The fabulous 3.5 kilometre 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. But once you reach the 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.
The route up to the ridge
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. 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.
The minute you hit the ridge – and even a bit before – the magic unfolds. Turn left once you reach the ridge top and follow it for about 1.5 kilometres 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 kilometre 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 ridgeline. 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 K-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.
Finding the start of the King Creek Ridge hike
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 metres 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 metres of elevation gain and lots of steep trail to deal with, choose your hiking partner carefully. You want them to enjoy it as much as you do.
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