Mount Yamnuska (officially known as Mount John Laurie) is one of the most popular hikes in Kananaskis Country. The Mount Yamnuska hike has many iterations, ranging from a traditional hike through a beautiful forest to a challenging scramble along the backside to the summit.
The full Mt. Yamnuska hiking trail to the summit is challenging, but it seems to be within the capabilities of most regular hikers. That said, keep in mind that there are more rescues per year on Mt. Yamnuska than on any other mountain in the Rockies. Read on to find out what portions of the Mount Yamnuska hike are appropriate for your skill levels.
Mount Yamnuska Hike – Quick Details
Trailhead: Mount Yamnuska trailhead
Distance: 11 km loop
Elevation: 896 m elevation gain
Mount Yamnuska Hike
- Mount Yamnuska Hike – Quick Details
- Mount Yamnuska Hiking Trail Highlights
- Mount Yamnuska Trailhead
- Mount Yamnuska Hike Stats
- Mount Yamnuska Trail Map
- Hiking Mount Yamnuska Trail with Kids
- Best Place to Stop for Lunch or a Break
- Mount Yamnuska Hiking Safety
- Mount Yamnuska Trail Logistics
- What to Bring for Hiking Mount Yamnuska
- Mount Yamnuska Footwear Recommendation
- Hiking Mount Yamnuska in Fall
- Is it Mount Yamnuska or Mount Laurie?
- Additional Challenging Kananaskis Hikes
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Mount Yamnuska Hiking Trail Highlights
Leg 1: The East Ridge Trail to Raven’s End
Raven’s End is a spot on the east shoulder of Mt. Yamnuska where the trees end and the alpine zone begins. The moderately difficult hike to Raven’s End is through a beautiful forest, providing outstanding Bow Valley views along the way.
The East Ridge Trail to Raven’s End begins on a nice, easy 2-wide crushed gravel hiking trail through s mixed forest of pines and aspen trees. The undergrowth is a mixture of small shrubs and tall grasses, which is a nice change from the typical moss carpets you find elsewhere in the Canadian Rockies.
After a short distance, the trail starts going uphill and by the 500 m mark the hiking trail is steep enough that you’ll find yourself breathing hard. Partway up this hill you’ll enjoy a set of brand-new rock steps – your first taste of the wonderful Mt. Yamnuska trail upgrades done by Alberta Parks in 2021.
Just beyond the rock steps you’ll encounter an important trail junction. Those doing the Mount Yamnuska hike will take the hiking trail to the right while rock climbers go left.
Your hard work pays off almost immediately as you’ll start enjoying elevated views of the valley below, with the Bow River shimmering in the morning sun. The aspen trees along this section of the Mount Yamnuska trail are so beautiful in the fall.
A great place to stop and enjoy the early views is at 1.2 km where you’ll see a viewpoint sign. From this elevated vantage point, you’ll enjoy nice views of Mount Baldy (2,192 m), Heart Mountain (2,135 m) and countless other mountain peaks of the eastern Rockies.
The Yamnuska trail to Raven’s End continues along the edge of a hill with a steep drop off, so the excellent views continue. You’ll notice that the hiking trail is now a traditional trail with dirt, rocks and tree roots.
The dramatic vertical rock face of Mount Yamnuska comes into view when the trail turns westward at 1.8 km. There’s a little ravine below to the left, which often has running water in the spring, but is typically dry by fall.
Your steady uphill hike to Raven’s End encounters a couple of switchbacks at the 2.3 km mark. The trail then straightens out and follows the edge of another steep hill, providing similar views to before but even better. Mount McGillivray (2,454 m) is now visible adjacent to the edge of Mount Yamnuska. There’s a collection of lakes on the valley floor below – look for a heart shaped one.
There’s plenty of flat rocks to sit on and soak in the views. They are a great spot to get someone to take your picture. Even if this is as far as you wanted to go on the Mount Yamnuska hike, it’d be well worth the effort. Given it’s such a popular spot to stop, this area is frequented by squirrels and chipmunks – please do not feed them, no matter how cute they are.
