Banff Sawback Trek
- Stunning mountain views
- Glaciers, alpine lakes, and high passes
- Opportunities to see wildlife
- End at famous Lake Louise
- Extended 5-day mountain adventure
- All-inclusive package with expert guides
- Small group adventure tour
Our Sawback Trail backpacking trip in Banff National Park is one of the Canadian Rockies' most iconic and memorable backpacking routes. Starting close to the town of Banff, we travel north over the course of five days, traversing a majority of Banff National Park, and finishing on the shores of world-famous Lake Louise. Highlights include a tremendous diversity of terrain: mountain carved canyons, forested valleys, alpine lakes, glaciers, high alpine country and the opportunity to see iconic Rocky Mountain wildlife like grizzly bear, mountain goats, big horn sheep and elk in their native habitats. If you're looking for a world-class mountain adventure away from the crowds and deep in the backcountry, this trip is for you!
(This trip is operated by Wildland International, a partner company of Wildland Trekking with shared ownership, management teams, guides, and other resources.)
Trip Dates & Booking
You can also click here to request new dates or book through customer service.
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You will need to arrive the day before your trip in time to attend the orientation meeting at 7pm at Basecamp Hotel in Canmore. Your guide will cover introductions, a thorough briefing of your route, hand out group and personal gear and answer any last minute questions you may have. Your guide will let you know what time they will pick you up from your hotel. Dinner is on your own and make sure you have a hearty one as tomorrow we hit the trail!
- Driving Duration: 1 hour
- Hiking Mileage: 5.5 miles (9 km)
- Elevation Gain: 1148 feet (350 m)
This Canadian Rockies backpacking trip's fine scenery is immediately evident on day 1. The first section of trail passes through Johnston Canyon, a narrow chasm enclosed by walls of flaxen limestone. An elaborate boardwalk clings to the canyon’s walls as the creek’s waters roar by underneath. Increasingly impressive scenery is culminated by the thunderous Upper Falls of Johnston Creek.This section of the hike is the most busy with tourists, but as we climb out of the canyon the majority of the people are gone.
After the falls we’ll ascend out of the canyon and arrive at the Ink Pots for lunch; a collection of colorful cold water springs. It is a moderate hike from here through a beautiful broad valley to Larry’s Camp. At camp, your guide will facilitate camp set up and you will have free time until dinner is served!
- Hiking Mileage: 5.9 miles (9.5 km)
- Elevation Gain: 500 feet (150 m)
A relatively moderate day 2 takes us further upstream along Johnston Creek to one of the most beautiful lakes in Banff National Park. Impressive peaks like Helena Ridge loom on either side of the valley. We will camp along side the lake where you get to listen to cascading waterfalls and soak in the reflection of Helena Ridge on the lake's surface.
At camp you will have free time to explore the lake, rest or just enjoy the wilderness until your guide has prepared your delicious dinner.
- Hiking Mileage: 4 miles (6.4 km)
- Elevation Gain: 100 feet (30 m)
Day 3 will be a short day to camp. We will hike 3.9 miles with very little elevation gain. Today will serve as a partial rest day for the next day is the longest day of the hike.
A beautiful camp in subalpine park land awaits us at the Badger Pass Junction. Once at camp, your guides will make lunch and you have the afternoon to either do some light hiking around the valley or rest at your leisure.
- Hiking Mileage: 10 miles (16.2 km)
- Elevation Gain: 3100 feet (945 m)
- Elevation Loss: 656 feet (200 m)
The next morning will be an early one in preparation for the toughest day of the trip. A mild but steady climb out of camp brings us to the headwaters of Johnston Creek and Pulsatilla Pass. Impressive hanging glaciers are visible on Pulsatilla Mountain. Once atop the pass there will be incredible views of our route dropping away to the north down the valley of Wildflower Creek. Anthozoan and Fossil Mountains reside in the distance. After lingering on the pass to enjoy the view we’ll begin a long and fairly steep descent of Wildflower Creek to where it flows into Baker Creek. From here we’ll start up again through beautiful meadows to Baker Lake. En route we’ll pass beneath the impressive peaks of Fossil and Anthozoan Mountains. The Baker Lake campsite is our highest at an elevation of 2,250 meters (7,380 feet).
