The Rockwall trail is one of the best mini through-hikes in the Canadian Rockies. The trail normally takes 3-5 days, in which you’ll hike over high-alpine passes and get up close to the kilometer high Rockwall. This adventure allows you to see countless wildflowers, giant waterfalls, jewel-like lakes, spectacular geology and alpine views that seem unreal when you look back at photos.
I heard about this a couple of years ago from Andy’s Blog, Being Outdoors. Still, it takes a bit of organization to go on this hike, so I only got around to it in 2022. I already wrote trail reports for each section of the walk; So this post is more of an overview. Hopefully this will help other hikers get out and enjoy this fabulous trail.
Rockwall Trail map
This maps shows the route we did, from North to South in a big C shape.
The Rockwall trail overview
Distance: 55km (ish) – I recorded 65.5km on the main trail
Cumulative Elevation gain: 2900m (ish)
Cumulative Elevation loss: -3050m (ish)
Time: 4-5 days. It’s possible in 3 days (or even in a single day for epic runners.)
What to bring: The 10 Essentials, camping gear, bear spray
Facilities: 5 campgrounds along the trail, each with loos, benches, food lockers and water.
Dogs: Dogs are allowed on this trail if they are on a leash.
How hard is it? Hard. You’ll want to train for this hike; It was the toughest backpacking I have ever done BUT it is incredibly rewarding. Having said that, if you go in the summertime, the trails are well graded and not technical. It’s a challenge for the distance and elevation gain, but a doable-challenge.
Which Direction should you go?
There are a few different routes along the Rockwall trail. We followed the route from North to South, starting at the Paintpots finishing at Floe Lake; but we met plenty of hikers going the opposite way.
North to South
- 😊 You get an easy-ish first day on the trail with a gradual slope up to Helmet Falls
- 😊 The final campground is the best – the fabulous Floe Lake
- 😊 Most of the hard climbs are shady in this direction.
- 🙁 The hike uphill from Numa Creek to Numa Pass is hard work in this direction
South to North
- 😊 You get the hardest climb done at the start, when you have the most energy.
- 😊 The descents are more gentle in this direction, so easier on your knees.
- 😊 If you leave bikes at the paint pots, it’s a downhill ride back to the Floe Lake trailhead.
- 🙁 The initial climb to Floe lake is long, steep and has no shade.
When is the best time to hike the Rockwall trail?
This trail should be snow-free between late July and mid-September. In 2022, spring came very late, and in mid-July the trail was still snow-bound. We started on July 25th, and it was the first week that the trail was clear. August is safer in terms of lingering snow, but then you may face wildfire smoke. If you’d like to see the golden larches, visit in mid-September.
Avoid this trail from October to mid-July. There is enough snow to cause avalanches along the trail and Parks Canada does not accept campground bookings.
Hazards on the Rockwall trail
Weather: We were extremely lucky with the weather on our visit! Don’t let my sunshine-filled photos fool you. This trail is in the mountains where the weather can change quickly. Expect short rainstorms, and try to be down from the high-alpine passes before the afternoon to avoid thunderstorms
Wildfire effects: If you hike late in the summer, you are likely to encounter smoke from wildfires. This can obscure the views and make it tough to breathe. Some sections of the trail have burned out tree-skeletons lining the trail. These trees may fall in high winds, so walk past them quickly.
Wildlife: This area of the Canadian Rockies is home to both black bears and grizzly bears. Hike in groups, make plenty of noise, and have bear spray handy. Once you reach campgrounds, eat at the kitchen areas (away from your tent) and store your food/any scent-filled items in the critter-proof storage lockers.
Oh! and don’t leave hiking poles/shoes etc outside your tent! My poles have marmot teeth marks and chewed straps (from a different trail), but I have heard stories of deer/marmots running off with items as they try to lick the salt off along the Rockwall trail.
Campfires on the Rockwall trail
Campfires are allowed at the Helmet Ochre Junction and Numa Creek campgrounds (inside the metal fire rings.) But please consider if you really need a fire!? My friend Andy’s trip report from the Rockwall mentioned people chopping down a living larch tree for their fire! Do not do that! If you’d like hot meals, just bring a pocket-rocket or similar backpacking stove.
