Burstall Pass Hike- Kananaskis Country

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Burstall Pass in Kananaskis is a stunning destination for a hike, especially in autumn when you can gaze down at yellow larch trees in a valley cradled between rocky peaks and bluffs.

View of Mount Birdwood and larch trees from Burstall Pass Trail.

Even when not decked out in splendid fall colours, Burstall Pass Trail is an exquisite and worthwhile hike. During the journey, you’ll walk through a forest, cross the willow flats of Burstall Creek, climb to an alpine meadow, and then reach the pass where a panoramic view of mountains awaits. 

View from Burstall Pass of mountains framing a forested valley.

Bikes are allowed on the first 3.4 km of trail for quicker access to the pass.

Larch trees in a mountain framed valley.

Burstall Pass Hike

Distance: 15.2 km round trip (to the pass and back). There’s an opportunity to hike a little further west from the pass to a viewpoint for Leman Lake.

Difficulty: Moderate with some strenuous sections

Elevation Gain: 465 m

Surface: Packed dirt, gravel

Trail Type: Out and back

Time: 5- 6 hours including a break at the pass 

Trailhead: Burstall Pass parking lot on Smith Dorrien Trail (Highway 742), about 44 km south of Canmore.

Track log/map of Burstall Pass Trail

Burstall Pass Trail Description

The Burstall Pass hike starts beside Mud Lake, a few steps from the parking lot.

Hikers at the Burstall Pass trailhead.
Burstall Pass trailhead
Mountains reflecting in Mud Lake.
Reflections in Mud Lake.

After a short distance following close to the lakeshore, the trail makes a slight curve then splits. Keep right for Burstall Pass Trail (ahead you’ll see a sign with a hiker icon).

Gravel road and hiking trail.
Hiking sign beside the trail.

The flat, wide path leads towards a mountain and is framed with trees and meadows. Further ahead, the forest becomes more dense. Once again, the trail splits. Keep on the same track as it curves slightly to the right.

Flat trail leading towards a mountain.
Grassy meadow and forest with a mountain in the background.
Hiking sign pointing to a wide trail entering the forest.

The next segment of this hike isn’t that notable because it’s just a walk in the forest, but there are some nice views of mountain tops.

Hikers in the forest on Burstall Pass Trail.
Large rock beside the hiking trail.

At about the 3.4 km mark, there’s a bike parking area since this is as far as bikes are allowed to go. The wide trail now becomes a single track.

Bikes in a rack beside the trail.

Continuing through the forest you’ll soon come to a boardwalk. A little further ahead and you’ll exit the forest at the willow flats. Here there’s a great view of the mountains, including Commonwealth Peak.

Boardwalk in the forest.
Willow flats backed by mountains.

Make your way slightly southwest across the flats towards the long rocky ridge. Up ahead there is a sign with a red diamond and a hiker icon indicating the way, but it can be hard to spot among the shrubs from a distance.

Willow flats and mountains.
Trail at the willow flats.
See the sign?
Hiker sign at the willow flats.

Early in the summer the flats can be quite wet, but later in the season it’s easy to navigate around the braided channels of the creek.

Puddle of water at the willow flats.

Walking across the flats is one of the most enjoyable parts of this hike (as long as it’s not too wet) because you’re surrounded by scenic mountains. If it’s mid-late September, you’ll be able to see patches of yellow larch trees on the sides of some of the mountains. This is just a preview of what’s to come on Burstall Pass Trail during larch season.  

Shrubs and mountains.
Hikers on the trail at the willow flats.

After crossing the willow flats, the trail enters into another section of forest then starts gaining elevation. 

Wet section of trail just before the forest.
Dirt trail with exposed roots in the forest.

Roughly 1 kilometre later the trail levels out and the forest begins to open up. Here there are some larch trees alongside the path. 

Mountain overlooking the forest.
Yellow larch tree in the forest with a mountain in the background.
Yellow larch trees beside the trail.

A bit further ahead the forest opens up even more into a pretty meadow with mountain views and more larch trees.

Yellow larch trees beside Burstall Pass Trail.
Yellow larch trees.
Mountain overlooking a meadow.

One of the highlights of passing through this meadow is seeing Mount Birdwood and its pyramid-shaped peak towering above. In the autumn, the larch trees are another focal point since you can see them beside the trail and on the nearby mountainside.

Mount Birdwood overlooking the forest.
Hikers on a larch-framed trail.
Trail in a meadow beside a mountain.

