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Backpacking The Rockwall Trail – Kootenay National Park, BC

The Rockwall Trail is located in Kootenay National Park, a part of the Canadian Rockies UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s a 3 – 5 day tough backpacking trip covering 55 kms (34 miles) one way. Start at the Floe Lake Trailhead and finish at the Paint Pots Trailhead. The trailheads are about a 2.5 hour drive from Calgary. The harder days are the first two. Hitchhike back to your car at the end of the trip or arrange a car shuttle before you begin. The trailheads are only 13 kms (8 miles) apart by car. You do need to buy a back-country pass beforehand.

'Rockwall trail'

The Rockwall and Floe Lake

Floe Lake campground is the first destination; hike 10.7 kms up a steep and unrelenting trail from the parking lot through burned forest. Floe Lake is in a lovely setting at the base of the Rockwall.

"Cooking area at Floe Lake - separate from where you pitch tents"

Cooking area at Floe Lake – separate from where you pitch tents

Me with the Rockwall in the background on Day 2

The next day continue on the Numa Pass Trail to the Numa Creek campground via Numa Pass, the highest point on the Rockwall Trail. It’s 10.2 kms between campsites. The distances sound manageable but there is constant elevation gain and loss over the length of the Rockwall Trail. It used to be possible to get back to the highway via the Numa Creek Trail but with the floods of 2013 that trail is now closed.
Too heavy packs for 4 days!
It’s only 7.1 kms from Numa Creek campground to the Tumbling Creek campground. Cross gorgeous Tumbling Pass – 4.8 kms into the day’s hike to get there. But pay attention through here as this has been termed by writer Graeme Pole as the grizzly grocery store with its abundance of berries. From there head through a boulder meadow and climb up a scree shoulder east of Tumbling Pass. Enjoy the views of Tumbling Glacier. Continue on through a lateral moraine and then steeply descend  to Tumbling Creek. The Tumbling Creek campground is 300 meters west of the bridge.

Then it’s 12.7 kms to get to Helmet Falls campground. There’s some steep climbing initially – a rude start to the day but nothing new – and then you enter the beautiful sub-alpine meadows that make up the Wolverine Plateau. Wolverine Pass is 3.1 kms up from the Tumbling Creek campground. Rockwall Pass is next – just 400 meters away. Easier hiking follows, then a climb to Limestone Summit and from there it’s a steady descent to the Helmet Falls campground. We elected to continue another 8.4 kms – on a mostly gentle grade to the Helmet/Ochre Junction campground . It’s a beautiful spot and if there’s some juice left in your legs at the Helmet Falls campground give some consideration to continuing. Then it’s a relatively short and easy 5.2 kms (3.1 miles) out past the Paint Pots to the trailhead by Marble Creek Campground.

'Rockwall Trail'

Tumbling Glacier near Wolverine Pass

'Rockwall Trail'

Waterfall near Tumbling Creek

Do make lots of noise on this trail. The rangers monitor the area closely for bears and shut down sections of trail if they deem it to be unsafe because of too much bear activity. Use lots of common sense and keep your tent free of food and fragrances.

Have you ever considered backpacking the Rockwall Trail? It does not disappoint!!

Other backpacking trips that might be of interest:

Leigh McAdam

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
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Author Leigh

Avid world traveler. Craves adventure – & the odd wildly epic day. Gardener. Reader. Wine lover. Next big project – a book on 100 Canadian outdoor adventures.

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Join the discussion 52 Comments

  • Erica says:

    Stunning photos! What a great way to spend the summer. Especially at such a scenically beautiful place like Kootenay National Park.

  • Mark H says:

    Stellar photos (especially the reflection in the first photo) and fine description of this great national park. I have only driven through it missing such beautiful country as you describe but it is a quieter escape from Banff National Park and still very beautiful.

  • Gayle says:

    We had a plan to hike the Rockwall Sept 8-12/10 but rain/snow and cold temps unfortunately changed our destination. This is definitely on my hiking ‘bucket list’ and hope I can do it with weather like you had – spectacular photos!

