There are few backpacking trips as epic or as photographed as the Berg Lake Trail in beautiful British Columbia, Canada. After spending the weekend there, I can say for a fact that it is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. Honestly, the views are out of this world!
It was raining from the moment we woke up the day we were going to start Berg Lake, and this is not uncommon! Mount Robson creates its own weather system, and you will more than likely be absolutely drenched at one point on this hike!
Now, from the start of the trail until the end, you will be blown away by the changing scenery and towering peaks. Then, the minute you turn the corner and see the first glimpse of the beautifully blue Berg Lake, you will be stunned. But that’s not to say it is the easiest place in the world to get to, you have to work for it. But believe me when I say, it is absolutely 100% worth it!
An Overview of Berg Lake
Berg Lake Trail is an at-times grueling 21 kilometer trip to the base of Mount Robson. I would definitely recommend at least two nights out on the trail, whether that means both at Berg Lake, or one earlier in the trail. You need a day in the middle of your trip where you can explore some of the wonderful day hikes available around Berg Lake and Mount Robson. A 42 kilometer round-trip hike is made better by an extra 20 kilometers of hiking in the middle right!
A Little Bit About Berg Lake Trail and Mount Robson
Berg Lake is one of those hikes that people talk about, and seems to always be floating around in conversation between backcountry hikers. People keep doing over and over again, which speaks so highly of how good this trail is. The views are unrivalled, and there is something really cool about making your way to the base of the tallest mountain in the Canadian Rockies. This mountain also became a part of the UNESCO Rocky Mountains World Heritage Site in 1990.
Berg Lake sits on the North side of Mount Robson, which stands at a towering 3695 meters above sea level. Berg Lake stretches for over 2 kilometers at an elevation of 1695 meters, and gives you a full look of Berg Glacier which can be seen calving into the lake. Even in the summer you might see icebergs floating in the icy glacier water.
Berg Lake is actually fed through two separate glaciers, Berg Glacier and Robson Glacier. You can watch the roaring water feed into the lake before it runs out and down the falls below it. Despite this, the surface of the water looks smooth as glass most of the time.
Booking the Berg Lake Trail
Berg Lake Trail reservations open on the 1st of October, and fill up quickly! Last year, we were online the second that the reservation system opened for the 2018 and were able to get the Berg Lake Campsite for two nights over the July long weekend. But if we had waited any longer we probably wouldn’t have been so lucky.
The Berg Lake Trail is not usually one of those hikes that you show up to and are able to start, it requires some planning to get the spaces and campsites you want along the trail. However, in some cases you might be able to get a cancellation spot! There are 7 campgrounds along the trail, that are situated anywhere from 7 kilometers to 23 kilometers from the trailhead. You can find out the latest information on booking on the Discover Camping website managed by BC parks.
Getting to Mount Robson and Starting the Berg Lake Trail
The Mount Robson Visitor Center is located about an hour west of Jasper. It is 5 hours from Edmonton and 6 from Calgary. If you are driving from Banff, up the Icefields Parkway which is a must-do, then expect to take around 4 hours and 30 minutes. This will give you stunning views on your entire trek to Mount Robson. Lastly, it is also 7 hours and 20 minutes from Vancouver.
If you want to get on the trail nice and early, I recommend camping/ staying in Jasper or right at Mount Robson. Frontcountry camping options in Jasper include Whistlers, Wabasso and Wapiti campgrounds (Whistlers in under construction starting next year, so don’t plan on that one!). You can find a campsite reservation in Jasper on the Parks Canada Booking site. Or, you can also make the drive out to Mount Robson the night before and stay at the wonderfully spacious Robson Meadows campground that has great large sites and they are right next door to the visitor’s center. This is right in Mount Robson provincial park and bookings are made on the Discover Camping website again. There are also many first come first serve campgrounds in Jasper National Park.
To actually start the Berg Lake Trail at Mount Robson, you have to register at the Mount Robson Visitor Center which usually opens at 8 am. Don’t be like us, we made the mistake of aiming for 8 am, but forgot that we would go back an hour (timezone change) as we drove from Jasper to Mount Robson. Once there, you are required to watch a 13 minute video that is hilariously vastly outdated. We thought it was a joke momentarily, until we noticed it was made in 1998. Either way, it had some useful information!
