Asulkan Valley Trail, our last hike before heading back to Oregon, was the most strenuous hike we did in the two months we were in Canada. The increasingly steep trail took us above the deep valley floor to the Asulkan Cabin sitting atop a moraine of Asulkan Glacier. The hike provided a sense of accomplishment and a reminder of the privilege to have experienced this magical landscape.
The Columbia Mountains, where the Glacier National Park of Canada is situated, are steep and the area’s valleys are narrow and deep. The park is known for its many steep day-hikes. Even hikes rated by the park as being moderate hikes still have a lot of elevation gain compared to other national parks. Many of Glacier National Park’s trails were originally built as access routes to mountain climbs. According to the park’s website, these hikes will “take you to stunning ridges and viewpoints that will make you forget your uphill toil. Adjust your pace and your mindset and you will be greatly rewarded!” I must add that it’s as important to be prepared and equipped with necessary gears and supplies for a full enjoyment and a safe return.
Don’t be confused by the name. Glacier National Park of Canada is not the same park as the US Glacier National Park in Montana. This park is located in the British Columbia, west of Yoho National Park. The Trans-Canada Highway goes right through the park. We stayed in Revelstoke, BC as a base-camp while exploring Glacier National Park and Mount Revelstoke National Park.
The Asulkan Valley hike begins at a parking lot at Illecillewaet Campground. Many great hiking trails in Glacier National Park also start from here. We arrived just after 10 am on Saturday to find the parking lot was full. So we parked on the side of the road not far from the parking lot.
The official park brochure indicates this hike to be 13.8 km (8.6 mi) return with 869 m (2,851 ft) elevation gain. My GPS record showed 9.5 mi and almost 3,000 ft elevation gain. Not a big difference, but on an already challenging hike it’s good to know this in advance to be prepared for it.
The first half or so of the trail went through forests up the valley, basically followed the Asulkan Brook, crossing it a few times.
What made this hike more difficult than what the trail length and the elevation gain might suggest was that most of the elevation gain came in the last two miles. Trail statistics from our recorded track put it in perspective.
- First 2.8 mi gained 748 ft
- Next 1.0 mi gained 824 ft
- Final 1.0 mi gained 1,153 ft
The last mile was quite steep. Although it’s not as steep as the Spires Trail in Bugaboo Provincial Park, it came after you’ve already hiked nearly 4 mi and have climbed more than 1,500 ft in elevation.
One other thing that we did right for this hike was that we drank a lot of water during the hike and throughout the day. We both each carried 3 liters of water and we had a water filter with us. With a little over one mile to the cabin, we were at a double bridge which was a final crossing of the stream before heading up the moraine. David and I each had already consumed 2 liters at that point, so we took an opportunity to fill up our water bottles by filtering the water from the Asulkan Brook. Carrying the water filter proved to be important on that day as by the end of the hike David drank a total of 5 liters and I drank 4 liters. If we only had 3 liters of water with us on such a warm day, it would have made the hike more challenging or, worse, unsafe to do. And yes, we bought our water filter from Canadian Tire. 😄
The final mile of the trail, despite being steep and on a narrow ridge, had a decent footing. Hiking poles were certainly helpful. Many hikers didn’t use them, but we were sold the first time we used them in the US Glacier National Park in Montana about 7 years ago.
The view from the top was breathtaking and enhanced by having an entire valley that we just hiked up right in front of us. We had our well-deserved lunch and took in the beauty of the place before starting our descent.
The afternoon was getting hotter so it was welcoming when we got to the more level part of the trail and in the shade. My feet and knees felt used up at the end of the hike, but the experience was well worth it.
For more information and description of the hike, visit Hiking with Barry, one of my go-to sources for inspiration.
- Date hiked: July 29, 2017
- Hiking time: 7h 33m
- Distance: Approx. 9.5 mi round-trip (out and back)
- Elevation change: Approx. 2,994 ft gain
- Note: Despite being rated by the park’s website as moderate, the Asulkan Valley hike is a difficult day-hike due to the length, total elevation gain and loss, and steepness of the trail. Bring plenty of water, food, sun protection, and insect repellent for this challenging full-day hike.