At the end of the meadow, the trail again enters a patch of forest then climbs steeply towards Burstall Pass. No worries if you need to stop often to catch your breath- there are plenty of gorgeous views to look at while you do! 

Trail in a meadow beside a forested mountain.
Burstall Pass Trail in an open forest.
Larch trees below a mountain ridge.

As the trail continues to climb you’ll get an elevated view of the forested valley below Mount Birdwood and its neighbouring peaks and ridges.

Mountains framing a forested valley.
Yellow larch trees below a mountain ridge.

Getting closer to the summit, there’s a short rocky section to ascend but nothing that requires scrambling. Make sure you look behind you after reaching the top of this natural “staircase” because there’s a nice perspective of the valley.

Hikers at the top of a rocky trail.
Burstall Pass Trail surrounded by trees and mountains.

Still climbing up to the pass, the trees become sparse as the landscape transitions from forest to alpine meadow.

Burstall Pass Trail backed by trees and mountains.
Rolling alpine meadow and mountains.
Alpine meadow and a mountain.

The trail then turns north and soon arrives at the summit ridge, the main destination of this hike. From Burstall Pass there’s a gorgeous view of Mount Birdwood, the valley of larch trees, and distant peaks.

Summit of Burstall Pass with Mount Birdwood.
Valley view from the summit of Burstall Pass.
Elevated view of a larch forest in autumn.

After taking some time to relax at the pass, if you want to hike a little further to another viewpoint and more larch trees, walk down from the summit and follow the obvious trail that heads northwest. 

Summit of Burstall Pass backed by mountains.
Hiking trail beside the summit of Burstall Pass.
Hikers on a trail heading towards Snow Peak.

This trail will lead you towards Snow Peak and into Banff National Park. The terrain is rockier and the trail is less sheltered than earlier sections of this hike so there are wide open views to enjoy.  

Hikers on Burstall Pass Trail.
Rocky landscape with mountains in the background.

Closer to Snow Peak you’ll pass a sinkhole then the path curves left to head west. There are small patches of larch trees on the rocky rolling land, and on a clear day you can see the peak of Mount Assiniboine in the distance.

Burstall Pass Trail with larch trees and mountains in the background.
Larch trees and mountains.

Keep on the narrow, dirt trail until it splits into two. If you want to go to the lookout point (recommended), keep left and walk up the hill. At the end of the path, there’s a great view of Leman Lake and the Spray Valley.

Burstall Pass Trail with mountains in the background.
Trail going up a hill.
Larch trees with Leman Lake and mountains in the background.
Larch trees and mountains.

Once you return to the fork in the main trail, if you go left the path will lead you through some larch groves and down to Spray River in the valley. Most people don’t venture further than the Leman Lake viewpoint when doing the Burstall Pass hike as a day trip. 

Burstall Pass Trail with larch trees and mountains.
Larch trees with a mountain in the background.
Larch trees framing a distant lake in a valley.

Since this is an out and back hike, to return to the trailhead you’ll take the same route as before. The scenery is just as impressive on the way out as on the way in!

Burstall Pass Trail with mountains in the background.
Mount Birdwood overlooking Burstall Pass Trail.

Review of the Burstall Pass Hike

There are so many wonderful things about Burstall Pass Trail, but its top feature is the expansive views from the summit. The vista of peaks is remarkable- the perfect reward after an uphill hike. 

Larch trees below a mountain ridge.

The Burstall Pass hike would be lovely in summer, but it really shines in autumn when the larch tree needles are golden yellow. It’s without a doubt one of the best larch hikes in Kananaskis.

Larch trees.
Mount Birdwood framed by trees.

Another nice thing about this hike is that it has alternating easy and strenuous sections. The strenuous parts have some of the best views so you can naturally slow down to take it all in.

Trees along Burstall Pass Trail.
Burstall Pass Trail leading towards mountains.

One of the downsides of this hike is that the long forest walk at the beginning can be a little dull, which is why it’s nice that you could ride a bike to breeze through some of that if you want to. 

Trail in the forest.

Overall, Burstall Pass Trail is a well-balanced hike with a variety of scenery and just the right amount of challenge.

Hiking towards Mount Birdwood.
Burstall Pass Trail with mountains in the background.

More Pictures of Burstall Pass Trail

Here are a few more photos of the Burstall Pass hike.