Campgrounds along the Rockwall trail
I loved all of the campgrounds along the Rockwall Trail. They all had tent pads to show exactly where you should set your tent up (you will never need to trample on wildflowers!) Each campground had a stream nearby to collect water; You’ll want to bring a filtration device. Each camp also all had toilets, benches and lockers to store your food/pots/anything bears might want to sniff out.
Helmet & Ochre Junction Campground
6 tent pads (5.8 km from Paintpots trailhead; 48.3km from Floe lake trailhead)
This is a sheltered spot where Helmet Creek and Ochre Creek meet. The tent pads are right by the path.
Helmet Falls Campground
18 tent pads (14.2 km from Paintpots trailhead; 39.9km from Floe lake trailhead)
Gorgeous campground that has views of Helmet Falls from the kitchen area. You can leave heavy things in your tent and climb to the base of the waterfall. If you have time, you could hike on to Goodsir Pass from here.
Tumbling Creek Campground
18 tent pads (26.5 km from Paintpots trailhead; 27.6km from Floe lake trailhead)
Halfway! This campground is next to meadows with incredible views of Mount Gray, next to Tumbling Pass.
Numa Creek Campground
18 tent pads (34.4 km from Paintpots trailhead; 19.7km from Floe lake trailhead)
This is a wild-feeling campground with plenty of downed logs and wildflowers. The kitchen/eating area is one side of the creek, with the tent pads on the other side.
Floe Lake Campground
18 tent pads (43.6 km from Paintpots trailhead; 10.5km from Floe lake trailhead)
One of the prettiest places to camp! You’ll wake up to golden peaks lit by the sunrise and perfect reflections in Floe Lake. Spend an afternoon here if you possibly can!
Booking your campgrounds
Reserve at https://reservation.pc.gc.ca/ParksCanada or call 1-877-737-3783
Urgh, so this is the hard part! We all logged in at 8am Mountain Time (7am Pacific Time) on January 28th, when the booking opened for 2022. The trick is to be ready to go when the website opens. You’ll be given a place in the queue. All three of us logged in at the same time, and coordinated over zoom to book our campsites. You need to book each campsite separately. We had a range of possible dates, and we were open to travel in either direction. You will need your hiking friends’ full names, their emergency contact info (as well as how many tents/tent pads you need.) Have this information and your credit card details ready before you book.
If you are unable to book straight away, don’t worry! You can keep checking back to see if bookings open up.
The Rockwall Trail Passes
Some of the very best views on the Rockwall trail are at each of the high-alpine passes
- Pass above Helmet Falls: 2167m
- Rockwall Pass: 2230m
- Tumbling Pass: 2233m
- Wolverine Pass: 2200m
- Numa Pass: 2336m
The Rockwall – How tough is it?
I should probably mention that I was equally nervous and excited about this adventure. I have never hiked a through-route with 3 nights in the back country before. If you’re considering hiking the Rockwall but you’re worried it’ll be too tough, I completely understand. In the end, although I found parts of the trail hard, it was a relief to find that it is never technical, and the trail never gets particularly steep. Whenever I found it tough I just stopped to take photos, enjoy the views and catch my breath. The views were so beautiful that they seemed to energize everyone.
We did the Rockwall in 4 days (with 3 nights.) I think it would be easier and more relaxed if you can book 4 nights and walk over 5 days.
Links to the Rockwall trail descriptions
You can read about the previous sections and alpine passes by clicking on the images or links below. I wrote full trail reports for each section of the trail.
- Paint pots to Helmet Falls
- Helmet Falls to Tumbling Creek (via Rockwall Pass)
- Tumbling Creek to Numa Creek (via Tumbling Pass)
- Numa Creek to Floe Lake (via Numa Pass)
- Hike out from Floe Lake
Helpful links to help you plan your Rockwall trip
- Rockwall trail guide by Taryn from Happiest Outdoors – This is SUCH a helpful resource and goes into all the details. If you need an “ultimate guide” look at this one!
- Kootenay National Parks page about the Rockwall – This is good to check for trail closures and updated on conditions. It also has plenty of useful info.
- Rockwall trail guide by Marta from In a far away land – This is a great through guide with gorgeous photos to get you excited your own adventure.
That was quite a lot of information to cram into one post! If you like the idea of hiking the Rockwall trail, I hope this will give you the confidence to give it a go! Let me know if I missed any information, or if you have any questions! Would you be up for hiking the entire Rockwall trail?