Day 1 Mt Shark Parking Lot to Marvel Lake Campground, 13.1 km, 220 m Elevation Gain, 150 m Elevation Loss, 2 hrs 59 min.
Since the hike was to take place over Emily’s work weekend, we had to wait until Emily finished work for the day at 4:30 pm. The hike to Marvel Lake Campground was very straightforward, it was mostly just hiking along an old fire road, with very little elevation change. This enabled us to maintain a good hiking pace, with the goal of finishing the 13 km is about 3 hours.
I drove to Banff with Volcano to pick Emily up from work at Tunnel Mt Campground. We headed off to Mt Shark on the Spray Valley Road. It was about 25 minutes to Canmore, then about 55 minutes down the Spray Valley to the Mt Shark Parking Lot. We arrived at just before 6:00 pm, and hit the trail at 6:12 pm.
The trail in the Mt Shark area forms part of the cross country ski area. It is a well graded old fire road and rises a mere 30 m over the first 3 km. The trail does become slightly steeper, doubling its elevation gain over the next 0.6 km, but it was never truly steep. We passed by the turn off to Wedge Pond and Karst Springs, both worthy day trips. We then arrived at the beginning of a long downhill, after just 55 min and having covered 4.3 km. There really was not much to see on the trail at this point, so we kept the pace high. As we started downhill we passed a sign indicating that we were entering Banff National Park.
At the bottom of the hill we crossed over the Spray River. It had been 1 hr 10 min and we’d already covered a distance of 5.7 km. The Spray River has cut an impressive canyon through the rock which made a pretty spot for a quick break and some photos.
Just a couple hundred meters after leaving the Spray River we came to a trail junction marked by a Parks Canada sign. The trail coming from the south (our left) is part of the Great Divide Trail system, and takes a hiker down the Spray Valley and up over Palliser Pass into Kananaskis Country.
A short hike lead us to a lovely bridge over the tumbling Bryant Creek. Regardless of our need to keep moving to get to the campground before dark, photos had to be taken. Emily and Volcano posed nicely for the camera.
Another couple hundred meters brought us to the junction with the Bryant Creek Trail, a distance of 6.5 km from the car. We would be hiking the Bryant Creek Trail for the next 6 km before turning off to go to our campsite at Marvel Lake. If you were to follow the Bryant Creek Trail, it would lead up over Assiniboine Pass, from which you could hike to Mt Assinboine or continue north to Sunshine Meadows.
After 35 minutes of good forest hiking, we arrived at Big Springs Campground, which is listed as Br 9 by Parks Canada. The code for the campsite indicates the trail and distance. The Br stands for Bryant, and it is 9 km from the trailhead. The distances quoted by Parks Canada are not always accurate, but for Big Springs, it was spot on.
The campground looked very nice and had a lovely creek nearby. We crossed the bridge over the creek, stopping to take some photos and let Volcano have a drink before continuing on. Have no idea where the “Big Spring” is located that the campground is named after.
The trail continued to gain very little elevation over the next couple of km, before hitting the steepest part of the day, with the trail rising just 75 m over 1.6 km. This brought us to the junction to Marvel Lake, 12.5 km from our starting point at Mt Shark.
It was 9 pm when we started on the short trail to Marvel Lake Campground. I was pretty happy, as we would be setting up camp in the daylight. I was a little annoyed as it was an additional 1.3 km to the lake; I was hoping to get some nighttime pictures of the stars and the lake, but that would have required a dark 1.3 km walk on a dense forested trail. The trail was narrower and somewhat rooted, not the smooth path that we had been enjoying. We arrived at the campground at 9:07 pm, just under 3 hours since we left the car.
This not one of Parks Canada’s finest campgrounds. There is supposed to be 10 camping spots, and the campground was supposed to be fully booked. At one marked site there was absolutely no place to put a tent. Have no idea how Parks Canada thinks this is a 10 site campground. Arriving late, we were lucky that some of the people who had booked did not come, so we easily found a very nice site to call home for the evening.
The trees were very thick above the campsite, preventing any opportunity of viewing what could have been a clear night sky. We went over to the eating area, which was a bit of a hike from the tent, and had a quick bedtime snack. Food storage was in bear lockers. We headed back to the tent to call it a night. It had been less than an hour since we had arrived. We both read for a while to unwind, then turned out the lights. The plan was to get up at 6 am tomorrow and try to get to Marvel Lake while the weather was still calm, to get some photos of reflections off the lake. Emily emitted a feeble protest at the prospect of getting up early, but I ignored it.