The Rockwall Trail is located between Banff and Lake Louise in Kootenay National Park and is a perfect balance of length and challenge for those looking to spend a long weekend in the backcountry. With the variable terrain and unforgettable scenery, you may choose to slow your pace down on this one, or choose to go all out and complete in a single day
Quick Stats of The Rockwall Trail
Distance: 34 Miles
Elevation: 7,500 Feet
Highest Point: Numa Pass at 7,650 Feet
Start/End: Paint Pots and Floe Lake
Average Time: 2 – 4 Days
Fastest Known Time: 5hr 52m 32s
Hiking Season: June - September
*The AllTrails stats will be inflated compared to these but this is based on a recording I did from 2022
The Rockwall is a nearly complete loop trail that is hiked in either direction by starting at the Paint Pots Trailhead or the Floe Lake Trailhead off of Route 93 in British Columbia, Canada.
It’s a popular route for backpackers but the crowds won’t be anything compared to other popular day hikes in the Lake Louise area.
Starting from Paint Pots the trail has minimal elevation as it follows Ochre Creek towards Helmet Falls.
At Helmet Falls, one of the largest and most popular campsites on the route, the trail turns onto the Great Divide Trail and begins an ascent of roughly 1500’ up to Wolverine Pass at an altitude of 7200’.
This section you’ll hike across open grassy hillsides parallel to the giant rock wall which gives this trail its name.
The trail descends down a moraine to Tumbling Creek before heading back on the other side of the moraine and following the hillsides again. The next descent lands you at Numa Creek which is a popular place to cut through from its own trailhead for people looking to do a shorter trip.
The last ascent was the longest and hardest in my opinion going from Numa Creek up to Numa Pass. A total elevation gain of over 2500’ in one go.
Numa Pass is the highest point you’ll reach on the trail and has the largest sweeping views that extend down towards Floe Lake and a good look back at the route you came from.
Floe Lake is even more popular than Helmer Falls and snagging a campsite hear will require preplanning months out or some good luck.
The trail is almost entirely downhill from Floe Lake. This section to the trailhead is in a burn area so there is lots of overgrown vegetation and toothpick burnt trees as far as you can see.
A unique aspect of this hike is the choice of trailhead you get to start at. The two for this loop as mentioned are Paint Pots as the northern trailhead, and Floe Lake to the south on route 93.
Permits are required for camping and can be difficult to obtain on short notice but ultimately, campsite availability will be a big factor in determining which trailhead to start and end at.
What groups typically do for the parking situation is to bring two cars. One car will be parked at the ending trailhead, while the other will be left at the starting trailhead.
I hiked this route solo when riding cross country in 2022 so leaving an extra car, or in my case, motorcycle at the second trailhead wasn’t an option. I was able to get a hitchhike from a couple picking up their second car after about 30 minutes of waiting.
The distance between the trailheads isn’t impossible to hike, but the highway is there with almost no shoulder and would be a total blow after an exhausting trek.
What I would recommend is to try and find a group that is shuttling their cars when you arrive to the trailhead you’re starting with and try and leave your car at the other one and get a ride back with them. You could do this vice versa and show up to the other trailhead originally and wait for a ride. This will take the stress off trying to find a hitchhike at the end or otherwise be stranded.
Paint Pots Trailhead
I liked starting at this trailhead due to the fact that there is minimal elevation gain the first 9 miles to Helmet Falls. This means if you spend a first night in this section you won’t be carrying as much weight for the climbs ahead.
This trailhead is much bigger than Floe Lakes trailhead, typically people park a car at each trailhead but if that’s not how your group is doing it, then you should always be able to find a real parking spot at the Paint Pots trailhead.
This trailhead has campsites that are closer than the Floe Lake trailhead. If you are arriving in the late afternoon or evening I would recommend looking for a permit that includes one of the first campsites out of Paint Pots like the Helmet Ochre Junction campsite.
Floe Lake Trailhead
This Trailhead is best to start at in my opinion only if your first night will be spent at Floe Lake.
Plan on the trip from Floe Lake trailhead to Floe Lake being about 3 - 4 hours of hiking. It’s a serious uphill of about 2500’ and over 6 miles. It can get scorching hot hiking in the burn area so be prepared for a tough climb.
Numa Trailhead: An Alternative Option
This trailhead is listed as a day use area but I have talked to people that have used this as an access point to the Rockwall Trail. The trail is relatively flat until it intersects the Great Divide Trail at the Numa Creek Campground. This can be used then to complete the loop towards Helmet Falls or towards Floe Lake for those looking for a short trip.
The two largest and most popular campsites on the trail are Helmet Falls and Floe Lake. If you can get a Floe Lake site and have it work with your itinerary then definitely stay there.
Helmet Falls was a cool spot but it’s going to be incredibly busy. I passed by what I remember being over 20 tents close together the morning I hiked through. Other sites can be much more rewarding with less crowds.
Make sure to get a reservation for each site along the trail according to your itinerary. This is necessary to be done before starting and can be done online at the Canada Parks website.
Maps & Guides
Being a short trek, not much is needed in the guides department. I would review information on the Canada Parks website about backcountry use before setting off though.
My maps of choice on this route are All Trails and Gaia
Important Items to Carry
All of your gear is important but here are a few pieces I consider must haves on this trek.
Bear Spray – This is Grizzly country so it’s a must have and required by the National Park for backcountry users.
A GPS Device – I prefer the Garmin Inreach Mini 2 which supports SOS, preset messaging, text messaging through the Garmin Inreach App, and Location Tracking.
Water Filter – Sawyer is my choice and what I consider to be the easiest and most effective for backcountry water treatment
Last Tips & Knowledge Shared
You shouldn’t need a bear hang or bear canister on this hike. Check campsite information ahead of your trip but to my knowledge every campsite has recently been equipped with bear boxes for food storage.
This trail has a lot of open air terrain that can be scorching hot during midday. Plan ahead or take extra precautions with sunscreen and ample water. I struggled on the way down from Floe Lake in the burn zone and I had the lightest pack going downhill. It would be easy to run into heat exhaustion on the reverse.
Be alert for bears I didn’t see much in terms of wildlife but people passing by me did see a black bear just before I passed the area is well known for bear encounters.
The trail has a good amount of elevation but for experienced hikers and thru hikers you probably won’t struggle much. I completed the entire trail in a single 24 hour period with one quick night of camping at the Helmet Ochre Junction Campsite. This is a popular route for trail runners to complete in a single day as well so feel free to accept a challenge.
I would say I missed some of the enjoyment on this trek going as fast as I did, it wasn’t by choice but had to be in Lake Louise the next day to meet some friends. For experienced trekkers I think a 3 day/2 night trip is ideal timeframe.
I hope you add this one to your list and get out there for it! It was suggested to me by some friend while hiking The Nootka Trail earlier this summer, another great BC hike.
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