- Hiking Mileage: 8.7 miles (14 km)
- Elevation Loss: 1640 feet (500 m)
- Shuttle to Canmore: 2 hours
Our final day begins with a beautiful hike from Baker Lake to Ptarmigan Lake through open subalpine terrain. Once on the west end of Ptarmigan Lake we’ll have a tremendous view of Mount Victoria and its hanging glaciers. From here we’ll descend the Boulder Pass Trail and skirt the Lake Louise Ski Area to the Fish Creek Trailhead and our ride back to Canmore.
Add-on Rooms: If you'd like to extend your stay, we are happy to book extra room nights at some destinations (not available at all destinations) before and/or after your trip at our preferred hotel for an additional 30% service fee.
Please Note: We always do everything in our power to follow the set itinerary, however occasionally trips are subject to itinerary changes based on a variety of circumstances, including but not limited to: extreme weather, political or bureacratic obstacles, earthquakes, fires, flooding and more.
- A detailed trip packet that takes the guesswork out of your travel, training, packing, and preparing for the trip
- Access to our Adventure Consultant team 7 days a week
- Transportation for the duration of the tour starting on Day 1 and ending on the day you depart
- Gear including multi-day backpack, tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, trekking poles and more
- All meals from breakfast on Day 1 through lunch on the last day
- Professional, certified Wildland Canadian Rockies hiking guides
- Emergency equipment including a company-issued first-aid kit and satellite phone
- You will receive a Lifetime Hiking Membership entitling you, your spouse and kids to a lifetime discount of 10% off any Wildland Trekking hiking trip after your first one!
- Transportation to Canmore, Alberta
- Trip insurance that includes medical coverage and at least $200,000 in evacuation and repatriation coverage (strongly encouraged)
- All expenses due to unavoidable events e.g. flight cancellation, personal illness, strikes, etc. (we recommend trip insurance coverage for these variables)
- Clothes, raingear, and footwear
- Sunscreen, toiletries and personal items
- Water bottles and a headlamp or flashlight
- Gratuity for guide(s) and crew (industry recommendation is 10-20% of total trip cost; please tip your lead guide and they will distribute responsibly to the crew. USD or local currency is acceptable.)
All of our hiking and backpacking tours include a diversity of tasty meals packed full of critical carbohydrates, proteins and fats. We carry foods that travel well in the backcountry – rice, pastas, lentils, beans, couscous, packaged meats, nuts, breads, oatmeal, granola, and more.
For optimal taste and energy, we supplement all our meals with spices, herbs, oils, cheeses, butter, sugar, and fruits and vegetables (fresh and dried). In addition, we provide you with with an assortment of trail mix, snacks, and dried fruits to eat at your own discretion.
We regularly accommodate vegan, vegetarian, kosher and non-gluten diets and will make adjustments for food allergies. These and other special dietary requests may require an additional fee.
We provide all group gear which includes the following:
- Deuter or Osprey backpacks
- Sierra Designs, Kelty or Big Agnes tents
- Sierra Designs, Kelty, Big Agnes and Mountain Hardware sleeping bags
- Thermarest or Big Agnes sleeping pads
- Leki or Black Diamond trekking poles
- Cooking stoves and cookware
- Bear spray cannisters and food-hanging gear
- Company-issued first-aid kit
- Satellite phone
We ask that you supply a couple of gear items on your hiking tour. These items are two 1-liter water bottles per person and basic items like sunscreen, bug repellent (where and when applicable), lip balm, and toiletries are also important. All of these items are available online at Wildland Trekking Outfitters.
Please refer to the trip packet for a recommended clothing list (we email you a detailed trip packet when you inquire and when you register). All trips require a sturdy pair of hiking shoes or hiking boots (reliable brands include Montrail, Lowa, Merrell, Vasque, and Salomon), rain gear, and non-cotton and cotton clothing layers. A minimum of three pairs of wool or synthetic hiking socks are also required. All of these items are available online at Wildland Trekking Outfitters.
NOTE: See the Packing Lists page for more detailed information on what clothes and gear to bring on your hiking tour. The trip packet you receive when you contact us will have the most accurate clothing and gear list for the tour you're interested in.
Ready to hike? In the Dates section of this trip page, the green dates are bookable online by simply clicking on the date, and blue dates must be booked through our customer service team for a variety of possible reasons. To email our customer service team, you can click here to get the ball rolling. Our adventure consultants will confirm availability, and if you're ready to register we'll email you a link to a registration profile. You'll have 72 hours to complete your profile (and that of any dependents) and pay the deposit ($500).
