Imagine a place with all of the incredible mountain vistas of Banff National Park but none of the mass tourism. A destination that is still easy to get to and explore.
This is Alberta’s Kananaskis Valley and the best way to explore is from Mount Engadine Lodge, a road accessible wilderness lodge with all the comforts of civilisation.
The Kananaskis Valley is a year round playground for outdoor adventurers. In summer, it is a hiker’s nirvana. The range and variety of hiking in the Kananaskis Valley is quite frankly, nothing short of phenomenal.
During our stay at Mount Engadine Lodge, we hiked as many trails as we physically could and yet we still barely scratched the surface of the incredible hiking opportunities in the area.
Read on to discover some of the best Kananaskis Valley hikes, plus a guide to the one-of-a-kind experience that is staying at Mount Engadine Lodge.
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The beauty of Mount Engadine Lodge, Alberta
Sitting on the edge of a lush meadow backdropped by impossibly rugged mountain peaks, Mount Engadine Lodge commands one of the most enviable locations in the Canadian Rockies. It is undeniably beautiful and undoubtedly the number one reason why it is so booked out in both summer and winter.
But there is more to it than that. Another aspect to the beauty of Mount Engadine Lodge is the chance to experience the quiet, unspoiled nature of the Canadian wilderness but without any of the preparation, equipment or costs usually required to get to the backcountry.
And believe me, despite the relatively accessibility of the area, the Kananaskis Valley is most definitely a backcountry region. Wildlife (including bears) is abundant, the trails established still challenging, the scenery pristine.
A Kananaskis lodge experience with a difference
There is no 15km hike or expensive helicopter ride required to reach Mount Engadine Lodge. Instead, the drive from Calgary takes around two hours. It is possible to park less than one minute from most of the accommodation, so you can bring as many sweaters, jackets and pairs of socks as you like. No need to carry a 30lb backpack over any mountain passes here.
The accommodation on offer is quite an upgrade too. Sleeping at Mount Engadine is on comfortable beds, in private rooms with indoor washrooms. There are hot showers, electrical sockets and heating. The main lodge even has wi-fi, if you really want to connect with the outside world.
If you have ever wanted to experience the real wilderness that is the Canadian Rockies but with a little more comfort and convenience, Mount Engadine Lodge is the place. The setting is beautiful as almost everywhere I have been in Canada and yet it took little to no effort to get there.
Getting to Mount Engadine Lodge
Before I continue any further, let’s be sure about where exactly we’re talking about. Mount Engadine Lodge is located in the Kananaskis Valley south of Canmore, Alberta. Never heard of Canmore? It’s a mountain town not far east of Banff.
An area very familiar to Calgary locals, the Kananaskis Valley is off the radar for most international (and even Canadian!) visitors to the Rockies. A well guarded secret, the Kananaskis Valley has all of the incredible mountain vistas of Banff National Park but none of the mass tourism.
The Kananaskis Valley is accessible via two highways – the 40 (also known as the Kananaskis Trail) and the 742 (the Smith-Dorrien Trail). The 40 is paved while the 742 is unsealed gravel. Mount Engadine Lodge is situated half way down the Smith-Dorrien Trail, about 41km south of Canmore.
Dining at Mount Engadine Lodge
As mentioned, one of my most loved aspects of staying at Mount Engadine Lodge is that all food is included. And this doesn’t just mean breakfast, lunch and dinner, but afternoon tea as well.
Is there anything better than being greeted after a challenging hike in the alpine with an artisan charcuterie board? I think not, unless it comes with home made dessert as well. Mount Engadine Lodge has that covered too. Afternoon tea is served from 2pm to 5pm every day, and visitors are welcome.
Breakfast and dinner are communal affairs at Mount Engadine. Guests sit together and chat about their outdoor adventures as food is served. We met a mix of interesting people but what struck me most was that almost everyone was a returning guest. That always says a lot about a place.
Mount Engadine offers a set three course dinner every day (think roast lamb, crusted fish, dauphinoise potatoes and other delights), but the kitchen team are able to cater to dietary requirements with advance notice. Lunch is packed into a brown paper bag and available for pick-up after breakfast, ready to be enjoyed somewhere in the wilderness later.
Accommodation at Mount Engadine Lodge
The accommodation options at Mount Engadine Lodge include:
- Glamping tents
- Lodge rooms and suites
- And a yurt!
All four types of Mount Engadine Lodge accommodation are available both summer and winter. The elevated glamping tents have gas fireplaces, making them super cosy even in the coldest temperatures.
