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Family Exploring on the High Rockies Trail in Kananaskis

The High Rockies Trail is a newly-completed 80-kilometre long multi-use trail outside of Canmore. The trail starts at the popular Goat Creek Parking Lot on the Smith-Dorrien/Spray Lakes Trail and ends on the Alberta/BC border at Elk Pass in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, paralleling the Spray Lakes Road until you reach the Lower Kananaskis Lake.

The trail is becoming popular with mountain bikers, hikers, and trail runners, and is even enjoyable in winter on snowshoes, fat bikes, or cross-country skis. The
trail travels through three provincial parks: Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park, Spray Valley Provincial Park, and Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, with numerous day-use areas and campgrounds along the way.

I will focus on summer/fall hiking and biking on the High Rockies Trail.

THE BEST SECTIONS OF THE HIGH ROCKIES TRAIL TO EXPLORE AS A FAMILY

1. Spray Lakes West Campground to Goat Creek via Goat Pond - 9.9 kilometres one way, relatively flat.

Highlights - Boardwalks and bridges near Goat Pond.

This section is great for an easy family mountain bike ride. The trail is never overly narrow and is relatively flat. Much of it is double track wide and follows old roads. If you can set up a vehicle shuttle, start at the campground and ride down to Goat Creek. Often, my family sends an adult back for the vehicle at the halfway mark if we only have one car.

Shorter outing - For a shorter ride or for a pleasant hike, start at the campground and make your way to Goat Pond and back for an easy 7.6-kilometre return trip (no shuttle needed). The reward for this section is the boardwalks and bridges over the many creeks near the pond.

2. Buller Day-Use Area to Spray Lakes Day-Use Area - 7.5 kilometres one way, rolling terrain.

Highlights - There are gorgeous views down to the Spray Lakes Reservoir from rocky avalanche slopes.

This is the most beautiful section of the High Rockies Trail as you travel high up above the Spray Lakes Road looking down on the lake below. It is a challenging mountain bike ride (best enjoyed with older youth or teens who have solid mountain bike skills).

Families may enjoy hiking this part of the trail for the views. Just make sure you watch out for mountain bikers coming up behind you on descents and step off to the side of the trail to let them pass.

To hike or bike this section, you’ll have to first climb up 900 metres of the Buller Pass Hiking Trail (44 metres height gain). Turn left onto the High Rockies Trail when you see it coming in from the north. From here, you’ll travel through a summer-only section of the trail for 4.7 kilometres (where the best views can be found). Continue to the Spray Lakes Day-Use Area (where you’ll want a second car parked) or turn around at any point if doing an out and back trip.

Shorter outing - When my family rode this section, we exited the trail at the end of the 4.7-kilometre mark where you can easily drop down to the highway. From here, my husband biked back for the vehicle (though you could bike back on the road, as well).

If hiking, consider an out and back trip to the first rocky avalanche slope. The second one is higher, but you’ll still get amazing views from the first viewpoint in a round trip distance of less than 8 kilometres (including the distance on the Buller Pass Trail).

3. Blackshale Creek to Peninsula Day-Use Area - 3.8 kilometres one way, mostly all downhill.

Highlights - The 240-foot-long suspension bridge will be the highlight of this section for your family.

For many, it will be the highlight of the entire trail. We climbed up to the bridge and the kids happily crossed the bridge back and forth dozens of times! (It felt as if we’d hiked up to a hanging playground.)

There is no official parking lot for this section, so watch for the trail heading up from the east side of the highway. It is approximately a kilometre south of the Black Prince Day-Use Area.

Once you find the trail, climb up roughly 500 metres in distance (gaining approximately 50 metres of height gain) to reach the bridge. From the bridge, continue in a fun downhill ride or hike to Peninsula Day-Use Area where you’ll want a second vehicle parked. Alternately, if you don’t have a shuttle, an adult can bike back for the car while you hang out beside the Lower Kananaskis Lake (a great spot for cooling off if it’s been a hot day).

For families wanting to bike this section, it is a very fun, fast, flowy descent down to Peninsula. Children will need some solid experience with mountain biking but can always walk any hill that looks to be too steep. The trail is very smooth, and my family had a lot of fun riding it.

Shorter outing - If hiking, consider walking up to the bridge on one side of Blackshale Creek, crossing the bridge, and descending on the other side of the creek. There are good trails on both sides of the bridge leading down to the highway. Round trip distance is a kilometre.

4. Canyon to Boulton Creek - 8.5 kilometres on a paved rolling bike trail.

Highlights - A paved trail that is great for families with strollers, bike trailers, or wagons.

This section of the trail takes you from the Canyon Campground to the Boulton Creek Campground in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. The entire distance is paved and great for a family bike ride (and if the Boulton Creek Trading Post is open, you can buy ice cream).

While you can ride this trail in either distance, my family prefers riding it from Boulton Creek to Canyon where it feels more downhill. From Boulton Creek, you’ll lose 100 metres of height and gain 76 metres.

A vehicle shuttle can easily be set up for one-way riding if traveling with friends. Otherwise, end at Canyon by the campground playground while an adult rides back for the car.

Shorter outing - Ride between the Canyon and Elkwood Campgrounds for a shorter 3.7-kilometre distance one way (ideal if riding both directions without a shuttle). The Elkwood-Boulton Creek section can also be ridden in 4.8 kilometres (one way).

SAFETY TIPS FOR HIKING AND BIKING ON THE HIGH ROCKIES TRAIL

  • There are no services or facilities along much of the trail. Take a bike repair kit, First-Aid kit, water, layers of clothing, and sufficient food/snacks for your outing.

  • Pick up a map at the Barrier Lake Visitor Information Centre.

  • Make lots of noise to alert animals of your presence and take bear spray with you. It’s also a good idea to travel in a group.

  • Take rest breaks well off to the side of the trail and listen for bikers coming up behind you. If you do meet mountain bikers while hiking the trail, step to the side to let them pass (as they’ll definitely be moving faster than you).

  • Visit the Kananaskis Trails website at kananaskistrails.com/high-rockies-trail/ for more information on each section of the trail along with detailed maps. I have the maps downloaded on my phone to access without cell coverage.

  • The trail can also be found on the Trail Forks website or app, trailforks.com/trails/high-rockies, where you’ll find the height gain for each section (the trail is broken down into different segments on Trail Forks, the link above going to the longest segment).

Tanya is a freelance writer and mom to a spunky boy. She loves hiking, camping, skiing, and all things mountain-related. She is the author of the blog, Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies, rockiesfamilyadventures.com.

 

 

 

 

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