Drive about an hour northeast of Calgary or two and a half hours south of…
The fabulous 3.5 km King Creek Ridge hike off of Highway 40 in Kananaskis Country offers truly exceptional mountain scenery. But it’s definitely not a beginner or even a family-friendly hike.
Once you reach King Creek Ridge itself after about two kilometres of hard, steep hiking, the grade moderates and the rest of the hike is positively glorious. It’s one of the best ridge walks I’ve done – though I’d also highly recommend nearby Pocaterra Ridge.
I did the hike in mid-June and it was free of snow. Unless you’ve got experience climbing on snow, it’s not one you want to do before the snow is gone. That date will vary from spring to spring.
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King Creek Ridge hike description
From the parking lot walk back towards Highway 40 and take the obvious trail heading off through the grass just in from the road. Follow it as it climbs up to an intersection. Take the left branch and head for the woods.
I was a bit confused once we got into the woods as the trail leveled out for a while – mostly paralleling the road without climbing very much. I’d read that it was two kilometres straight up but you do get a short reprieve.
The straight up part starts soon enough, perhaps after about 10 minutes of hiking in the woods, but it’s not immediate. The ascent may be hard on the breathing but as you’ll see, the descent is far trickier. You may want to take poles on this hike.
Head generally in a northeast direction heading up sticking to the most prominent tail when you see braiding.
The minute you hit King Creek Ridge – and even a bit before – the magic unfolds. Turn left once you reach the ridge top and follow it for about 1.5 km enjoying sweeping views of the mountains, especially of Mt. Wintour. Its shape has been described as being “like whipped ice cream or the Matterhorn.”
Look across the valley and you’ll feel like you’re looking at the Swiss Alps. Even the grass looks groomed. Maybe it’s the numerous bighorn sheep that keep it looking so good. And if you look southwest it’s easy to pick out Upper and Lower Kananaskis Lakes as well.
The ridge climbs at a gentle grade for its 1.5 km length. You’ll see a lot of wildflowers along the route. I was surprised to see prairie crocus blooming in mid-June. The snow must have recently left.
Some people turn around at a big rock cairn you’ll see near the end of the ridge. But I think it’s worth continuing to the very end. That does involve a small scramble up some rocks with a minor amount of exposure for a few feet. We had a big Bernese mountain dog with us – so she was a far bigger concern than our own safety. She took her time, both coming and going, so it worked out just fine.
At the end of the ridge look over to Opal Ridge (another steep hike I’d recommend) and Fortress Mountain. Sit back, eat lunch and enjoy the scenery before retracing your steps.
For the descent
As there is no signage anywhere take note on the way up of what the scenery looks like when you reach the ridge line. You don’t want to miss the turnoff for the descent.
I think the rest of the route finding is straightforward if you pay attention to what trail looks to be well-traveled. There is a bit of braiding in places but it was minor compared to other trails I’ve done in Kananaskis Country.
Be cautious on the descent. There are some really nasty parts with those ball-bearing like small rocks where you could turn your ankle in a second. Take your time.
John and I did the hike up and down in four hours at a relaxed pace. At the end of the ridge we spent about 40 minutes enjoying the view over lunch.
King Creek Ridge hike start location
A lot of people seem to have trouble finding the trailhead – especially since nothing is signed. The parking lot is easy enough to find. It’s on the east side of Highway 40, roughly 100 m north of the winter gate for Highwood Pass.
To get to the start of the King Creek Ridge trail walk back out towards Highway 40 and look right (north). You’ll see a trail taking off through the grass just in from the road. Follow it as it climbs up to an intersection. Take the left branch and head for the woods.
Before you head out on the hike it’s always prudent to check the Kananaskis trail report.
This is grizzly bear country so be sure to carry bear spray. If you need a refresher read Tips for Staying Safe in Bear Country. We didn’t so much as see any bear scat.
I think the King Creek Ridge hike is a marvelous one. I loved the scenery and views at the top. But with 731 m of elevation gain and a very steep trail to deal with, choose your hiking partner carefully. You want them to enjoy it as much as you do. Kids need to be at least 12 years old and good, seasoned hikers before you think about taking them on it.
What to take on this hike
Don’t forget the hiking poles. Other useful items on this hike include a buff in case it’s windy and a seat cushion so you can enjoy a comfortable lunch. Take a water bottle that will do a good job of keeping your water cold for hours! In summer this would be one toasty hike.
More Kananaskis hikes nearby you might enjoy
- The Pickle Jar Lakes Hike in Kananaskis Country
- The Gorgeous Sparrowhawk Tarns Hike near Canmore
- The Grizzly Ridge Hike in Kananaskis Country
- A Loop Hike Around Beautiful Upper Kananaskis Lake
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