One of Jasper’s best kept secrets, the Brazeau Loop has almost everything you could ask for in a West Coast adventure: bright turquoise glacial lakes, expansive mountain ranges, marmot fleeting around shrubs above the treeline, old growth trees in the forests, bridges over rivers and creeks, plenty of deer, and an epic traverse over a mountain pass with incredible views on the other side.
Where: Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada
When: May through September (snowy in May and chilly in September, but more people and bugs in the middle of the Summer)
Length: 81km, 4-6 days
Hiking Trip Base Cost: $10/day for Park Fees, $12/day for Backcountry Reservations, $10-infinity/day for food = ~$200 for a 5 day trip
Additional Variable Costs: fuel for your stove, any new camping gear, a car rental, a flight, accommodation outside the park, beer, etc.
The Brazeau Loop Itinerary and Route
Day 1: Nigel Pass Trailhead to Four Point, 14km
Drive to Nigel Pass Trailhead and park in the small parking lot where you will leave your car. From here, it is 14km to the Four Point campsite. You may choose to go just 11km to Boulder Creek, but this will make tomorrow significantly more difficult! Four Point sits on a river, which is a great place to enjoy dinner.
Day 2: Four Point to Brazeau Lake, 20km
This is a long but easy and rewarding day, being mostly downhill and ending at the Brazeau Lake. You could stay at the Brazeau River campsite, however this is NOT recommended as the Brazeau Lake campsite is one of the best in the world. Try to get here as early as possible to spend as much time as you can exploring the empty rock beach along this glacial lake at the foot of the mountains. Stand in awe as you watch the lake feed endlessly into the river.
Day 3: Brazeau Lake to Jonas Cutoff, 15km
A challenging day will take you over a mountain pass and end at Jonas Cutoff, a high elevation campground by a rushing creek with incredible views. Rest up tonight and load up before tackling Jonas Pass tomorrow morning.
Day 4: Jonas Cutoff to Four Point, 18km
The day begins with a tricky scramble up over Jonas Pass. The trail is fairly easy to lose, but look for cairns that will help guide you. Once at the top, you will understand why it was worth it. The rest of the day rewards you with endless views as you walk through the valley between mountain ranges and a forest slowly regenerating after a fire years ago.
Day 5: Four Point to Nigel Trailhead, 14km
End the Brazeau Loop the way you started, this time with significantly lighter packs and stronger bodies. This day will feel like a breeze compared to the prior two, so either soak it up and take your time or start early and be at the brewhouse by lunchtime with a burger and a beer!
Roses n Thorns
Rose (the best part)
The Brazeau Lake campsite was, as previously mentioned, one of the most incredible campsites I’ve every stayed at. In true National Park fashion, it was clean and well outfitted. For a backcountry site, the amenities were incredible. A picnic table? As if! Bear bag hangers? NICE! That was all great, but what really made this memorable was the lake itself. Glacier blue, it sits at the foot of mountains. A combination of rocks and sand line its shore, and its mouth flows strongly into a river that is both exciting and peaceful at once. Photos will never do it justice, so you’d best get out there and see it for yourself.
Thorn (the worst or most hilarious part)
I had brought my DSLR camera to Jasper to capture its beauty, and had, after thoughtful consideration, decided to hike with it too. Though it adds a lot of weight to the pack, I knew it would be worth it. Before the hike, we were getting ready to head out in our rental car. I got in, we started driving, and turned onto the highway… there was then a sound of something heavy crashing to the ground behind us on the road. In the rearview mirror, my camera could be seen bouncing and stumbling down the road behind. In my absolute stupidity, I had left it on the roof of the car and not taken it down before driving off. By pure luck (and the robust durability of Nikon), all was intact except for the lens. Though I was able to take pictures, the zoom and autofocus were not functioning well (or at all). Alas, much work and much grief went into producing the few photos I managed to capture with my damaged piece of technology.
Bud (the new friend)
We started the hike 15 minutes after we saw a lone hiker leave the parking lot. Throughout, we would end up staying at 2 of the 4 same campsites, sharing stories along the way. A nearly 70 year old retired professor from the University of Calgary, our new friend was on a solo quest to hike the Brazeau Loop. Though he had originally planned a BC trip with his wife, forest fires in the area turned their trip in another direction – his wife didn’t want to do the 4 nights on the trail, and he had committed to any trip at all, so off he went on his own. He was thoughtful and well-prepared, experienced and happy: he embodied everything I hope to be when I am 70 too.
Gear and Food List
The Brazeau Loop is a proper backpacking route that requires a cook set and sleeping kit. See my Gear for the Trail list for a decent list.
Here are some ideas: Food on the Trail. In general, my days look like this…
Breakfast: hot oats on short days, cold granola with milk powder on long days
Lunch: snacks throughout the day including pepperoni sticks, tortillas, a LOT of peanut butter, granola bars, GORP, and dried fruit
Dinner: prepared dehydrated meals when I’m feeling fancy, or deluxe instant noodles/Sidekicks when I’m not
Make it Happen
- Understand the route and pick a time of year you want to go
- Choose your route/itinerary, and where you will stay each night so you can book your campsites: Parks Canada Backcountry Reservations
- Once that is locked in, book your flights and/or transportation to the park
- If flying, fly into Calgary (YYC) and rent a car from the airport to drive to Jasper. The drive is much more scenic from Calgary vs. Edmonton and Nigel Trailhead is closer to Calgary
- If you’ll be in the park for 7 days or more, it will be cheaper to buy a Discovery Pass than pay daily park fees: Parks Canada Discovery Pass
- The fun begins! Plan your meals, get your gear in order, and start walking to work and taking the stairs to make your trip as fun as possible
- Get outside and do the thing
What’s the greatest campsite you’ve ever stayed at, and why? Sometimes it’s not the place or the scenery that makes it great, but rather the people and the circumstance!
If you’re closer to the East Coast and are looking for an awesome backpacking trip in another one of Canada’s National Parks, check out The Fundy Circuit in New Bruswick!