The Rockwall
A leisurely 5-day trip through a Rockies classic in Kootenay National Park

I've had my eye on this trail since I saw a photo of Floe Lake in my first year of hiking. This year, I finally made it happen.
Pre-trip on this page. See also day 1, day 2, day 3, day 4, and day 5.

Distance - ~56km   -   Elevation change - 2300m gain, 2400m loss   -   5 days of travel

See general trail information below, and specifics on the following pages.

When I was first getting into mountain travel on my own, I saw a photo of Floe Lake on the front of a map for the Rockwall Trail, in Kootenay National Park. I bought it, determined that I'd do the trail some day. After feeling too slow and weak for the elevation gain for years, and managing not a single real bag night last year, I decided this year I would finally make it happen. I started planning in April, and by May had permits booked for a group of ten friends. Apparently everyone wanted in on this.

Wanting to keep it out of the grueling range, I decided to take five days, and go at a more leisurely pace than the common four, or speedy three. We booked for the August long weekend, accepting busier trails for ease of time off and scheduling. This worked perfectly, as Laurier and I were in Fernie with Mentor the weekend before, and decided to head west to the Okanagan beaches for a couple days rather than going home in between

Logistics became interesting, as Scott, Erin, Laurier and I were coming directly to the trailhead from the Okanagan, Gorana and Jason would only touch down briefly in Calgary after a California trip, and Axel still had his parents in town. We agreed to meet at Marble Canyon campground the night before to regroup, except for Axel, who would need to take his parents to the airport, then drive out and hike in alone to meet us at the first campground.

Rockwall Trail Information

This trail tends to be hiked in an average of four days, though three and five are also common.
I wanted it to be not too strenuous, so hiking in five days kept our longest to 15km.
There are a couple opportunities for side trips if we ever found a day too short, but this didn't end up being a problem.

As this is a one-way horseshoe of a trail, I also had to decide which direction of travel would be better.
I went with North to South, and I think this was definitely the better choice, for a few reasons:

  1. The highlights of the trip are Helmet Falls, Tumbling Glacier, and Numa Pass/Floe Lake. Probably in the reverse order. North to South saves the best (Floe Lake) for last
  2. The North trailhead is at a slightly higher elevation, so you have a touch less elevation to gain over the whole trip (People with joint issues or who otherwise prefer to go up than down may consider this a downside instead.)
  3. The longest and least scenic day (15km of flat and some boredom) is done first, and not left for a drudging end
  4. Southbound hiking means that you ascend the shady side of all the passes. I didn't think of this ahead of time, but noticed it on the trail, and I think this is actually one of the strongest arguements. When it's hot, as it was for us, that shade for most of the ascent really made a difference.
  5. Avoid the insane highway-to-Floe and Numa-to-Tumbling ascents which are steep, shadeless, and brutal. I don't know if I'd have made it up these with the sun beating on my back. They're bloody steep..

I'd say the best arguments for south to north are the following:
  1. Photography - you can capture the south views in the morning before the sun is a problem, and take pictures ahead of you the rest of the day with the sun at your back.
  2. Ascend, rather than descend the two long steep slopes mentioned in #5 above. Though this trail's not actually really horrible on knees anywhere, due to excellent switchbacks on the steep bits.
  3. Get some of the steeper climbs out of the way earlier on, when fresher.

