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5 Of The Best Crowsnest Pass Hikes In Alberta

5 of the Best Crowsnest Pass Hikes in Alberta

The variety of Crowsnest Pass hikes in southwest Alberta is superb and yet the Crowsnest Pass area does a great job of hiding its special places. For anyone who has regularly made the drive from Calgary or Lethbridge to Fernie, there’s a good chance that all you’ve ever seen of the Crowsnest Pass is a gas station, Tim Hortons and of course the infamous Frank Slide. You wouldn’t guess at the hiking treasures it harbours. 

But dig beneath the surface, speak with the locals, check out the book – The Southern Rockies Trail Guide by Joey Ambrosi and you’ll find that there are loads of excellent Crowsnest Pass hikes. I only had time for four of them but there are another half dozen I’d happily do.

The view to Blairmore from Turtle Mountain
The view to Blairmore from Turtle Mountain

Here are 5 of the best Crowsnest Pass hikes across a range of difficulties

Frank Slide Interpretive Trail

Outside of the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre is an easy 1.5 km interpretive trail. It wanders through massive boulders left as the result of the 1903 Frank Slide. 

As you hike through the slide area, you’ll likely stand in awe at the sheer scale of destruction – caused in just 90 seconds. The size of the boulders that came tumbling down is something else.

Cough up a dollar for the guidebook. Seventeen stops are described over the 1.5 kilometre long trail. It’s a good way to learn more about the history and geology of the area.

Frank Slide Interpretive Trail
Looking out to the Frank Slide Interpretive Trail – one of the must do Crowsnest Pass hikes
Austere looking landscape left from the Frank Slide
Austere looking landscape left from the Frank Slide

Miner’s Path Hike, Crowsnest Path Area

The Miner’s Path, a heritage and nature trail, is short and sweet and perfect for breaking up a drive along Highway 3. It’s also easy, family-friendly and accessible. You’ll find the trailhead in Flumerfelt Park at the western end of Coleman, just off 76 Street.

The trail, now called the Miner’s Path was used for almost 50 years by the men working at McGillvary Mine. Every shift up to 200 men trudged up the path – which was a strenuous undertaking before bridges or stairs were added – or when it snowed.

For some miners the hike took as long as 9o minutes one way, depending on where they were living in town.

Walk the trail today and you may have a hard time imagining hundreds of miners carrying lunch buckets and wondering if they’d even return from a day in the mines.

Today the trail begins in the quiet of the woods beside a number of huge Douglas fir trees that are up to 250 years old. It climbs gently beside Nez Pearce Creek up to an intersection over the falls with a set of stairs. If you climb the stairs and follow the trail for another 200 metres you will arrive at the McGillvary Mine Site. There are some remnants to be seen.

We chose to continue to Rainbow Falls, about 20 minutes from the trailhead. By the falls are some stairs that beckoned us to explore. Once at the top we continued through fields of grass before crossing the creek on wooden planks.

At the top of a steep hill we turned back in the direction of the trailhead and enjoyed delightful cliff top walking with some peek a boo views to the mountains. In short order we found the stairs and completed the loop. In under 10 minutes we were back at the car.

In reading the guide book it suggests that beyond Rainbow Falls you are on private property. There were no signs – and there were newly built stairs and trails – so decide for yourself whether you should go.

This is a terrific, family friendly hike that will take 45 – 90 minutes depending on how many side trails you take and how much time you spend looking for mining structures or enjoying nature.

5 of the Best Hikes in the Crowsnest Pass Area
Rainbow Falls
5 of the Best Hikes in the Crowsnest Pass Area
Beautiful walking just beyond the falls
5 of the Best Hikes in the Crowsnest Pass Area
Lovely ridge walking above the falls with peek a boo views
 The first set of stairs you reach will take you up the old mine site
The first set of stairs you reach will take you up the old mine site

One of the tough Crowsnest Pass hikes – Crowsnest Mountain

When you drive west on Highway 3 you can’t help but notice Crowsnest Mountain to the north. Called The Crow by locals, it’s a mountain that requires scrambling skills. 