Hiking Berg Lake Trail: The Simple Stuff
Once you get your pass from the visitor center, you need to drive two kilometers up to the trailhead parking lot. There are quite a few spots, but you could easily end up parking down the street, since this is often frequented by day hikers and groups. There is a nice little shelter here to get your boots on and ensure everything is packed into your bags. This was a lifesaver for our trip, since from the moment we went to check into the visitors center it was pouring rain, and would stay like this for almost the entirety of our trip!
What To Expect on Berg Lake Trail
Like many backcountry hikes in the Canadian Rockies, this is truly a backcountry camping experience. It is an absolute must to be prepared with everything that you need for your time out on the trail. You won’t find any luxuries on this trail, and it will be you, your backpack and your tent. There are shelters (read: wooden roofs over your head) at select campsites, and at every campground you can expect outhouses, grey water drains and bear lockers. Since you will be out on the trail for a while, jump to the end of this post to see exactly what you need to bring on your hike.
Hiking Berg Lake Trail: A Guide to This Great Trail in the Rockies
The Berg Lake Trail can be broken down into segments based on getting to each campground. These are also a good way to monitor your distance. Everyone has different opinions on how to do this hike, and where to stay but your choice completely depends on your fitness level, the number of day hikes you want to do and the amount of time you have to actually do the hike.
Trailhead to Kinney Lake Campground: Part One of the Berg Lake Trail
Distance: 7 kilometers
The moment you leave the parking lot, you are already at your first “river crossing”. This bridge leads you to the trailhead sign and then you are on your way. It is an odd feeling as you walk through this portion of the Berg Lake Trail for a number of reasons.
First of all, you feel like you are in the middle of a rainforest. Suddenly, or so it seems, you are transported from the Canadian Rocky Mountain wilderness and thrown into what could be a coastal landscape. The leaves on the brush are huge ones that could be straight out of a Jurassic Park film, and the towering cedars rise high above you. This is part of what is called the ICH (Interior Cedar Hemlock) biogeoclimatic zone, and one of the four areas of completely different biodiversity you will experience along the trail.
This is also different from the rest of the trail because as you climb higher and higher you will get away from the rainforest and the trail will stop seeming like an overly done day hike. This part is so interesting, because you will run into people that are out for a stroll or a picnic, that are enjoying the wide winding path to Kinney Lake. There are also information signs along this route which tell you all about the area including the trees and vegetation!
The first 7 kilometers to Kinney Lake are considered easy, you meander through the forest beside the rushing Robson River, until you get to the beautifully blue Kinney Lake. There is a shelter at the campsite which makes it a nice spot for a snack.
Many backpackers who have to start late in the day choose to hike to here for their first night because it is only an hour or two depending on your pace!
Kinney Lake to Whitehorn: Part Two of the Berg Lake Trail
Distance: 4 kilometers (total of 11 kilometers from the trailhead)
The second part of the Berg Lake trail seems somewhat boring compared to the others. This four kilometers of trail, is just that, trail. You will have towering views of the peaks around you, and basically want to hike with your head up in the clouds! But, we all know that is not a good idea.
This area gets you into more mountainous terrain, and from the start of the trail until now, you will climb around 300 meters. There are also two separate routes you can take through this section, the Main Trail and the Kinney Flat area of the trail. We decided to do the main trail on our hike in, and the Flats on the way back.
I would recommend giving your legs a break, and taking the flats both ways, especially on the way to Berg Lake!
The flats are only open sometimes because if there is high water, it will flood the entire trail. Signs will mark if this is open or closed!
Getting to Whitehorn Campground is another great spot to stop and enjoy the trail. There is another nice shelter that is great for a lunch, or a rest. You might not feel tired by now since the trail has been relatively easy, but just wait!
Many people will camp at Whitehorn on their first night because it gives you a chance to brave the excruciating part the next day, and you might just need that! But personally, I’m all for toughing it out and making it all the way.
