Mystic Pass to Badger Pass Circuit – Day 1 of 6

August 8, 2022

This is Day 1 of 6 in the Ultimate Sawback Range Backpack in Banff National Park. To see the trip overview and daily breakdowns, click HERE.

My friend Erin and I had been looking forward to this backpack all year. Erin is new to backpacking, and did some one nighters to get ready. I’ve been backpacking for a few decades, but haven’t been in a few years because not everyone is up for the challenge. After having hiked and scrambled together all year, Erin and I were very compatible in terms of speed, strength, and desire to get going early in the morning.

After spending endless days making and dehydrating breakfasts and dinner, plus day or so gathering all the necessary “stuff” together, we were finally ready to head out. We got an early start, because that’s just what we do. In hindsight, we could have started a bit later, but having extra time at camp to relax was ideal.

Today was a fairly easy day at just over 8.5 km, but with fully loaded packs, it was a good distance to start. Larry’s Camp was full, and we met some great people, and got some valuable beta.

Day 1 – Moose Meadows to Larry’s Camp Overview

From the Moose Meadows parking lot, hike up the treed trail to the Johnson Canyon T intersection. Go left for the Ink Pots. Hike past the Ink Pots, and cross Johnson Creek at the bridge. Almost immediately, take the left fork to stay on the Johnson Creek Trail. This trail parallels the Creek, and leads straight into Jo9 Larry’s Camp.

Totals – Downloadable Tracks on Gaia, Displayed using Strava

Date: August 8, 2022
Group:  Two (Alisen and Erin)
Distance:  8.5  km (official distance is 7.7 km but I clocked longer on GPS)
Elevation:  385 m (1,270′)
Time:  2 hours 51 minutes (includes one snack break)

Day One from Moose Meadows to Larry’s Camp. It’s not far, but with a heavy pack, it’s a good first day.
The high point is on the way to the Ink Pots. Once past the Ink Pots, we paralleled Johnson Creek for a more or less flat walk into our first campsite at Larry’s.

Parking and Trail Head

We choose to park at the less busy Moose Meadows parking lot, which is just a few km west on the Bow Valley Parkway from Johnson Canyon. Unfortunately, there are no outhouses here, so it’s a good idea to stop at Johnson Canyon and use the nice indoor facilities prior to arriving.

Our parking lot is called Moose Meadows. Canadian Tip: anything with the word “moose” is code for a wet and damp area. Hence, be super prepared for an onslaught of the most heinous mosquitoes! I was eaten alive within seconds of leaving the car. Thankfully, we soon left them behind as we started hiking.

The trail head is super obvious, with a fence guiding us in.

Lots of great signage at the trailhead. A fire ban was just declared, which is fine by me, as a smoky tent, gear and gore-tex clothing is not ideal.
We would soon be visiting ALL of these locations on our backpack.

Main Trail

Once on the trail, we just had to STAY on it. A few side trails, which were easily avoided.

The main trail is pretty obvious. Parks has put down trees to discourage side cuts. People trying to get to the Johnson Canyon trail might be doing the side cuts, but it’s easier to just follow the main trail.
Parks was out clearing bush. Another side trail / lookout. Keep going straight.

We hit the T junction around the 3.5 km mark. Turn Left for the Ink Pots. The Upper Johnson Canyon Falls are to the right.

The signage might seem a bit confusing, but it’s all in the angle of the sign. When facing the sign, going Left is heading back to the parking lot, while going Right is continuing on to the Ink Pots.

The trail continues to gain elevation until we hit the high point at approximately 5 km from the trail head. From here, it was downhill to the Ink Pots.

You’ll know when you hit the high point because it’s denoted by this fence, with a grand view of the valley and Hillsdale Ridge behind.

It was now full on tourist-ville to the Ink Pots. Lots of questions on why we had such big packs, because most people were in flip flops and carrying a bottle of gatorade. Despite our loads, we still managed to pass a number of people. To be fair, we met people from all over the US who were not used to the elevation.

We stopped at the Ink Pots to admire the view, and do some pack adjustments. There should really be Park Wardens here on a permanent basis. SO many people were walking down to the water, eroding the banks, and putting their dirty hands in the clear water. There are signs saying to not do this, but apparently that’s for other people.

The Ink Pots. Erin and I found a quiet spot to look across at the small pools of bubbling waters. Vegetation is worn away on the banks from people walking down to the water. Walking in the pools disturbs the sandy bottoms, and clouds the water, essentially ruining the subtle blue and green colours that people come to see.

After a quick bite to eat, we continued on the trail towards Larry’s Camp. We crossed the bridge over Johnson’s Creek.

Hiking past the Ink Pots. I always wondered where this went … Now I know! Thanks Erin for booking this great backpack.
Most of the bridges are new since the 2013 floods. This one sided railing is the preferred type. We trailed one arm on the other side, just in case we lost our balance.

Across the Creek, we turned Left to hike parallel to Johnson Creek. According to the sign, Larry’s Camp was a mere 1.7 km away.

Just shy of 2 km to get into camp.
Several small bridges. This area must be very wet in the spring or after a good rain.

Jo9 Larry’s Camp

Larry’s Camp is the largest in the area with 10 tent spots. These are nicely spaced out in the trees, well away from the eating/cooking areas. At only 8 km, with minimal elevation gain, this is an ideal spot for kids or first time backpackers. There are a couple of day trips from here as well, if you don’t want to pack up every day.

There are two eating areas, separated by a pretty good drop into the lower area. I don’t think we ever found an ideal way down there. Maybe you’ll have better luck?

Upper food storage and eating area. We met some lovely people at Larry’s Camp. We shared dehydrating recipes, and discussed various routes everyone had planned for the rest of the season. I’m glad we were so social that night, because we didn’t see many people after this!
Looking down at the lower eating area. Johnson Creek is just below this.

The lower eating area is next to Johnson Creek, but water can be found upstream of the higher eating area as well.

Erin and I lounged at the Creek’s edge for a good hour. The mountains were towering above us, and the babbling water was very relaxing. A great way to spend our first day of backpacking.

Decisions, decisions…. It took us less than 3 hours to reach Larry’s Camp, and we were feeling pretty spry. We met a friend on our hike in who had just spent a week in the area. She said that despite all the campsites being fully booked, half of them were empty from no-shows.

We seriously considered shouldering our packs once more, and heading for our second campsite at Mystic Junction. We decided to stay in Larry’s, and good thing we did for two reasons. One, we met a couple of guys who did a day trip to Mystic Pass. They showed us photos from the top of the ridge they climbed. Okay, definitely adding THAT to our To Do list. Two, the trip to Mystic Junction was a LONG day. Adding in the 8 km from Larry’s would have been a bit miserable.

Click HERE for Day Two as we backpack over Mystic Pass to Mystic Junction.

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Posted in Adventures, Backpacking
4 comments on “Mystic Pass to Badger Pass Circuit – Day 1 of 6
  1. Widdershins says:

    Annnd, away we go! 😀 … your ‘click HERE for day two’ at the bottom of this post doesn’t have a link. 🙂

  2. Widdershins says:

    P.S. … hmm, I’m guessing that’s because you haven’t posted it yet? 🙂 (I checked the coloured text at the top of this post – no action there either 🙂 )

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