The first time we hiked Wasootch Ridge, a popular Kananaskis hike, we were blown away by the views. Being up on the ridge offers hikers panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and all the way down into the valley.
It’s no surprise that this Wasootch Ridge hike soon became one of our all-time favorite hikes in Kananaskis. It’s a bit of a grind at first to hike to the ridge top, but once you are up there, the incredible Kananaskis mountain views are virtually non-stop the entire way.
Wasootch Ridge Hike – Quick Details
Trailhead: Wasootch Ridge Trailhead
Distance: 13.8 km out-and-back
Elevation: 975 m elevation gain
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What You’ll Find in This Article on Wasootch Ridge Hike in Kananaskis:
Wasootch Ridge Hike Highlights
You’ll waste no time getting a sweat going as the hiking trail ascends Wasootch Ridge rapidly. The trail winds through a dense forest, so you’ll have trees to grab on to for support. Be sure to have proper hiking boots with high ankles and good grips to deal with the large number of rocks and roots on this trail.
The evergreen forest on this stretch of the Wasootch Ridge trail is especially beautiful with a carpet of juniper bushes, moss, clematis vines and flowing grass.
With such a rapid gain of elevation, it doesn’t take long to start earning views on the Wasootch Ridge trail. When you reach the first clearing look behind you for great views of Mt. Lorette, the Nakiska Ski Resort, Mount Sparrowhawk and Mount Allen. Meanwhile, Wasootch Peak and Wasootch Tower are ahead on the right. You can even see the Lorette Ponds in the valley on the right.
The steep climb continues with a series of tight switchbacks up Wasootch Ridge. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you are soaring above Highway 40, with the Wasootch Creek river valley far below you on the right.
The initial steep section of Wasootch Ridge only lasts for the first 0.5 km. After which the trail levels off a bit and you’ll have your first views in both directions from the top of the ridge. Midnight Peak and Mount Baldy appear on the left.
The Wasootch Ridge hiking trail occasionally goes through sections of evergreen forest but you can sense it’s getting thinner as you continue climbing up. Several mountain wildflowers thrive here including crocuses, clematis and some very pretty white ones.
You may notice that the Wasootch Ridge trail often splits into two and it’s hard to know which is the correct route. Our experience shows that these trails almost always converge back to the main Wasootch Ridge trail – just make sure your trail feels like it’s staying close to the top of the ridge and hasn’t descended for too long at any point.
After approximately 400 m of relatively flat hiking, the Wasootch Ridge trail begins another section of steep hiking. Some sections of this trail have steep drop offs, so look for trails away from the edge when possible.
Along this steep incline section of the Wasootch Ridge hike, you’ll be treated to a few small flat breaks. Take a few moments to enjoy incredible vistas of the surrounding Kananaskis valleys and Wasootch Creek. Eventually you’ll even see Barrier Lake along Highway 40.
With the increased elevation and challenging growing conditions, you’ll notice that the higher you get, the further you go back in time for spring flowers. It’s not uncommon to see crocuses in full bloom in mid-June up here, when they’ve been gone for weeks already on the valley floor. Keep an eye open too for the beautiful and delicate calypso orchids, which bloom in clusters along the side of the trail.
After 2.4 km of nearly straight uphill hiking along Wasootch Ridge, the trail starts to level out. There’s still a series of peaks to manage between here and the end of Wasootch Ridge, but the hard slogging is over for now.
As you walk up and down the peaks atop Wasootch Ridge, you’ll pass through some beautiful forested sections. During the breaks from the trees, you won’t be able to take your eyes off the incredible Kananaskis Rocky Mountain scenery in all directions. You’ll need to keep at least one eye on the trail as the surface can get challenging along here, with plenty of rocks and roots to contend with.
Around the 3.3 km mark, the Wasootch Ridge trail really starts to become a truly special Kananaskis experience. Here, the trees along the Wasootch Ridge get all gnarled and twisted. Many of them look really old, but the constant barrage of wind has stunted their growth. They not only look super cool, but because these gnarly old trees are small and sporadic, the views of the Kananaskis mountains just keep getting better and better. It’s amazing to see the will to survive in such harsh conditions.
The absence of large trees along this stretch allows hikers to see the Wasootch Ridge trail for miles ahead, going up and down peaks along the ridgetop. It’s rare to get to see your hiking trail laid out so clearly for you!
Because of this, you’ll also be quite exposed. Plenty of water, sunscreen and extra layers for windy days are a must.
As you continue hiking along Wasootch Ridge, the trail hops back and forth to the east and west side of the ridge, providing hikers with constantly changing mountain views. Note, that there are some sections of trail which have severe drop-offs. Be safe and watch for sudden wind gusts.