Whitehorn to Emperor Falls: Part Three of the Berg Lake Trail
Distance: 5 kilometers (total of 16 kilometers from the trailhead)
Difficulty: Moderate – Hard
Now is the time where the trail gets fun (or cry-worthy depending on your mood). You’ve had a joyous time going down the trail up until now, so it is time for it to throw it’s full weight. For the next 5 kilometers you are going to go straight up through killer switchbacks on wet slippery rocks. Some people will say I’m exaggerating, but I’m not sure I saw one person who was having “fun” making this climb.
This part of the trail is called the “Valley Of A Thousand Falls”! And this is aptly named!
You start at the bottom of a waterfall, and simply pass a sign that states steep hills and large cliffs. Before you know it you are climbing up 500 meters of elevation gain in this 5 kilometer stretch. This might seem like a lot, but it definitely feels like a lot. You will follow the cascading waterfalls up the mountain, which is fun to watch as you get higher and higher.
I didn’t take hiking poles on my adventure through the Berg Lake Trail, but I would next time. This part of the trail gets slippery, and you need to ensure you are wearing proper footwear. There are multiple offshoots of the trail that go to various lookouts where you can stand looking over the waterfalls. Looking at these you might be sceptical of leaving the main trail, but the view points are amazing.
This is one of those trails, where you should watch children and yourself. There are falling rocks, steep cliffs and a treacherous trail. Even though this trail maintained constantly (we actually saw a BC Parks Employee raking the trail!), it still requires you to be alert and attentive to your surroundings.
The Beautiful Emperor Falls
Emperor Falls sits 16 kilometers into the hike, and the actual view point is before you reach the campground. What makes this waterfall one of the coolest ones in the Rockies is you can basically walk up to the water pouring down. But really, don’t get too close because it is .
This waterfall is the first of the major “viewpoints” along this trail. It is a MUST see, but I recommend going on your way down, unless you are hiking in a heat wave.
Since we were doing this hike in the pouring rain, we chose to go visit Emperor Falls on the way down. When we went to take the awesome photos we took at Emperor Falls, I got absolutely drenched. Like drenched for the next 16 kilometers out of the trail drenched. By the time I peeled off my Gore-Tex jacket off at the end of the trail, my forearms were soaked from where the water had seeped into my clothes. My leggings, though fast-drying as they are, were still soaked! Luckily though my waterproof shoes were just fine! But it was hovering around 3 degrees and by the time I reached the end of the trail, but cold fingers had swelled to the size of small sausages. It took a while in front of a heater and a beer to get them back to normal.
Also, I’m not sure my legs would have appreciated the extra kilometer of walking to and from the viewpoint. You might think that you are at the top of the mountain now, but sadly you still need to make it to Emperor Falls campground, which marks the end of the strenuous part of this hike.
Emperor Falls Campground
The Emperor Falls campground sits right on the river before the falls. You can stay there and enjoy the sounds of the roaring river behind you that falls straight over the falls below. Many people say that this is the best campground on the Berg Lake Trail, and in a lot of ways it is amazing. However, it does not have a shelter, and some people may find the powerful river non-conducive to sleeping!
Emperor Falls to Marmot Campground: Part Four of the Berg Lake Trail
Distance: 3 kilometers (19 kilometers from the trailhead)
Finally! By the time you reach this section of the trail, your legs will be killing you and you’ll be glad for the somewhat flat next 3 kilometers. However, if the weather is hit-or-miss like it was for our trip to Berg Lake, you will definitely want to have a jacket for this portion. Since you are right in a pass, the wind hits you hard, and as you walk along the ridge, you have no shelter from the elements.
It was raining, windy and 5 degrees Celsius while we went through this section of the trail, and it was freezing. The wind was biting at us, but even so, we kept powering on through the trail. Okay, so we didn’t really have a choice on the matter since we needed to make it to our campsite!
Many people also choose to stay at Marmot campground as it is right on Berg Lake, but also closer to the trailhead. There are also only 7 reservable sites and this means that you get a quieter experience on the Berg Lake Trail while still having a view of the crystal clear water and glacier.
