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The Cox Hill hike

Cox Hill Hike in Alberta’s Kananaskis Country

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Easily accessed from Calgary, the Cox Hill hike takes you to the highest point on the Trans-Canada Trail. It’s 12.4 km round-trip with just over 900 metres of elevation gain. Count on a workout. The Cox Hill hike isn’t one of the busier trails so there’s a chance once you reach the summit, you’ll have it to yourself. Sit back on rocky slabs and enjoy panoramic views in all directions – at any time of the year. You’ll easily be able to see nearby Moose Mountain, another worthwhile day hike and those with energy can also continue to the Jumpingpound Ridge Trail from the summit, a further 3 kilometres away.

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Cox Hill hike summary

  • Purchase a Kananaskis Conservation Pass before you start the hike.
  • It’s a multi-use trail on the way up Cox Hill from the Dawson trailhead. Expect to share it with mountain bikers and horseback riders.
  • The Cox Hill hike can also be done in winter but dress appropriately as it will likely be windy on top. You also need to be avalanche aware and take personal responsibility for your safety. 
  • It’s 12.4 km (7.7 miles) round trip to the summit with 923 m (3,030 feet) of elevation gain. 
  • It’s a straightforward hike but I’d rate it as difficult, only because of the amount of elevation you gain.
  • Allow 5 – 6.5 hours return.
  • Dogs are permitted on a leash.
  • For trail reports visit the Kananaskis Country website.
  • If you’re hiking from spring to late fall, be sure to carry easy to access bear spray.
Be prepared to share the trail with mountain bikers and horseback riders
Be prepared to share the trail with mountain bikers and horseback riders

How to get to the Cox Hill hike trailhead

The hike starts at the Dawson Trailhead off the Powderface Trail. To get to it, follow the Trans-Canada Highway to Sibbald Creek Trail – also known as Highway 68. (Highway 68 is a mix of tarmac and dusty dirt road). Continue on it for 23.2 km to reach a sign for the Powderface Trail. Turn left and continue for 2.9 km to reach the Dawson trailhead. 

As a side note, the Powderface Trail is open year round to the Dawson trailhead. It is closed from Dec 1 – May 14th from the Dawson trailhead to Highway 66. There are lots of hikes you can access from Highway 66.

Recommended reading: 7 Bragg Creek Hikes along Highway 66 in Alberta

There's a very solid bridge across Jumpingpound Creek
There’s a very solid bridge across Jumpingpound Creek
Expansive views on the Cox Hill hike
Expansive views on the Cox Hill hike

Cox Hill hike description

It took us a few minutes to find the proper trailhead. From the parking lot, walk down the road you drove up on for about 60 metres. Look right and you’ll find a well-used trail and signage. Start out on the Tom Snow Trail and follow it down to the bridge across Jumpingpound Creek – where you’ll see plenty of evidence of the 2013 floods. Cross the river and continue hiking to a T-junction. Look for the sign that says Coxhill Ridge Trail and go right.

Follow this trail to the summit through thick forest with only a few good views for the first 90 – 100 minutes or so. Most of the trail is steep but when you eventually break out of the trees, you will be rewarded with splendid mountain views.

There’s a steep open slope to climb to get to the ridge. It switchbacks a few times and then deposits you on the ridge by a cairn. From there you’re on easy street. 

The Cox Hill hike on a bluebird day in winter
The Cox Hill hike on a bluebird day in winter
Zigzagging up a steep section of Cox Hill
Zigzagging up a steep section of Cox Hill

Turn right and continue walling up through a stand of trees for another 10 minutes or so until you finally pop out, just 50 metres from the Cox Hill summit. Find a slab of rock and sit back to enjoy the panorama of mountain peaks. If you’ve brought a picnic lunch, watch out for sneaky chipmunks at the top.

To return, simply retrace your steps though there is the option to continue on Jumpingpound Ridge Trail. I have yet to do that but the trail is obvious from the summit.

The Cox Hill hike is a workout but it delivers premium views. Be sure to take lots of water as after you’ve crossed the creek you won’t any until you’re back where you started.

Wildflowers galore
Wildflowers galore
Those with energy can connect to the Jumpingpound Ridge Trail from the summit
Those with energy can connect to the Jumpingpound Ridge Trail from the summit of Cox Hill
Looking over to Moose Mountain
Looking over to Moose Mountain from the Cox Hill hike
A dog's eye view of the trail
A dog’s eye view of the trail
Looking west past the Hunchback Hills
Looking west past the Hunchback Hills

The Cox Hill hike in winter

I didn’t know you could do the Cox Hill hike in winter until a friend told me she’s done it in 2021. The only thing that’s different than the summer is the cold and the wind. You really need to dress in layers and take very warm mitts for your lunch stop. I found it to be as beautiful as summer, but in a different way. The snow-capped peaks were a sight to see on a bluebird day.

I always think about avalanche danger. It seems low on this hike BUT be mindful as you traverse in the trees just below the bare summit slopes and on the final ascent. The summit ridge itself is prone to cornice building so stay off the cornices. The snow depth was low when we did it – and to be on the extra safe side, we moved quickly through the area, crossing it in seconds. I bet most people don’t even give it a second glance.

I found the descent easy in winter ( we were down in two hours) but I would suggest you carry microspikes and hiking poles

Looking down the steep slope you climb after you leave the trees
Looking down the steep slope you climb after you leave the trees
You can see downtown Calgary from the ridge
You can see downtown Calgary from the ridge
Compact windswept snow on the ridge
Compact windswept snow on the ridge
Lovely, easy walking with little elevation gain to the summit of Cox Hill
Lovely, easy walking with little elevation gain to the summit of Cox Hill
We found a place out of the wind in the sun to enjoy lunch
We found a place out of the wind in the sun to enjoy lunch
Our high point on Cox Hill with a grand view
Our high point on Cox Hill with a grand view
It's not a busy trail on a winter weekend
It’s not a busy trail on a winter weekend
The last of the views before we are into the trees
The last of the views before we are into the trees

Where to stay in the area

There is camping along Highway 68 at Pine Grove and Sibbald Lake Provincial Campground.

Other nearby options include the Wilderness Hostel near Kananaskis Village and the more upscale Kananaskis Mountain Lodge

What to take on the Cox Hill hike

Buy bear spray locally but I also recommend a holster for the bear spray so you can quickly access it.

If you’d like to learn more about the wildflowers you see, check out Alberta Trees and Wildflower Guide.

At lunch time a bum cushion is great for comfort. It might save you from sitting on something wet. 

More Alberta hikes you’d probably enjoy

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The Cox Hill hike off the Powderface Trail in Alberta

 

 

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