The Best Shoulder Season Hikes in Kananaskis

by - Thursday, November 10, 2016

Shoulder season (late fall/spring) is a wonderful time of year to explore Kananaskis. As the mercury drops, so do the number of people in the parks. As we don toques, mountain peaks put on pretty caps of snow, and hiking gives way to snowshoeing, ice walks, and cross country skiing. It can seem tricky to know where to go when conditions are always changing, but there are lots of options! Here are our favorite in-between season trails, and tips on what what to wear and what to bring.


BOW VALLEY PROVINCIAL PARK

Located in the front ranges, Bow Valley Provincial Park tends to get less snow and lose snow quickly, so it's a great place to hike year round!

Flowing Water Trail is a fun, short (2.4 km return) trail in Bow Valley Park that takes you on stairs, boardwalk, wetlands, and along the Kananaskis River. For a fun half day outing, stop at Middle Lake before or after your hike for a picture perfect picnic spot (there's also a nice trail there). Just across the lake, you get the best view of Mount Yamnuska! For more information on both trails, see Family Fun in Bow Valley Provincial Park.

Flowing Water Trail
Flowing Water Trail, Bow Valley Provincial Park
Middle Lake, Bow Valley Provincial Park
Mount Yamnuska seen from Middle Lake, Bow Valley Provincial Park
For a longer hike, go to the shoulder of Yamnuska (also known as Raven's End). Beautiful alders line the trail and as you get higher, there are great views to the south and west. From the end of the parking lot, take the trail on the right. When you get to a signed fork, take the hiking/scrambling trail on the right to reach the east shoulder of Mount Yamnuska. Return the way you came. 7 km return, 500 m elevation gain.

Turn right here!
Mount Yamnuska
Mount Yamnuska
Prairie View Trail to McConnell Ridge or Barrier Lake Fire Lookout is a good hike to do when it's super windy, as the trees provide shelter from the wind. When you finally break out of the trees at McConnell Ridge, you are rewarded with views of Barrier Lake, Mount Baldy and beyond. There's a fun little scramble to a higher viewpoint (not recommended if icy), as well as the option to hike up to Barrier Lake Fire Lookout offering 360 views. Return the way you came for the quickest way down. 13.2 km return, 421 m elevation gain. Add on 0.7 km, 100 m elevation gain to the Fire Lookout.

Prairie View Trail, Kananaskis
McConnell Ridge, Prairie View Trail
Prairie View Trail, Kananaskis
Prairieview Lookout
Barrier Lake Fire Lookout
Barrier Lake Fire Lookout
The Bow Valley Bunker aka Heart Creek Bunker is a fun one to do around Halloween. Explore two large caverns with headlamps! Note that there is an avalanche slope just before the cavern entrance so you should avoid this hike if the slope is snow covered. See the full trip report here: The Bow Valley Bunker.

Bow Valley Bunker
Entrance to Bow Valley Bunker
One of the best things about the colder weather is the chance to go on a canyon ice walk! By late November or early December, you can usually walk the frozen creekbeds of Jura Canyon and Grotto Canyon! Jura Canyon's narrow canyon walls make for a unique experience, but our favorite is Grotto Canyon is with its towering ice falls and 500 year old pictographs. For more information, please see DIY Ice Walks Near Calgary. Usually doable from December until March (but warm weather will melt the ice, so save ice hikes for when it's cold!).

Jura Canyon
Jura Canyon
Grotto Canyon
Grotto Canyon

CANMORE NORDIC CENTRE PROVINCIAL PARK

Canmore Nordic Centre is a world class nordic skiing facility that also has a mountain biking skills park, ice rink, snowshoeing trails, and fat biking trails. To see all the activities the park has to offer, see Cross Country Skiing at the Canmore Nordic Centre. Note that fees are in effect for cross country skiing.

Canmore Nordic Centre
Canmore Nordic Centre
If you're looking for a great, short hike near Canmore, try Grassi Lakes. In only 3.2 km round trip, you see a waterfall, two small, perfectly green lakes, and pictographs! For more information, see The Best Short Hikes Near Calgary. Get dinner at Rocky Mountain Flatbread after, or go for Canmore's best coffee at Mountain Mercato! Note: The "easy" route makes a great fall hike, but can be treacherous in early spring with melting and freezing. Check the Alberta Parks Trail Report before you go!

Grassi Lakes
Grassi Lakes, Canmore

ELBOW VALLEY

The Elbow Valley is a wonderful place to hike in fall. For the best road trip, check out Elbow Falls after your hike (a 2 minute walk from the parking lot), then grab a treat in Bragg Creek.

Beautiful Forgetmenot Pond is a popular picnic spot, but also makes a great walk with young children as the trail is flat and only 2 km long. Enjoy the view and watch for Arctic Grayling (catch & release only) in the emerald green pond. For more information, see More Best Short Hikes Near Calgary - Kananaskis Edition. Please note that Hwy 66 is closed from Dec 1 - May 14. *There is a construction closure at the Day Use Area until Nov 1, 2017.*

Forgetmenot Pond
Forgetmenot Pond, Elbow Valley
Powder Puff & Sunrise Hill are two fantastic viewpoints you can visit on one short hike. Whether you stop at the first "summit" or second, the views are amazing! 3 km return to Powder Puff or 5 km return to Sunrise Hill. For a longer hike, carry on to Powderface Ridge (4.8 km to ridge, 69. km to summit). For more information, see Sunrise Hill (aka Rainy Ridge Summit) and Powder Puff, KananaskisPlease note that Hwy 66 is closed from Dec 1 - May 14.


