Three national parks, Mount Revelstoke, Glacier, and Yoho, present themselves in succession beside Hwy 1 in the eastern reaches of the Southern Interior. Being national parks, they are big, and you’ll find much to do in each. Few places on earth offer such geographically diverse and naturally preserved outdoor experiences all within the borders of one great province.
Glacier National Park offers wilderness camping, hiking, mountaineering, and Nordic and alpine skiing. Experience a hike through the valleys below the Illecillewaet and Asulkan glaciers. It’s rugged and challenging for the intrepid visitor with a sense of adventure. It is a world of primitive wilderness, where it is easy to forget the intrusions of modern culture. More than 400 glaciers continue to sculpt the landscape, carving the Columbia Mountains and feeding crystal-clear rivers. Explorations range from a simple wooden boardwalk to a multi-day glacier crossing trek.
The interpretive program of Glacier and Mount Revelstoke National Parks, located in the Rogers Pass Visitors Centre at the summit of Rogers Pass on Hwy 1, depicts the human history of the region through fascinating accounts of first climbs, last spikes, lives lost, and railway lines laid. Hwy 1 winds for more than 27 miles (44 km) through Glacier National Park. The park’s west gate is about 30 miles (48 km) east of Revelstoke, while its east gate is 24 miles (40 km) west of Golden.
Frontcountry Camping – Illecillewaet Campground is located 3 km west of the summit of Rogers Pass. It is open from late June to Thanksgiving Day, and offers 60 campsites. Loop Brook Campground (5 km west of the summit) offers 20 campsites and is open from Canada Day to Labour Day. Mount Sir Donald Campground (one km west of Loop Brook) offers 15 primitive campsites during July and August.
Illecillewaet and Loop Brook have flush toilet washroom buildings, log kitchen shelters, food lockers, firewood and drinking water supplies. Mount Sir Donald offers a lower cost alternative to the other two campgrounds and a “smoke-free” experience – campfires are not allowed. Illecillewaet Campground has a staffed Welcome Station at the centre of the campground. Staff visit Loop Brook and Mount Sir Donald in the early evening to register campers.
The campgrounds offer a rustic, wilderness-oriented frontcountry camping experience. They do not have RV hookups, showers or laundry facilities. Fewer than a dozen campsites will accommodate the largest of motorhomes and fifth wheel trailers. Generator use is only allowed between 10:00 am and 8:00 pm. Camping at all three campgrounds is available on a first come, first served basis.
The ten backcountry trails that lead out of the campgrounds date from the early days of railway tourism, and still follow the routes laid out by the original Swiss Guides of Glacier House. Families will also love the short Hemlock Grove and Rockgarden trails in Glacier, and Giant Cedars Boardwalk, Skunk Cabbage Boardwalk and the trails of the Meadows in the Sky Parkway in Mount Revelstoke National Park. (Hemlock Grove and Rockgarden Trails are less than 10 minutes drive and Giant Cedars is only 20 minutes from the campgrounds.)
Backcountry Camping – Backcountry campsites are available on the Hermit, Sir Donald, Beaver River, Copperstain and Bald Mountain/Caribou Pass trails. Each has tent pads and food storage poles or lockers to place food out of reach of bears. Open fires are not permitted in the backcountry. Backcountry campers require a Wilderness Pass along with their Park Pass.
There is no formally maintained winter campsite in Glacier National Park. Road access to the summer campgrounds is unploughed and unmaintained during winter. Anyone wishing to camp in winter should check at the Rogers Pass Centre.
Huts and Cabins – Glacier National Park has four backcountry huts available. A wilderness pass is considered to be part of the hut fee. Access to three of these huts is arduous, and in the cases of Sapphire Col and Glacier Circle huts, requires mountaineering expertise. Visit the Parks Canada Administration Office in Revelstoke (250-837-7500) or the Rogers Pass Centre (250-814-5232).
For hut registration contact the Alpine Club of Canada. Reservations are required at all ACC facilities, and are made through the national office at the Canmore Clubhouse.
Alpine Club of Canada
Web: Alpine Club of Canada
Asulkan Cabin: Located 6.5km up the Asulkan Brook, 300 metres beyond the end of the Asulkan Trail at an elevation of 2,100 metres. Accommodates up to 12 people. Equipped with propane stove and heater, lights, loft and foam sleeping pads, basic cooking and eating utensils, cleaning supplies, toilet and grey water systems. The route to Asulkan Cabin during the winter crosses numerous avalanche paths. Winter travellers should be equipped with avalanche beacons and be knowledgeable in their use. Winter travellers should check the daily avalanche forecast for Rogers Pass, or by calling 250-837-MTNS or checking at the Rogers Pass Centre.
Glacier Circle Cabin: Located west of the Beaver River Valley and southwest of Mt. Macoun, this historic one-room hut accommodates 8 people. There are basic cooking and eating utensils, a white gas stove, sleeping loft and toilet system. Water supply is nearby. Reserved through the ACC. There are two approaches to Glacier Circle, where the cabin is located. The classic approach is to go over the Illecillewaet Glacier from the campground. This approach requires mountaineering equipment and skills. The second approach is via a 2 to 3-day hike up the Beaver Valley and into Glacier Circle. This approach is mostly forested and leads through excellent bear habitat as the trail climbs into Glacier Circle.
Sapphire Col Hut: Located at Sapphire Col, between The Dome and Castor Peaks. A basic mountaineering shelter, this metal bivouac shelter sleeps 4 people. Apart from a few utensils and a toilet system, it is unequipped. Water is obtained from a nearby melt pond or by melting snow. Attaining the Sapphire Col Hut requires mountaineering equipment and skills. Reserved through the ACC.
