If you love a good waterfall hike, then put the Ribbon Falls hike in Kananaskis…
It’s a fantastic hike to the summit of Ha Ling Peak – if you’re looking for a great workout in the mountains that doesn’t eat up the entire day. Ha Ling is an imposing, inaccessible looking peak from any vantage point in Canmore, but the reality once you’re on the hiking trail is very different.
The trailhead for the Ha Ling Peak hike, located just south of Canmore off the Spray Lakes Road, is easy to find and only about a 15 minute drive from downtown.
Trail update: Always check the Alberta Parks report. The trail is closed again (May 21, 2021) to prevent environmental damage.
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Is Ha Ling Peak a difficult hike?
Ha Ling Peak is not difficult to hike in the sense that there are no fancy mountaineering moves required. But you may be sucking wind, especially if it’s the first hike of the season.
I was happy I’d been doing sets of stairs through the winter. Otherwise the 810 m (2,657 feet) elevation gain would have knocked the stuffing out of me. Even with a decent workout schedule my thigh muscles were telling me today that they’ve been well used.
The hike up the peak is not a long one – just 3.5 km one way to the saddle from the parking lot and other 0.4 km to the summit for a total of 3.9 km one way. It took us just under two hours to get to the summit – and that included a few short stops, including one to put on “icers” in the snowy – icy – muddy section.
The first part of Ha Ling
Before they did the upgrade to the Ha Ling Trail, the first part of the hike reminded me a bit of Vancouver’s Grouse Grind. You used to head up steeply over roots and through the trees with nary a view and no break on the grade for at least 30 minutes. Now the trail is wide – and in good shape with only the odd root to deal with.
But when it opens up at the first viewpoint, it’s impressive. And the mountain views just get better and better the higher you go.
Once you hit the snow and ice – even in May, the grade moderates but without “icers” it can be a little challenging – though very doable since most people we saw didn’t have more than hiking boots on. We were told on more than one occasion that we were very smart to have brought the right equipment.
The second viewpoint
Be sure to do the short spur at the second viewpoint to enjoy big in your face views of EEOR. You may be able to pick out people climbing the peak. For some, this may be a good place to turn around.
Be prepared for snow, ice, steep stairs, scree and rock – depending on the season
After the snow and ice you’ll have some steep sets of stairs to deal with before getting into scree and rock. Be patient as the stairs are awkward for some, and if there is a lot of snow around, only one set of stairs typically gets used so you may have to wait a minute to go up or down.
When you finish with the stairs you are into the rock and scree. The trail is pretty obvious though there are several choices. Be careful where you place a foot so you don’t dislodge any rocks. This section took us about 20 – 25 minutes to climb. I kept stopping just to take in the views.
On a warm Sunday in April, masses of people looked like ants on this part of the mountain. Be especially careful with so many people around that you don’t dislodge any rocks – and if you do be sure to yell – ROCK.
Although the top is very airy, with some hair-raising drop-offs along the edge, you’ll have no problem finding a safe place to sit. The views are spectacular no matter where you park yourself. Take heed of the signs asking you to avoid dislodging any rocks over the top as climbers could be on the mountain immediately below.
On my most recent ascent, my husband had to yell at a couple of novice hikers not to climb onto the snow cornice. Please don’t do that. Instagram fame is not worth your safety.
I’m never a fan of descents on scree so I go slowly. Sure footed people will dispatch with this part of the descent quickly. Once back in the trees I found it much easier to move quickly.
Finding the trailhead
From downtown Canmore follow signs pointing to the Canmore Nordic Centre. Turn west off the Three Sisters Parkway onto Highway 742 – also called the Smith Dorrien Road. From the Canmore Nordic Centre it’s a 10 minute, 5.3 km drive to the trailhead at the Goat Creek Day Use Area.
The parking lot is on the right (west) side of the road if you’re driving up from Canmore. But to get to the actual trailhead you’ll have to cross the Smith Dorrien Road and walk up the service road to the canal – a distance of about 50 m.
Cross the canal on the concrete bridge and look for the sign saying Ha Ling Peak. Start the hike by heading up into the woods. Take note of the avalanche areas – and if there is any snowpack, avoid or go prepared with all the right avalanche gear.
Things to take on the hike
Bring lots of water on this hike, especially on a warm, sunny day. If you’ve brought your dog, carry extra water for them as well. Don’t forget the sunscreen and some warm clothes for the top.
If it’s early in the season and there is lingering snow, a pair of Yactrax or other icer devices will make both the ascent and descent easier.
I always like to have a paper map – not only for the hike but for future hikes so a copy of Gem Treks Canmore and Kananaskis Village would be useful. It’s waterproof.
Hiking poles can help save your knees on the descent. A pair of collapsible, lightweight ones are the way to go.
Allow three to five hours to do the return hike, depending on your fitness level and how you handle scree. Allow at least an hour on the top if it’s a fine day to enjoy the view.
Ha Ling Peak Trail Upgrades
The trail up Ha Ling Peak reopened after 16 months of upgrades. The new trail is now longer with a slightly different shape that will make it safer for a larger number of hikers. Two viewpoints were added along with rails and cable ladders – where according to the Calgary Herald – “the grade couldn’t be reduced.”
For up to date trail reports check in with the trail reports on the Alberta Parks website.
Want a guided trip up the peak?
For those of you who would prefer a guided trip, check out the offerings of Canadian Rockies Experience. The tour comes with a gourmet lunch and goodies.
A quieter, harder alternative to Ha Ling
If you want a hike that sees a lot fewer people but starts from a trailhead across the road, do EEOR (East End of Rundle). It’s a bigger workout with an elevation gain of 900 m (2,952 feet). Near the top there is a little scrambling – and not everyone will be comfortable here. Even if you get to the scrambling section and turn back, you can enjoy some truly outstanding views. You can see the trail in the photo below.
Other ideas for great spring hikes
The bottom line is that Ha Ling is getting crazy busy, especially on sunny spring and summer weekends. If you’re still keen to do it, consider early or late in the day or better yet on a weekday.
Where to stay nearby if you’re a visitor to Canmore
You’ll find everything in Canmore from hostels to B&B’s to high end accommodation.
Here are a few suggestions across a range of price points.
- A Bear and Bison Country Inn if you’re after a B&B type of experience.
- The Canmore Hostel is a great choice for those on a budget.
- For a splurge try the Malcolm Hotel.
- Interested in doing your own cooking and laundry? The Basecamp Resorts Self Check In should do the trick.
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