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Palliser Pass

Trailhead Leman Lake Camp (US 18) is 14 km from the junction of Bryant Creek and Spray River, and 12.4 km from the Burstall Pass trailhead at Mud Lake.
Distance 6.7 km (4 mi.) from Leman Lake Camp, ~5 km (3 mi.) from LeRoy/Palliser jct.
Elevation Gain 200 m (656') from Leman Lake Camp, 520 m (1,704') from LeRoy/Palliser jct.
Maximum Elevation 2,105 m (6,900')

Palliser Pass, on the Continental Divide, is the southernmost point of Banff National Park. It is usually visited as a day trip from a campsite in the Upper Spray River, or as part of a backpacking trip from (or to) the Palliser valley in Height of the Rockies Provincial Park, B.C. Distant views from the pass are limited, but the surrounding scenery of meadows, peaks and lakes is quite rewarding. This map (58 KB), based on a Parks Canada pdf brochure, indicates the general location of the pass, and the sketch below shows the main features of the upper Palliser valley. Click here to view the corresponding portion of the topographic map, Kananaskis Lakes 82 J/11.

Upper Palliser River

Apart from a few trout fishers heading for Leman Lake, the Upper Spray is relatively unvisited, so a 2 or 3 day trip starting from the Burstall Pass trailhead at Mud Lake, based at Leman Camp, with a day trip to Palliser Pass, makes an excellent and relatively easy excursion. However, I have always visited this pass as part of a long day beginning at Turbine Canyon Camp below North Kananaskis Pass, over the latter and up the Palliser valley, ending at Leman Camp.

Palliser Pass is unusual among Rockies passes in that the trail is virtually level for about 2 km between the boundary marker and the top of the slope leading down to the Spray River. This makes for a very pleasant walk through the Belgium Lake meadows, especially if you have just made the steep ascent from the Palliser River. Palliser Lake is just below the marker, on the B.C. side, and is well worth visiting to see its brilliant colour. The colour is due to the glacial silt arriving from Back Lake, which can be reached via an unmarked trail that begins just south of the Palliser summit. Palliser Lake is an excellent camping location, especially if you want to hike the Turbine-Leman route in two days. Belgium Lake is in a non-camping area in Banff National Park. Besides, it lacks the colour of Palliser Lake. A description of scrambles and camping spots in the area is provided here. Additional photos of Palliser Pass and Leman Lake, taken from the ridge above Burstall Pass, can be seen here.

The main trail up the Spray valley is on the right (east) side of the river at the US 18 junction (the campsite is just across the river (footbridge)), and after about 2 km it crosses to the left (west) side (easy ford), and continues to the slope section. Shortly after starting up the slope, you rock-hop over the Spray back to the right side and remain there to the summit.

I have found an unmarked, parallel trail that is slightly higher, drier and not used by horse parties. Starting from the top of the slope, descend the main trail until you cross a small stream entering from the east. At that point, look for a faint trail that continues straight ahead while the main trail veers left. This (game?) trail is fairly easy to follow and stays on the east side of the Spray along an elevated bench. It ends at an unmarked point on the trail between the Upper Spray and Burstall Pass. Turn left, and you will soon arrive at the marked junction of the Burstall trail and the main Spray valley trail. The US 18 junction is about 100 m to your left. If one were to hike this route in the opposite direction, the trickiest part would be finding the beginning of the bench trail at its north end.

Good views of the Spray valley, including Mt. Sir Douglas, are available from Leman Camp. At the time of my last visit (1997), the camp was still "primitive" i.e., privy and bear cables, no picnic tables or hardened tent pads. I have spotted a moose there on a couple of occasions. Leman Lake is a 15 min. stroll from the campsite.

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This page was modified on July 27, 2012