After 2.8 km of hiking along the trail to Raven’s End, you’ll be able to get your first glimpse at the backside of Mount Yamnuska. This will be your first glimpse of what the challenging scree hike to the summit will entail.
At 2.9 km you’ll have reached the most eastern point of the hike, as you take a sharp turn west and start hiking along the eastern shoulder of Mount Yamnuska. 500 m later, you’ll encounter a junction for CMC Valley – an unmaintained trail which descends into the valley on the north side of Yamnuska. There’s also an excellent viewpoint looking south which showcases just how high you’ve climbed.
There’s a fun picture opportunity at the 3.6 km mark. Watch for a viewpoint sign and follow the spur trail into the trees. You’ll find a large boulder with a flat top, which makes for a fun picture with a great view in the background.
The final push to Raven’s End used to be a steep, uphill slog but recent trail upgrades by Alberta Parks have made it a little easier, with a series of new rock steps along a less steep trail.
At 4 km, the East Ridge Trail ends as you reach Raven’s End! From here you can enjoy excellent views of Mount Morrowmount (2,528 m) and Wendell East Peak (2,291 m) to the north.
We often make Raven’s End our turnaround point, but if you are physically and mentally capable, you can continue onwards to the summit of Mount Yamnuska (Mount John Laurie).
Wait: Should You Hike to the Summit of Mount Yamnuska?
As mentioned above, there are more rescues on Mt. Yamnuska than any other mountain in the Canadian Rockies. Each year many are injured, and in some tragic cases, hikers have died on Yamnuska. The likely reason for this is that people overestimate their skills and preparedness and underestimate the difficulty of this scramble to the peak.
There are a series of 6 questions on the Raven’s End sign for you to consider before beginning the scramble to the Mt. Yamnuska summit:
- Do you have proper footwear? (Sturdy boots with good tread and ankle support)
- Do you have enough water? (Yamnuska has lots of sun exposure. To complete this journey safely you must have plenty of water and food)
- Are you prepared for the weather? (Do you have clothing / supplies for quickly changing mountain weather. For example, hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, base layer, rain jacket, warm layers?)
- Are you good at route finding? (Trails may not always be clear or well marked. Are you confident in your ability to navigate safely?)
- Do you have the stamina? (If you are exhausted getting to Raven’s End, the scramble may prove too physically taxing)
- Are you willing to turn back? (Know your limits. If you are not physically prepared or comfortable with what’s in front of you at any time, swallow your pride and have the courage to turn back)
In addition to the Alberta Parks questions, we’d add the following two:
- Are you afraid of heights? There are spots along this trail which have significant drop-offs.
- Have you hiked in scree before? If the answer is no, do not make this your first – try a different scree hike with less dangerous consequences like the Arethusa Cirque Trail or the Ha Ling Peak hike.
It’s ok to turn back – really. In fact, I turned back out of fear the first time I saw the chains. Since then we have turned back several times when the weather wasn’t right or there was too much snow on the scree.
Remember, the decision to hike to the summit of Mount Yamnuska is 100% up to you. If you are even slightly unsure, you should turn back and live to hike another day.
Leg 2: The Scramble Route to the Summit of Mount Yamnuska
If, after considering the Alberta Parks safety questions, you have decided to continue your hike up Yamnuska, then simply walk through a small scree field to a large crack in the massive cliff face – this feature is called, “The Chimney”.
To get through the chimney, you’ll need to scramble your way up and over the boulders wedged into the bottom of the crack. Personally, I think the chimney is one of the most fun spots on the entire Mt. Yamnuska trail, but sadly it’s pretty short.
As you emerge from the chimney, the entire backside of Yamnuska comes into view – it’s breathtaking. Speaking of breath, you may start to notice you can now see yours as you’ve transitioned to the north side of Mount Laurie and will most likely be in the shade here. The temperature will drop noticeably.
