Guide to Backpacking the Berg Lake Trail in Mount Robson Provincial Park
If you haven’t heard of Berg Lake, you have most likely seen photos of the iconic scene. Mount Robson towers over Berg Lake and the Berg Glacier tumbles down the side of the mountain to meet with the turquoise waters of the lake. It’s an infamous photo and seeing it so many times on Instagram I started to wonder if it could actually be that beautiful in real life. Spoiler alert—it was.
Mount Robson is the tallest mountain in the Canadian Rockies at 12,972 ft. and is also a world heritage site. The moment I saw a photo of this location, I knew I had to see it with my own eyes. The only problem? I was away on my Thousand Island Lake backpacking trip when permits opened up for the season. Thankfully, my friend Doris was also game, and she ended up getting the permits for us while I enjoyed a bout of food poisoning while backpacking in the high Sierras.
Berg Lake Trail information
Distance: 13 miles (or 21 km) one way to Berg Lake
Elevation gain: 2600 feet or 800 meters
Cost: $10 per person per night. Tent pad reservation fee of $6 per pad per night (Prices are in Canadian currency)
When to go: July-September for the best weather, but if you are an experienced backpacker you can extend this season with the right gear.
Important Berg Lake rules and considerations
Permits are required to camp at any of the campsites along the Berg Lake Trail (I’ve written more on the permitting process in the next section of this blog post)
Dogs are only allowed on day hikes, if you are backpacking you will need to leave your furry friend at home.
No fires. You will need to bring a camp stove in order to cook your food. A few of the shelters have wood stoves, but they have signs that explicitly state they are for emergencies only (aka if someone develops hypothermia).
Hammocks are not allowed.
The trail is in Grizzly Bear territory. We never saw a bear, but many people do. It is best to be prepared with bear spray and make sure all scented items and food from your pack are stored in the storage lockers at your campsite. You don’t want to wake up to a bear sniffing around your tent.
You must stop at the visitor center to watch a short film and pick up a laminated permit to attach to your tent while camping and backpack while hiking before starting your hike. The visitor center hours are as follows:
May 15 to June 14: 8am to 5pm
June 15 to Labor Day: 8am to 7pm
Day after Labor Day to Thanksgiving Day: 9am to 4pm
Berg Lake Trail permitting process
The Berg Lake Trail is high on the list of most backpackers and is permitted to avoid overcrowding and overuse. Because of this, I expected permits to be extremely difficult to get—a la Washington’s Enchantments lottery (anyone else been putting their name in that for years only to come out empty handed?) Luckily, Berg Lake permits are much easier to obtain if you plan in advance. Permits for the next season become available on October 1st. So, if you hope to go Summer of 2020, you can book your permits beginning October 1st, 2019. Permits can be booked directly through the BC park system. Unsurprisingly, summer weekends fill up quickly, especially holiday weekends. Keep in mind that Canada has different holidays than the United States. I have gone to popular British Columbia locations on BC day twice now without realizing. It was extremely busy, and I am honestly unsure how I managed to get permits both times.
If you can’t plan ahead and you are in the area, you can always stop by the Mount Robson Visitor Center and ask if there are any cancellations. The weekend I went had a less than ideal weather forecast and many people were able to come in and take advantage of cancellations. It’s not ideal if you are driving from far away, but keep in mind you won’t be too far off from Jasper National Park or Banff National Park and can opt to go explore around there if you don’t get lucky in your quest for Berg Lake Trail permits.
Berg Lake Trail campgrounds
The campgrounds along the trail are as follows:
All of the campgrounds are equipped with food storage lockers, pit toilets, and grey water washing stations. Kinney Lake, Whitehorn, and Berg Lake also have shelters and composting toilets (less stink and mess than pit toilets). You can read more information about all of the campgrounds (including the distance between them and elevation) here. Since Doris and I were in a rush to get permits, we didn’t do much research into the campgrounds along the trail and the differences between them. We looked at the distance between each campground and picked three based on that. This was a mistake. If you backpack often, you should have no issue reaching the Berg Lake Campground in a day, and it is BY FAR the best campground.
Next time, I will attempt to get permits for three nights at the Berg Lake Campground. If that isn’t possible, I would also book Marmot, Rearguard, or Robson Pass instead of the campsites earlier on the trail. There are so many side trails to explore from this area, and I want to explore them all!
