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5 Awesome Hikes in Alberta, Canada

5 Awesome Hikes in Alberta, Canada

The eastern slopes of the Canadian Rockies are home to some of the best hiking trails in the world. However, their accessibility and popularity mean that several hikes have become overrun and crowded. Over on my Canadian Rocky Hiking Guide I discuss tips on how to beat the crowds and where you can find the most pristine areas of wilderness.

Obviously, there’s more than 5 awesome hikes in Alberta, I could easily write about 50, but this article is designed to give you a taste of what’s on offer here. I have therefore narrowed it down to some of my personal favourites.

Author Name: Marta Kulesza
Author Bio: I am Marta Kulesza - the photographer and creator of www.inafarawayland.com. I come from Poland, but I've been living, travelling and working around the globe since I turned 18. A few years ago, during one of my trips to Scotland, I bought my first DSLR and my adventure with photography began. When I am not stuck to my computer editing photos, you can find me hiking somewhere in the mountains. 

1. Indian Ridge

Indian Ridge
The Indian Ridge lies in Jasper National Park, the most expansive national park in the Canadian Rockies. What sets this hike apart from the other is that the initial ascent isn’t done by foot but by cable car. With the first 1000m of elevation undertaken swiftly and with little exertion it gives you a perfect chance to tackle the next 800m.

The route first summits Whistlers Mountain named so because of the marmots that inhabit the grassy slopes there. The sound they produce to warn the rest of the colony about possible dangers is a high pitched squeaky whistle. They are often referred to as “Whistle Pigs”.

From the first summit there’s an undulating path with some loose rock traverses which require some basic climbing techniques. As long as you’re willing to get your hands dirty you’ll be fine.

The whole route, there and back, takes around 6 hours to complete and you’ll be treated to unparalleled views of Mount Edith Cavell and Mount Robson, the tallest mountains in the Canadian Rockies.

2. Ha Ling Peak

Ha Ling Peak
One of more common hikes in the area, Ha Ling Peak is completed by many Calgarians due to its proximity with the most populous city in Alberta. The closest town to the trailhead is Canmore, an old mining town that received a huge investment after the 1988 Winter Olympics, it’s also where I called home for 6 months whilst exploring the area.

Ha Ling Peak starts with a scenic drive down the Spray Lakes Road (Highway 742). Bighorn sheep are regularly spotted licking salt of the rocky slopes and mountain goats can be glimpsed high up grazing, jumping between outcrops.

The initial part of the trail is enclosed in the forest until near the top of the route where brief glimpses of the surrounding mountains become visible. Eventually you’ll emerge out with only a small push toward the summit left ahead of you. It’s a well-marked trail that can be steep at times but is very achievable. I’ve lost count how many times I did it but the most magnificent experience was when I summited Ha Ling Peak to watch the sunrise.

3. Smutwood Peak

Smutwood Peak
The first time I posted a picture from the summit of Smutwood Peak I was accused of manipulating it in Photoshop. I had to ensure an overzealous keyboard warrior that that’s what Birdwood Peak actually looked like.

Birdwood Peak is the most photogenic mountain from Smutwood Peak as between these two colossal peaks lie the two Birdwood Lakes. The hike is particularly beautiful in the fall where the Larches turn an incredible array of lime greens, yellows and terracotta orange. As it’s a 20km return with a 1000m of elevation gain it’s not the most popular hike which makes it more scenic.

Due to the lack of human interference, grizzly bears frequent the area and can often be seen around Smuts Col, bathing in the two Birdwood Lakes. It’s very humbling to watch these great creatures in their natural habitat.

The closest town to the Smutwood Hike is also Canmore but the hike itself lies in an area called Kananaskis Country. It’s an amalgamation of provincial parks with unequivocal beauty. My road trip around Western Canada spends a considerable amount of time here as it’s a spot untouched by the hordes of tourists around Banff.

4. Tonquin Valley

Tonquin Valley
This multi-day hike is located in the western valleys of Jasper National Park. The Rampart Mountain Range, which many consider to be the most beautiful section of the entire trail, marks the border between Alberta and British Columbia. These jagged peaks dominate the skyline directly above the Amethyst Lakes where grizzly bears, moose and woodland caribou can be found.

The second time I did the 44km relocation hike I was lucky enough to spot all three. The first was the moose which was swimming, surprisingly graciously, across Chrome Lake, another alpine tarn in the area.

Then, when I arrived at the Amethyst campground I was amazed to see three large male woodland caribou, one of the rarest animals in the Canadian Rockies. They were changing grazing zones as they do every September and I was lucky enough to cross paths with them. I enjoyed their company for almost an hour before they continued their journey off into the bush.

My most terrifying grizzly encounter was on this trail too. I’d packed up camp and set off early in the morning as I always do. My hiking partner and I were talking loudly, singing songs and generally making noise to warn off potentially deadly wildlife when we rounded a tight bend on the path and no more than 10m in front of us was a grizzly sow with two young cubs.

Grizzlies can be life threatening but, if you act correctly, generally, you’ll be ok. However, a sow with two young cubs can act very defensively and unpredictably. We stood our ground, made ourselves big and spoke calmly but she kept advancing. She followed us for what seemed like an age but in reality, was only about 10 minutes until she veered off toward the stream where she had been spotted in previous days teaching her cubs how to fish.

An incredible experience but a scary one none the less.

5. Mount Saint Piran

Mount Saint Piran
If you don’t know how much energy you have, this is the hike for you. It starts at Lake Louise right outside the Chateau, if that’s all you can manage then you could easily spend a day there admiring the view drinking hot chocolate in the bar. However, with a little push you can be at Mirror Lake, a little further Lake Agnes, a little further The Big Beehive and Mount Saint Piran for the grand finale. At any of these vantage points you can tap out and call it a day making it a great hike for groups with different abilities.

Mount Saint Piran offers 360 views toward colourful valleys, huge icefields and more peaks than I could count. It should take around 4-6 hours return.