Burstall Pass – Kananaskis Country – Hiking Alberta

 

Burstall Pass is a classic hiking adventure along Smith-Dorrien Trail to lofty mountain vistas with glaciers in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada.

 

View back from the top of Burstall Pass in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

The Burstall Pass trail-head is clearly-signed 35 KM (21⅞ miles) south of Canmore, Alberta, Canada on the Smith-Dorrien/Spray Lakes Trail, across the road from hiking access to Chester Lake and Chester Mountain.

 

Burstall Pass – Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Mud Lake near the Burstall Pass trailhead - Kananaskis Country, Alberta

 

The drive west to Canmore continues south past the Canmore Nordic Centre on the Smith-Dorrien Trail which, on this day, is in poor condition and becomes the most harrowing part of the trip. 

The hike begins at 10:40 AM on a beautiful sunny day with temperature hovering around 5 degrees C.  From the clearly signed Burstall exit across from Chester Lake parking, the short lane leads to ample parking complete with a toilet.  The hike begins by passing the south shore of Mud Lake onto an old fire road and into a forested area where overnight frost remains on the ground.  Larch trees on this September morning are beginning to turn from green to orange and yellow.

 

Mud Lake near the beginning of the Burstall Pass hike

 

For the next hour, this classic Kananaskis Country hike passes through forest between mountains and the chain of Burstall Lakes to the right to on good trail until a swing right leaves forest and enters the alluvial fan created by the Robertson Glacier in the left distance.  The alluvial wetland which feeds Burstall Lakes is created by melt from the glacier and the myriad of watercourse through brush are never the same twice. 

Good ankle-high hiking footwear and/or waterproof sandals are an important asset.  The trail marker on the opposite side of the alluvial plain pokes above surrounding brush and leads into trail through forest where elevation gain is moderate.  Arrival at an alpine meadow beneath mountain walls ground smooth by past glacial recession provide brief relieve until the trail begins more aggressive ascent past rock bands.

 

Burstall Pass – Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Burstall Pass – Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Burstall Pass – Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

The alluvial fan is wetland fed by the Robertson Glacier

 

Recent snow at higher elevation adds contrast to the mountains and smooth mountain surfaces carved by glacial retreat many thousands of years ago.

 

Burstall Pass – Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

The view back into the valley on the ascent route to Burstall Pass

 

Past the meadow trail becomes more rustic and, elevation gain is more aggressive.  Patches of snow become more frequent.  The trail is muddy from melt on the transition through dense forest.  At about 7,800 feet (2,377 m) rustic trail breaks out of the tree-line onto a series of ridges known as the head wall. 

There is ample evidence of moose activity in this area although there is no  opportunity to enjoy a sighting on this day.  At the third tier of the hike up the head wall the trail passes through patches of more sheltered snow with awesome views of surrounding mountains.  Access exists to three passes within hiking range but alternatives will be left for another day when terrain is easier to navigate.

 

Burstall Pass – Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Burstall Pass – Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Burstall Pass – Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Burstall Pass – Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Surrounding vistas from Burstall Pass are spectacular.

 

Lunch is a special experience while sitting on the warm top of large rocks surrounded by snow.   Serious tanning takes place in warm, direct and reflected sun accompanied by a gentle cooling breeze.   Shirts are hanging on nearby tree branches to dry. 

From this vantage point there are magnificent surrounding views of countless mountains as well as the snow-covered Robertson Glacier and the French GlacierAn unexpected flock of butterflies spontaneously join us for lunch.  This is paradise.

 

Burstall Pass – Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Burstall Pass – Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Burstall Pass – Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Burstall Pass – Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

On the return hike via the same route, warmer temperatures have increased snow melt and trails are very muddy for a good portion of the descent.  Footing is periodically tenuous and mandatory hiking poles aid stability.  The descent from Burstall Pass in these wet and slippery conditions is a full body aerobic workout.

 

Burstall Pass – Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Burstall Pass – Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada The Robertson Glacier viewed from near the centre of the alluvial fan.
 

Burstall Pass – Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

Wetlands near Mud Lake near the end of the hike from Burstall Pass

 

The classic hike to Burstall Pass is a magnificent experience.  The scenery is nothing short of breathtaking.

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments

Hey Barry, Long time reader and first time commenter. First of all, I love your website. The new one looks great too. I have only been in Canada after moving from Australia 3 years ago and am anxious to start hiking more and more and seeing so much of these beautiful mountains of ours. This looks like a beautiful hike. I think I might try to head out there this weekend. Any suggestions?

Thank you for your kind words.  I would pick another weekend.  Probably still snow high.  Perhaps a lot of running water in the alluvial plain.  Map and guide.  Always wise to review AB trail reports on-line and check in at a Parks Visitor Centre for last minute updates or alternative recommendations.  Good luck.  Stay safe.

Always like to check out what you have to say about hikes I'm planning to attempt. Planned a trip to Chester Lake today, but when we arrived (2 ¾ hrs from our home) the trail was closed due to several bear sightings, so across the road was Burstall Pass. We had not researched about it, so were not sure how far or what to expect, but what a pleasant surprise! The hike was longer than what we had prepared ourselves for, but it was worth the extra sore muscles. We were unaware of the alluvian fan/plain, but a few big jumps here and there and finally just removing my shoes helped keep me dry for the big push after. The alpine meadow further up offered a nice break between the 2 steeper inclines. The view was amazing when we arrived. I love a trail that offers such a rewarding experience at the top. We didn't know where to look first there was so much to see. Even saw a mt sheep high up on the scree. A helping of snow from a patch helped cool us down as it was in the high 20s today. This was also the border between Banff National Park and Peter Lougheed Park in Kananaskis. What a treat, to have by chance, ended up on a trail that defines why the Canadian Rockies rock!

Sounds like you enjoyed a great day, Gayle.  Burstall is a great hike and yes, there is more water running longer this year.  Your surprise at Chester Lake could have been avoided by checking Alberta Parks Kananaskis Country Trail Reports prior to leaving.  This is an important step for planning however you had something close by that worked out even better.  Headwall Lakes might also have been an alternative option on the opposite side of Mount Chester. Thanks for your comment.

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