The Blackshale Suspension Bridge is a super fun outing for kids of all ages in Kananaskis Country. I mean, who doesn’t love crossing a bouncy suspension bridge??
The hike to the Blackshale Suspension Bridge is a pleasant and relatively easy walk along the High Rockies Trail from the Black Prince day use area. Proud Canadians will be interested to know the High Rockies Trail is part of the Great Trail (formerly known as the TransCanada Trail).
The official hike to the Blackshale Suspension Bridge is about 3km one-way through a lush forest trail, but if that’s too long, there is a shortcut which cuts the one-way distance to 0.5km. If you are physically capable, we recommend the beautiful official trail to the Kananaskis suspension bridge.
The hike to the Blackshale Suspension Bridge is very kid-friendly and is also popular with large groups (who enjoy getting a group photo on the bridge).
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Blackshale Suspension Bridge Hike Location
As mentioned, there are two trailheads for the Blackshale Suspension Bridge:
The “Official” Blackshale Suspension Bridge Trailhead
The official Blackshale Suspension Bridge trailhead is located near the Black Prince Day Use Area. It’s a decent drive from Banff (90 minutes) or Calgary (105 minutes), but the beauty of the Kananaskis mountains along Highway 40 will ease the pain.
After parking in the Black Prince parking lot, you’ll need to walk 300m back to the Smith-Dorrien Highway. Carefully cross the highway and you’ll find the sign for the Blackshale Suspension Bridge trailhead a little to the left.
If you feel up to it, the Black Prince Cirque Interpretive Trail is another scenic, kid-friendly Kananaskis hike which also originates from the Black Prince parking lot.
The “Un-Official” Blackshale Suspension Bridge Shortcut Trailhead
The suspension bridge over Blackshale Creek is closed in the winter, so Alberta Parks built a bypass trail allowing you to continue along the High Rockies Trail without using the bridge. The bypass trail goes from the High Rockies Trail down to the Smith-Dorrien Highway, crosses Blackshale Creek and then back up to the High Rockies Trail on the other side.
It didn’t take long for people to discover this can be used as a shortcut to visit the Kananaskis suspension bridge. Using the High Rockies winter bypass trail shortens the round-trip distance of the hike to the Blackshale Suspension Bridge from 6.1km to just 1km.
The date of the Blackshale Creek suspension bridge winter closure varies from year-to-year, depending on snow levels. The Blackshale Suspension Bridge is now closed for the 2020/21 winter season. Check to see if it has reopened on the Alberta Parks advisory page.
The problem with this option is that there is no parking lot, requiring you to park alongside the Smith-Dorrien Highway. Many hikes along the Smith-Dorrien Highway require parking on the side of the highway, but I understand it’s not technically legal, so park there at your own risk.
Blackshale Suspension Bridge Hike Stats – Official Route
Distance: The round-trip distance of the Blackshale Suspension Bridge Trail is 6.1km (one-way distance of 3.05km).
Elevation Gain: The total elevation gain you’ll encounter along the Black Shale Suspension Bridge Trail is 333m. This may sound like a lot, but in reality, the trail undulates gently up-and-down the whole way. Aside from a very short hill after you cross the Smith-Dorrien Highway, there are no difficult hills found on the Blackshale hike.
Difficulty: After you cross the Smith-Dorrien highway, you’ll need to hike up a reasonably steep hill to get to the High Rockies Trail. The steep part is approximately 100m long and gains about 50m of elevation. Beyond this, the hills are all gentle and easy.
We rate the official route of the Blackshale Suspension Bridge hike as “easy”.
Duration: It should take a typical adult about 1h15m to hike the full round-trip distance of this Kananaskis Suspension Bridge hike. If you hike to the Blackshale Suspension Bridge with kids, expect it to take longer. We recently hiked it with our kids (aged 5 & 7) along with another family and it took us just under 3 hours, including time for lunch and for them to play on the suspension bridge.
Blackshale Suspension Bridge Hike Stats – Shortcut Route
Distance: The round-trip distance of the shortcut route of the Blackshale Suspension Bridge Trail is 1.0m (one-way distance of 0.5km).
Elevation Gain: The total elevation gain on the shortcut to the Black Shale Suspension Bridge is only 50m.
Difficulty: The trail from the Smith-Dorrien Highway to the Blackshale Bridge consists of a few gentle switchbacks.
We also rate the shortcut route of the Blackshale Suspension Bridge hike as “easy”.
Duration: It should take a typical adult about 15 minutes to hike the shortcut to the Kananaskis Suspension Bridge.
Blackshale Bridge Trail Map
The official Blackshale Suspension Bridge hike is pretty easy to follow; simply begin at the trailhead on the Smith-Dorrien Highway and turn right once you hit the High Rockies Trail. From here, just follow the High Rockies Trail until you reach the Blackshale Suspension Bridge.
