Kananaskis Hiking Tips

Author: Dan Brewer

Last Updated:

The Canadian Rockies are a bucket-list hiking destination for travelers around the globe. Banff National Park gets all the international attention, but locals know there is another beautiful mountain playground right next door called Kananaskis Country.

I’ve grown up hiking these mountains, but what about first time visitors to Kananaskis? I believe everyone should safely enjoy hiking these mountains, so I’ve shared my life experiences in this list of 9 essential Kananaskis hiking tips.

Dan and Celine Brewer, owners of TravelBanffCanada.com, stand atop the Sarrail Ridge Hike in Kananaskis Country, Alberta.

9 Kananaskis Hiking Tips for Beginners

1. Get There Early

Just like many of the popular hiking trails in neighboring Banff National Park, many of the Kananaskis trailhead parking lots can get very crowded in the peak hiking season between the Victoria Day long weekend (in May) and the Labour Day weekend (in September).

If you wish to go hiking in Kananaskis during peak season, we recommend you arrive at the trailhead early. Alberta Parks has recently enlarged and upgraded a few important trailhead parking lots (for example, the Troll Falls hike, the Grassi Lakes hike and the Ha Ling Trail), but in general, the trailhead parking lots in Kananaskis are a modest size and can fill up by mid-morning.

The newly renovated Grassi Lakes trailhead Parking Lot in Kananaskis Country.
The newly upgraded Grassi Lakes parking lot.

2. Educate Yourself

One of our most important Kananaskis hiking tips is to take the time to know all the important information about your hike before you go. Kananaskis Country is raw mountain wilderness and trail conditions are continually changing. You need to be aware of any area closures due to wildlife risk or any impending weather systems.

Before setting out to do any hiking in Kananaskis, we recommend you check the following:

Alberta Parks Trail Conditions

The Alberta Parks website has a Kananaskis Trail Reports page for its most popular hiking trails in the provincial parks. Visit this page before every hike to see current trail conditions, any wildlife warnings, avalanche warnings, etc.

There’s a lot of Kananaskis trail reports to sort through on the Alberta Parks website. If you’d like to see the specific trail report for your Kananaskis hike, we include direct links to the appropriate trail report in our blog posts for the most popular Kananaskis hiking trails.

McGillivray Canyon Warning Sign posted by Alberta Parks March 16, 2021.

Hiking Trail Descriptions

If you are new to hiking in Kananaskis Country, you should take the time to learn a little bit about the hiking trail you are setting out to do. We currently have over 80 blog posts about hiking trails in the Canadian Rockies area on our website. We recommend you read our blog post for your Kananaskis hiking trail before setting out.

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Don’t know where to start? Check out our list of 20 excellent easy hikes in Kananaskis Country.

Kananaskis Weather Forecasts

It’s pretty difficult to forecast the weather in the mountains, especially in a place like Kananaskis Country. The mountains of Kananaskis are on the leeward side of the Continental Divide, meaning it is often dry, but can be subject to unpredictable weather coming in from the Pacific.

When looking into the weather for your Kananaskis hike, I recommend you check two sources to try and get a consensus. When I go hiking in Kananaskis, I check the the Kananaskis Country weather forecast on the Environment Canada website as well as The Weather Network.

A family hikes the Wind Ridge Trail in Kananaskis Country, Alberta.
A family hike on Wind Ridge Trail.

3. Prepare For Any Weather

As mentioned, the weather can get very unpredictable in the mountains of Kananaskis Country. It can rain, snow or even get very warm at any time of year.

The main point of this Kananaskis hiking tip is that you need to be prepared for a sudden change in the weather. For the most part, all of you will enjoy very nice weather during the prime Kananaskis hiking season. But, please heed my advice and bring some extra clothing in your day bag just in case.

In the picture below, I watched as the snow started to blow in on the EEOR hike in early July.

the mountains of the Spray Valley Provincial Park emerge through the clouds on the EORR hike near Banff National Park.

I give you this Kananaskis hiking tip in hopes that you’ll do better than me. I’m often guilty of looking outside, seeing a sunny sky and then leaving for a hike without properly preparing. And I often regret it. You’ll be surprised at the sudden temperature differences if a dark cloud rolls in, or a brisk wind whips through the mountain valley.