In the past, the hike to the summit of Mount Yamnuska was a ‘choose your own adventure’. There were countless paths through the scree slope, going in every which direction. It was impossible to know which was the proper trail and which was the safest. The recent Yamnuska trail improvements have rectified this problem. Simply follow the blue squares the entire way to the summit and beyond to the West Col and you’ll be set. A great improvement by Alberta Parks!
Before long, you’ll encounter another Alberta Parks sign which details the proper scramble route for the Yamnuska summit hike, Take a moment to learn where the ‘no-go’ sections are and why the West Col is the safest way down.
The hiking route through scree begins easy enough and it’s easy to get overconfident as you follow the blue markers along a well-established trail. But 500 m into the scree hike, the downslope becomes noticeably steeper and more dangerous. This is followed by another short scramble through a rock gap.
The hike from the chimney to the Mt. Yamnuska chain section is about 1.2 km. This section of trail can be characterized as steep, slippery scree, with some spots that are straight up the mountain. If you are hiking in a group, give plenty of space between hikers as the lead hikers may accidentally send large rocks downwards towards you.
At the 5.2 km mark of the Mount Yamnuska hike you’ll reach the chains. I suspect that the chains are one of the reasons many hikers are drawn to this challenging Kananaskis hike. It’s a genuine thrill and gives non-mountaineers a taste of what mountaineering must be like.
Before proceeding, take a moment to reconsider the safety questions – if you are at all unsure, this would be the point to turn back. It gets a bit technical beyond the chains and becomes difficult to turn back.
At the chains, the route meets a cliff-face and becomes impossible to continue hiking. To continue, hikers must scootch along a narrow, rocky ledge on the cliff wall, holding onto a heavy chain for safety. You’ll be glad the heavy-duty chains are bolted into the cliff face as the drop is roughly 30-50 feet straight down.
You’ll need to use the chains for about 30 feet, before reaching a ledge where you can catch your breath.
You’ll need the chains one more time to rappel down the rock for about 10 feet.
The 300 m beyond the chain sections can be frightening for some. You’ll be navigating a narrow, rocky path above a dangerous downward slope. There are a few spots where you’ll need to step over a gap in the rocks, needing a firm grip on the rocks for safety.
As you emerge from this difficult section of the Mount Yamnuska hike, the final 500 m to the summit is much easier by comparison. You’ll be back to walking on a scree slope, with a pretty significant downslope below.
There are sections of trail which go straight upslope, giving your already tired glutes a great burn. If you need to stop for a break, look behind you for a glimpse of Raven’s End below you. It looks so far down from up here!
As you take your final steps toward the summit of Mount Yamnuska, it seems you can suddenly see the entire Canadian Rockies ahead of you. The number of mountain peaks suddenly visible is astounding and is such a great reward for your efforts to reach the top of Mount John Laurie, 2,200 m above sea level.
Goat Mountain (2,385 m) is the nearest mountain to you, but you can see well beyond to the west. Some of the more prominent mountains which you can see from the top of Yamnuska are Mount Lougheed (3,105 m), Mount Allen (2,802 m), Mount McGillivray (2,454 m) and Skogan Peak (2,662 m).
After taking a well-deserved break at the Mount Yamnuska summit, it’s time to begin your descent. The initial descent is on a decent downslope with loose gravel. The tiny rocks are grippy, but you’ll still slip occasionally. Hiking boots with good grips will come in real handy here. We don’t usually hike with poles, but we were happy to each have a hiking pole here for added stability.
Leg 3: The West Col Trail to the Mt. Yamnuska Parking Lot
After 500 m of steep downhill hiking from the summit, you’ll arrive at the West Col. (A ‘col’ is the lowest point between two mountain peaks, usually affording passage). The rock face of Goat Mountain towers overhead here.
There’s an important trail junction here for your descent. The West Col trail is the recommended route down. It’s newly created by Alberta Parks and represents a significant safety improvement over the old scree trail. The scree trail is awful – don’t take it. The West Col trail is a pleasure by comparison.
