be described as a micro-rainforest. The vegetation is, to put it bluntly, huge. But then that description goes for just about everything you see on the trail. Huge trees, waterfalls, canyons, glaciers, and snow-capped mountains. After 4.4 kilometers the trail reaches the mouth of Kinney Lake and after crossing the bridge the trail turns into single-track and continues around the eastern shoreline of the lake. The lake is a constant green-blue with hardly a ripple in sight. The trail continues to Kinney Lake Campground (6.8km). This first 7km is quite easy with a small elevation of 135m. It can also be biked if you want to but the bikes have to be ditched around 7.2 km. There is a rack where you can lock up your bikes and continue on foot the rest of the way.
The trail branched back into the forest to avoid flooding river channels on the north plain of Kinney Lake. This section rolls up and down for 1.5 km before descending to an aluminum bridge over the Robson River. If the water is low you may be able to skip the forest and continue on the flats instead. Check with the Visitor Center before starting your journey.
After crossing the bridge continue across the flats which heads back into the forest. The trail begins ascending Whitehorn Hill. This is the first climb that will take your breath away. After gaining 150m in just under 2km, you finally descend to the Robson River beneath Whitehorn Mountain where a suspension bridge spans the river to Whitehorn Campground at 10.9km.
From the campground enjoy the short, flat hike to a second bridge across the river. The real work is about to begin. A steady, steep 450m gain along the Valley of a Thousand Falls is the hardest part of the entire trip. The hike from here on out is hard but worth every second. There may not be one thousand falls, it’s closer to eighty or so. On your way up, up, up you’ll see three major waterfalls; White Falls, Falls-of-the-Pool and the impressive Emperor Falls (14.8km). Take some time at each to take a breather and enjoy the sights. On a hot day this hike is so grueling so make sure you have enough water to make it from Whitehorn to Emperor. There is a little path that goes from the main trail to the bottom of Emperor Falls. Leave your packs on the path and wander to the waterfall. The massive size combined with a small breeze can make things very wet, the air is constantly misty.
When you continue on another climb up wooden stairs will take you a flattened area and Emperor Falls Campground (15.4km). From here the trail continues along the open channels of the Robson River. You will finally get a view of the north wall of Mount Robson. As you continue the views only get better as you get closer to Berg Lake.
You’ll continue through the rocky flats and after crossing another aluminum bridge you’ll reach Marmot Campground (18.1km). The trail rolls along above the shore of Berg Lake and makes its way to Berg Lake Campground (20.2km). Beyond this you can also stay at Rearguard and Robson Pass campgrounds (21.3 and 22.7km).
The 3954m summit of Mount Robson lies more than 2 vertical kilometers above the lake. It is considered one of the most difficult climbing ascents in Canada due to the mountain’s unpredictable weather. Berg Lake Campground is the most popular campground as the views are stupendous and the grounds lie very close to the lake. There is also the Hargreaves Chalet which can be used for day use only. There is a wood fireplace and cots and tables for use during bad weather if needed but it cannot be slept in.
There are many day hikes in the area too including Toboggan Falls, Mumm Basin and Hargreaves Glacier, and Snowbird Pass. If you continue past Robson Pass campground you’ll find Robson Pass just 2 km further. The pass is the gateway to the remote northwest corner of Jasper National Park and connects to Moose Pass. Adolphus Lake is less than a kilometer beyond the pass and also makes for a good day trip from any of the upper campgrounds.
I’ve hiked this route twice in different summers and different circumstances. The first time I had three full days to hike. We took off from Jasper and drove the hour to get to the information center. We hiked to Whitehorn for the first night, the next morning made the trek up to Berg Lake Campground, and then the next day we hiked all the way back down and drove home. The second time we hiked we had less than two days and one evening before. We hiked to Kinney Campground in the evening, the next morning hiked to Whitehorn and set up camp, we ditched our heavy packs for Camelbaks and headed right up to Berg Lake then back down for the night at Whitehorn. The next day we hiked back just in time for a shift at work. It was a lot of work hiking from Kinney to Whitehorn to Berg to Whitehorn in one day, but we got to see everything and had great weather with an exciting lighting storm at night.
This hike is anything but boring so don’t forget your camera. Make sure you plan your trip ahead of time and bring enough supplies. This is seriously one fun hike so find time to fit it into your summer!