At a minimum, take a few moments to read our guide on how to dress for hiking in the Canadian Rockies – you’ll be glad you did!

Dan Brewer, of the Travel Banff Canada blog, enjoys views of Ha Ling Peak while hiking Miners Peak near Canmore.
Me hiking Miner’s Peak Trail near Canmore.

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Want to know my favorite hike in Kananaskis Country? Check out the Wind Ridge Trail.

4. Bring the Appropriate Hiking Gear

There are a wide variety of hiking trails in Kananaskis Country for a wide variety of skill sets. Each hiking outing in Kananaskis will be different, depending on the needs of each hiker and the hiking trail they choose.

Dan Brewer hikes West Wind Pass in Kananaskis Country with his son.

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Our essential Banff hiking gear post covers the essential hiking equipment we bring on every hike (in Banff or Kananaskis), as well as optional hiking gear you may find fun or useful.

5. Learn Wildlife Safety (Bears, Cougars, etc)

No discussion about Kananaskis hiking tips would be complete without talking about wildlife safety. There are many predators living in these mountains, including bears and cougars. Although the chances of a dangerous wildlife encounter in Kananaskis Country is very low, you are responsible for your own safety while hiking.

Your safety is a very important topic, so we will defer to the experts at Alberta Parks. Before hiking in Kananaskis Country, we strongly encourage you to read the Alberta Parks tips on Bear Safety and Cougar Safety.

Bear in Banff National Park

Do not go hiking in Kananaskis without bear spray. If you are visiting Kananaskis for a short period, it doesn’t make sense to buy your own expensive canister of bear spray – simply rent one at a local sporting goods store for the duration of your trip to the Canadian Rockies.

6. Trail Maps

As a general rule, Alberta Parks has done an excellent job marking the hiking trails around Kananaskis with good trail signs. That said, there are moments when it’s hard to know which direction to go, which can be a little unsettling in the middle of a hike in the Canadian Rockies.

AllTrails App

When I go hiking in Kananaskis (and around the world for that matter), I always use the AllTrails app (the 2023 App of the Year) on my phone. As you can see by my activity screen, I have logged over 400 activities around Banff and Kananaskis on AllTrails!

An activity map on the AllTrails app shows over 400 recorded activities around Banff National Park.

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AllTrails is just one of my favorite apps for a trip to Banff. My other favorites include a great audioguide, a peak finder, and more!

I use AllTrails for many reasons:

I use it when planning my hike to determine the overall difficulty of the hike and estimate the time it will take.

I download the trail map onto my phone before leaving home, so I have access to it offline. (You will almost never have a reliable cell signal while hiking in Kananaskis).

While on the hiking trail, I record my progress on AllTrails. Not only does this allow to me look at my hiking stats at the end of the hike, but it allows me to see my relative position vs the hiking trail.

using alltrails app on iphone to navigate.

Despite the amount of hiking I have done around Kananaskis, I still find myself making wrong turns all the time. Having my current position shown on my phone, shows me when I am off the main hiking trail, and allows me to easily backtrack until I am back on the right track.

A recent App of the Year winner, AllTrails is also one of the best apps for visiting Banff! Enjoy map downloads and many more premium features with a 7-day free trial of AllTrails+!

Gem Trek Topographical Maps

Although I find AllTrails to be quite accurate in Kananaskis Country, local safety officials warn hikers not to be solely reliant on hiking apps. The hiking maps on these apps can be wrong, your phone can run out of battery, etc. To mitigate against this risk, local officials have recommended having a paper map and a compass as a backstop.

If you are not from Alberta, here’s what I recommend:

Buy the Banff & Mount Assiniboine Map and/or the Lake Louise & Yoho topographical maps by Gem Trek before leaving home. While you are at home planning your hikes for your trip to Banff, these topographical maps will be invaluable.

Then, while you are here hiking in Kananaskis, just tuck your sturdy Gem Trek map in your day bag. Chances are you won’t need it, but just like gloves and a toque, you’ll be very glad to have it in an emergency.

I love the Gem Trek hiking maps of the Canadian Rockies and I personally own the entire set.