It’s an 11.6 kilometre return hike with an elevation gain of 1,040 metres. From the summit enjoy spectacular views of the Crowsnest Valley, the High Rock Range to the west, Gould Dome and Tornado Mountain to the north and the Livingstone Range and Porcupine Hills to the east and northeast.

To get to the trailhead from Highway 3, turn right (north) on Allison Creek/Atlas Road and follow it for 9.7 kilometres. The turnoff is easy to find and its just 5 kilometres west of Coleman. Turn right, continue for 100 metres and you’re at the trailhead.

This was one hike on my list for the summer of 2019 – but 2020 now as it never happened. A full route description can be found here. You should be comfortable with scrambling, scree, exposure and loose rocks to tackle this hike.

Crowsnest Mountain
Crowsnest Mountain just outside Coleman, Alberta – Photo credit: Ian McKenzie on Flickr

Window Mountain Lake

With a glittering blue lake surrounded by mountains on three sides, this is a beautiful summer time hiking destination. Once you get here you’ll want to spend the day lounging near the water, fishing for rainbow trout, swimming or walking around the entire lake on an easy to follow path. In early August the wildflowers are stunning.

Although it’s only a two kilometre one way hike from the trailhead (with a total of 210 metres of elevation gain), not many people actually drive the whole of the final two kilometres. I was a complete wimp and parked my car on a huge shoulder on the Atlas Road and walked the two kilometres to the trailhead rather than risk bottoming out. (I have a new car and have had a few bad experiences in the past.)

Most people seem to drive the first kilometre, park and then walk the second kilometre. You could save yourself a lot of grief if you do this. 

The trail itself is extremely steep as you climb a 150 metre escarpment right off the bat. We had some teenagers in front of us who did a lot of whining about the initial part of the hike. But really, you can dispatch with the steep section very quickly. And then it’s a gradual walk through woods that reminded me more of BC than Alberta until you reach the lake.

There are several primitive campsites on the lake and they’re free. The lake is a popular spot and once you get there you’ll certainly see why.

To get to the Window Mountain Lake trailhead it’s a bit of a drive in from Highway 3. Drive four kilometres past Coleman and look for Allison Creek Road. Turn north and follow it for 4 kilometres on pavement.

Continue straight when the pavement dies on the Atlas Road for a total of 16.5 kilometres from Highway 3. Turn left at that point – if you don’t mind driving over a gully. Continue for 1-2 kilometres depending on what kind of vehicle you have. Alternatively park across from the road in a huge turn-off area. Supposedly this is a logging road so be prepared to get out of the way quickly.

25 of the Best Hikes in the Crowsnest Pass Area
Walking through the wildflowers beside Window Mountain Lake
5 of the Best Hikes in the Crowsnest Pass Area
Window Mountain Lake in the Crowsnest Pass area
Check out the island in Window Mountain Lake
Check out the island in Window Mountain Lake
One of the primitive camping spots by Window Mountain Lake
One of the primitive camping spots by Window Mountain Lake
5 of the Best Hikes in the Crowsnest Pass Area
Watch your footing on the loose rock on the way down

Turtle Mountain (from Blairmore)

Why you should hike it: Incredible views, workout, and the chance to see one of Canada’s biggest landslides from the top

If you want to get your heart racing for a couple of reasons do the 3.1 kilometre one way hike to the summit of Turtle Mountain. It is here that Canada’s second largest landslide occurred on April 29, 1903.

Eighty two million tons broke away from the mountain – causing the deaths of about 70 people and burying a huge area which you can see from the top. And it’s expected that at some point another chunk will break away but no one knows when. (There is monitoring equipment in place on the top of the South Peak.)

This is a steep hike that will get your heart rate up in no time, especially at the beginning. But there are points where it moderates and although there is no formally marked trail, it’s popular enough that you can find your way to the top on well-worn trails though if the weather deteriorates you should have good route finding skills.

Near the top you get very close to the precipice. You’ll have to decide whether it’s worth peering over the edge.