Some random information:
  1. Porcupines are very common on this trail. I've heard of problems from many people. See ours on Day 4
    Porcupines like to eat all kinds of things, especially salt and rubber. That means packs, poles, and boots.
    It's a good idea to take as much stuff as you possibly can into your tent. Porcupines climb trees.
  2. Water is plentiful along the trail. The map shows a gazillion streams, and most of them flow all summer/fall.
    A lot of the water is fairly sedimented, as much of it flows right off the glaciers. Often smaller streams are clearer.
    There is apparently a small spring at the upper end of Tumbling Creek Campground with nice clear water.
    As Tumbling Creek flows grey right out of the glacier (worst of the campgrounds), I recommend looking for this.
  3. This trail is great at different times of the year, depending on what you're looking for.
    The high passes are often snowbound well into July, though navigable by the first week if you don't mind snowwalking.
    See day 3 for the markers left to show you the way in remnant snows.
    The route spends a good deal of time in beautiful alpine meadows, which hit their prime end of July to mid-August.
    Unfortunately, bugs (killer mid-day horseflies, evening mosquitos to a lesser extent) hit their prime at the same time.
    There are a number of larch in the area, which hit prime this year last week of September (changes every year).
    In large season, the golden forests are gorgeous, but everything else is dead and dying.
    It's not uncommon for the snow to hit before the larches are in, and at high elevations, you could have snow any day of the year.
  4. You can combine this trail with the first two days of the Bow Valley Highline, via Ball Pass.
    This would be an excellent way to see piles of lakes and alpine meadows in one trip.
    In fact, the Great Divide Trail does just that, but reaches the BVHT via Sunshine Meadows and Mount Assinniboine. Now there's a trip!
  5. There are a few, though not many, opportunities for side trips along your way.
    Best is probably Goodsir Pass, a 4km (one-way) trip from Helmet Falls Campground, and highly worthwhile.
    Another possibility is scrambling Numa Mountain, from Numa Pass. This is not just a stroll.
    Wolverine Pass is a very short detour between Rockwall Pass and Tumbling Creek, and definitely worth the minute effort.

Laurier and I enjoyed a couple days of exploring, fresh fruit, heat, lake water, and beaches in Vernon, yielding the following photos.
We were lucky enough to barely miss out on the worst of the Okanagan fires for the year.
A week before we arrived, the whole valley was covered in smoke, and many areas were awaiting evacuation.
When we came through, the last fires on Terrace Mountain were just being finished off, and we had no air quality or visibility problems.

Slippy ground outside the Vernon Superstore.

Vernon, and Kalamalka Lake.

Looking south down Kalamalka Lake.

Okanagan Lake from Kin(smen) Beach.

Kin Beach, on the SW edge of Vernon.

Pretty colours in Kalamalka Lake.

Forest fires on Terrace Mountain.

Everyone managed to successfully meet at the Marble Canyon Campground on the Wednesday evening before our trek.
It's a pretty nice campground, though suprisingly popular with RVs for the lack of facilities.
The most interesting part of the car-camping was the great fruit debacle.
Laurier and I picked up a large flat of peaches, apricots, cherries, strawberries, and blueberries along the way, thinking we could share.
Problem was, Erin and Scott picked up a box of peaches and bag of cherries while they came up from Penticton.
And Gorana and Jason brought a pile of cherries and blueberries from California.
And Marta and Marshall brought some of their own fruit they expected to eat.
So it turned out that with one evening before the backpack trip, we had a week's worth of fruit to consume...
We made up a couple flats, and canvassed the campground, managing to get rid of a good amount, and then ate as much as we could.

Danger! Falling trees!!!

Evening campfire at Marble Canyon.

Marta, Marshall, and Jeff spend a night in the hammocks.

Large twoheaded caterpiller cocooned up.

Trip photos are on the next few pages, starting with day 1.
Following are the flower shots I collected along the way. We hit in prime flower season, which was exactly as planned.

Thimbleberry (rubus parviflorus).

Birchleaf Spiraea (spiraea betulifolia).

White Paintbrush (castilleja ???)

(I've never seen nor heard of snow white paintbrush before.)

Undetermined Saxifrage (saxifraga sp.).

One-flowered Wintergreen (moneses uniflora).

False Hellebore (veratrum viride).

Baneberry (actaea rubra).

Alpine Speedwell (veronica alpina).

Gentian sp.

Red Paintbrush (castilleja miniata).

Foamflower (tiarella trifoliata).

Twisted Stalk (streptopus amplexifolius).

Towhead Baby (anemone occidentalis).

Photos taken by Rachel, except for sign photographers Laurier and Jeff.

Previous Page      Next Page

Back to Photos on Foot Index
Back to Photos Index