Time: 6 hours
Distance: 15 km (return)
Elevation Gain: 450 m
How To Get There: When travelling west on the TransCanada from Calgary, the easiest access is through the town of Canmore. Access the Spray Lakes Road through the town and then travel 45 km until you see the sign for Burstall Pass on the west side of the road, direct across from Chester Lake. Turn into the parking lot and that's where you'll find the trailhead!
Today marked a momentous occasion! For the first time, I was going to have the opportunity to hike with my oldest sister, Ashley! She's a mom of two and her husband is gone for long periods of time for work so she is often raising a four year old and two year old by herself while also working as a substitute teacher. To say she's a busy woman is a bit of an understatement. So when we finally got the chance to go for a hike together on a perfect sunny day, we jumped at the chance. Since it was her first real hike, she wanted to make sure it wasn't too much of a challenge. But I knew she was a very physically capable person and I wanted her to have the chance to take in some amazing views. That's why I decided Burstall Pass would be the perfect option.
The first part of the trail was very easy as it started on a gravel path that moved past the south shore of Mud Lake.
The trail then fades into a well-defined old fire road that moves into forest that sits between the mountains.
While the trail continues to move flat through trees, there is a quick turn-off at one point that allows you to have a closer look at Burstall Lakes, a series of small lakes that sit right alongside the trail.
With the blue sky background and the surrounding mountains, the lakes were in some pretty good company.
For another 30 minutes we walked through the forest with minimal elevation gain, every now and again catching a glimpse of the mountains ahead of us.
Soon the fire road narrowed to a dirt trail.
As we moved along the trail, we were treated to a gorgeous view of the river that intertwined between the Burstall Lakes.
It wasn't long after that we finally started to see signs that we were approaching the alluvial fan that was created a long time ago by the Robertson Glacier. Several single log bridges helped us cross over rock beds that wound their way through the forest.
Swinging to the left brings you out to the wetland which feeds into the Burstall Lakes.
The wetland itself was created by melt from the glacier and the watercourse creates a twisted path where one has to hop along various creek run off in order to reach the other side.
As we moved along the dried waterbed and green brush, we were allowed a nice glimpse of what remains of the Robertson Glacier.
There are various hiking signs that attempt to point you in the right direction but because the trail is forever changing, the best option is just to continue to move to the other side of the riverbed.
Rock hopping is your only option for trying to keep dry feet.
Finally, there is a trail marker on the opposite side of the alluvial plain that pokes above the brush and leads into trail through forest. This is where most of the elevation gain begins.
For much of the remaining trail, the hike is steep.
There are one or two switchbacks that help with the climb,
But for the most part, you're moving at an upward climb. For the first while, there is no view except for the surrounding trees.
It wasn't until we heard the sound of a stream that we knew we were starting to get somewhere. Just before the views start to open up, there is a small stream to the right that sits low down in the valley.
And then suddenly we were transcending above the trees, just high enough to start to see the mountains surrounding us.
As the trees began to decrease in size, so did the elevation climb. A series of braided trail began at that point which seemed to coincide perfectly with the sign that popped up, asking hikers to stay on the trail.
Once we reached the alpine meadow, the ascent all but disappeared, providing us ample opportunity to take in the gorgeous surroundings.
We were surrounded by mountains on all sides, walking along proof that a glacial recession had once carved its way through this land.
The brief reprieve didn't last long as the trail began a more aggressive ascent through the trees after the meadow.
The hike to the top is difficult as it's a constant move upwards but the reward is quick. It didn't take very long before we were able to see the full valley behind us.
There were even a few yellow mountain daisies that dotted along the path.
The higher we went, the more rustic the trail became.
Every now and again we took a glimpse behind us. It seemed every step we took provided a new and beautiful view of the valley below.
Soon we were hiking along rock bands, making our way up a series of ridges known as the head wall.
At one point, when we had almost reached the top, the trail forks. Since I had forgotten to bring a map for the hike, I wasn't sure if the pass was to the left or to the right. For a short time, we explored the left option but found only an abundance of ground squirrels.
The trail eventually faded in that direction so we turned ourselves back around and continued to the right, making our way up over the last bit of ascension.
A quick movement of brown in the trees had my heart racing for a moment before we realized we were in the company of deer. Since we were visitors in their home, we were careful to keep our distance.
Finally we made our way over the last grassy knoll to find the marker for the pass. We had reached our destination of Burstall Pass.
The trail sign indicates that if you go further, you have entered Banff National Park. Continuing on the trail gives you the option of hiking to various other spots, such as Leman Lake and Palliser Pass. Burstall Pass was our only objective for the day but that didn't mean we couldn't do a bit of exploring.
We continued on the trail for a bit, walking on the well defined rocky path until we came to another fork in the road.
We turned left and found ourselves climbing up a hill that overlooked Leman Lake, far off in the distance. It was one of those "happy accident" moments as the view was breathtaking.
Everywhere we looked, Common Fireweed sat atop the pass, adding a splash of colour to a yellow and green backdrop.
As we returned to the trail sign, it became apparent to us that the pass itself was a beautiful oasis to explore. We were joined by several other hikers as we sat and ate our lunch. This was our view as we ate. Not too shabby.
Then it was time to take a few more pictures of the rewards of our success. Afterwards, we started our slow descent back to the parking lot. I think it's important to note that while this hike calls for 6 hours, we finished it in 4. Further proof that my sister is a warrior.
Burstall Pass exceeded all of my expectations. The hike is moderate but still perfect for those who want to break a sweat. The reward far outweighs the effort. In the fall, larch trees are abundant and will turn the valley into a sea of yellow. But hiking it in the summer time is just as beautiful in my opinion. Wildflowers, rugged scenery and amazing views- what more could you want?