Canadian Continental - The Great Divide Trail

Rockwall Trail to Cataract Brook
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The Route

Distances given in mileage, kilometers in parentheses.

0.0 miles (0.0) — Watridge Creek. Elevation: 5,600 feet (1,680 meters)
3.7 miles (5.9) — Trail Centre. Elevation: 5,600 feet (1,680 meters)
8.5 miles (13.6) — Bryant Creek. Warden Cabin Elevation: 6,050 feet (1,815 meters)
14.0 miles (22.4) — Wonder Pass. Elevation: 7,850 feet (2,355 meters)
16.8 miles (26.8) — Lake Magog Campground. Elevation: 7,100 feet (2,130 meters)
21.0 miles (33.6) — Og Lake. Elevation: 6,755 2,026.5 meters)
29.0 miles (46.4) — Citadel Pass. Elevation: 7,740 feet (2,322 meters)
34.8 miles (55.6) — Sunshine Village. Elevation: 7,200 feet (2,160 meters)
40.5 miles (64.8) — Healy Pass. Elevation: 7,650 feet (2,295 meters)
42.5 miles (68.0) — Egypt Lake Campground. Elevation: 6,545 feet (1,963.5 meters)
44.6 miles (71.3) — Whistling Pass. Elevation: 7,545 feet (2,263.5 meters)
48.0 miles (76.8) — Ball Pass Jct. Campground. Elevation: 6,300 feet (1,890 meters)
49.7 miles (79.5) — Ball Pass. Elevation: 7,250 feet (2,175 meters)
55.7 miles (89.1) — Banff-Radium Highway. Elevation: 4,345 (1,303.5 meters)
62.2 miles (99.5) — Floe Lake. Elevation: 6,700 feet (2.010 meters)
63.8 miles (102.0) — Numa Pass. Elevation: 7,725 feet (2,317.5 meters)
71.3 miles (114.0) — Tumbling Pass. Elevation: 7,250 feet (2,175 meters)
75.1 miles (120.1) — Rockwall Pass. Elevation: 7,350 feet (2,205 meters)
78.2 miles (125.1) — Limestone Summit. Elevation: 7,115feet (2,134.5 meters)
80.5 miles (128.8 — Rockwall Trail/Helmet Creek Trail junction. Elevation: 5,770 feet (1,731 meters)
83.0 miles (132.8 — Goodsir Pass. Elevation: 7,250 feet (2,175 meters)
88.2 miles (141.1 — Ottertail River. Elevation: 4,855 feet 1,456.5 meters)
95.7 miles (153.1 — McArthur Pass. Elevation: 7,250 feet (2,175 meters)
97.0 miles (155.2 — Lake O'Hara. Elevation: 6,675 feet 2,002.5 meters)
105.0 miles (168 — Trailhead/1-A Highway. Elevation: 5,250 feet (1,575 meters)

The trailhead is the Mount Shark parking lot above Watridge Creek (5,600 feet, Mile 0) where the road from the town of Canmore along the southern side of the Spray Lakes Reservoir ends. A wide, recently maintained trail leads past Watridge Lake to the Trail Centre trailhead at the head of the reservoir, where there is a large map and noticeboard.

An alternative is to drive to Canyon Dam on the north shore of the reservoir and walk to Trail Centre along the old road (passable by four-wheel drive vehicles), which adds 1/2 mile to the route. From the Trail Centre, enter Banff National Park and take the trail sign-posted for Bryant Creek (5,600 feet, Mile 3.7) to Bryant Creek Warden Cabin (6,050 feet, Mile 8.5), where it is left for the trail to Marvel Lake and Wonder Pass which contours above the lake and then switchbacks up to Wonder Pass (7,850 feet, Mile 14), to enter Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park and descend slightly to Lake Magog (7,100 feet, Mile 16.8).

From the lake, follow the trail to Citadel Pass (7,740 feet, Mile 29), past Og Lake and through the Valley of the Rocks to re-enter Banff National Park and descend past Howard Douglas Lake and through the Sunshine Meadows to the ski resort of Sunshine Village (7,200 feet, Mile 34.8). The trail then leads over Simpson and Healy Passes to the popular Egypt Lake Campground (6,545 feet, Mile 42.5) and then up to Whistling Pass and down to the Ball Pass Junction Campground (6,300 feet, Mile 48). A climb leads to Ball Pass (7,250 feet, Mile 49.7), entry into Kootenay National Park and a long descent in the Hawk Creek valley to the Banff -Radium Highway (4,345 feet, Mile 55.7).