Optional side trips from the Berg Lake Trail
When booking your own Berg Lake trip, I would recommend three or more nights at Berg Lake so you can explore as much of the surrounding area as possible. These are the main hikes from the Berg Lake Trail, you can learn more about them from the BC Parks Website .
This was the main hike we did as it’s pretty quick from the Berg Lake Campground. After a short climb up from the Berg Lake you are at the falls with an amazing view of Berg Lake and Mount Robson. If you only have one night at Berg Lake, I would recommend this hike or Mumm Basin.
Mumm Basin used to be a loop hike starting at Toboggan Falls and ending at the Robson Pass Campground/Main Berg Lake Trail, but due to a massive landslide you are currently only able to reach it from The Robson Pass campground side. My group hiked as far up as the trail closure on the Toboggan Falls side. I really wanted to complete this hike since it has epic views of the lake from above, but once we hiked back down, the clouds had come in and covered Mount Robson.
This is the more difficult hike from the Berg Lake area, and it’s recommended you devote a day to do it. It is also closed from May-June for Caribou Calving. We didn’t have enough time to complete it, but I definitely want to explore it next time. To get to Snowbird Pass, you will started North of the Rearguard Campground and follow the Robson River to the Glacier’s Moraine.
Hargreaves Lake can be completed as a loop from Marmot campground up to the lake, and down the Toboggan Falls Trail to the Berg Lake Campground. Or you can go out and back from either campground. I started down the trail to Hargreaves Lake, but decided I would rather hike out and explore more of the main Berg Lake Trail instead.
Robson Glacier Toe
Doris and Cody opted to hike to the Robson Glacier Toe when Rachel and I went further up the Toboggan Fall Route, you can read more about their experience on Doris’s post about our Berg Lake Trip.
Berg Lake Trip Report
Our itinerary was as follows:
Day One: Trailhead to Emperor Falls Campground
Day Two: Emperor Falls Campground to Berg Lake Campground
Day Three: Berg Lake Campground to Whitehorn Campground
Day Four: Whitehorn Campground to trailhead
Since we drove from Seattle, we spent a night at the Robson Meadow Campground across the highway from the visitor center. Campsites at that campground can be reserved at the same website you get your Berg Lake permits. It is a traditional car camping campground with toilets, showers, and picnic tables at every site.
We arrived at Mount Robson Provincial Park around 5pm the day before we started our hike, so we elected to stop at the visitor center that night so we could get an earlier start on the trail in the morning. When we arrived at the visitor center, they sent us downstairs to watch a 13-minute video that looked like it was made in the late 80’s or early 90’s, but it still had important information about the trail and how to stay safe. It also most likely saves the rangers a lot of time explaining all of this to every party that comes in to pick up their permits. After watching the video, we were given our laminated permits, one for each tent, even though we opted to put both tents on one tent pad. We went to grab dinner at a nearby lodge then went to bed early to get ready for our hike the next morning.
Trailhead to the Emperor Falls Campground
Unbeknownst to Doris, she accidentally made our first day on the trail our most difficult day. The trailhead to the Emperor Falls campground is 9.9 miles and 2634 feet of gain. Most of the gain is between Whitehorn and Emperor Falls. Even though it was our most difficult day, it wasn’t that bad. In fact, I brought my friend Rachel who hasn’t done much backpacking (she has done a lot of hiking) and she had no complaints about the trail.
We started our hike with some rain and a forecast of thunderstorms later in the day—true Rocky Mountain weather. Because of this I opted to hike as quickly as possible to our campground and barely stopped for photos. We stopped at the side trail to take photos at Emperor Falls (it’s not far from the main trail at all and 100% worth it) but the second we got back to the main trail the skies opened up and a massive thunderstorm broke out overhead. Although we were in a safe area and not exposed, I couldn’t help but be a little spooked by how close the lightning was to us.
Emperor Falls Campground is actually a half mile or so above the waterfall, situated alongside the river. A lot of Berg Lake trail guides I read claimed this campground wasn’t pretty and I was a little bummed we would be spending the night there. This all changed when we arrived, even in the pouring rain the campsites next to the river were beautiful. Mount Robson towers over the river and you are surrounded by the forest while still getting an amazing view. Unfortunately, this campground doesn’t have a shelter and only one of the tent pads is a wooden platform. I wouldn’t have minded any of this if we hadn’t arrived in a torrential downpour! Rachel and I quickly set up our tent on top of the smallest mud puddle we could find and immediately got inside to wait out the rain. Doris and Cody arrived a couple of hours later and did the same. The sky cleared for a little, so we got out to take photos, filter water, and eat before the next storm came through. A lot of time was spent reading in our tents on this night.
