Elimination of annual backcountry pass worries hikers and guides

An unexpected Parks Canada decision to eliminate its annual backcountry pass in Alberta parks will end up costing guides and avid hikers a lot more money.

‘I’m going to go from about $70 a year to $700 a year’

John Schellenberg climbs the Columbia Ice Fields in Jasper National Park. He previously used a Parks Canada annual backcountry pass, but expects to pay a lot more under the new daily fee. (David Milling)

An unexpected Parks Canada decision to eliminate its annual backcountry pass in Alberta parks will end up costing guides and avid hikers a lot more money.

Instead of the annual pass, which costs $68.70, all backcountry users will have to pay $10 per day.

While the decision only marginally affects those who use the backcountry once or twice a year, it will be a burden for park users who spend a lot of time in the backcountry of Banff, Kootenay, Yoho, Waterton and Jasper national parks.

John Schellenberg, an avid outdoorsman who lives in Edmonton, estimates he spends up to 70 nights in the backcountry each year.

"I'm going to go from about $70 a year to $700 a year." Shellenberg said.

Schellenberg cooks dinner in a tent near Jasper, Alta., on one of his frequent trips to the Canadian Rocky Mountains. (Kevin Yallup)

He wrote Parks Canada looking for an explanation.

"I got a response from them basically stating that they want more access to more people so they don't want people like me using up those resources," he said. "They want me to go less to offer opportunities for other people."

Guides expect to see even more of an increase in backcountry fees with the elimination of the annual pass.

Jesse de Montigny, managing director of Yamnuska Mountain Adventures in Canmore, Alta., estimates the change will cost the company several thousands of dollars.

De Montigny says the school won't know what the total impact will be, but guides spend a few months of the summer and winter leading visitors into the nearby parks.

The most frustrating thing for de Montigny is the lack of answers and consultation. He's hoping Parks Canada will listen to backcountry guides and hikers affected by the change.

"This kind of stuff when it comes out has a big effect on businesses and it'd be really nice to have some consultation when it comes to making these decisions," de Montigny said.

'Fairer access'

Parks Canada declined an interview but explained their decision in a written statement.

"The nightly fee enables more effective management of backcountry inventory and subsequently fairer access for all users," it stated.

It alludes to a rise in demand for backcountry camping in the mountain parks since 2013, describing a 145-per-cent increase in visitation from 28,500 visitors in 2013 to 70,000 visitors last year.

The backcountry pass contributes to trail maintenance, search and rescue, compliance and information services.


About the Author

Travis McEwan


Travis McEwan is a video journalist who has not won any awards. Originally from Churchill, Man., he's spent the last decade working at CBC Edmonton. Email story ideas to travis.mcewan@cbc.ca