There’s not a lot to say about the West Col trail back to the parking lot. It’s a fun trail with many twists and turns through a beautiful forest. You’ll enjoy occasional views of the dramatic front face of Mt. Yamnuska on your left, while also enjoying Bow Valley views to your right. You’ll pass through avalanche and rock slide tracks, where you will walk past many beautiful, interesting boulders (no stopping!).
Before the West Col trail meets up with the main trail back to the parking lot, you’ll pass through an incredibly deep and beautiful aspen forest. The aspens along Yamnuska can be so beautiful in fall. We’ve promised ourselves to come back in fall to see the fall colors along this stretch of the West Col Trail.
Mount Yamnuska Trailhead
The Mount Yamnuska trailhead is located at the very eastern edge of the Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park in Kananaskis Country. It’s a 60 minute drive from Calgary to Mt. Yamnuska, or a 40 minute drive from Banff to Mt. Yamnuska.
The Mount Yamnuska parking lot is very big, but this is one of the most popular Kananaskis hiking trails, so it can fill up fast on weekends and holidays. Arrive early and avoid peak hours if possible. If the parking lot is full, do not park on Highway 1A. The RCMP has become quite strict with illegal parking along Highway 1A in recent years and you can almost guarantee getting a ticket.
To find the Mount Yamnuska trailhead simply walk to the far end of the parking lot. The trailhead is right next to the large trail sign.
Mount Yamnuska Hike Stats
How Long is the Mount Yamnuska Hike?
If you choose to hike to Raven’s End and back, the round-trip distance of your outing will be 8 km (one-way distance of 4 km).
If you are feeling up to hiking the entire Mount Yamnuska loop, the full distance will be 11 km.
How Hard is the Mount Yamnuska Hike?
There are two answers to this question, depending on how far you elect to go:
Due to the relatively short distance, but noticeable elevation gain of 535 m, we rate the Raven’s End hike as “moderate”.
Due to the challenging scree section, with chains and some scrambling, we rate the Mount Yamnuska hike as “difficult and potentially dangerous”.
How Long Does the Mt. Yamnuska Hike Take?
It should take a typical adult around 2 hours to hike to Raven’s End and back. On our most recent hike around the full Yamnuska trail, it took us just under 4 hours (5 hours if you include time for lunch at the summit and stopping for a ton of pictures).
Mount Yamnuska Trail Map
The Mount Yamnuska trail is very easy to follow and is well marked, especially after the recent Alberta Parks trail upgrades. If you are feeling uncertain, you can use the Alltrails app while hiking around Mount Laurie.
To find the Mount Yamnuska trail map in Alltrails, simply search for either, “Mount Yamnuska: Raven’s End” or “Mount Yamnuska Traverse with West Col Descent“. Be sure to download your hiking maps prior to leaving as you can’t be guaranteed a cell signal around Moraine Lake.
A paper map isn’t required for this well-marked Kananaskis trail, but if you prefer to hike with a paper map and compass as an additional safety layer, we highly recommend Gem Trek hiking maps. We own the entire set of these excellent Banff and Kananaskis hiking maps. They are exceptional 3D topographic maps which we love looking at for hiking inspiration.
The Yamnuska trail map is found in the “Canmore & Kananaskis Village” map. You can order your own Gem Trek maps before your visit to Banff, or you can pick them up here as they are widely available.
Hiking Mount Yamnuska Trail with Kids
If you regularly hike as a family and are visiting Banff with kids, you will find the hike to Raven’s End is a challenging, yet very rewarding family hike. The trail can get quite steep in spots, but any kids who get regular exercise shape ought to have little issue.
We do not recommend hiking beyond Raven’s End with kids, unless they are mature enough and have the proper skills required for the dangers involved.
If this hike isn’t right for your family, don’t miss these other best Banff day-hikes with kids.
Best Place to Stop for Lunch or a Break
The best place to stop for lunch is the summit of Mount Yamnuska. As you walk the final steps towards the summit, the Rocky Mountain views which open up looking west are incredible. There’s plenty of space at the summit to plop down and have a well-deserved break and soak in the views.