Emperor Falls Campground to Berg Lake Campground
Our second day was our easiest day on trail. Berg Lake Campground is only three miles of hiking with 84 feet of elevation gain from the Emperor Falls Campground. When we woke up it was still raining, so everyone opted to skip breakfast and pack up. Rachel and I started first with the explicit directions of getting a good campsite, and we more than delivered on that request. When you hike into the Berg Lake Campground almost all of the campsites are on the forested side with no views of the wake—with one exception. There is one campsite on the lakeside, and it is also the only large wooden platform we saw among all the campsites. When Rachel and I arrived, we dropped our packs at one of the forested sites and I wandered off to explore. I came across the giant wooden platform and immediately placed my trekking poles on it to claim it while running to grab Rachel so we could claim it for real. Honestly, Berg Lake is such an amazing campground and it’s amazing to sleep at any of the sites, but if you can get this campsite, I highly recommend it.
Doris and Cody arrived about an hour after we did and we all spread our wet gear out to dry in the sun. There are a ton of day hikes to do in the area and we all chatted about where we wanted to explore. Around 2pm or so we set off to hike up to Toboggan Falls, one of the shorter and easier hikes from Berg Lake. We got an amazing view from higher up on the Toboggan Falls trail. In prior years, the Toboggan Falls Trail connected with the Mumm Basin Route, but there was recently a massive landslide that has taken out a portion of the Mumm basin Trail on the Toboggan Falls side. In order to hike up to Mumm Basin, you need to start from the Robson Pass campground, and you cannot loop back to Berg Lake. Rachel and I hiked up to the trail closure, Doris and Cody decided to go explore the toe of the Robson Glacier. This is why I wish we had more nights at Berg Lake, there is so much to explore and one day was nowhere near enough time to do it!
After we finished exploring, we ate dinner, and I went out to the lake to try and take some long exposures at sunset. It was pretty cold, and I didn’t last long once the sun dipped behind the mountains. Doris and I discussed waking up to take night shots, but when our alarms went off, I looked outside the tent and couldn’t see any stars thanks to the clouds. As much as I would have loved to get some starry night photos of Mount Robson, I was okay with getting extra sleep instead.
Berg Lake Campground to Whitehorn Campground
It was extremely difficult to pack up camp and hike out of the Berg Lake Campground knowing how much we could explore there. The only thing that helped is Doris and Cody weren’t able to make their breakfast burritos the day prior due to the rain, so they made enough for Rachel and I as well. I volunteered some of my extra gouda cheese and hot sauce. I don’t think I have ever had a better on-trail breakfast.
After breakfast, we waited until the last possible moment to pack up our camp and start the trek down to Whitehorn Campground. The tent pads on the Berg Lake Trail are much like a hotel, you are required to check out at 11am. Our hike to Whitehorn wasn’t long, and all downhill, so we wanted to start the hike later and avoid sitting around the Whitehorn Shelter for too long later that evening. Like I said earlier, there isn’t much exploring to do from the campgrounds earlier on the trail, if you can avoid staying at them, do it.
The hike to Whitehorn didn’t take Rachel and I long, and we found a large tent pad close to the trail. There are more tent pads further back into the woods, but they looked smaller and we needed to fit two tents on one pad. Trailside it was. The main drawback to this was hearing people walking past our tent late into the evening and early in the morning.
Our final night was spent bonding by the river, creating a buffet out of our leftover trail food, and laughing until the campground was completely dark. Being on trail with people creates amazing bonds. I tend to overshare super quickly with anyone I backpack with, so if that’s been you, please accept my apology for everything I have told you about my bathroom schedule.
Whitehorn Campground to the Trailhead
I may have been sad to leave Berg Lake the day before, but I wasn’t sad to have over half of the hike behind me on our final day. We woke up a little earlier so we could get off trail sooner, and coincidentally back to the food at the café by the Mount Robson Visitor Center sooner. This day flew past and we were all excited to be off trail and, on our way back home.
Berg Lake was one for the books, and I can’t wait to get back out there!
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