    • What a shame the weather didn’t cooperate. The Rockwall Trail is a hike that is best done under sunny conditions. This year I have heard that the weather has been terrible in Calgary through to the Rockies all summer and I suspect there have been many disappointed hikers.

  • Cam says:

    Incredible! I think i might just have to check this hike out this summer. Look at that scenery… we are lucky people! ;-)

  • Candice says:

    Holy crap, I’d love to do this! Wow!

    • We were so lucky to have great weather the week we hiked it. We also never saw a bear or even any bear scat and I know my friend who had been stressing out about that was very happy about the hike. Gorgeous country on the entire hike & so worth doing.

  • Nancie says:

    What an awesome hike! Beautiful shots.

  • Donna Hull says:

    What beautiful hiking country! What would you recommend for a day hiker on the Rockwall Trail? That’s more my speed.

    • I haven’t forgotten about you Donna – but my detailed map in in Vancouver – 500 miles away. There are four routes up so will check the map out when I gethome so I can recommend the best route for a day hike. Please allow another few weeks.

  • jill- Jack and Jill Travel The World says:

    Oh gawd!! So beautiful! It definitely makes me itching to go outside with my pack on, like, right now. Thx for sharing!

  • Rob Ferguson says:

    I hiked the trail to Floe Lake when I was 21 in 1978 and I found it a great hike but somewhat demanding. In 2010 I went back with my 22 year old son to hike the Floe Lake trail. It was a wonderful hike but a little more demanding on me. With the view unobstruted by the forest fires several years back you could see for miles. Definitely one of my favourites.

  • Christina says:

    My word, Floe Lake is stunning! Certainly a rewarding hike. Although the “grizzly bear grocery store” is a bit scary!

    • @Christina We entered the grocery store (packed with 4 types of different berries) with some trepidation and made lots of noise. Saw a deer but nothing else. And the Rockwall Trail, around Floe Lake is a fabulous hike.

  • Looking at the picture and reading i recall moments that i spend alone trekking across Himalaya of Nepal (2000km) for 128 days.
    Nice article.Hope in future ,I be able to witness and experience what you have expressed above.

  • Rena LeMessurier says:

    Hi there,
    My husband and I are planning to do the Rockwall this August for our 1st Anniversary celebration! Super excited but curious how long you would say the full trail would take (reaching the peak and returning )? 110 km I believe….
    Love the pictures,
    Thx :)
    Rena

    • @Rena I’d recommend a one way trip only and that would probably take you four nights and five nights. A back and forth would be tough and it’s easy enough to hitchhike back to your car – only about a 20 minute drive away down the highway.

  • Kevin from Trailsnet.com says:

    I grew up in the Kootenai National Forest and loved to backpack in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness Area. It looks like Kootenay National Park is even more spectacular. I’ll have to get up there sometime. Your photographs are beautiful!!

  • Aruna says:

    Thank you so much for the Rockwall Trail review. I will be doing this trail starting Aug 30th to Sep 3rd, 2012. I will start from Floe lake trail head, however not sure how to get shuttled from Marble Canyon (Paint Pots is supposedly closed) to Floe lake trail head.

    Anybody eles doing this hike during those days?

    • Hi Aruna,

      We hitchhiked at the end – and a park ranger was kind enough to pick us up. I personally would try that BUT make a sign beforehand so people know you only want to go 5 or 6 miles or whatever it is.

  • Bruce says:

    I have hiked portions of the Rockwall on four occasions, and the grizzly activity was pretty heavy on the trail to Floe Lake prior to the fire. After the fire, no grizzly signs on the trail. There were some bear signs coming down from Numa Pass on both occasions. But never actually saw a bear on only of the trips.

    I will say this, be in good shape and have knee supports in your pack and trecking poles if your knees have the mileage that mine do. Summer time is spectacular for flowers and fall for larch turning. I do wish there was a hiker’s shuttle along the highway twice a week to do the whole loop trip.