The Wheeler Hut: This cabin is owned and operated by the Alpine Club of Canada. It is located near the south end of the Illecillewaet Campground just off the Trans-Canada Highway. This comfortable and commodious shelter is capable of sleeping 35-40 persons in its loft. It is well furnished and completely equipped with cooking and eating utensils, foam sleeping pads, Coleman stoves, lanterns and firewood.
Hiking: Hiking in Glacier National Park is far more extensive and at higher elevation than in Revelstoke National Park. Glaciers cover much of the challenging terrain in the park, which is dominated by 10 peaks ranging from 8,530 to 11,120 feet (2600 to 3390 m) in height. By comparison, the highest peak in Mount Revelstoke National Park, Mount Coursier (elevation 8,681 feet/2646 m), is hard pressed to compete. Illecillewaet Glacier on the Great Glacier Trail (moderate; 6 miles/9.5 km return) has been a ‘must-see’ destination for over a century. The trailhead is located behind the Illecillewaet campground on the east side of the Illecillewaet River. Cross the bridge next to the campground to reach the trailhead, which is located a short distance farther on the left. Over a half-dozen other hiking routes lead through the park from the Illecillewaet campground, including the Avalanche Crest Trail (moderate; 5 miles/8 km return), which offers some of the most dramatic views in this region of the park overlooking Rogers Pass. Icefields forever is the scenic byword here.
The Mount Sir Donald Trail (strenuous; 5 miles/8 km return) and the Perley Rock Trail (strenuous; 7 miles/11 km return) begin from the same trailhead but diverge after 1.5 miles (2.5 km). The Sir Donald Trail brings hikers close to Vaux Glacier, while the Perley Rock Trail leads to the summit of Perley Rock from where hikers look out in awe at the crevassed expanse of the Illecillewaet Neve. Other trails in this area include the Asulkan Valley Trail (strenuous; 8 miles/13 km return), the Glacier Crest Trail (strenuous; 6 miles/9.5 km return), Meeting of the Waters Trail (easy; 1.2 miles/2 km return), and the Marion Lake Trail (easy; 2.7 miles/4.5 km return). The Abbot Ridge Trail (strenuous; 6 miles/10 km return) is an extension of the Marion Lake Trail and provides experienced hikers with some of the most challenging alpine trekking in the park short of donning crampons.
Glacier National Park is the acknowledged birthplace of mountaineering in North America. In 1888, two British mountaineers, Rev. William Spotswood Green and Rev. Henry Swanzy, completed the first recreational technical climbs in the Selkirks. Eleven years later, the services of Swiss guides were provided for guests at the Glacier House hotel in Rogers Pass. Those guides created the network of trails, providing access to local peaks, that has remained to this day.
Prior to the completion of the Trans-Canada Highway through Rogers Pass in 1962, climbers accessed Glacier National Park by train. Tied to the railway as it was, mountaineering became an integral part of the history of the park, and continues to be a major attraction for backcountry recreationalists, whose numbers have quadrupled in the past ten years.
Peaks of the Hermit Range, the Bonney and Bostock Groups, the Van Horne Range, Purity Range, Dawson Range, and the especially challenging Sir Donald Range all lie wholly or in part within Glacier National Park.
Generally, entry into caves is not permitted. Cavers must apply to the Superintendent for entry into any cave. The Nakimu Caves lie between upper and lower Cougar Valley in the Selkirk Mountains, just west of Rogers Pass on the Trans-Canada Highway. The Caves are reached by hiking three to four hours up and over a mountain pass from the highway, an elevation gain of over 800 metres. Visitors’ efforts will be rewarded by the unique experience of descending, by the light of headlamps, into the dark labyrinth of the caves. Numerous passageways and grottos, totalling 5.9km in length, contain intriguing natural features such as soda straws, rock fluting and moon milk. Short steep scrambles and uncertain footing are characteristic of the cave experience. Park visitors can access the caves by either joining a commercially led trip, or apply to the Park Superintendent.
The Loop Brook, Hemlock Grove, Abandoned Rails and Bear Falls trails located along the Trans Canada Highway section of Glacier National Park, are opened as early in the year as the snowpack allows. Delays in trail openings may occur when bears are present in the area or when snow has caused damage to trail structures. Generally these trails are open by mid-June and remain open until the autumn snowfall.
The Rogers Pass Centre is open year-round except for Christmas Day, and the month of November. The Centre is the only frontcountry facility open during the spring and winter, while the campgrounds, picnic areas and trails lie under a two metre blanket of snow. Located near the summit of Rogers Pass, the Centre includes a theatre, an exhibit hall with railway models, natural history displays and wildlife specimens, and the Glacier Circle Bookstore.
The Parks Canada office in Revelstoke is open year-round from Monday to Friday, 8:30 till noon and 1 p.m. until 4:30. It is located in the Post Office building at 300 – 3rd Street West in Revelstoke.
A final note about national park permits: a park pass is required for all visitors to national parks. This pass is available at the park gates or, for the credit-card endowed, by calling (800) 748-7275. You can choose between an annual permit to all 28 National Parks in Canada, a Discovery Package, which includes entry to 28 participating National Parks and 74 National Historic Site; or a daily-entry permit in any of the four contiguous mountain national parks (Banff, Jasper, Yoho and/or Kootenay). In addition, there is a daily camping fee in summer and a weekly or annual charge for a fishing permit. Children under 16 may fish without a permit when accompanied by a licenced angler.
For more information on Glacier National Park, contact Parks Canada’s office: 250-837-7500, or visit the Rogers Pass Information Centre, located at the park’s west gate.
Nearby Regions & Towns
Parks Canada – British Columbia