Distance: 9.8 miles round trip. Elevation change: 6,220 ft to 7,685 ft
Time to Burstall Pass with stops: 2 hours 57 minutes
Total hike with stops: 6 hours 15 minutes
The trail to Burstall Pass begins at a parking lot next to Mud Lake in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park along the Smith-Dorrien/Spray Trail. We drove from Elkwood Campground down at Kananaskis Lakes to the trailhead parking area a bit after sunrise. We were not expecting the road there to be gravel, but it was for most of our drive even up to Canmore after we completed the hike. We had read that the pass is one of the most popular day hikes in the park, so we wanted to get an early start. When we arrived at the parking area, there was one other car there and another that pulled in as we were getting ready to go. We began around 9:30am. The trail follows an old road for about 2 miles making for easy hiking. It passes above Burstall Lakes before turning into a single-track trail. We didn’t stop at the lakes although there are a couple of side trails to get to them. The trail passes through thicker forest before arriving at a large open willow flats area. We made it here in pretty good time, about 50 minutes and stopped for a few photos. Just as we were done taking a few pics a runner came jogging out of the woods headed across the flats. We decided he knew where he was going so we followed.
The braided streams in the willow flats rise and fall with the daily temperature. Mount Robertson and the Robertson Glacier are primarily responsible for the runoff. We had to take some long leaps across a few streams. There were good markers guiding us across the flats through the willows to the other side. Once we made it to the other side we immediately started hiking uphill in thick forest. The trail leveled out as we reached a wide open meadow. We made a pit stop here and a few other hikers passed by. I knew we were going slower than I would have liked us to. The higher altitude and my lungs don’t agree too well.
We looked up the trail off to the west trying to determine where the trail went and how we would get to the top. You can see the trail in the photo below curve to the left and head straight for the trees. The trail goes into the forest and begins climbing. The ridge sloping up to the right is what we ended up hiking to get to Burstall Pass.
After the meadow, the trail went up, up, up. We didn’t stop too much, because the mosquitos were quite thick. I was glad I had my trekking poles for this part of the hike. We kept going up and up and at one point we turned around and saw the view begin to open up.
We kept climbing up the trail and eventually reached the top. The views were spectacular! There was a small group of hikers further up the trail sunning themselves on the rocks. We picked out a spot on the rocks and started setting up for a few photos and time-lapses.
I took a few photos and started helping Jess set up for a time-lapse. Come to find out…we forgot the trigger cable that connects the camera and the Emotimo TB3. Sadly we wouldn’t be getting any pan or tilt in our time-lapse. Our only option left was to carefully press the shutter button and time each photo ourselves. I did the honor of controlling the first time-lapse attempting to take an image every 2 seconds for about 15 minutes. It actually turned out pretty good! Jess did the honor of taking the second one. I think we’ve decided that if this ever happens again, I’ll be the button presser
After spending 45 minutes or so taking photos and time-lapses, we continued up the trail out of curiosity toward South Burstall Pass before heading back down the trail.
As we were hiking down the trail we passed several people on their way up including families with young children. We were amazed at how many kids we saw on some of the longer hikes we did, but particularly this one clocking in at almost 10 miles round-trip. We met one family with several kids probably ages 7-13 just before we got back down to the willow flats. They looked like they were ready to be there but they were just getting to the tough part! We never did see that runner again. Crossing the willow flats on the way back was a bit trickier. With the warmer daytime temperatures, the water levels had risen and we had to do more leaping getting a touch wetter this time. This area of Canada was having a heat wave while we were there with highs in the mid-80’s.
Burstall Pass was a beautiful hiking trail and a long one for us. This was the longest hiking trail we’ve completed and you really get to know the true meaning of one step at a time. The views from Burstall Pass were amazing! After this one we definitely needed to give our feet a rest before doing more hiking. No blisters, no sores, just some tired feet. I highly recommend this hike if you’re in the area, but make sure your legs, feet, and heart are ready for it.