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Go climb a mountain – family-friendly first summits

There are many summits, ridge tops and scenic lookouts near Calgary that are quite feasible for families to reach in an easy day hike. Make it a goal to try at least one of the trips below with your family this summer, and then reward the effort with ice cream or a fun dinner out afterwards. Each hike can also be done while camping in Kananaskis or Banff for an extra special weekend the kids will remember well through the fall as they head back to school. 

Jumpingpound Mountain, Kananaskis

The Jumpingpound Summit Trail is an excellent choice for a family wanting to try climbing a mountain close to Calgary. There’s only 350m of climbing spread out over 2.5km (one way) and the trail is very easy to follow. While the hike may feel steep at times, the trail is well maintained, and you won’t be crawling up steep rock. The trail ends with a beautiful ridge walk to the summit where there is a large area to have your lunch.

The trailhead can be found in the Sibbald/Jumpingpound area of Kananaskis, and you’ll need to be comfortable driving on a rough gravel road. From Calgary, drive west on the TransCanada Highway and turn south onto Sibbald Creek Trail, Highway 68. You’ll come to the Sibbald Lake Campground in about five minutes. This is an excellent spot for a close-to-home camping trip, and you can reserve sites in advance through Alberta Parks. From the campground, turn south on Powderface Trail and continue another 30 minutes, arriving at a pull out on the right side of the road. You should see other vehicles parked here.

For more information, visit the Alberta Parks website or find the hike on the All Trails website. If you have a paid subscription to the All Trails app, you can download the trail to help find the trailhead.

Yates Mountain and the Barrier Lake Fire Lookout, Kananaskis

This is a bigger hike for school-aged children, but there are three different turn-around spots, each with gorgeous views. The hike starts from Barrier Dam off Highway 40 and you’ll want to arrive early to find parking on a weekend. From the parking lot, cross the dam, and make your way to the back of the lake where a gentle switchbacked trail climbs to the Prairie View Lookout over the lake. It is 5km to the viewpoint (one way), with 500m of height gain. Stop for lunch when you reach the top of the ridge and decide if you want to go further.

Hiking further, it’s a short walk to the second viewpoint where you can pose for photos on giant rocks overlooking the lake. I encourage you to make it this far before turning around. If you have energy to hike further, continue to the very top of Yates Mountain where you’ll reach the active Barrier Lake fire lookout site. It is an additional kilometer to reach the summit with about 150m of height gain.

For more information, visit the Alberta Parks website and look up the “Prairie View” Trail. You can also find the hike on All Trails as “Yates Mountain from Barrier Lake.”

Relax after your hike with lunch by the lake or even a dip to cool off. 

White Buddha and Vents Ridge, Kananaskis

This trail offers incredible views if you make it to the ridge where I promise you’ll feel like you’ve climbed a mountain. The hike is blissfully short at 3.7km (round trip distance) with 300m height gain so you can treat yourself to an al fresco lunch at Elbow Falls or at the Allen Bill Day Use Area after. There is also a great ice cream shop in Bragg Creek!

This hike starts from the Powderface Creek Day Use Area in the Elbow Valley, just past Elbow Falls. You begin by hiking up Powderface Creek for a kilometer on a trail that resembles a large wide road. Just past the bridge, look for a steep trail heading uphill to your right. That is the trail to the White Buddha cliffs where you’ll be able to watch rock climbers above you.

Make sure you don’t stand right underneath the rock climbers, and I recommend not making a lot of noise in this area so that you don’t disturb the climbers who need to communicate with their partners.

From the White Buddha crag, continue along the base of the cliffs until you reach the far end where you can scramble up on top of Vents Ridge for an incredible vantage point and some very cool rocks to perch on for photos.

Note that the trail from Powderface Creek to White Buddha is very steep and can feel loose on descent, so take your time and bring hiking poles if you have them. Previous hiking experience is recommended. Fortunately, the trail is well switchbacked, so keep some candy in your pocket for each corner.

For more information on this hike, visit the All Trails website and look up “White Buddha from Powderface Creek.” I recommend descending the same way unless you’re very comfortable with steep hiking and some route finding. 

Hailstone Butte Lookout, Kananaskis

This is a beautiful hike in Southern Kananaskis where you’ll get to visit an active fire lookout site. The hike is short and sweet with a 3km return distance and 300m of height gain. The trail is steep, but you’ll be rewarded with great views from the top.

Drive south of Calgary on Highway 22, passing Black Diamond and Longview. Turn west on Highway 532, a gravel road that is generally not too rough. Driving time is about 90 minutes from south Calgary. Park at the top of the ‘hump’ where you’ll find the trailhead.

For a scenic drive home, you can continue driving over the hump and then turn north on Highway 940. This takes you to Highwood Junction where you can turn west on Highway 40, heading for Highwood Pass. Drive over the pass and return to Calgary via the Kananaskis Valley, past the Kananaskis Lakes and Kananaskis Village. Alternatively, if you live in south Calgary, from Highwood Junction turn east on Highway 541, which takes you to Longview.

Make sure you take time to stop for ice cream or treats in one of the small towns that you’ll pass on your way home or pack a lunch to enjoy at one of the day use areas you’ll pass. Depending on which route you take home, you can also add on another short hike. The hike to the Cat Creek Waterfall is a good choice if you take Highway 40 towards Highwood Pass. (2.6km return, 150m height gain.)

For more information on the Hailstone Butte hike, visit the All Trails website. 

Sulphur Mountain, Banff National Park

Here’s where we say, “yay for gondolas!” With the price of a gondola ticket, you can reach within 30m of the summit of Sulphur Mountain and introduce even your two year old to climbing mountains. The Sulphur Mountain Vista Trail is a 2km return hike on a very good boardwalk.  Note that there are many sets of stairs, so this hike is not stroller-friendly. The hike is also very busy in summer, so my suggestion is to go mid-week or get an early start! Also, while adult tickets may seem steep, children ages five and under ride for free, and you can get one free child admission for each paying adult daily before 12pm. (Offer valid online only.)  

For more information on hours and pricing, visit the Banff Gondola website.

Take it up a notch: You can hike to the top of Sulphur Mountain (without taking the gondola) in a 5.5km hike with 650m of height gain. Treat the kids to a ride down on the gondola afterwards (discounted rates apply for one-way rides.) The hiking trail is well switchbacked with a nice grade the entire time.

Hiking Safety Tips:

  • It’s highly recommended that you carry bear spray with you when you go hiking. I also suggest hiking in a group and making lots of noise.
  • Pack layers and be prepared for any kind of weather to blow in. You’ll also want to wear good sturdy footwear.
  • Research your hike before you go! Visit the Alberta Parks or Parks Canada website, check for trail closures, contact a visitor center, and download the route on a hiking app. There are also many great local guidebooks you can buy to get your family started with hiking.

Here’s to a summer of first summits and happy trails! Have fun, and maybe I’ll even meet you and your family on one of these great summits!

Tanya is a freelance writer and mom to an energetic 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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