Marmot Campground to Berg Lake Campground: The Final Part of the Berg Lake Trail
Distance: 2 kilometers (21 kilometers from the trailhead)
Difficulty: Easy Peasy
The last part of the hike, doesn’t even seem like effort, instead it feels so easy as you walk beside the beautiful Berg Lake. You look down the cliff and see the brilliantly blue water below you. At this stage you can see where you are going too, so it feels better than some portions where you don’t know if it is going to end.
The Berg Lake campsite is noticeable due to its top-notch shelter which is actually fully walled with a steel fireplace in the middle for heat. The firewood beside the fireplace was noted for emergencies only, but there was an axe and firewood outside.
This stove probably doesn’t need to be used often, since it stays fairly warm inside. However, since our weekend was so cold, by the time we got to the campground someone had started the fire. After setting up our tent, we were excited to cook dinner and eat a warm meal. While on the trail, we basically survive off of clif bars, moon cheese, beef jerky and jelly beans. I am always excited to actually eat a warm meal and finish the day off with a steaming cup of coffee.
The 26 sites at this campsite are free for all, but they are all great!
There are a total of 26 reservable campsites at this campground, and they aren’t numbered. The second you get there take a look for the sites and choose a place to set up your tent. If it seems busy and you got there late, many of the sites are located across the river on the trail past the shelter! These ones have their own grey water pit as well!
Other Campsites on The Berg Lake Trail
Some people might think that the Berg Lake Trail finishes at Berg Lake. However, there are actually two more campsites further along that you can stay at! Rearguard (1 additional kilometer) and Robson Pass (2 kilometers past Rearguard). These are great places to stay if you are continuing onto the Northern Boundary Trail from Jasper (an 180 kilometer through hike that attaches to the Berg Lake Trail), or you want some peace and quiet!
Day Hikes You Have to Do From Berg Lake
Berg Lake isn’t the only destination on your trip to Berg Lake, though you could be perfectly happy getting here, hanging out, and then heading home! But, if you are hoping to get a few better views of the lake and of the surrounding areas you definitely need a day in the middle for hiking.
There are 3 day hikes I would suggest doing!
Mumm Basin Route! That Instagram Spot For Berg Lake
Distance: Half Day!
If you see people taking a beautiful picture of trees in the foreground and Berg Lake in the back this was taken from the Mumm Basin trail. The entire mountain was falling apart when we were there (read: landslides that took out the trail and the treeline) and unfortunately we were not able to do this hike. This route can be started in one of two places, Robson Pass campground, or right at there at Berg Lake campground!
Hargreaves Lake Route
Distance: Half Day!
The best place to start the Hargreaves Lake loop is at Marmot Campground. This route connects to Mumm Basin, and you also get spectacular views of Berg Lake below. You follow the less than easy to find trail through the rock, and get to the Hargreaves glacier.
Snowbird Pass Route
Distance: 22 kilometers
The third and final day trip will take you a full day! This trip is a grueling 22 kilometers that we didn’t have time for. However, we did get a chance to go halfway and check out Robson Glacier. We following the trail to Robson Pass, you veer right and head along the river. The time of year we were there, meant the river was flowing at a crazy pace and looked super cool.
This is a really easy trail, until you get to the rock section which is basically denoted by a tiny sign. If you make your way through the rocks though, you can get right up and personal with the Robson Glacier. Be careful not to make your way up the glacier or on the ice, especially if you are not trained in ice climbing and have proper equipment. We chose to have a picnic by the lake before heading back in the pouring rain!
If you choose to go this way: Remember where you came from, the way back us harder to find!
Essentials You Need To Have For the Berg Lake Trail
Besides your typical overnight backpacking gear, there are a few items that you definitely need to bring! Rain gear and cold weather gear are also essential on this trip as you probably noted from reading through the amount of rain we experienced!
I would not survive backcountry camping without my handy-dandy Jetboil system. Since you cannot have campfires you need to have some sort of confined cooking system! You also want to bring a tent that will survive the elements, such as the MSR Hubba Hubba NX.
Final Thoughts on the Berg Lake Trail
After 3 days in the mountains, enjoying the rainforests and peaks, I can say that this hike was one of my favourite ones I have ever done. It was full of breathtaking views and pretty trails. Definitely a bucket list item checked off!