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Hiking The Whaleback Ridge Near The Cowboy Trail

Hiking the Whaleback Ridge near the Cowboy Trail

For the first time in weeks, John and I had a weekend together where we could both be outside hiking. Just the week before, he had regained the vision in his left eye, after losing it for the better part of seven weeks because of a retinal detachment.

You’re not allowed to exert yourself or go to any altitude, so all trips to the mountains were off limits. Although a mountain hike would have been great, the weather forecast was iffy so we opted to hike the Whaleback Ridge hike, accessed off the Cowboy Highway south of Longview and Millarville.

Wild clouds and wild wind at the start of the hike
Wild clouds and wild wind at the start of the hike

The Whaleback Ridge hike is in horse country

The trailhead was packed with horse trailers by the time we got there. But this is big country and over the course of four hours we saw only four horses and five humans.

It seems it was hunting season as the few people we saw carried guns. We stayed together and I kept my whistle handy. I think it would have been hard to mistake John and I and the dog for a deer or a moose. Still, late fall is probably not the smartest time to be hiking here.

The hike leaves the highway on trails well used by horses
The hike leaves the highway on trails well used by horses
Horseback riders seen on the Whaleback Ridge hike
Horseback riders

Details of the Whaleback Ridge Hike

There is no marked trail per se to do the Whaleback Ridge hike. We had a trail description – itself a little vague – but in the end it didn’t matter.

Basically you follow a road up a hill from the highway where there is the odd cow about. Avoid them. After passing a large pond to the south, the hike takes you up the slopes of Black Mountain (not much of a mountain) through some woods – all the time while on a track.

Once you emerge from the woods – you can see the Whaleback Ridge off in the distance. In total, it’s 30 kilometres long so there are endless opportunities for exploring once you gain the ridge.

Read: The 10 Hiking Essentials Everyone Should Carry

The Whaleback Ridge is on the other side of the woods in the distance
The Whaleback Ridge is on the other side of the woods in the distance

The only blight on the landscape was huge power lines.

The track heads underneath the power lines
The track heads underneath the power lines

To get to the Whaleback Ridge you must cross a small creek where the road turns north – and then walk beneath the power lines. From there continue on the trail up the coulee. At the top you can head in a few directions. We chose to go south up another hill and over a barbed wire fence.

The montane landscape
The montane landscape

The views at the top are superb. The expansive Bob Creek Valley lies below and rising in the distance are the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

Gorgeous views from the Whaleback Ridge
Gorgeous views from the Whaleback Ridge
Hard to believe that 12 hours later we would be in the middle of a snowstorm
Hard to believe that 12 hours later we would be in the middle of a snowstorm
Hiking the Whaleback Ridge near the Cowboy Trail
What a view to the south from the Whaleback Ridge
Heading back through the grasses - and over a barbed wire fence
Heading back through the grasses – and over a barbed wire fence
A very pretty landscape in a muted kind of way
A very pretty landscape in a muted kind of way
The large pond viewed from above
The large pond viewed from above

Although the Whaleback Ridge hike doesn’t offer the scenery you’d see if you went into the mountains, it is still a special area worth exploring. In total, approximately 29,000 hectares is protected from oil and gas development. And although we didn’t see any large animals, the Whaleback area is the home of wolves, grizzly bears, cougars and a large herd of elk.

According to Bill Corbett (author of Day Trips from Calgary)

the Whaleback is Canada’s largest and healthiest montane landscape, characterized by a relatively dry climate and a patchwork of grassy slopes and dense forest.

Now go see for yourself.

Useful information for the hike

  • We did the return hike in 3.5 hours. You could easily spend a few more hours exploring the ridge.
  • The hike is easily done as a day hike from Calgary.
  • The parking is simply a pullout 4 kilometres south of Secondary Road 520 and 30 kilometres from the junction of Highway 22 and Secondary Road 533.

Further reading on hiking in Alberta

Click on the photo to bookmark to your pinterest boards.

Hiking the Whaleback Ridge near the Cowboy Trail, Alberta

 

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 11 Comments
  1. You’re making me homesick with this post! Agree that the mountains offer more spectacular scenery, but will a very special place! Interesting about the hunters, I hadn’t thought about that when hiking it in fall but makes sense. Both time I’ve been there it was in summer.

    1. @Laurel It turns out the Nature Conservancy has just purchased and organized for another big chunk of land to be protected almost next door to where we were hiking. It will be great for the wildlife. I’ve actually heard that the numbers of hunters are dropping. Everyone is on their devices instead.

  2. It’s nice to see that John is on the mend and has recovered nicely. This is such stunning scenery and it’s such a blessing that it’s been protected from oil and gas development. I love all those colors and all those cloud formations. I’m glad you were able to do this hike before the snow swept in.

  3. Oh my gosh, so sorry to hear John’s been laid up for so long but good to read his vision returned and he’s up and about again — and what beautiful scenery for him to be looking at on his first trip out and about!

    1. @Jackie He’s very happy to be doing all his regular activities as you’re not supposed to get your heart rate up after the surgery for a good six weeks – even more if the doctor’s had their way.

  4. Looks like everyone was happy. With that beautiful scenery, why not? Good to hear that John’s eye had healed. Thanks for linking up this week. #TPThursday

  5. So glad John’s eye is better, Leigh! I love that picture of him looking across the valley at the Rocky Mountains. Of course my favs are always ones that include Torrie 🙂

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