If you are hiking to Raven’s End, the big, flat rocks along the ridge portions of the trail make for an excellent place for a break.
Mount Yamnuska Hiking Safety
- Hiking to the summit of Mount Yamnuska is serious business – there are many difficult scrambles which could be a bit difficult and scary for some. Please take this risk seriously as a hiker died on Yamnuska in 2020 while in the scree section.
- We recommend checking the latest Yamnuska Scramble Route trail report for trail conditions and possible closures before you head out.
- Due to the amount of scrambling involved, bringing your dog past Raven’s End is a very bad idea for your, your dog and the other hikers on the mountain.
- When scrambling, keep a safe distance from each other as loose rock may tumble onto hikers below.
- Kananaskis Country is bear country. We love bears and would hate for any harm to come to them or you, so please take the time to educate yourself on How to Be Bear Smart.
For recommendations on what to bring on Mount Yamnuska to improve your safety, see below.
Mount Yamnuska Trail Logistics
On-leash dogs are allowed on the Mount Yamnuska hike, but bringing them past Raven’s End is a bad idea.
There are toilets in the Mt. Yamnuska parking lot, but not up on the mountain.
Being so close to the Trans-Canada Highway, you’ll likely get weak cell service throughout your hike. You may lose it at any time, so don’t count on it for your safety.
What to Bring for Hiking Mount Yamnuska
Generally speaking, you don’t need a lot of hiking gear to enjoy hiking in Alberta. Our list of hiking essentials contains the hiking gear and clothing you’ll need for the variable Kananaskis weather and trail conditions.
Mount Yamnuska isn’t your typical day hike in Kananaskis, so we would like to reinforce the importance of a few items from our hiking essentials list:
- Bear spray is a must. You cannot order bear spray by mail, but you can buy a canister at many locations in Canmore and Banff.
- Water – Mt. Yamnuska is a difficult hike and you’ll sweat a lot. A hydration pack is an effective way to bring enough water for a long hike.
- Bring several layers of clothing with you as weather can change quickly in the Rocky Mountains, especially near the summit. We typically hike with convertible hiking pants, T-shirts, a fleece top and rain jackets. We used our day bag to store extra layers when they were not needed.
- Even in summer, it can be cold near the Mount John Laurie summit. We’ve seen snow near the summit as late in the season as August.
- We don’t usually hike with trekking poles, but we were very happy to have them on the descent route from the summit. If you bring them, ensure your day bag has straps which can hold your poles as you tackle the rock scrambles.
- Bring a small first aid kit designed for hiking. With the steep trail and scrambling involved, there’s a good chance someone will slip and fall.
Mount Yamnuska Footwear Recommendation
At its best, the Mount Yamnuska hiking trail is a normal hiking trail with tree roots and rocks protruding from the trail. At its most challenging, the trail has steep scree slopes, loose rocks and/or rock scrambles. We recommend a robust pair of hiking boots with good grips.
Hiking Mount Yamnuska in Fall
In September, everyone goes crazy for the best larch tree hikes around Banff and Kananaskis. While you will not see larch trees on the Mount Yamnuska trail, the aspen trees on the lower slopes turn a beautiful golden color. If you wish to avoid the larch tree madness, Mount Yamnuska is a great fall hike in Kananaskis.
Is it Mount Yamnuska or Mount Laurie?
The original name given to this flat-faced mountain was Yamnuska by the people of the Stoney Nakoda First Nation. Yamnuska translates to “wall of stone”, which describes the dramatic cliff face of this prominent Kananaskis mountain.
The mountain was given the official name of Mount John Laurie in 1961 at the request of the Stoney Nakoda First Nation. This honor was given to John Laurie in recognition for all the work he did to support the causes of the Alberta native peoples. John Laurie was a founder of the Indian Association of Alberta and also served as secretary of the Indian Association of Alberta.
Despite its official name of Mount John Laurie, the popular name for this mountain remains Mount Yamnuska.
When we feel like a challenge, the Mount Yamnuska hike is one of our favorite Kananaskis hikes, especially on a clear day!