We used the AllTrails app while hiking to the Blackshale Bridge, but to be honest, we didn’t need it for navigation purposes. We use AllTrails for all our adventures in the Canadian Rockies and hiking with kids around the world. In addition to helping stay on the trails, we like the ability to track our stats (distance, elevation gain, etc.).
To find the official Blackshale Suspension Bridge trail map in AllTrails, simply search for “Blackshale Suspension Bridge via Black Prince”. To find the unofficial Blackshale trail map, search for “Blackshale Suspension Bridge”.
You will be in the middle of a huge cell phone dead zone while hiking the Blackshale Suspension Bridge trail, so be sure to download your hiking maps prior to leaving.
Hiking Blackshale Suspension Bridge with Kids
The hike to the Blackshale Suspension Bridge is a super-fun, kid-friendly Kananaskis hike. The hike is easy, and the hiking trail is wide enough to allow kids to play side-by-side.
Kids always have fun walking or running through forest settings and their excitement to see the Kananaskis suspension bridge will keep their legs moving. Mountain bikes are allowed on the High Rockies Trail, so make sure you keep your eyes and ears open for fast moving bikers and get your kids off the trail asap.
Once at the Blackshale Suspension Bridge, your kids will love the exciting opportunity to cross the wobbly bridge dangling high above Blackshale Creek. There are enough safety rails on the suspension bridge that no one should ever be able to fall through, but don’t let your kids play rough or run wild, just in case.
Where to Stop for Lunch or a Break
If you prefer a proper sit down picnic, you’ll find picnic tables around the Black Prince parking lot.
The High Rockies Trail to the Blackshale Suspension Bridge runs through a beautiful, lush forest setting. If you’d like, there are many places where you can plop down on a log and enjoy a break.
But, of course, the best place to stop for lunch on this easy Kananaskis hike is at the star of the show, the Blackshale Suspension Bridge. It really is a beautiful suspension bridge in a beautiful Canadian Rocky Mountain setting. It’s fun to sit on a bench or a log and people watch as they wobble across the bridge and get their pictures taken.
Kananaskis Suspension Bridge Safety
- There are no notable hiking hazards along the High Rockies Trail to the Blackshale Suspension Bridge. Just be careful crossing the very dusty Smith-Dorrien highway to get to the trailhead.
- The Blackshale Suspension Bridge is quickly becoming a very popular thing to do in Kananaskis Country. The suspension bridge can get very crowded with hikers enjoy taking their time crossing the wobbly bridge, getting pictures etc. Be aware there is a safety limit of 20 people on the suspension bridge at any time. To avoid the crowds, get there as early as possible.
- The suspension bridge spans Blackshale Creek, which flows through a deep canyon far below. There are no safety rails on the hiking trail on either side of the bridge, so be careful when you are near the edge.
- Kananaskis Country is prime bear and cougar habitat. Please take the time to educate yourself about Bear Safety and Cougar Safety in Kananaskis Country.
- We recommend you check the latest High Rockies trail report for trail conditions, wildlife warnings and possible closures before you head out. Note, there are separate High Rockies trail reports for summer and winter.
Blackshale Bridge Trail Logistics
- On-leash dogs are allowed on the Black Shale Bridge hike.
- The High Rockies trail is a multi-purpose trail built for many recreational activities such as hiking, mountain biking, snowshoeing and fat biking in Kananaskis.
- There are washrooms in the Black Prince parking lot.
- There are no drinking water facilities on the Blackshale Suspension Bridge Trail, so fill your reusable water bottles or hydration packs before you leave.
- You won’t get any cell service in this remote part of Kananaskis Country.
What to Bring While Hiking the Black Shale Suspension Bridge Trail
Generally speaking, you don’t need a lot of hiking gear while hiking in Alberta. Check out our list of hiking essentials with the hiking gear and clothing we recommend to enjoy your hike, regardless of the variable Kananaskis weather and trail conditions.
The High Rockies trail to the Blackshale Bridge is a moderate length day hike in Kananaskis, so you won’t need a ton of hiking gear. We wouldn’t leave home without the following items though:
- Bear spray is a must. Cannisters are available to buy or rent at many locations in Canmore and Banff.
- Bring several layers of clothing with you. The weather can be quite variable hiking in Kananaskis Country, no matter the season. For hiking in Kananaskis, we typically wear convertible hiking pants, T-shirts, a fleece top and rain jackets. Bring a daybag as you can expect to put on and take off layers throughout the day.
Blackshale Suspension Bridge Trail Footwear Recommendation
The High Rockies Trail to the Blackshale Suspension Bridge is in excellent condition. The trail is well-groomed and the majority of the rocks and tree roots have been removed. You can wear any old walking shoes on your feet for this easy Kananaskis hike, although a good pair of hiking shoes is always a good idea in the mountains.
Kid-Friendly Kananaskis Hikes
- Heart Creek Hike
- Grassi Lakes Hike
- Karst Spring Trail
- Grotto Canyon Winter Ice Walk
- Best Kananaskis Hiking Trails for Social Distancing
- Jura Creek Hike in Winter
Kid-Friendly Banff Hikes
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