Every room at Mount Engadine is a little bit different, with varying size, furnishings and views on offer. Our studio cabin (named after nearby Birdwood Mountain) had a wonderfully snug window seat overlooking the nearby peaks. Outside, we enjoyed a shared deck with panoramas of the meadow below, backdropped by mountains.
None of the rooms at Mount Engadine Lodge have televisions or phone signal and most are out of wi-fi range. This makes it easier to switch off and fully immerse yourself in the wilderness location. Being disconnected from the world can be very soothing and definitely one of the reasons why I escape to the backcountry so often.
Click here to book a stay at Mount Engadine Lodge on Booking.com
Kananaskis Valley hikes from Mount Engadine Lodge
The Kananaskis Valley is my new favourite place to go hiking in Canada. This area is truly spectacular and surprisingly quiet considering the proximity to both Calgary and Banff.
There are epic panoramas to rival neighbouring Banff National Park yet none of the crowds, fees and theme park vibe to go along with it. Weekends are certainly busier but there’s still more than enough trails to go around in the Mount Engadine Lodge area.
Mount Engadine Lodge provides an ideal base to discover a range of Kananaskis Valley hikes. The lodge is so well placed, in fact, that there are trailheads reachable within a couple of minutes walk.
My top picks for Kananaski Valley hikes, all accessible within 8km of Mount Engadine Lodge, are:
- Tent Ridge
- Rummel Lake
- Burstall Pass
- Watridge Lake
- Karst Spring
- High Rockies Trail
Read on for more information about each Kananaskis Valley hike and check out the map below for trailhead locations.
Only have time for one big hike while staying at Mount Engadine? Consider a trip up Tent Ridge, the rocky monolith that sits directly opposite the lodge. The Tent Ridge hike offers spectacular 360 degree panoramas of the Kananaskis range and lakes, but it does require caution.
This is not a hike for everyone (especially those with a fear of heights) and attempting it shouldn’t be taken lightly. The views from the top are simply breathtaking but ascending Tent Ridge involves some substantial scrambling.
The journey along the ridge is exceptionally exposed to the elements, with steep drop offs, no shade and substantial elevation. This is not a place you want to experience hail, rain or a thunderstorm. Appropriate footwear and clothing is so important.
Tent Ridge is probably the most challenging day hike I’ve ever done, but it is was also the most rewarding. Plan to hike clockwise, bring a couple of warm layers (the ridge part of the hike is usually very windy) and hiking poles for an easier descent. There is lots of scree on the way down.
Trail distance: 10km loop (5-6 hours)
For a trail a little closer to the ground (and Mount Engadine Lodge), make a beeline for the Rummel Lake hike. The trailhead is just across the road from the lodge turnoff. The route quickly gains some elevation as it rushes to meet the High Rockies Trail (see below). There are some views to enjoy here before returning to the undulating path in the forest.
Near to the lake, the path splits in two to form a hiker path and a cross country one. The former stays close to the creek and passes a couple of cascading waterfalls. The cross country route is wider and flatter, yet not as interesting. Both arrive on the eastern shore of the lake.
Though turquoise Rummel Lake is a perfectly satisfying destination, it is definitely worth the time to continue on up to Rummel Pass. The distance is short (an extra kilometre or so) and the payoff is fantastic.
Follow along the north shore of the lake and the trail eventually heads away and up from the water. It isn’t long before the route pulls out of the trees, revealing a wide pass lined with mountain peaks.
Trail distance: 10km return + optional extra 2km (4 hours)
Burstall Pass, in our opinion, is the trail with the best reward to effort ratio in the Mount Engadine Lodge area. It has little technical difficulty but plenty of gorgeous vistas. The uphill sections are reasonably short and suitable for most hikers.
Burstall Pass has three parts. Base your destination on available time and energy, though completing the full hike is preferable. The first section of the Burstall Pass hike features a wide trail in the forest.
Around the 3km mark, the forest opens to a wide creek area, surrounded by mountains. The creeks here are fairly fast flowing and some careful footwork is needed to stay dry and on the right path (look for the red markers).
From here, the Burstall Pass trail starts to ascend gradually, eventually reaching a meadow. If you time it right, the wildflowers here are fabulous. Beyond the meadow, there is another climb to the pass.
The Burstall Pass area is wonderful to explore; if you go far enough (and the weather is behaving), the trail crosses into Banff National Park and a view of iconic Mount Assiniboine appears.
Trail distance: 15.5km return (5 hours)
If you’re looking for a less strenuous trail while staying at Mount Engadine, Watridge Lake is an ideal choice. We chose it for our final hike in the Kananaskis Valley, wanting something a little more relaxing after several days of challenging trails.