7. Stay on the Hiking Trail

I can distinctly remember the feeling of being lost in the woods. I was hiking with my Mom near the Town of Banff as a kid, and the trail had a lot of horse poop on it. We decided to walk a few feet off the hiking trail, just for a little while, until the trail conditions improved. It wasn’t long until we realized we were lost and couldn’t find the trail.

This was back in the days before AllTrails and Gem Trek maps and being lost in the woods was an especially scary feeling. Please learn from my lesson and stay on the designated hiking trails in Kananaskis. A little mud on your hiking shoes won’t hurt you, but getting lost in the woods might.

Plenty of creek crossings make Arethusa Cirque a fun Kananaskis hiking trail for kids
Arethusa Cirque Trail.

8. Know Your Limits

Sadly, the Search & Rescue teams in Kananaskis Country and area are an overworked bunch. Ideally, these teams would be in place for the odd rescue mission here and there – a broken ankle in the backcountry, etc., but all too often they are called in to rescue hikers who didn’t know their limits.

One of the main draws of Kananaskis Country is the rugged mountain wilderness. But, despite its popularity, Kananaskis is the real deal and people can and do get hurt.

If you are new to hiking in Kananaskis Country, try to choose trails which match your fitness and experience levels. If you need help deciding, this list of Kananaskis hiking trails sorts the hikes by their difficulty levels – from beginner Kananaskis hikes all the way up to the most challenging ones.

The Black Shale Suspension Bridge in Kananaskis Country is a popular group hike.
Black Shale Suspension Bridge.

9. Leave Only Footprints

There’s a reason you want to visit Kananaskis Country – it’s a very special mountain landscape. I love Kananaskis and all its inhabitants, so please help keep it this way by treating it with respect.

Over 4 million people visit Kananaskis Country every year, which is even more than it’s more famous neighbor Banff National Park.

Imagine how Kananaskis would look if everyone tossed garbage out of their car windows, or disregarded warnings about feeding wildlife. Even if only 1% of visitors treat Kananaskis with disrespect, that’s over 40,000 people per year doing damage to one of the most special places on earth.

Hiking with kids in Banff in the summer

This is one of the most important Kananaskis hiking tips of all. What can you do to help?

Wildlife encounters in Kananaskis Country are very exciting, but please keep a safe distance from the animals. They are beautiful, but wild and unpredictable animals. Please refer to Alberta Parks Wildlife Viewing Guidelines to respect wildlife and stay safe for more information.

Along the same lines, never feed any animals in Kananaskis, no matter how cute and/or hungry they appear to be.

Chipmunks are the worst offenders on popular Kananaskis hikes – they are fearless and have learned how to look really cute and oh-so-hungry in order to get their little paws on human food. But, human food is terrible for them and they will not properly prepare for winter.

Chipmunk at Lake Minnewanka in Banff NP

This is vitally important to know… A fed bear is a dead bear.

Bears are very easily conditioned to love human food, and if they get even a single taste, they will seek out populated areas to find more. This never ends well for the bears. I love bears more than anything and I beg you not to feed them.

While hiking in Kananaskis Country, bring along a little garbage bag so you can pack out all your trash. Of all the places I’ve hiked around the world, the hiking trails in Kananaskis are among the cleanest I’ve seen. Let’s help keep it this way.

hiking with kids in Kananaskis - enjoying views of Barrier Lake from Yates Mountain Trail on Father's Day
Yates Mountain.

In the US, the park rangers teach kids to pick up three pieces of garbage on every hike they do. I just love this idea. Imagine if everyone did this?

And there you have it – a lifetime of Canadian Rockies hiking experience summarized into one short article. I hope you find these Kananaskis hiking tips useful and help enrich your visit to the Canadian Rockies!

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Dan Brewer, a life-long Alberta resident, calls Canmore home along with his wife and two kids. He is the co-owner of Travel Banff Canada, where he gets to share his passion for the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Dan, along with his family, love being outdoors doing one of the many activities they enjoy in the mountains: hiking, mountain biking, paddleboarding, skiing, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

When he's not in Canmore enjoying one of his favourite local hikes, you can find him hoping on a plane to explore a new country with his family or working on one of their other two travel sites: Family Can Travel and Baby Can Travel.

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