Sawback Range Circuit: (Johnston Canyon/Badger Pass/Mystic Pass)

This backpacking circuit is one of the greatest close to the town of Banff. It doesn't get as much attention and has so much to offer. Multiple lakes and alpines passes along with beautiful campsites make it a number one destination.

Price

Public booking: You can join this adventure as a solo backpacker or with friends and buy a spot into this adventure. This implies sharing your tent with other backpackers. 

$1300.00/pp. + GST (5%)

Minimum of backpackers: 3 backpackers

Maximum of backpackers: 6 backpackers (2-3 per tent)

 

Private booking: You can book this trip for yourself and take up to 5 people with you.

$3999.00/Group +GST (5%)

Group size: up to 5 people.

Is this Trip for me?

This trip is rated as moderate; based on distance, elevation gain and terrain.

We will be hiking at a regular and steady pace and we will move to a different campsite everyday.

We will travel up to 21 kms per day with some elevation gain up to 850 meters carrying a backpack weighting up to 16 kg (35 lbs.). Participants will be carrying personal clothing and gear, and equitable share of group gear and goods (food, tents, stoves, fuel, etc.).

All trails are generally in good shape but we will travel on rugged terrain.

Prior backpacking experience is not mandatory but it is recommended. You must be in good physical condition and it it suggested that you train prior to this trip.

Itinerary

Difficulty: Moderate

Duration: 4 nights/5 days

Map: Banff and Mt. Assiniboine

 

Day 1: Johnston's canyon trailhead to Badger Pass Junction campground

At 7 am we will meet at a prearranged location in Banff. We will go over the last details with you and go over a checklist of the gear before leaving for the trailhead.

Drive: 40 mins.

 

This journey starts at the popular Johnston’s canyon trailhead. Thanks to our early start, we will skip the crowds and enjoy this beautiful canyon on our way. You will be amazed by a series of waterfalls that have eroded this gorge through time. We will then ascend slowly in the forest before visiting the unique Ink Pots which is another natural beauty. We are now in an open meadow that reveals the peaks around us. We will then follow Johnston Creek all the way to our campground: Badger Pass Junction. After a long day, we will enjoy some rest, the views and a great meal.

Distance: 21.6 kms.

Elevation gain: 595 m.

Estimated Time: 7-9 hours.

 

Day 2: Pulsatilla Pass - Badger Pass to Block Lakes Junction

We will start the day on a good note as we will do a side trip to the pretty Pulsatilla Pass. We hope to see some early season flowers blooming as we look around the stunning views. We will then come back to our campground to pick up our bags and complete our day journey to our next campground. We have to go over an impressive and classic alpine col: Badger Pass. We will descend to join the Cascade River bank to find our Campground: Block lakes Junction. Time to regain our calories over a tasty dinner. We hope the stars show up tonight!

Distance: 19,8 kms.

Elevation gain: 840 m, 915m loss 

Estimated Time: 7-9 hours.

 

Day 3: Block Lakes Junction to Sawback Lake campground.

There is no rush today and it can be a lazy morning as our total distance for the day is quite low. If we feel like it, we can walk to a little viewpoint onto some nearby lakes then start our journey to the next objective. We will mainly stay on the bottom of the valley today enjoying the views on the mountains around us when the open meadows allow for it. We will slowly make our way to set up at the campsite short of a kilometre away from Sawback Lake. It will actually feel good to drop our packs, go explore the lake and probably even spend a good amount of time there to relax. There’s plenty of time to make dinner and chill out. 

Distance: 12,5 kms.

Elevation gain: 300m, 200m loss

Estimated Time: 4-5 hours.

 

Day 4: Sawback Lake Campground to Mystic Valley Campground

Here’s another morning where time is not an issue and we can enjoy our “day home''. We can make a last visit to the lake if we feel like it then pack our bags to our next destination. The trail is quite flat and open and we might encounter some horseback riders. It’s a peaceful environment and the views are inspiring. We will veer towards Mystic Valley where we will start gaining a bit of elevation leading us to the great campsite. From there, we could do a side trip to visit Mystic lake or keep it for the next day as it's on our way. We are now enjoying our last night in the backcountry, let’s remember to breathe and take it all in, we are in a beautiful place.

Distance: 13,7 kms.

Elevation gain: 300m, 430m loss

Estimated Time: 4-5 hours.

 

Day 5: Mystic Valley Campground to Johnston Canyon trailhead 

Let’s enjoy this last breakfast and take a last look at this beautiful set-up before packing our bags for the last leg of this trip. It's been great and today will be spectacular again. We will first stop at the pretty Mystic Lake and enjoy the scenery for a bit. We will then climb over Mystic pass and get amazed by the alpine features one more time. The descent will lead us to known grounds as the last leg of the trail is the same as the first leg we did some 4 days prior. We will use the energy left in our tired bodies to finish up on a good note on the famous Johnston Canyon Trail. Good Job, we made it!

