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Looking To The Summit Cairn On The Pigeon Mountain Hike

Pigeon Mountain Hike near Canmore Alberta

What a delight the Pigeon Mountain hike near Canmore turned out to be. Once you get away from the powerline and break through the trees, views are superb. The same goes for wildflowers. They’re excellent in the meadows in summer and even in early fall when there are plenty of reds and yellows to enliven the landscape. Although the climb to the summit is a stiff one, it modulates often enough that you can catch your breath. For stretches you can even see your ultimate destination – no disappointing false summits on this hike.

A real bonus to doing the Pigeon Mountain hike is the relative ease of getting to the trailhead. It is accessed from Dead Man’s Flats, just an hour’s drive from Calgary or a 10-minute drive from Canmore. But count on a full day hike. It will take you somewhere between 5 – 7 hours. We did it in 5 hours and 20 minutes including lunch, summit, photography, and snack stops. Dogs are allowed on a leash. 

Fun fact: In 1858 when the Palliser expedition went through, Eugene Bourgeau named the mountain, Pic de Pigeons, despite the fact pigeons were not in the area. And at one point the mountain was home to a ski hill with two poma lifts.  According to the Calgary Herald, 500 children received free ski lessons here every year for about three years. It permanently closed in 1983 and the equipment was sold off. 

Pigeon Mountain stats

  • The trail is closed from December 1 – June 15th to protect wildlife.
  • The hike is approximately 15.5 km return.
  • Elevation gain is somewhere around 1000 metres.
  • There is nothing technical about the hike. 
  • Allow 5 – 7 hours depending on your hiking speed and how much you like to linger on summits.
Superb mountain views on the Pigeon Mountain hike
Superb mountain views on the Pigeon Mountain hike

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Finding the Pigeon Mountain trailhead

Drive west from Calgary to the Dead Man Flat’s exit. Go south on the overpass and drive up a gravel road to a parking lot located just past the Banff Gate Mountain Resort. If it’s busy, you may have to park on the road.

The trailhead is also used for hiking up West Wind Pass, and Centennial Ridge. (One year we did it as a one-way hike and descended the trail from Mt Allan to the parking lot used for this hike.) In theory, you could hike to Skogan Pass too though it’s better in winter when you can ski it, at least if the snow is good.

The main trailhead for all hikes at the parking lot
The main trailhead for all hikes at the parking lot

Pigeon Mountain hike description

From the main trailhead, hike about 100 m to reach the intersection pictured below. Go left and hike under the powerline. Follow it towards Skogan Pass for about 4 km. The trail weaves away from the powerline and into the woods on three occasions – which was a treat in the heat as it was shaded. It took us 1 hour and 20 minutes to reach the trail to Pigeon Mountain proper. 

If you kept going you would reach Skogan Pass. From there you can to a long descent to the parking lot used for the Troll Falls hike

From the turnoff at the Skogan Pass Trail you can count on a lot of steep climbing – though with great views. In total you have another 535 m to climb over approximately 2.8 km. 

Go left at this intersection on the Pigeon Mountain hike
Go left at this intersection on the Pigeon Mountain hike
It's not that interesting walking under the powerline but at least the views aren't bad
It’s not that interesting walking under the powerline but at least the views aren’t bad when you get higher
The turnoff onto the Pigeon Mountain trail
The turnoff onto the Pigeon Mountain trail is marked by this sign

Once you turn off onto the Pigeon Mountain trail, hike steeply up through the trees for about 10 minutes to reach an open area. Catch your breath before continuing.

The climbing begins in earnest
The climbing begins in earnest
Our son's dog Buttercup with the summit in sight - though still some distance away
Our son’s dog Buttercup with the summit in sight – though still some distance away
A blast of colour in early September
A blast of colour in early September
Almost at the first ridge
Almost at the ridge
The hiking is easy in this section
The hiking is easy in this section
Me on the windy summit of Pigeon Mountain
Me on the windy summit of Pigeon Mountain
Big views of Lac des Arcs from the summit
Big views of Lac des Arcs from the Pigeon Mountain summit
Grand vistas
Grand vistas
Walking past the summit on the Pigeon Mountain hike to get close up Canmore views
Walking past the summit on the Pigeon Mountain hike to get close up Canmore views
Looking to the summit cairn on the Pigeon Mountain hike
Looking to the summit cairn on the Pigeon Mountain hike

What the descent looks like

It was a treat to focus on the landscape and not my heavy breathing on the way down. It took us just an hour to get back to the junction with the Skogan Pass trail. The mountain scenery was excellent the whole way down to the trees.

September is a super time to do this hike
September is a super time to do this hike
John looks small in these hills
John looks small in these hills
Once you're above treeline the views on the hike are first-class
Once you’re above treeline the views on the hike are first-class
Look for blasts of colour
Look for blasts of colour
John and the dog beside a gorgeous patch of wildflowers
John and the dog beside a gorgeous patch of wildflowers
Down the last steep section before heading back into the woods
Down the last steep section before heading back into the woods – the peak to the far right is Mt Allan

This is a hard hike, primarily because of the elevation gain. You might want to build up to it, if its early in the hiking season. Don’t forget the bear spray and the 10 hiking essentials.

A few things to take on the hike

  • Take lots of water for you and your dogs as there is only one place to get it – and that’s about 20 minutes in from the trailhead.
  • It can get blowy on top so pack a warm coat.
  • The paper map for this hike is Gem Trek Canmore and Kananaskis Village.
  • An inflatable seat cushion is a treat to sit on at lunch time.
  • Many people will want to use hiking poles, especially for the descent. These carbon ones are excellent.

A few more hikes nearby

If you’re in the area and want to knock off a few more hikes, try Ha Ling Peak or the Sparrowhawk Tarns – though they are best done earlier in summer when the tarns have more water.

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

The beautiful 15 km (return) hike up Pigeon Mountain near Canmore, 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 One Comment

  1. I’ve always wanted to go to All over the country and now I really want to go!! Very good guide, thanks for sharing!

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