Peak Bagging in the Canadian Rockies is a popular challenge for hikers and mountaineers. From Canmore to Jasper, with Banff and Lake Louise in between, the Rockies offer plenty of scrambling opportunities for bagging peaks, summit after summit. Make this your challenge with this list of the best mountain scrambles in the Canadian Rockies.
What is peak bagging?
Peak bagging is reaching the summits of mountains and adding those summits to a list. Therefore, a peak bagger will want to add summits or peaks to this list, adding to their “bag” of conquered summits.
Hikers and climbers revel in the challenges each peak offers. Some will do it for the rewards of adding one more mountain to that list, others for the scenery and views from above. Additionally, the inspiration and self-growth from reaching summits are significant benefits of climbing mountains.
What is scrambling in the Rockies?
Scrambling consists of climbing loose rocks or boulders to reach the mountain’s summit. There is often no marked trail; scramblers climb up the steep rocky side of the mountain, helping themselves up with their hands. Scramble is often used as an in-between hiking and rock climbing as you do not require any climbing gear. Still, the hiker is no longer just walking on a trail but climbing rocks to reach the summit.
What do I need to start bagging peaks or scrambling in the Rockies?
Start small and gain experience by hiking up to a summit. Then try your hand or feet at scrambling up a summit. Of course, you must be in relatively good physical shape and will undoubtedly get in better shape as you bag summit after summit.
The gear you will need might differ depending on the peaks. A good starting point is my list of essential hiking gear. Although, some summits will require more technical equipment, such as a protective helmet or specific climbing gear. It is necessary to research each mountain you want to tackle and learn about the route to the summit to have an idea of what to expect.
You also need a list of peaks to bag. This article lists 27 summits for beginner peak baggers in the Rockies. Again, no need for climbing equipment, but appropriate hiking gear is essential, and sometimes a climber’s helmet is recommended. Also, good sturdy hiking boots are a must.
Always tell a friend or a family member which trail or mountain you will be scrambling and when they should expect you back.
Save it for later.
Bagging Peaks in Canmore
This peak is mostly a hike through the forest on a packed trail and rocks until you get above the treeline. After that, the scramble to the summit is pretty straightforward.
There are multiple trails to reach the summit of Grotto Mountain. Another popular one is the ACC trail or the Cougar Creek Trail. The distance differs, but it remains an easy to moderate scramble to the summit.
- distance: 10 km out-and-back
- elevation gain: 1020 m
- altitude: 2 685 m
- scramble level: moderate
- estimated time: 6 hours
- trailhead: You can park either in the Goat Creek parking lot or drive down Spray Rd until it crosses the canal and park there. The approach is the same from either direction (about 2.5 km)
- Alltrails Lawrence Grassi Trail map
This mountain is among the best of the scrambles in the Rockies. The approach along the canal may deter some hikers from tackling Lawrence Grassi, but the half-hour hike along the canal only warms the legs for the ascent. Look for the trail and cairns that indicate the start of the climb. This is primarily a hike on a well-worn path with some scrambling at the top.
The trail wanders in and out of the woods and in the creek bed for a while. Then, it is a long trek through the valley upwards towards the Middle/Big Sisters’ col. The path is well-worn and evident. It is an easy scramble to the summit.
Need a Challenging Scramble in Canmore?
Mount Lady McDonald
- distance: 10 km out-and-back
- elevation gain: 1300 m
- altitude: 2 605 m
- scramble level: moderate to difficult
- estimated time: 7 hours
- trailhead: from the parking at the corner of Benchlands Trail and Elk Run Blvd
- Alltrails Lady McDonald Trail map
The trail starts along Cougar Creek and then plunges into the forest for a steady climb. The helipad makes for a nice break with amazing views. The scramble past the helipad is straightforward towards the summit, with some exposed sections making it a difficult scramble near the top. However, this scramble in the Canadian Rockies is well worth the effort for the views at the top.
- distance: 6 km out-and-back
- elevation gain: 1200 m
- altitude: 2 936 m
- scramble level: moderate
- estimated time: 8 hours
- trailhead: from the gravel parking on Smith Dorrien Trail across from the Spray Lakes Reservoir dam
- Alltrails Big Sister Trail map
Big Sister is a fun challenging scramble in the Canadian Rockies. The trail starts at the left of the gully, climbing through the forest. The climb is steep and steady. Once above the tree line, the path will not be as apparent through loose scree. The GPS map will help. There are exposed areas on this scramble, which is not to be taken lightly. When snow covers the peak, it becomes a mountaineering route, not a scramble. An attempt to summit later in the season is recommended.
Bagging Peaks in Banff
The trail starts across the bridge, following the golf course and plunging into the forest. It climbs quickly through a series of switchbacks and crosses gullies. Once out of the trees, hikers climb the famous dragon’s back. The scramble to the summit is demanding but not technical.
This is a long-distance trek to the top of the famous Cascade Mountain overlooking the town of Banff, one of the most popular scrambles in the Canadian Rockies.
The trail is a wide path climbing steadily toward the top in multiple switchbacks. This is primarily a hike to the summit. Although a challenging hike, the walk on the summit boardwalk offers fantastic views. Take some time to visit the exciting exhibition in the upper gondola terminal.
Bagging Peaks in Lake Louise
The Tower of Babel stands tall to the left of Moraine Lake. It is a short but fun scramble in a gully to the summit plateau with amazing views.
Start at Moraine Lake, reaching Larch Valley after multiple switchbacks, then head left crossing a creek and climbing steadily through a forested area towards Eiffel Peak. The trail climbs above the tree line and crosses the ridge where the scramble begins. The way from here is up through the numerous worn paths in the scree. Turn around once in a while to take in the stunning view of the Ten Peaks and the valley.