Distance: 20 kms.

Elevation gain: 445m, 925m loss.

Estimated Time: 7-8 hours.

What's Included

Professional Hiking Guide

Our Hiking Guide has 12 years exploring the Canadian Rocky Mountains and some other parts of the continent. He is a certified Hiking Guide of the ACMG (Association of Canadian Mountain Guides). He is also a member of the IGA (Interpretive Guide Association) and an accredited Wilderness First Responder.

Complementary certifications: ACMG Hiking Guide Winter Travel, AST1 (Avalanche Safety Training Level 1).

Your guide speaks 3 languages: French, English and Spanish.

Gear
We supply group camping and cooking equipment, as well as an emergency communication device, bear spray, water purification equipment and a backcountry emergency first-aid kit. You will need to bring personal backpacking equipment and clothing. 

Food

We provide all meals and snacks on this trip; from lunch on the first day to lunch on the last day. We make healthy and nutritious meals to keep you energized throughout the whole trip . You will be consulted for food preferences and allergies when booking.

Transportation

We provide transportation from your accommodation in Banff or Canmore to the trailhead and back. Different pick-up locations can be discussed as well. We can also offer a shuttle from Calgary to your accommodation for a reasonable rate. 

 

Camping and parks fees

The backcountry camping fees as well as the Park ‘Wilderness Pass’ are included. Also, valid entry day passes to the National Parks for the duration of the backpacking trip are covered.

Equipement List

Having the right gear is key to safety in the mountains. We have to be ready for the Rockies' unpredictable weather and also to be ready to stay warm in case of emergency. Here's a list of the gear you need to bring:

Footwear
  • Hiking boots: ​You need hiking boots with a great ankle support, good tread and sturdy soles. They also have to be waterproof. Make sure you spend time to get used to them and that they are broken in before the trip. Uncomfortable boots could literally ruin your trip. 

  • Light Footwear: Crocs, active sandals or running shoes for the occasional creek crossing and use around camp.

Gaiters(optional)
  • ​Gaiters are really helpful, especially in early and late season and when encountering snow, rain or dew. They will help keep your socks and your boots dry and they will prevent the debris from getting stuck in your boots.

Clothing

Layers, layers, layers!

  • Socks​

    • Wearing an appropriate pair of socks can make a big difference on your footwear fit and comfort during the hike.  

    • Good choice: wool hiking socks. ​

    • Bring at least 3 pairs.

  • Base layer: short or long sleeves. 

    • Good choice: merino wool, synthetic materials.​

  • Mid-layer 1: Medium weight (i.e. fleece, wool).

  • Mid-layer 2: Thick layer (i.e. thick fleece, down jacket)

  • Waterproof Jacket: with hood.

    • Good choice: Gore-Tex or equivalent.

  • Light weight pants or convertibles. 

    • Good choice: nylon.

    • No jeans.

  • Gloves or mittens.

    • Good choice: Gore-Tex or equivalent.

  • Sunhat or cap.

  • Hat/Tuque, ear warmers or Buff.

  • Waterproof pants.

    • Good choice: with side zippers, Gore-Tex or equivalent.​​​

Gear
  • Large Backpack: 55 to 75 L. Keep in mind that you will be transporting your fair share of group camping gear and food(usually 10-20L of space)

  • Pack Cover: You need to keep your gear dry at all time so a cover big enough to protect the entire outside of your pack. It is also recommended to put your gear in dry bags or whichever plastic bags.

  • Sleeping Bag: We recommend a 3 season sleeping bag with a rating of 0ºC to –9ºC. At any time of the year, it is frequent to encounter cold temperatures that can drop below freezing at night.

  • Sleeping Mat – Lightweight “Therm-a-rest” mats are recommended. They should be at least the length of you body. 

  • Pillow – A small, compressible pillow or a spare stuff sack into which you can stuff extra clothes to create a pillow.

  • Trekking poles: helps reduce impact on knees and back, specially on the way down. Must be collapsible.

  • Water Bottle/bladder: 1-2 Liters capacity.

  • Sunglasses with 100% UV protection (with a hard case recommended).

  • Headlamp: Make sure you have fresh batteries. 

  • Sunscreen and lip balm: Strong with UV protection.

  • Personal toiletries including hand sanitizer: keep to minimum and chose unscented products.
  • Mosquito repellant​​​
  • Personal First Aid Kit – Our guide carries a group first aid kit so keep this small. Band-Aids, blister care, Tylenol/ibuprofen, etc.

 

If you are missing any of the above, contact us to see if we can provide it for you.