Healy Pass – A Classic Banff Favourite

August 17, 2020

Healy Pass is a classic Banff National Park hike. It’s a good long walk with gradual elevation gain. The scenery is always stunning, and if you time it right, the wildflowers are gorgeous.

This is the third time I’ve been to Healy Pass. The previous two times were for backpacks into Egypt Lake and beyond. I have to say I felt a small pang of jealousy watching all the backpackers make their way in.

Although, I was NOT jealous of the people who got to the trail head late. With Covid, the Sunshine parking lot is closed. This means there are only a few dozen spots available at the small parking lot. Once that is filled, the gate is closed! We met two backpack parties around 2:00 pm who were JUST starting out. This is because they had to park at the start of the Sunshine Road, and walk the extra 7 KM to the trail head!

Gear

Hiking boots, poles, and your usual day pack kit.

Overview

Park at the base of Sunshine Village. Walk behind the lodge. On the left is the trail head. At the first junction, turn right to Healy Pass. Continue straight, past the campground. At the Junction to Simpson Pass, turn right. Go straight up to Healy Pass. Return the way you came.

DISTANCES!!!: Please note that all my distances are taken from the FAR end of the Sunshine parking lot, If you are here during a non-Covid year, you can park next to the lodge, so take off 500 m of distance.

Trail Head

For us oldies, the trail head to Healy Pass has changed. It used to be behind the Sunshine base lodge on the right side of the parking lot. It is now on the left. Walk behind the lodge, and the trail head is immediately on the left and well marked.

Healy 1
This is the entrance to the Healy Pass trail at the back of Sunshine Base Lodge. The start of the gondola is above.

Please do not be tempted to go up the Ski Out, which is in front of the lodge. We saw a party on the upper road. This is where the vehicles drive, and is a dusty mess.

Healy 2
This is the wide trail just past the Sunshine lodge at the base. This trail will take you up to Sunshine Village where the ski lifts are. To go to Healy Pass, turn right at the first junction.

Main Trail

Once on the main trail, hike for about 1.3 km. At the first junction, turn right at the sign.

Healy 3
These signs were new a few years ago. For some reason, the backing is coming off, making them difficult to read. Turn right here for Healy Pass. Go straight here to access Sunshine Village.

Follow this trail to cross Sunshine Creek, where we found a sketchy bridge.

Healy 4
The damage from the 2013 floods was extensive here too. You can’t tell from this view, but Sunshine Creek is WAY down there. I kept one hand hovering over the bridge railing as we bounced along it.

At about 3.5 km, cross the bridge over Healy Creek. This is a gorgeous creek. Take your time here to explore up and down stream of the bridge.

Healy 5
After a long backpack, this is an ideal spot to take off your boots and soak your feet.

After the bridge, you are again in the trees for some time. Bring bug spray and a light, long sleeve shirt. We were harassed by black flies and horse flies the whole way.

We passed several small bridges. In July, most of these seasonal creeks were dry, but I imagine they are flowing quite good in the spring and after a solid rain.

Healy 6

For winter ski travel, be aware of the avalanche slope path. The run-out will completely cover the trail, so cross one at a time.

Healy 7
Crossing the avalanche path. Something to be aware of in the winter.

Around 5.5 km, we passed the Healy Creek backcountry campground. Why would anyone stay here? It’s a great spot to drop your heavy backpack, and then go hike Wawa Ridge.

Healy 8
The campground is spread out along one side of the trail. We didn’t go into the campground, but I imagine there is an outhouse and a good place to get water if need be.

At about 6.4 km, we passed the first turnoff to Simpson Pass.  This is a loop that connects back into the main Healy Trail. I didn’t really know this section existed. If I ever go again, I will take this loop on the way in, and then take the main Healy Trail back out.

Healy 9
The trail to Simpson Pass turns left at this junction and crosses the bridge. We continued straight to Healy Pass. For this photo, “straight” is to the right.

After the Simpson Pass junction, the trail gains elevation in earnest. The trail changes to rocky steps for a while, and then back to soft ground.

Healy 11
This is one of the more interesting parts of the trail. Being in the trees for most of the way, I take my beauty and interest anyway I can find them!

This was our first glimpse at Wawa Ridge on our left. Most people see the other side of this while skiing at Sunshine Village.

Healy 10
The first views of Wawa Ridge as we pass a small meadow. Soon, we will be above the trees and have the whole ridge on our left up to the pass.

At 8.2 km, we came to the second Simpson Pass sign. This is the other end of the Simpson Pass loop. Turn Right here to continue the final 1.5 km to Healy Pass.

Healy 12
This sign makes it look like you go left to get to Healy Pass. That’s because the sign is placed to direct traffic from Simpson Pass. If you are already on the Healy Pass trail, you come to an almost T intersection, veering right.

After the Simpson Pass junction, we were finally at a high enough elevation to break out of the tight spruce trees, and enter the realm of larch trees. Larch only grow at higher elevations, and don’t like to be crowded. This means more open spaces for the wildflower meadows we came to see.

Healy 13
An absolute riot of wildflowers! It has not rained for a few weeks and the flowers are a little drowsy, but are still putting on an amazing show.