Across the highway, the trail climbs straight back up to Floe Lake (6,700 feet, Mile 62.2) and the start of the Rockwall Trail which is followed over Numa, Tumbling and Rockwall Passes to Limestone Summit (7,115 feet, Mile 78.2) and a descent to the trails end at a junction with the Helmet Creek Trail (5,770 feet, Mile 80.5), which is taken back up to Goodsir Pass (7,250 feet, Mile 83) and entry into Yoho National Park. A long descent leads down to the Ottertail River (4,855 feet, Mile 88.2) to be followed by an equally long ascent to McArthur Pass (7,250 feet, Mile 95.7) just over which the trail arrives at Lake O'Hara (6,675 feet, Mile 97). From the lake a final descent leads down the Cataract Brook valley to a parking lot by the 1 -A Highway (5,250 feet, Mile 105).


Maps

1:50,000 topographic maps: Spray Lakes Reservoir; Mount Assiniboine; Banff; Mount Goodsir; Lake Louise. National Park 1:200,000: Banff -Yoho- Kootenay map.


Recommended Guidebook

The Canadian Rockies Trail Guide by Brian Patton and Bart Robinson (Summerthought).

 

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The Rockwall left behind now, the trail climbs again for 1,500 feet (450m) and 2.5 miles (4 km) to the wide, flower-filled alpine meadows of Goodsir Pass, where a park warden on horseback told me there were signs of recent grizzly bear activity. Ahead tower the twin peaks of Mount Goodsir, at 11,700 feet (3,510m) the highest in Yoho National Park which is entered at the pass, while behind stretches out the Rockwall all the way south to the still distinct pyramid of Foster Peak. The descent from the pass to the Ottertail River is long (2,400 feet/720m) and waterless, and in thick forest that seems airless on a hot day., I carried no water and regretted it, arriving at the river dry and dusty. At the river, the route turns downstream past the McArthur Creek Warden Cabin to the McArthur Campground situated in dense lodgepole pine forest, where I camped, although I set up my kitchen on the banks of the Ottertail, marveling at the view of the northeast face of Mount Goodsir rising 6,200 feet (1,860m) from Goodsir Creek, a phenomenal mountain wall.

The 2,400-foot (720m) climb to the last pass on the route, McArthur Pass (7,250 feet/2,175m) is arduous but there are many opportunities to stop and look back over the thickly vegetated avalanche chutes it traverses to the soaring peaks of Mount Goodsir. The rich plant and animal life of the McArthur Creek valley attracts grizzlies and I saw much fresh dung on the trail as I ascended. A warden I met near the top of the pass said three bears were active in the area. The Trail Guide warns of grizzlies here too, so it would be advisable to be extra cautious when in this valley. The warden also advised me against the Duchesnay Pass route out to the highway from Lake O'Hara as described in the guidebook (which does say it is for experienced backpackers only), saying that the trailless route involved some dangerous scrambling and also that it crossed some important fossil beds on a trail closed to the general public.

From McArthur Pass it is a short walk to Lake O'Hara, situated in spectacular alpine scenery and boasting a shuttle bus from the highway below, an impressive private lodge where afternoon tea can be had if you arrive in time to place a reservation (if not, there are soft drinks and candy bars for sale), Alpine Club of Canada cabins, a warden cabin, and a busy campground. The variety of walks and climbs radiating from the area make it a popular base for day trips. An extensive trail system visits just about every lake, cirque and ridge in the area.

To reach the road in the valley below, you could walk down the Lake O'Hara access road (closed to public traffic), but far better is to descend the trail on the west side of the Cataract Brook valley. This route, mostly in forest, provides several good views of the peaks around the lake and above the creek, as well as those across the highway to the north. It's eight miles (12.8 km) down the trail to the roadhead and the end of the Great Divide walk. A cafi lies on the Trans-Canada Highway a short distance away and from the highway. buses can be caught to Lake Louise and Banff.

For those who wish to walk further, north of the highway lies the Yoho Valley and some fine trails, although there is no easy through-route and if you don't want to undertake difficult crosscountry travel and risky stream fords you will have to return to the road. For those who do wish to continue north, I suggest a route along the Iceline Trail to Little Yoho Valley and then over Kiwetinok and Amiskwi Passes to the Blaeberry River and a return to Banff National Park at Howse Pass, but be prepared for some rough country.


Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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