Powder Puff
View on the way up Powder Puff
Sunrise Hill
View from Sunrise Hill
Fullerton Loop is moderate family hike that takes you through meadows, forest, and along a ridge with mountain views on the west side of the loop. 8 km round trip, 365 m elevation gain. Follow the orange trail markers and maps to make a loop.

Fullerton Loop
Fullerton Loop, Elbow Valley Provincial Park
For more of a challenge and amazing views, try Prairie Mountain. You can do this hike almost year round as the top is usually windswept minimizing avalanche danger. It's quite a grind, but well worth the effort! See our trip report here: Hiking Prairie Mountain, Bragg Creek.

Prairie Mountain
Prairie Mountain, Elbow Valley

SIBBALD FLATS

Jumpingpound Loop is a good shoulder season objective when there's avalanche danger in other areas. This rolling 8 km loop (450 m elevation gain) takes you through aspen forest and mixed forest on the north side of Sibbald Creek Trail with occasional views of Moose Mountain, and along the river and through a large meadow on the south side. Start at Pine Top Recreation Area just past the cattle guard on Hwy 68 / Sibbald Creek Trail (where the road goes from pavement to gravel). The trail is on the right hand side of the road.

Jumpingpound Loop
Jumpingpound Loop

Jumpingpound Loop
Jumpingpound Loop
Deer Ridge is a short, but interesting trail offering views of Moose Mountain and the beaver ponds in Sibbald Creek. Don't miss the old Sun Lodge in the meadow! Distance: 6.6 km return, Elevation gain: 300 m. Not stroller friendly.

Directions: Travel west on Hwy 1, take the Sibbald Creek Trail (Hwy 68) turnoff. Continue 22 km on the paved and gravel road, to the Sibbald Lake turnoff. At the 4-way junction on Sibbald Lake access road, turn left and park in the west parking lot. The trail starts to the left of the washrooms at the large "Sibbald Flat Trail" sign. I recommend going up the ridge and returning the way you came as the second half of the loop is overgrown.
Deer Ridge
Deer Ridge, Sibbald Flats
Image Credit: Margaret Meisner, Calgary Outdoor Club

PETER LOUGHEED & SPRAY VALLEY


Peter Lougheed Provincial Park and the Spray Valley get a ton of snow, so check trail and avalanche conditions every time you go. You can usually snowshoe these trails from mid to late November.

Although official winter trails in the park are in Class 1 (lowest risk) Avalanche Terrain, you should educate yourself on where the risks exist so you can avoid them. For example, it is Class 1 terrain to the near shore of Rawson Lake or Warspite Lake, but there is considerable avalanche danger at the other side of the lakes (avalanche slopes). When in doubt, confirm your route with Visitor Information before hitting the trail.

For fishing and first time backcountry camping, Elbow Lake is ideal. The hike to the pretty alpine lake is only 2.6 km return, with 150 m elevation gain. Backcountry camping permits are required to camp. If you plan on fishing, please check and follow Alberta Fishing Regulations. For a longer hike, continue on to Edworthy Falls (6.4 km return from Elbow Lake).
Note: The winter gate on Highway 40 is closed from December 1 - June 14. 


Elbow Lake
Elbow Lake, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park
Edworthy Falls, Kananaskis
Edworthy Falls
Black Prince Cirque / Warspite Lake is a popular ski and snowshoe trail in late fall and winter as it gets tons of snow! The 4.3 km loop with 90 m elevation gain is perfect for families as it's not too long or tough.

Black Prince Cirque
Black Prince Cirque in spring
Chester Lake is a snow lovers' paradise. You can ski, hike or snowshoe here. Hike on the packed snow or snowshoe in the fluffy stuff a little off trail. 9.2 km round trip, 300 m elevation gain. If you have time and energy, the Elephant Rocks are a worthwhile detour (add 1 km return). *Although you can often hike this trail when the snow is packed down, on warm spring days, you will posthole in the afternoon. Carry snowshoes just in case - this area holds up to 1 metre of snow until late spring.*

Please note that the trail is closed from May 1 - June 29 each year.

Chester Lake
Chester Lake Trail
Rawson Lake is one of my favorite summer trails, but it's also a great fall/winter trail. You can hike or snowshoe here depending on how many people have been on the trail before you and how recently it has snowed. Start at Upper Kananaskis Lake parking lot, take the lakeshore trail until the first turnoff (there's a map at the junction), turn left and head uphill to Rawson Lake. 8 km return, 300 m elevation gain. *If there is snow on the mountains, do not cross the lake; significant avalanche danger exists.*
Rawson Lake
Rawson Lake on a moody day

What to Wear

Base layers and mid layers made of synthetic fabrics or wool, wool socks, a hat and gloves/mitts are the way to go for temperature control. Bring a breathable shell jacket to keep the wind out. Soft shell pants or wind pants are also nice to have in colder weather as well as gaiters to keep snow/mud out of your boots.

For more information on keeping warm, please see Keeping Kids Warm in Winter and Keeping Warm in Spring (or Fall)

What to Bring

We use our day trip pack list, which includes the Ten Essential Systems, and also carry ice cleats or microspikes, and gaiters. More information can be found in 5 Tips for Fall (or Spring) Hiking in Alberta.

If you're not sure whether you need ice cleats or snowshoes, bring both and assess at the trailhead. It's the time of year where you can't go wrong bringing "all the things"!

Did you know bears only "hibernate" from late January until March? Cougars and wolves do not hibernate, so you should carry bear spray year round. Read my bear safety tips here.


Kahtoola Microspikes and Outdoor Research Crocodiles Gaiters for the win!

What are your favorite fall hikes in Kananaskis?

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Falling for Winter - Winter Fun in Calgary, Kanananskis & Banff 
Why You Need Avalanche Skills Training
Pond and Lake Ice Safety

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