There is the option to continue to the South Peak. Although it’s not far, between the down climbing to the saddle, the route-finding through the boulders and the climb up, it can take the better part of an hour one way. We didn’t have another two hours so we turned back.

Finding the trailhead to hike Turtle Mountain

To get to the trailhead for Turtle Mountain turn onto 133rd Street in Blairmore from Highway 3. Turn left at 18th Avenue, and right on 135th Street.

At the T-intersection with 15th Avenue turn right and continue for a block. Take the dirt road leading left across from the cul-de-sac and follow it for about 400 metres. Park at the top of the dip. The trailhead is marked by painted yellow rocks near the base of the cliff, accessed by walking down the dip and then up the short, steep hill on your right.

Looking at the devastation the Frank Slide caused - that's the highway through the middle of it
Looking at the devastation the Frank Slide caused – that’s the highway through the middle of it
5 of the Best Hikes in the Crowsnest Pass Area
Me at the top of the North Peak of Turtle Mountain – one of the Crowsnest Pass hikes where you might feel a little tension
5 of the Best Hikes in the Crowsnest Pass Area
Looking out across the slide – where 82 million tons of rock broke loose – one of the top Crowsnest Pass hikes
Some hikers don't climb the mountain very prepared
Some hikers don’t climb the mountain very prepared
This guy and his buddy  (not in the photo) are planning to bike down Turtle Mountain
This guy and his buddy  (not in the photo) are planning to bike down Turtle Mountain
5 of the Best Hikes in the Crowsnest Pass Area
My sister-in-law picking her way down the mountains

These five hikes provide a great cross-section of what’s available in the Crowsnest Pass area.

Another popular hike on the tip of everyone’s tongue we spoke with is the 6.2 kilometre one way hike from York Creek Road to the Plane Crash site. That one is at the top of my wish list now.

If you have time at the end of your hike I highly recommend a stop at the Stone’s Throw Cafe at 13019 20th Avenue in Blairmore. The coffee is great and so are the baked goods.

The Stone's Throw Cafe in Blairmore - a perfect refreshment stop after your Crowsnest Pass hike
The Stone’s Throw Cafe in Blairmore – a perfect refreshment stop after your Crowsnest Pass hikes

Where to stay in the Crownest Pass Area

Check out Country Encounters in Coleman. I stayed for two nights in a well-appointed room and thoroughly enjoyed the great breakfast (and dinner if you plan in advance.) 

If you prefer a hotel chain check out Travelodge by Wyndham Blairmore.

Further reading on things to do in southern Alberta

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest board.

5 of the Best Crowsnest Pass Hikes in Alberta

Thank you to Travel Alberta for sponsoring this post. All hikes were of my choosing.

 

 

Leigh McAdam

Leigh McAdam is a Calgary based writer, author, photographer and social media enthusiast with over 61,000 followers. Her blog: HikeBikeTravel is frequently cited as one of the top travel and outdoor adventure blogs in Canada.

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta

This Post Has 8 Comments
  1. Fantastic hikes, Leigh! It must have been a real workout for those miners everyday and a real test of courage especially in winter. Hopefully, they were no accidents.
    Driving back from Kingston a few days ago, I saw a small (minuscule, in comparison) rockslide along the highway. I wondered when it happened and whether there were vehicles on the road at the time.
    As I looked closer the first photo of the Frank Slide, I noticed an area near the base of the mountain that was green – it seems not to have been touched by the slide, which made me realize the mountain has to be pretty high.

  2. The Window Mountain Lake hike looks perfect! The inlaws have a place in Coleman so they could just drop the hubby and I off one day and pick us up the next morning. Thanks for the info and the beautiful pictures! 😀

  3. Definitely captured the beauty of Crowsnest Pass! Growing up there, these trails were always our everyday paths that my dad took us on… many memories on them! When I was 10 we climbed the Hillcrest side of Turtle Mountain (Frankslide). It was one of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen. I miss these mountains everyday! ❤️

    1. @Amber The Rockies get all the love but there sure are equally awesome landscapes in this area. That was quite a hike for a 10 year old – and obviously very memorable. Good on your Dad!

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