Reflections in Mud Lake.
Mud Lake
Path through the willow flats.
Path through the willow flats
Mountains and willow flats.
Mountains beside the willow flats
Log across a stream.
Heading from the flats into the forest
Forest and mountains.
Scenery through gaps in the trees
Yellow larch tree in the forest.
Larch trees coming into view beside the trail
Trail in an open forest beside a mountain.
Open forest and meadows
Yellow larch tree.
Larch tree
Larch trees with mountains in the background.
The view while starting to ascend to the pass
Alpine meadow, forest, and mountains.
Getting higher
Hiking Burstall Pass Trail.
Heading up to the pass
Larch tree with Mount Birdwood in the background.
Looking back at Mount Birdwood
Larch trees below a mountain ridge.
Larch trees
Burstall Pass.
At the summit
View of Burstall Pass Trail and larch trees from the summit.
View of Burstall Pass Trail and larch trees from the summit
Burstall Pass Trail and Snow Peak.
Trail leading towards Snow Peak and into Banff National Park
Hikers on Burstall Pass Trail with mountains in the background.
Snow Peak and Mount Birdwood
Alpine meadow and mountains.
View on the way to the Leman Lake viewpoint
Trail in an alpine meadow.
Trail heading to the Leman Lake viewpoint
Rocks and mountains.
Rocky mountainside.
Trail in an alpine meadow.
Still on the trail going to the viewpoint
Alpine meadow with larch trees and a backdrop of mountains.
Alpine meadow with larch trees and a backdrop of mountains.
Larch trees with Leman Lake in a valley.
Leman Lake viewpoint
Alpine meadow with larch trees.
Trail in the distance that eventually descends into the valley
Stand of yellow larch trees with mountain peaks.
More larch trees
Alpine meadow and mountains.
Hiking Burstall Pass.
Hiking on the pass on the way back to the trailhead
Trail overlooking a forested valley.
View on the return hike
Trail leading towards Mount Birdwood.
Mount Birdwood
Trail in an open forest beside a mountain.
Heading back into the forest
Trail through the willow flats.
At the willow flats
Log crossing a stream at the entrance to the forest.
Leaving the flats for the forest
Clouds reflecting in Mud Lake.
Mud Lake at the trailhead
Parking at the Burstall Pass trailhead.
Back at the parking lot

Tips for Hiking Burstall Pass Trail

Location: Burstall Pass Trail is located in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park in Kananaskis Country, next to Smith Dorrien Trail (Highway 742) at the Burstall Pass parking lot. It’s approximately 44 km south of Canmore and 53 km southwest of Kananaskis Village.

Getting to the Burstall Pass Trailhead: From Canmore, you can take the gravelled (and very rough in places) Smith Dorrien Trail all the way to the large parking lot at the trailhead. 

  • Another option is to take Highway 1 east to Highway 40 (Kananaskis Trail), then follow that until you get to Kananaskis Lakes Trail. Take Kananaskis Lakes Trail to the Smith Dorrien then follow that to the trailhead. This way is longer/further but it involves less driving on gravel roads. 

Best Time to Hike Burstall Pass Trail: Burstall Pass Trail is best hiked from July to October. There can still be snow in June. The larch trees are typically yellow from mid-September to early October.

Kananaskis Conservation Pass: To park in Kananaskis Country you need to purchase a daily or annual Kananaskis Conservation Pass. It can easily be bought online and is registered to your licence plate (there’s no physical pass to be displayed in your vehicle). You can also purchase a pass at the Kananaskis Visitor Information Centre on Highway 40 (in person or by using the WiFi). 

Facilities: There is an outhouse at the parking lot.

Visitor Guidelines and Safety: This hike is in bear country so bring bear spray and know how to use it. 

  • Leave no trace by packing out your garbage. If bins are full, take your garbage home with you.
  • Bicycles are only allowed on the first 3.4 km of the trail.

Gear and What to Bring: If hiking between June and July, waterproof shoes or sandals may be needed for creek-crossings at the willow flats.

  • Wear comfortable hiking shoes/boots. Hiking poles are nice to have.
  • Dress in layers and bring rain gear because the weather can change quickly in the mountains.
Larch trees below a mountain ridge.

Accommodations in Canmore and Kananaskis

For your convenience, here is a list of HOTELS IN CANMORE and KANANASKIS. Please consider booking your Canmore and Kananaskis accommodations through the included link. It costs nothing extra and helps support this website. Thank you!


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