This last kilometre to Healy Pass is by far the nicest section of the trail. Healy Pass sits in a low saddle between Wawa Ridge and Healy Ridge, and is marked by a giant bolder.

Healy 14
The view from Healy Pass, looking back at Wawa Ridge. In the distance is Mount Assiniboine peaking up above all else. This is such a gorgeous view. I’m very thankful for no forest fires this year.

Healy Ridge is on the other side of Healy Pass from Wawa Ridge. It looks to be an easily accessible summit. If I were to backpack this again, I might drop my pack here, and nab that before heading down to Egypt Lake.

Healy 15
Healy Ridge is on the other side of Wawa Ridge. There is a solid trail heading up to the high point.

The distance to Healy Pass from the far end of the Sunshine Parking lot is 9.9 KM. The elevation at the pass is 2,508 m. According to Gaia, the elevation gain was 760 m (while Strava recorded it as 690). It took us 2 hrs 24 min.

While the view from Healy Pass is gorgeous, it is also worthwhile to walk a few metres down the trail towards Egypt Lake. From here, there are amazing views of Egypt Lake (below), Scarab Lake, and Haiduk Peak towering above. The pyramid shaped mountain to the right is Pharaoh Peak. Egypt Lake campground is directly below Pharaoh Peak. If you want to backpack there, and climb Pharaoh Peak, then click HERE to see the route.

Healy 16
The stunning views of the Egypt Lake area. Haiduk Peak dominates the view in the centre, with Scarab Lake at its base. Directly below that is Egypt Lake. To the right is the pyramid shaped Pharaoh Peak.

It was such a warm and beautiful day, so we had a good long summit lounge. We watched a pair of marmots keep a close eye on the hikers and their domain, avoiding the time when we had to descend again into the woods and flies.

Healy Pass Return

The return route is the same, unless you want to take the Simpson Pass detour. We chose to stay on the main trail to get our fill of the spectacular views while they lasted.

Healy 17
Looking back towards Sunshine base lodge. The Larch trees will be putting on a good show this fall.

Before we entered the forest, we were treated to a view of Mt Bourgeau’s summit ridge.

This is the summit ridge of Mount Bourgeau. It is accessed from the other side via Harvey Pass.

Healy Pass is one of the classic Banff day hikes. At almost 20 km, it is a long day, but not difficult or technical. This hike is great all summer long and into the fall to view the larches changing colour.

If you found this post useful, please do me a huge favour and click the Star button to “Like” it. You can also follow my blog, follow me on Instagram, or join my FaceBook page Al’s Adventurers.

Alisen

Totals – Tracked on Strava

Date:  August 17, 2020
Group:  Five (Alisen, Nancy and three friends)
Distance:   19.89 km
Elevation:  690 m (2,277β€²)
Time:  5 hours 45 minutes (includes a 45 minute lunch)

The start of Healy Pass is on the far right, at the Sunshine parking lot. Hiking is mainly in a wide valley, until the trail begins to gain elevation and views.
The elevation is gradual until the first turn-off to Simpson Pass. After that, it starts to gain in earnest. Do not fear though. While it looks bad on this elevation profile, I promise that you’ll gain it gradually enough.
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Posted in Adventures, Hiking
23 comments on “Healy Pass – A Classic Banff Favourite
  1. We are planning on doing Healy Pass when the larches change colour πŸ™‚ Thanks for sharing your insights here.

    • alisendopf says:

      Excellent choice! Another really good larch hike is the other end of this backpack. If you go in via Vista Lake to Arnica and Twin Lakes, there are lots of larches there. Might be a little less busy. Let me know how it goes for you.

      • We went just beyond Twin Lakes and turned back as the weather wasn’t great that day. We’re thinking Smutwood might be a good one for the larches too.

      • alisendopf says:

        Yes, it would. I am considering Smutswood this summer, but I’m not thrilled about the 6 km approach. I skied that a few years ago, which is way faster than walking. I think the views of the lakes would be prettier in the summer or fall though. Decisions, decisions πŸ™‚

      • I’ve never done back country skiing. I’m way too chicken (and lazy) for that! Hopefully you’ll do the hike before me and I can learn from your experiences there 😊

      • alisendopf says:

        I will give it my best shot! πŸ™‚

        If you are interested in skiing, the most fun and least risky is Light Touring. It’s like cross-country skiing but with metal edges and bigger boots. There are all kinds of winter trails with low to no avalanche danger, and you get a free ride down.

  2. Alisen, we’re planning to hike Sunshine to Assiniboine this week. What time did you get to the parking lot to still get a spot? Bad enough we have to hike up to Standish chair but I don’t want to also do that road! Thanks, Maggie

  3. francisashis says:

    Great destinations for travellers with beautiful photographs.Thank you very much.πŸŒΉπŸ‘πŸ™

  4. Mishkat Al Moumin says:

    Engaging writing and beautiful imagery🌷 Thank you for sharing.

  5. Beautifully described ❀

  6. Wonderful. Happy Weekend β˜€οΈπŸ™

  7. Leif Price says:

    What a perfect destination for travelers like me.. This sounds like fun and interesting adventure!

    • alisendopf says:

      This is indeed a great adventure for a traveler. It is easy to do, with great views. I am sure you have many great adventure spots where you live too. The key to adventure is to just go and explore!

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