Hiking around Dolomite Peak in Banff National Park takes you from Mosquito Creek, through Upper Molar Pass, Pipestone Pass and finally over Dolomite Pass. The three-day hike travels through wild mountain country with gorgeous alpine lakes and meadows in front of stunning mountain vistas.
Day 1 – Mosquito Creek to Upper Fish Lakes Via North Molar pass
14.8 km, Elevation Gain – 760 m, Elevation Loss – 365 m
The first seven kilometres follow Mosquito Creek through the trees before emerging onto the gorgeous Molar Meadows. This vast area is backdropped by the impressive Dolomite Peak. The beauty of this meadow is overwhelming. Rolling hills slowly lead up to North Molar Pass (2590 m) with spectacular views of the meadow behind you as you climb. The final push up to the pass is steeper and depending on the year, is often snow covered and can be impassable so check the route conditions before heading out.
From the pass enjoy the view of Molar Mountain’s peak in the distance. At its base is Upper Fish Lake and the first campsite (2225 m) of the trip. This lovely alpine lake is protected on one side by barren rocky mountains but has green grass on the other making a lovely campground. This is a popular campground so may need to book ahead.
Day 2 – Upper Fish Lakes to Isabella Lake Via Pipestone Pass
25 km, Elevation Gain – 245 m, Elevation Loss – 640 m
From the campground we followed a faint detour trail that passed Moose Lake and other small alpine tarns on its way to Pipestone Pass (2470 m). The formal trail would have meant a lot of elevation loss and regain. By taking this detour we stayed high, and out of the trees so we could enjoy the incredible scenery. From the open pass you can see far down the gorgeous Siffleur Valley. Just beyond the pass is a trail leading to Clearwater Pass and Devon Lakes which could be used as an intermittent campground.
After dropping down into the Siffleur Valley we are back in the forest and on much more boggy land. There are a few river fordings in this part of the trail. When we were there the Siffleur River wasn’t too high so we could rock hop some sections, but had to take our boots off for others. Crossing Dolomite Creek was the toughest ford as the fast moving water was mid-thigh deep, and freezing cold. It was a tough day carrying full packs, but finally, we made it to the mosquito ridden Isabella Lake (1830 m).
Day 3 – Isabella Lake to Helen Lake trailhead Via Dolomite Pass
22.3 km, Elevation Gain – 575 m, Elevation Loss – 455 m
The day began following Dolomite Creek. The trail skirts rocky cliffs with a few small waterfalls before coming to a large open meadow. In the distance we spotted a huge grizzly ambling along on the creek. We made a lot of noise to alert him that we were near. He watched us for a while, and then decided we weren’t of interest and went on his way. It’s always unnerving seeing a grizzly in the mountains. It’s important to make noise as you walk in bear country so the bear knows where you are without being startled. Bears usually respond as they should and go in the other direction.
From the bottom of Dolomite Pass we began a slow ascent up the steep, rocky trail. At the top of the pass we saw two marmots eating a Parks Canada sign! This area is known for having a lot of these cute fuzzy animals. They were so busy with their eating that they barely paid us any attention.
From Dolomite Pass (2395 m) we had an incredible view of Katherine Lake and across to Dolomite and Cirque Peaks. An easy walk in this open area takes you to Helen Lake which is a popular day hike destination.
Leaving Helen Lake the trail circles around Dolomite Peak. Its ragged peaks on this side of the mountain are what reminded early mountaineers of the Dolomites in Italy. From there the hike goes back into the trees but opens for a nice lookout to Crowfoot Glacier and Bow Lake below. The trail ends after a final descent to the Helen Creek trailhead on the Icefields Parkway.
This loop takes you through a wild part of Banff with little trail maintenance and involves a few river fords, but the landscape is incredible. There is another campsite just off the trail at Devon Lakes to make this a 4 day hike and break up the long day from Fish to Isabella Lakes.
Distance – 62 km
Elevation Gain – 1580 m
Days – 3 – 4 days
Access – We did this hike in a counter-clockwise direction which is the most common direction however, it’s not a complete circuit. The trail ends at Helen Creek trailhead which is about 5 km north of the Mosquito Creek parking lot. Leave your car at one end and either walk or try to catch a ride to the other. Both are located on the Icefields Parkway (Hwy 93). Mosquito Creek is 24 km north of Lake Louise.
Campgrounds – There are a few backcountry campsites with tent sites, outhouses, wires for hanging food and picnic tables. They are situated near running water, but this water must be filtered or treated. Most don’t allow open fires so you need to bring a camping stove. There will be no cell reception at any of the backcountry campgrounds in Banff. There are camping fees for these sites. Depending on the time of year you may need to book your campsite in advance. You can book at the park office in Banff or on-line here https://reservation.pc.gc.ca/Home.aspx?_ga=2.63336559.1192046008.1595195369-1510915438.1594850276
Fees – You do require a park pass if you plan on stopping at all inside of Banff or Jasper National Parks. Passes can be purchased from the park offices in Banff and Jasper and at all park gates in the summer. In winter some ticket booths are closed, but you still require a pass if you intend to stop. Park staff frequently check parked vehicles in town and at trailheads.
When to hike – Mid July to mid September should have the best conditions. Depending on the year there is likely to be too much snow even on the first of July and it may begin snowing again in September. We attempted this hike on the Canada Day long weekend (July 1st) one year and had to turn back because there was still too much snow. Eventually we did the entire route in mid August.
TIPS FOR HIKING IN THE CANADIAN ROCKIES
- Expect sudden changes in weather. Bring a rain jacket, an extra sweater, gloves and a toque for one-day or multi-day hikes.
- Hiking poles are useful in many areas and can help save your knees when going down steep descents.
- Water taken from streams will need to be treated, filtered or boiled.
- Bring bear spray and/or bear bangers and educate yourself on wildlife safety.
Here’s a short video from many of our hikes and climbs in the Canadian Rockies.
Coming Next: More hikes in the Canadian Rockies
To read about more of our adventures go to Destinations.
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