The Saddleback Trail wanders around Lake Louise to climb in the partially tree-covered trail, then veers right towards Fairview Mountain. The way is straightforward, scrambling toward the summit. Return by the same route. This is a perfect first summit for your first scramble in the Rockies.
The first part of the trail is the Lake Agnes Teahouse trail. Once past the teahouse, the trail continues around the lake and climbs the Beehive. The summit is a plateau where a wood shelter has benches for the hikers to rest and enjoy the view.
The hike to Devil’s Thumb starts on the Lake Agnes Teahouse Trail. Once at the teahouse, it hugs the lake’s shore and climbs in switchback to a fork, left is the Big Beehive and right is Devil’s Thumb. The scramble starts here. It is a steep climb to the top on loose scree. The views along the way and at the summit are stunning.
The trail starts at the wildlife fence. Once through the fence, you will quickly ascend with beautiful views of Wapta Lake and Sherbrook Lake. The trail wanders through the forest and splits at the 1.5-kilometre mark. Go right toward Paget Peak. After a few switchbacks, you will come to a shelter and a bench made of snowboards known as the Paget Lookout. The start of the scramble is not far after the lookout. The last kilometres on loose scree bring you to the summit plateau, where you can walk around to admire the views.
This is a demanding all-day hike and scramble to the summit of the highest peak in the Lake Louise area. The trail wanders up Larch Valley and veers right, climbing up the Sentinel Pass. The scramble starts at the Sentinel Pass. The way up is a long trudge through loose scree and gullies, with rock bands adding a challenge to this adventure. The snowy summit stands above every other surrounding peak.
Bagging Peaks near the Columbia Icefield
The trudge up Sunwapta is pretty straightforward. The trail goes north at the Beauty Creek trailhead (do not follow the Stanley Falls trail). It plunges into trees with a steady climb. Once above the tree line is where the scramble begins over loose scree. The trail angles left towards the summit. Make sure to turn around from time to time as you climb up. The views behind you are stunning.
- distance: 8 km out-and-back
- elevation gain: 1100 m
- altitude: 3 174 m
- scramble level: easy to moderate
- estimated time: 9 hours
- trailhead: on a gravel road across the street from the Peyto Lake access on the Icefields Parkway
- Alltrails Observation Peak Trail map
Follow the Alltrails map to find your way up this amazing mountain. The trail starts on an old road, makes a sharp left, and follows a gully up the mountain. This scramble in the Canadian Rockies, sometimes through loose scree, sometimes up rock bands, is a fun experience if the hiker comes prepared with the appropriate gear.
The first three kilometres of this hike are under tree cover with a steady climb. The trail will veer left through meadows towards Helen Lake at kilometre 6. From the lake, a well-worn path is making its way towards the summit, along the ridge. The views of the Wapta Icefields are astounding on a clear day.
The trail starts at the right of Tangle Creek Falls. It follows the parkway for a few minutes, then veers left into the forest. The first part, under the canopy of trees, is an easy hike. Then, through meadows, the climb is a bit steeper. The challenge comes once above the tree line and in the scree. This third part will seem endless, but keep trudging through the rocks and loose scree until you see the tower at the summit. Walking along the summit ridge offers beautiful views as a reward for all your hard work. You will find more information on Tangle Ridge’s scramble in this article.
The trail wanders through meadows and tundra to eventually reach Mount Wilcox, where the scramble begins. Keep an eye out for bighorn sheep in the area on this trail. There is a well-worn path through the scree, climbing the ridge toward the summit. This hike involves a moderate scramble with some exposed sections. You will need to use your hands to lift yourself up boulders along the climb.
Bagging Peaks in Jasper
This is primarily a hike through the forest with multiple switchbacks and some scrambling to reach the summit. However, the path is marked and easy to follow.
From the Whistlers summit, the well-worn path on the ground is evident. Follow the narrow trail that eventually forks left towards Indian Ridge. The scramble to the summit is easy, though tedious in the loose scree. Once at the top, walking along the ridge offers stunning views on either side.
The approach is 12 kilometres on the old Pyramid Mountain Fire Road. I recommend doing it by bike. You will not regret it on the return as it is encouraging to cover the distance faster with less effort as you descend. You can rent a mountain bike in town. For more information on the hike up Pyramid Mountain, please read my post on my multi-sport day to Mountain Pyramid’s summit. This is one of the best scrambles in the Rockies in the Jasper area.
The trail wanders through the forest and left of a lake, then climbs steadily towards the ridge. Cairns will mark the way, but as long as you go up, you will reach the ridge with an easy scramble near the top.
The hike starts on the Mount Edith Cavell Meadows Trail with a close-up view of Cavell Pond, Angel Glacier and Cavell Glacier. Then, the trail climbs up to a meadow where hikers can admire the mountain and glaciers from a distance. For those who want to make it to the summit of the east ridge, the trail continues on the ridge, and the scramble to the top is strenuous through the loose scree, but the 360-degree views at the summit are stunning. Keep an eye out for caribou in the meadows below.
The hike starts in the forest, climbing next to a gully and sometimes in the gully itself. The scramble up is moderate to difficult with exposed sections. A climber’s helmet might be a good idea. The summit is a plateau where you can walk around and admire the view in every direction.
More on bagging peaks in the Rockies
Scrambling to the summit of mountains in the Canadian Rockies is an experience that will leave any scrambler in awe. It is a physical and mental challenge that has enormous rewards once overcome. If you love the mountains, there is no better way to experience them fully than from below and above!
Check out this travel guide in the Canadian Rockies to fully experience this stunning region.