The Rockwall Trail
Updated: Oct 16, 2020
Date of hike: Aug 19th - Aug 22nd, 2019
The Rockwall trail is located in Kootenay National Park in B.C. I heard about this trail from reading many online publications that list this trail as one not to miss. Finally after making the decision to go, I had enlisted my Son, a good hiking friend of mine and his son to join me.
What is the Rockwall trail? The Rockwall Trail is a 55 km multi-day backpacking trail that traverses three alpine passes through subalpine meadows and past impressive hanging glaciers. The trail’s defining feature, as its so named after, is a single, massive limestone cliff, towering in some locations more than 900m (2953 feet) above the trail below.
We decided to tackle this trail in 3 nights, 4 days, and as we found out this might have been a day shorter than we should have done this in.
Unless you live close to this trail, you need to plan and make arrangements to spend at least one night close by before hitting the trail, and one night after completing the trail. We decided to camp in Redstreak campground just outside the town of Radium Hot springs. This made for a great place to camp for the night after a long drive and with the town so close we could easily go for dinner rather than cooking at the campsite. We'd be returning to this campground after the hike, so the showers were going to be well used.
An early wake up, pack up camp and an hour drive to our exit point. With two vehicles the plan was to stop at the exit point of Floe Lake trail head, leave one vehicle here and drive to Paint Pots trail head and start our adventure.
Day 1. Paint Pots trail head to Helmet Falls camp. 15km
We hit the trail at 9:30am, and after only a few minutes you cross the Kootenay River via large metal bridge. After crossing the bridge a short distance later you come to Paint Pots.
Originally aboriginal people used the red coloured soil as body paint. Later in the 1900's immigrant settlers mined the clay to be used as a dye in paint.
Our first stop along this section was at the Helmet/Ochre Jct camp. This camp is about 7km's in along the trail and makes for a great stop to have lunch and relax for a short time before heading out again.
We reached Helmet Falls camp at 2:30pm and discovered how busy this camp can be, 18 sites is what is listed but it felt like way more campers here than that. The bear caches are all in great shape and there are plenty of them. The caches are away from the tent pads and also have tables you can cook at. Not sure who designed these but they must have been 9 feet tall and as skinny as a twig. It was easier to stand beside the table than try and squeeze your body into the seats only to have the table part at chest height. Still with all that negative it was nice to at least have them. There is no covered area to get out of rain. If you plan to hike this trail, make note of that. We were fortunate that it only rained on us on the last night and it cleared up in the morning. The outhouses were, well, lets just say you needed to hold your nose.
Helmet falls themselves can be reached by continuing to hike along the trail for another 15 minutes. If you listen quietly at camp you can hear the falls make loud rumbling sounds, we determined this to be a glacier cracking and possibly falling apart way above the falls.
Day 2. Helmet Falls to Numa Creek Camp. 24kms+
This part of the trail is listed as a shorter distance the maps, but all of our GPS distances said otherwise. The first leg of this day would be over 12kms to Tumbling Creek camp, we left camp around 9:30am and arrived at Tumbling Creek camp around Noon. The day was extremely hot and with many elevation climbs and descends, we dropped our packs with much relief. As I mentioned before we should have make our trip an extra day longer, and this would have been the camp to stay at. Very nice camp, along a river, very open so the sun can shine in. We stayed for 2 hours as we needed all that and we wanted to stay longer but we knew we had another tough 1/2 day ahead of us.
The trail along this section and the next section as tough as it is with all the elevation gains and losses the views of the Rockwall, Glaciers, Alpine meadows and small creeks you cross are amazing.
Here are my field notes from the 2nd leg of this day "2nd leg was supposed to be 8 to 9 Kms but was more like 12k. Major up and downs, the last down was brutal. Legs burning, Advil & Voltaren needed." We strolled into Numa camp at 6:45pm and had many faces stunned to see hikers coming in so late. The camp has an unusual setup, the creek splits the camp in two, one side has all the tent pads, the other has the bear caches and tables to use for cooking. Each side has one outhouse, and during our visit the outhouse on the tent pad side, was leaning and probably should have been condemned. We saw one person using it, but they had someone holding the door open for them, and was blocking the view. I think so that they could breath while using it.
The tent pad side is dark, damp and kind of miserable. We quickly setup tents and sat along the river and cooked our meals.
Day 3. Numa Creek camp to Floe Lake Camp. 12km+ by our GPS.
This was the day we were all waiting for. Floe lake was to be the highlight of this trip. While reading information on this trail, it was recommended to travel south as it would provide some of the best views in front of you rather than behind you. Well they were right! After a steady climb out of the camp, with some steep sections with switch backs, we finally came over the saddle of a ridge and saw the most beautiful site. Floe Lake and the alpine meadow that leads to it. No words nor pictures can do this any justice.
Floe lake is not only a camp site for many backpackers, but many people hike to Floe lake from what would be our exit point as a day hike. We setup tents, had dinner, relaxed around the lake, while our beautiful weather was turning on us. We took to sitting under the porch at the rangers cabin to soak in the final light of the day.
The night produced rain off and on, but by the time we were ready to pack up the rain had stopped.
Day 4. Floe Lake camp to our Exit point. 11km
This day would prove to be a tough one for my son. Somehow he had hurt his knee and would end up limping most of the way. The trail along this section is bare from a wild fire a few years prior. At one point the wind had picked up and all the dead standing trees would whistle for us. The final day is 700m loss with the only good views behind us, we stopped many times to rest for my son and take in the views we were missing behind us.
Finally back at Redstreak campsite, before even setting up the tent, I raced for the showers.
A great meal in town and a few beers down the hatch, we had a nice night reliving our adventure, before taking to our tents for the night. The morning we packed up and parted ways and for our long drive home.
South bound was certainly the way to travel. Doing this in 3 nights is too much, 4 nights/5 days is what I would suggest. If you can't do the whole trail, there are a few in and out trails you can use to shorten the trip. Plan ahead if you decide to do this as one of those trails was closed due to a bridge being out. You can also day hike to Floe lake, which is a long day hike but well worth it.