Mount Robson Provincial Park
Distance: 5.5 miles Time: 2.5 hours Type: There and back
Kinney Lake lies at the western base of Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. Approaching from the west, Robson can be seen from miles away. It makes an iconic impression: a beacon marking what is for many visitors their gateway to the Rockies. By this point you have already seen many other mountains from the road, but Robson is so much larger, so much more impressive. It's at this point that the true sense of awe takes hold.
Kinney Lake is actually only the first prominent feature on the Berg Lake Trail, a world-class hike that takes at least 2 days to complete. Beyond Kinney, the trail enters the Valley of a Thousand Falls, passing a number of water falls including the spectacular Emperor Falls, before curving around the back of Mount Robson to arrive at Berg Lake. From all accounts this is a truly spectacular location: a perfect moraine expanse of water fed by three glittering glaciers, nestled placidly under the towering Robson, far from any roads of hint of civilisation. There is a campsite at the lake and further trails that offer possibilities for onward hiking.
A map of the area can be found here:
Unfortunately, as was often the case on this trip, I only had time to complete the first section of the hike to Kinney and back. One day I will return and make it all the way to Berg Lake. For now, however, I have the indelible memory of Kinney itself: quite possibly the most beautiful place I have ever seen. Robson, an imposing tower of rock, snow and ice marked by characteristic horizontal striations, looms above the lake like an a benevolent caretaker. Other peaks frame the lake to the west and north and the trees carry on far into the distance.
There was a slight haze in the air when we were travelling through the Rockies, caused by a large forest fire on the border of Jasper and Banff National Parks further to the south, which added a magical quality to the setting. If Kinney is just the warm-up, I can only imagine at what the rest of the trail has to offer. I would consider this hike an absolute must-do for anyone visiting this part of the world.
Departing from the western side of the visitor centre of Mount Robson Provincial Park, situated on Highway 16, the trail follows the winding Robson River along a gravelled and fairly even path to the lake. The sound of the highway and the hubbub of the visitor centre, crawling with coach-loads of tourists from around the world, is quickly forgotten as the trail enters an old-growth cedar and hemlock forest. The roaring water of the river whips up a spray that sparkles in the sun and helps cool the air, and as the path gradually approaches the lake there are occasional views of Robson’s peak through the trees. An increasing number of butterflies populate the forest.
As it arrives at the southern end of lake, the trail crosses a bridge over the river, from where you get your first peak along the length of the water and beyond. The colour of the water here is an opaque moraine, dyed by the silt of the glacier that runs off the mountain. Shortly after, the trail reaches the southern shore of the lake, from where it follows the eastern edge of the lake northwards.
It is well worth continuing along the lake shore here. There are a number of gravel beaches which are perfect for a rest and a campground roughly three quarters up. This is used by many hikers either continuing on or returning from Emperor Falls and Berg Lake. We went for a quick dip at this spot - and I do mean quick because the water is ice cold - before reluctantly returning to the visitor centre by the same route. That night we camped across the road at Robson Meadows Campground - a very well-run facility and great place for a stop over - before continuing east to Jasper and the Icefield Parkway.