The Opinionated Hikers on Patrol for You
Though the Canadian Rockies have received significant snowfalls recently (late April and late May), and the high ridges and passes—even in the front range—remain white, several hiking trails in southern Kananaskis Country are now snow-free. Raspberry Ridge, for example, is topped with an active fire lookout from which you can marvel at a 50-km (32-mi) chunk of the Great Divide—a continuous wall of peaks comprising the backbone of the Rockies. We hiked there just a few days ago.
From Highwood Junction, where Highways 940 and 541 intersect, the Raspberry Ridge trailhead is just 11 km (6.8 mi) south on unpaved Highway 940. It’s a 9-km (5.6-mi) round-trip hike to the ridgecrest. The 653-m (2142-ft) ascent is comfortably gradual much of the way, then steepens sharply for the final approach. Still, it’s a relatively easy hike, ideal for your first mountain venture of the season as long as you’re reasonably fit. From Calgary, the Raspberry Ridge trailhead is a mere 1.5-hour drive.
For a full description of the Raspberry Ridge hike, as well as all the other premier trails in Kananaskis Country, purchase our guidebook Where Locals Hike in the Canadian Rockies (http://www.hikingcamping.com/hike-locals-rockies.php). It includes several early-season hikes near Raspberry Ridge, such as Mt. Burke, Junction Hill, Grass Pass / Bull Creek Hills, Hailstone Butte, and Windy Peak Hills. The trail to the defunct fire lookout atop Mt. Burke will soon be snow-free if it’s not already.
Until June 15, Highway 40 is closed to vehicles between Highwood Junction in the south and King Creek (Smith-Dorrien Hwy 546). So, to access the early-season hikes listed above, you must drive Hwy 22 to Longview, then proceed northwest on 541 to Highwood Junction.
This annual highway closure, though annoying if you want quick access to early-season hikes in southern K-Country, presents an exciting opportunity if you’re a cyclist. That’s because Highway 40 is snow-free well before vehicle traffic resumes, which essentially makes it—if only for a few weeks—a paved cycle-path traversing a huge swath of spectacular, mountain wilderness.
The ascent to Highwood Pass (the climax between the two gates blocking vehicle traffic) is longer and more gradual from Highwood Junction. On this leg, the Highwood River is often nearby, and you’ll pass several picnic areas. The advantage of starting at King Creek is that after completing a shorter, more grueling ascent, you’re rewarded with a sustained, exhilarating descent. Bear in mind: We’ve encountered grizzlies while cycling on both sides of Highwood Pass, so bring a cannister of pepper spray and keep it within quick, easy reach on your bike.
To learn more about the Highway 40 cycling trip, purchase our guidebook Done in a Day Calgary—The Ten Premier Road Rides (http://www.hikingcamping.com/cycle-rockies.php). It will also point you to other, magnificently scenic stretches of pavement including those near Waterton, Red Deer, Drumheller, Canmore, and Banff.
Ideally, load your daypack and your bicycle into your car, along with your tent and sleeping bag. Then drive into southern K-Country for the weekend. Hike Raspberry Ridge on Saturday. That evening, pitch your tent nearby at Cataract Creek campground. On Sunday, drive back to Highwood Junction, get on your bike, then ride to and from Highwood Pass. Sitting down at your desk on Monday morning will then be a welcome experience. Plus you’ll have something genuinely interesting and impressive to tell your officemates when they pose the inevitable question, “How was your weekend?”
Cataract Creek Campground has more than 100 sites. Our favourites are the first six or so on loop A, where the creek is clearly audible. These sites also afford views beyond the lodgepole pines, across a nearby meadow, to the mountains beyond.