Photograph by Jonathan Irish
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Hikers strike out across the Bugaboo Mountains in eastern British Columbia.
Photograph by Jonathan Irish

Heli-Hiking in the Canadian Rockies

Being deposited by helicopter in the wild for a far-off hike may sound extreme, but those who undertake the adventure do it for the payoff: mile after mile of remote mountain spots absent trails, other hikers, or any sign of civilization. Known as heli-hiking, this kind of wilderness trek was practically invented in southern British Columbia.

Heli-hiking gives you the opportunity to reach high places in comfort,” says Dave Butler, Canadian Mountain Holidays’ director of summer adventures. “You can walk all day in terrain that is easy or challenging and then the helicopter whisks you back to the lodge at the end of the day to enjoy a massage, good food, and wine.”

When to Go: Heli-hiking trips are offered late June to early September. Book a late-July hike to see flowers (valerian, anemones) in full bloom, as well as foraging marmots and pikas. Before or after hiking visit the Banff Summer Arts Festival, a summerlong feast of free concerts, indigenous art events, literary readings, and visual art exhibits.

How to Get Around: Most Canadian Rockies heli-hiking outfitters operate out of Banff. You don’t need a helicopter to hike in Banff National Park, which can be easily reached by foot from the town center. There are plenty of heli-hiking operators, but Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH) pioneered the sport in the Canadian Rockies, offering the first heli-hiking trips here in June 1978. Their all-inclusive trips range from two days ($1,850 per person) to a week ($4,975 per person).

Where to Stay: CMH runs their trips from two remote wilderness lodges, each equipped with modern amenities including sauna, fireplace, full-service bar, and Wi-Fi. Guests at Bugaboo Lodge are treated to hikes in larch forests, through cirques, and up jagged ridges that afford massive views of the famed Bugaboo Spires. At Bobbie Burns Lodge guests hike through blooming meadows and forested valleys and along goat trails to high ridges that offer views of Conrad Glacier.

Where to Eat or Drink: CMH packages include all meals, hearty affairs served family style. Guests cozy up to the wood bar to sample expertly mixed cocktails and schmooze with guides.

What to Read or Watch Before You Go: Bugaboo Dreams: A Story of Skiers, Helicopters, and Mountains (Rocky Mountain Books, 2009) is an engaging narrative that celebrates heli-skiing pioneer Hans Gmoser and the daring guides and pilots who led Canada’s early heli-skiing expeditions.

Fun Fact: Conrad Kain was the first mountaineer to explore the Bugaboo Range. Since his visit in 1910, the Bugaboo Glacier, which flows around both sides of Snowpatch Spire, has retreated more than a mile.

Originally from Buenos Aires, Celeste Moure has called Vancouver home for a decade. She has written about food and wine, architecture, and travel for the Globe and Mail, En Route, Canadian Family, Travel+Leisure, and the Wall Street Journal. Follow her on Twitter.