This was our second day on the spectacular Rockwall trail, from Helmet Falls to Tumbling Creek. You can read the first part here. This section climbs up to the giant cliffs of Ottertail limestone that make up the actual Rockwall. The trail goes by Rockwall Pass (and you can take a mini detour to Wolverine Pass) before descending down to the pleasant campground at Tumbling Creek. We saw incredible mountains, glaciers and regal marmots along the way.
We were unable to book a campsite at Tumbling Creek, so we kept going on to Numa Creek (it was over 20km and over 1000m elevation gain.) However I took sooo many photos that I split the day into two halves.
Click here for my full Rockwall Trail Guide.
Helmet Falls to Tumbling Creek trail map
Helmet Falls to Tumbling Creek – The basics
Distance: 13 km
Cumulative Elevation gain: 720m
Cumulative Elevation loss: -580m
Highest Point: 2230m at Rockwall Pass
Time: 5-6 hours
What to bring: The 10 Essentials, bear spray (have it handy), gaiters were helpful.
Facilities: There are outhouses at Helmet Falls Campground and Tumbling Creek Campground. Bring your own loo roll or a kula cloth.
Dogs: Dogs are allowed on this trail if they are on a leash.
How hard is it? If you stop and camp at Tumbling Creek, this day is moderately challenging. If you continue on to Numa Creek (like we did) it is a very challenging day.
Helmet Falls to Tumbling Creek – Getting started
The day starts with a 400m climb up to the meadows by Limestone Peak. As you gain elevation you can look back at Helmet Falls and the rainbows it paints in the morning sunshine.
I have to admit, this was the day that I was most nervous about. We needed to continue to Numa Creek for our camping reservation. So this was going to be the longest day (and most elevation) I’d ever attempted while carrying backpacking gear. Our solution was to start early.
Meadows below the Rockwall
Once you’ve hiked up to the first nameless pass, the views will blow your mind! There is a gentle slope that takes you through flower-filled meadows to a lake at the base of a moraine. You’ll be able to see glaciers and giant hunks of limestone continuing for miles. And you get to hike the whole way alongside these beauties!
The limestone cliffs of the Rockwall reach up for a kilometer (1022m) above you and completely fill your field of view. The meadows are also full of larches (the hardy alpine trees that turn golden in autumn.)
Wildflowers and biting insects were both in abundance along the Rockwall. I’ll post a few photos of red paintbrushes, western spring beauty and western anemone (which I think of as Dr Seuss poofs.) But there was so much more.
Moraine and rocky ascent
About halfway along the Rockwall, the path reaches a beautiful glacial lake at the base of the moraine. This is where the trail starts to climb again. You just need to ascend 300m to reach the pass.
If you look carefully on my photo below, this is where we started to meet the most regal marmots. This first marmot marquis had climbed up onto the largest boulder and was surveying territory from up high.
The trail may be rocky, but it is still easy to follow. Don’t worry too much about navigating through the scree. Trails in Canadian National Parks are really well built.
As you get closer to the Rockwall Pass, there are more and more larches lining the trail. It must be gorgeous in the autumn. You will be treated to fantastic glacier views and can look up to the dramatic limestone peaks that surround you. (Squeee!)
This imposing rampart is made of sedimentary rocks, laid down in the Cambrian era (around 500 million years ago) back when this area was a large, shallow sea. This created a kilometer-high barrier that juts out along the spine of Kootenay National Park in the Canadian Rockies.
This was our lunch spot at Rockwall Pass. It is one of the coolest lunch views I have ever experienced.
On, towards Wolverine Plateau, the trail flattens out. So you can enjoy the phenomenal views without expending much effort. This was the best section of the hike. Take it slowly and enjoy the scenery.
In late July there was still snow on the trail near Rockwall Pass. Still, it was not too deep and not hard to traverse over it. We’d read reports from the weeks before we did the hike, and it sounds like it can be much tougher earlier in the season.
I was a bit slower than my friends for this part because it was just so flipping pretty! I stopped for photos after every few steps! All my selfies involve me grinning like a loon.
It is worth taking a few minutes to take a mini detour to Wolverine Pass. The turn-off is in between Drysdale Peak and Mount Gray. It’s only a few hundred extra meters walk, but you get to peer down into the valley below.
This is the view back to the Wolverine Plateau from the pass.
After Wolverine Pass the trail starts to descend, slowly at first. Don’t forget to turn around and look backwards! Mount Drysdale looks so different from this direction!
The last section of alpine meadows had quite a lot of storm/avalanche damage to the larch trees. Many trees were growing at a 45° degree angle. Lots had fallen over the trail, so we had to clamber over or around them. If you look beyond the wonky trees, you can see the next high point, Tumbling Pass next to the enormous Tumbling Glacier.
Descend to Tumbling Creek
Once you have made it around Mount Gray, the trail descends 300m over about 2.5km. It starts off as a gentle slope, but you’ll soon find yourself zooming down steep-ish switchbacks looking down at the rock-flour-filled white waters of Tumbling Creek.
Tumbling Creek Campground
This is a lovely spot to camp! Tumbling Creek Campground has shady areas for the tent pads. It then opens out into gorgeous meadows with views of the surrounding mountains.
Tumbling Creek Campground Facilities
There are tent pads (18 available), a couple of outhouses, food storage lockers, as well as groups of tables and benches. There are two areas to eat; One close to trees, and one with fabulous views – if you can, keep going to the benches with the views! You can fetch water from the creek along the edge of the campground.
We did not spend very long at Tumbling Creek as we needed to continue on to Numa Creek. But it looked like a fab backcountry campground if you can snag a reservation!
Rockwall Panoramas – Helmet Falls to Tumbling Creek
Just to give you more of an idea about how impressive the scenery is along this hike…
So, that wraps up the first half of our second day on the Rockwall Trail from Helmet Falls to Tumbling Creek. This is a challenging trail when you are carrying a heavy backpack. But somehow the picturesque views seemed to give me extra energy so I didn’t find this as hard as I expected. The toughest part of the day was still to come, but I’ll cover that in my next post! You can read about the other sections and alpine passes by clicking on the images below.
Have you heard of the Rockwall trail before? Do you like the idea of backpacking into the gorgeous Canadian Rockies? Click on the pins below to save this for later.