    • @Bruce We never even say bear scat on the trail when we did it. I consider that to be a lucky thing, The section through the “grizzly bear grocery store” made me nervous but felt OK everywhere else on the trail with regards to wildlife. I think the rangers monitor the trails through here pretty closely.

  • Rena LeMessurier says:

    Hi all,
    After 2 years of drooling over this trail I have chose to hike the Rockwall this summer (July/August 2013).
    Consider myself to be in quite good physical shape, and have a great deal of hiking experience, is there anyone else planning to hike this trail looking for a trail mate?

    Cheers,
    Rena :)

    • Good luck with that Rena. WE ended up picking having a lone female Dutch girl join us for the hike. We met her in the parking lot and she ended up being great company. Plus she had a dog and we liked the heads up for wildlife.

  • Yenny Lee says:

    I never really see myself backpacking to the mountains but if the destination is as beautiful as this place, I bet I’ll be willing to try!

  • Saadia says:

    Looking forward to hiking this trail in mid August. Just made our reservations! I’m sure we wont be disappointed. Looks beautiful :)

  • Jack Labonte says:

    Does anyone have access to a good topographic map of the Rockwall Trail, in Kootenay National Park?

    • Tannor Kocis says:

      Hey! I did some mapping in this area for my Geology undergrad and used Geological Survey of Canada for Topo maps. Geological Survey of BC/Alberta might have them too. Not sure if they will cost you anything. Best of luck.

  • Melanie says:

    How much experience to you need to do this? Can anyone pick up and go?

  • Derek K says:

    great photos! what a beautiful place to go. Is this hike possible during the last week of april / first week of May? I am not familiar with the conditions and climate of the rockies during April and May. Thanks!

  • Daniel says:

    Hi, do you recall what the tree-cover was like at the camping sites? Could you hang a hammock or would you have to be on the ground? thanks!

    • @Daniel I think I’d be pushing it if I said only take a hammock. I think in places it would work but I’d only want it for back-up. It’s been a few years so who know what the parks people have done with the campsite too.

  • Samantha says:

    Do you know if this hike is dog friendly? (On leash of course) also if not would you happen to know any multi-day hikes that are dog friendly?

    • @Samantha We hiked this trail with a woman who had a dog and no problem. The trails that are a problem with dogs are ones where there might be caribou like the Skyline Trail and the Brazeau Loop.

  • Laura says:

    Thanks for the trip report, the scenery looks amazing! I am doing this hike in 2 weeks, do you have more information on the car shuttle?

    • @Laura There is no formal car shuttle. You have to arrange your own or hope for the kindness of strangers to get you back to your starting point. Smile alot – someone is bound to help you out. And the driving time between trailheads is very short.

  • Mark says:

    Great post, when I was in my early 20’s I ran from the Floe lake parking lot to the Ink Pots parking lot in one day, about 55Km, took about 10-12 hours as I remember, although at the time I wasn’t sure what I was doing, eating peanut butter and jam sandwiches! Would Love to do that again, with better running shoes! Thanks for sharing, I’m inspired!

  • Chris and Sarah says:

    Hi Leigh!!
    We are traveling thru Canada this summer and we are excited to do the Rockwall Trail!
    What is your thought on water…shall we bring a filtering kit?!
    ( newbies we are…although we have put many miles on day hikes!!)
    Thanks,
    Chris and Sarah

    • Leigh says:

      @Chris and Sarah, I definitely would despite trying to reduce weight. There’s no way you want Giardia. Don’t forget the bear spray either.

  • Grace says:

    Hi Leigh!
    Is The Rockwall Trail dangerous in terms of Cliff, or Cliff slippery area? I am afraid of heights.

    Thanks, Grace.

    BTW, the previous email was mistakenly sent. Please ignore. Thanks a lot!

  • .. says:

    Thank you!

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