Feel free to call us for more info - we're here 7 days a week!
You'll meet your hiking guide and group in Canmore, Alberta for an orientation meeting at 7:00 PM the evening before the trip begins at the Basecamp Hotel. Your guide will be in contact approximately 2 weeks before your trip and will specify the exact location of the orientation meeting at that point. The next morning we'll pick you up at your hotel for transport to the trailhead.
Check out our Travel Resources page for information on flights, shuttles, lodging and more.
Your safety is our top priority. This trek is led by professional hiking guides along with additional support staff. All of our guides are wilderness-certified first responders or EMT's, each with years of guiding and wilderness experience. We've developed comprehensive risk management protocols that our guides adhere to in case of an emergency, and all tours carry a satellite phone. If you have any further questions about safety, please contact us at 1-888-966-TREK (8735) for more information.
In the interest of your safety, it's important to refer to the Center for Disease Control website for up-to-date recommendations on immunizations before your trip.
Your tour will be led by trained, experienced professionals with solid guiding backgrounds, years of personal wilderness and hiking experience, medical certifications, and a passion for leading people into breathtaking landscapes. Check out our Meet Our Team page for staff bios.
Guides are required to take 8 hours off each 24-hour period to sleep, recuperate, take personal/down time...etc. In addition, as part of the 8 hours off they must sleep/rest or be in their tents/rooms uninterrupted for a minimum of 5 hours each night. We ask guests to respect these requirements and to not interrupt guides' off time and sleep time unless there is a true emergency.
The standard group size on this hiking tour is 6 guests and 1 guide, with a maximum group size of 8 guests and 2 guides. If you have more questions about group size, please give us a call at 1-888-966-TREK (8735) and we'll answer all your questions.
Age restrictions are as follows:
- 12 and older to join scheduled tours (mixed groups)
- 5 and older to join private tours, with final approval and specific logistical requirements (such as porter or stock assist) determined on a case by case basis
For your protection, we strongly recommend the purchase of field evacuation, repatriation, and medical trip insurance. International travel is expensive, and the modest cost of trip insurance is a sound investment in an uncertain world.
If you wish to purchase trip insurance, we recommend IMG/iTravelinsured. They are one of the world’s leading providers of travel insurance.
For information on recommended IMG/iTravelinsured policies please click here.
For even greater information, or if you simply prefer communicating with a real, live person, feel free to contact our exclusive agent Michael Bennett. Michael will help you identify the best product for your needs, and there is no cost associated with his assistance. You may contact him at:
Email: WildLandTrekking@EasyToInsureME.comIf you already have insurance or wish to purchase from anyone other than IMG/iTravelinsured, we recommend careful consultation with the provider to ensure appropriate coverage. This is because many providers have a number of policy exclusions.
US by Phone: 877-305-9083
Direct/International by Phone: 702-448-3664
If you secure an insurance policy please bring a copy of it to provide to your guides at the orientation meeting.
The weather in the Canadian Rockies is typical of high mountain climates with sunny weather, summer thunderstorms, and radical and abrupt temperature changes. We recommend being prepared for a range of conditions by packing layered, non-cotton clothing, and having high quality waterproof and breathable rain gear (jackets and pants). For a more comprehensive packing list, please refer to the detailed trip packet that you can download from this page and receive when you register.
|June||66° F||41° F||58.4 mm|
|July||71° F||45° F||51.1 mm|
|August||70° F||44° F||51.2 mm|
|September||60° F||38° F||37.7 mm|
Camping on Backpacking Trips
Sleeping on backpacking trips is in premier 1-person, 2-person or 4-person backcountry tents. Solo travelers, and anyone else who requests it, are issued single tents. Top-of-the-line self-inflating sleeping pads and sleeping bags (professionally laundered after every trip) are also provided.
Fresh & Delicious
Meals from breakfast Day 1 through lunch the last day are fully included and prepared by your guide. We never use dehydrated backpacking meals, instead serving freshly prepared, delicious backcountry cuisine made with a variety of common and specialty ingredients that travel well in the wilderness.
In the Action
Of course campsites vary tremendously by destination, trip and even by the individual day of a trip. However, you can expect to camp in beautiful areas that put you right in the action to make the most of your backpacking adventure. We carefully design our itineraries with campsites in mind.