1. Most of the campsites have bear lockers in addition to bear hangs. We took a rope, expecting to have to construct our own but fortunately there was no need. At Magog campground there was both, which ended up being lucky as there was a current infestation of ground marmots! They have a particular fondness of cork, sweat and leather, so we had to store our gear and clothing on the bear hangs and our food and smellies in the bear lockers.
2. The Assiniboine Lodge offers a happy hour to campers several times a week, from 4-5 pm. We had some confusion over whether this would be in Albertan time or British Columbian time – although everyone starts the hike in Alberta, Mt Assiniboine Provincial Park is actually in BC. We opted to turn up at half past (so either 30 minutes early or 30 minutes late) and we were lucky we did, because they were running on Albertan time, so we only had half an hour left! We learnt after that Alberta time is also known as Mountain time, which makes it seem a lot more obvious. The Lodge accepts electronic payments, but prefers cash.
3. If you only do 1 day trip from Magog, make it the Nub and incorporate the lakes. It can be a loop trail, however in order to do so, either the ascent or descent will be particularly steep and a bit of a scramble. We had planned to do a loop, but we were unable to find the path down. We had just received feedback from another group that it was super difficult, so we ended up just going down the way we came up. We ascended via the lakes up to the Niblet, the Nublet and finally the Nub, which is where we stopped for lunch. From there we headed down, veering off at the Niblet to make our way to the Lodge (which meant we missed the lakes on the way back). It was approximately 12 km and took us about 5 hours (including all stops).
4. There are some key photo spots when you are in the Provincial Park. The most well known photo is one that has both Mt. Assiniboine in the background, Sunburst Peak and all four lakes. This is taken from near the top of the Nub – we found the key rock while we were looking around for the path down that would complete our loop, and we probably wouldn’t have found it if we had been successful in finding the path! Another essential photo is just taken from the top of the Niblet (which is the easiest climb of the three peaks, being the Niblet, Nublet and Nub) and just provides the best vantage point of the surrounding scenery, which can be caught successfully on camera.
5. From a reflection perspective, the northern most tip of Magog Lake gives the best reflection photos of Mt Assiniboine. Although Sunburst Lake gave a good view of Assiniboine, there were too many ripples when we were there to get a good photo. Cerulean Lake is the best place to go for reflection photos of Sunburst Peak. We also managed to get some great reflection photos and the meadows in a random pond on the way from the Lodge back to the campground. Magog Lake to Sunburst Lake is about 20 minutes, and Cerulean is a bit further on again.
6. There are many different options for hiking Mt Assiniboine. It is possible to fly in and/or out, start or end at Banff Sunshine and start or end at Mt Shark. We opted to start and end at Mt Shark, because we were able to walk a loop trail, minimising the portion we had to cover twice. It also meant we could leave our car at the trailhead and it would be there on our return (as opposed to doing a through hike, where there would be more logistics to deal with). Hot tip: if you do what we did, hike the Assiniboine Pass in and the Wonder Pass out. Not only are you saving the better views until last, your body will thank you too as the gradient of the terrain is SO much easier. Assiniboine Pass is an incredibly gradual climb, whereas Wonder Pass by comparison is dramatically steep! It is worth noting that the Assiniboine does close for parts of the summer season due to grizzly bear activity.
7. Swimming is definitely possible. Although crisp, Magog is clean (and beautiful) and a great substitute for a shower. We all swam upon our arrival and then paddled in the following days. I believe Elizabeth Lake is also swimmable. Sunburst Lake felt like a bit of a pond to us (i.e. less appealing) and Cerulean Lake had no real bathing spots, although the ethereal colour of the water certainly was inviting.
8. Bugs. Wow! The most annoying thing about the trip, by far. We had bug spray which we armed ourselves with, as well as mosquito coils which we formed a perimeter around our evening setups with (literally barricading ourselves in). These actions made the bug situation merely tolerable. My situation improved tenfold once I realised how effective my waterproof pants were at keeping the little buggers from biting my legs (yes, through my leggings) but I was still immensely jealous of other campers who had mesh hats reaching over their faces – even if they did look like bee-keepers!
9. There is an abundance of creeks, lakes and streams from which it is possible to refill water bottles. We had water treatment tablets which we used every time and we had no issues with the water. There are taps at Magog with running water, however it is still supposed to be treated before consumption. We did note that there was no convenient running water source at the BR14 campsite, it was a 5 – 10 minute walk to the closest stream (which is actually quite far when you think you’ve finished hiking for the day and then realise you have no water for dinner!) so I’d fill up as you go past.
10. It is definitely possible to hike out in one day. We didn’t want to over-commit ourselves, so we had pre-planned to stay at BR9. As a group of 5, we were reluctant to change our minds, get back to the car and then struggle to find accommodation for the night (because it was a weekend night in peak tourist season, in one of the most popular areas in Canada!). However if there had been just two of us and sleeping in the car was an option, albeit our last resort, we probably would have taken the risk. The majority of the walk out is downhill or flat, so it’s easier to keep up a faster pace. Ideally, an early start from Magog would be beneficial if this was the plan too.