The path from the Mount Shark trailhead (about five minutes drive from Mount Engadine) is wide and mostly flat, allowing for easy side-by-side hiking if you’re in a group. Despite being lined by forest, there are still glimpses to be had of surrounding peaks along the way.
With the route so straightforward, it won’t be long before you reach pretty Watridge Lake, accessible via a short descent off the main trail. Indeed, we were there in a pleasant 45 minutes.
Stop at Watridge Lake if you like and take in the ever changing colours of the water, but I’d highly recommend continuing onto the Karst Spring (below) before you return the same way to the Mount Shark trailhead.
Trail distance: 6.6km return (2 hours)
The Karst Spring bursts out from below a rock, creating a huge cascading waterfall through the forest. I’ve given this trail an entry of its own simply for the reason that the destination is so different to anything else we saw on any of our other Kananaskis Valley hikes. The Karst Spring is only a short detour from Watridge Lake and is absolutely worth the extra time.
From Watridge Lake, follow the signed Karst Spring trail to a wetland area. There are wooden beams leading the way across and into the forest beyond. The trail starts ascending here, but the roar of falling water (and the promise of a view!) also becomes louder. Before you know it, you’ll be at the viewing platform at the top of the springs. Prepare to be impressed by the wild, crashing water, especially in the spring and early summer.
Due to the volume of the falls, keep particularly alert on this trail. The noise may quieten your approach.
Trail distance: 1.6km return from Watridge Lake (30 minutes)
High Rockies Trail
Part of the Great Trail (formerly known as the Trans Canada), the High Rockies Trail is a 80km multi-use route travelling between Goat Creek and Elk Pass. It was built as part of Canada’s 150th birthday celebrations in 2017. The High Rockies Trail runs roughly parallel to the Spray Lakes Reservoir, the Dorrien Smith highway and then Lower Kananaskis Lake.
The section close to Mount Engadine Lodge is one of the most scenic, with elevated views of the aquamarine Spray Lakes Reservoir and surrounding mountains. To access, follow the Rummel Lake trail until the High Rockies Trail itersection. From here, you can go either north (towards Buller Creek) or south (Chester Lake). Be sure to listen and watch for bicycles.
Trail distance – variable
Blackshale Suspension Bridge
Another highlight of the High Rockies Trail is the 73m long Blackshale Suspension Bridge, located about 20km south of Mount Engadine. It provides passage over the Blackshale Creek. A little bit further away than any of my other recommendations mentioned here, I still think it is worth a stop on the way to or from a stay at Mount Engadine Lodge.
To reach the suspension bridge, join the High Rockies Trail at the access point opposite the Black Prince trailhead and hike south for around 45 minutes. Return along the same route. An alternative option if you just want to see the bridge is to continue driving along the Dorrien Smith and keep an eye out for the creek.
It is also possible to hike up one of the bypass trails (built for cyclists or hikers who may not want to brave the bridge) on both sides of the Blackshale Creek.
What you need to know about Kananaskis Valley hiking
- As always, it is so incredibly important to Leave No Trace when exploring outdoors. Stay on designated trails to reduce damage, pack out everything you bring in (including things like apple cores and orange peels), do not pick up or take away any natural objects.
- The Kananaskis Valley has a healthy bear population. Make plenty of noise on the trail and carry bear spray to use as a last resort. It is preferable to travel in groups.
- Never, ever feed or approach wild animals. Doing so effectively kills the animal as they will lose their fear of humans. And, of course, it is dangerous for you too.
- Wear appropriate footwear and clothing. Avoid cotton (we always wear merino wool) and bring extra layers. Weather conditions can change quickly in the Kananaskis Valley. Afternoon thunderstorms are common.
- Pack the 10 Essentials on every hike. They could save your life, or the life of someone else. Unforeseen delays can and do happen and you should be prepared for it.
- Besides using a map, I’d also recommend downloading the excellent Maps.me app for navigation. All of the above trails are featured. The Tent Ridge trail, in particular, can be hard to follow.
- The trailheads in the Kananaskis Valley are not always well marked. The Maps.me app (mentioned above) is a great source of reference for this.
- Afternoon tea at Mount Engadine Lodge costs $17.50 per person for a charcuterie board, dessert and unlimited tea/coffee. It is also possible to purchase each item separately, if you’re not that hungry (in that case, go hike some more!)
Thank you to Mount Engadine lodge for hosting us during our summer visit to the Kananaskis Valley. All opinions are our own, including those about the Tent Ridge trail (yep, that hike did push my limits!)