You reach the tree line after 4.3 km of hiking along Wasootch Ridge. With very little tree cover and two large mountain valleys to either side of you, it can get awfully windy up there. Sometimes, the wind can be so strong it’ll scoop up little bits of dirt and you’ll need to shield your face. But, on the other hand, it can be quite calm and pleasant.
We advise you pay close attention to the wind speeds in the Kananaskis weather forecast. This Kananaskis hike is far more pleasant on a calm day.
The flip side of having no trees are the amazing views. This may sound repetitive, but the Wasootch Ridge has some of the best scenery of any hike in Kananaskis – period. All around you, you’ll be awe-struck by majestic peaks such as Kananaskis Peak, Old Baldy Peak, Mount McDougall, Mount Bryant and Tiara Peak.
Like many other hikers, we turned back at the cairns at the 5.2 km mark of the Wasootch Ridge trail. Our time for “adult hikes” is limited due to our need to get back to pick up the kids from school.
If you have the time and inclination, the Wasootch Ridge trail continues for another 1.6 km. The trail past this point will involve some scrambling on the next two peaks.
Wasootch Ridge Trailhead
The Wasootch Ridge trailhead is located at the Wasootch Day Use parking lot. Take Highway 1 (Trans-Canada Highway) to the Highway 40 turn-off. From there it’s only 18 km to the Wasootch parking lot.
This hike near Calgary is just one hour drive from Calgary or 45 minutes from Banff.
Wasootch Day Use parking lot is a decent size, but given the popularity of this Kananaskis hiking trails, it can fill up fast on weekends and holidays. Arrive early and avoid peak hours if possible.
As you enter the parking lot, there are toilets on the right and immediately across from the toilets, you’ll find a few picnic tables nestled in the trees. The Wasootch Ridge Trailhead is behind the picnic tables. There is a small trailhead sign here but it offers no information on Wasootch Ridge.
Behind the picnic tables are three different trails to choose from. You can take the trail leading from the middle picnic table or the picnic table on the right (this is the trail we most often use). These two trails converge a few hundred meters up Wasootch Ridge. There’s a third trail leading from the left picnic table, which likely also meets up with the other two, but we haven’t taken it yet.
The large sign on the far end of the parking lot is for Wasootch Creek and it will take you too far away from the trailhead.
Wasootch Ridge Hike Stats
How Long is the Wasootch Ridge Hike?
The actual length of the Wasootch Ridge hike varies depending on where you look. Not all sources give a distance to the summit, but instead to the last cairn found along the ridge, which is where we turned around.
Alltrails gives the full distance to the summit as 13.4 km out-and-back. The Gem Trek Map “Canmore and Kananaskis Village” gives similar distances at 13.6 km return.
Many hikers return around the 5th peak or at 5.2 km along the ridge, making it a 10.4 km hike out-and-back. From there to the Wasootch Ridge summit, it’s another 1.6 km each way.
How Hard is the Wasootch Ridge Hiking Trail?
Due to the length and scrambling involved, we rate the Wasootch Ridge hike as “difficult”.
The total elevation gain you’ll encounter along the Wasootch Ridge hiking trail is 975 m. If you are hiking the Wasootch Ridge trail to the 5.2 km mark, the elevation gain is 724 m. We would rate this portion of the hike as “moderate”.
The Wasootch Ridge hike starts out steep and you’ll gain around 400 m elevation in the first 2 km, but after that initial climb you’ll enjoy hiking on the ridge with incredible views.
The final 1.6 km of the Wasootch trail to the summit will involve some scrambling. Someday we’ll find enough time to complete this hike!
How Long Does It Take to Hike Wasootch Ridge?
It took us 4 hours to complete the first 10.4 km of the Wasootch Ridge trail. This includes time for lunch and taking pictures.
Plan for 6-8 hours to complete the full 13.6 km distance of the Wasootch hike.
Wasootch Ridge Trail Map
The Wasootch Ridge hike can feel challenging to follow at times as there are several trails to follow. From doing this hike multiple times, we’ve come to learn that the trails typically converge. Just be sure you are staying up on the ridge and you’ll easily find your way.
We often have the Alltrails map on our phone, just in case. To find the Wasootch Ridge trail map in Alltrails, simply search for “Wasootch Ridge Trail”. Cell service will be spotty, so download your hiking maps prior to leaving.
Enjoy map downloads and many more premium features with a 7-day free trial of AllTrails+!
A paper map isn’t required for this Kananaskis hike, 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 Wasootch Ridge trail map is found in the “Canmore and Kananaskis Village” map. You can order it before your trip, or you can pick it up here as they are widely available.
Hiking Wasootch Ridge Trail with Kids
We haven’t completed any portion of the Wasootch Ridge hike with kids. To hike Wasootch Ridge with kids, they would need to be fairly determined to make it up that steep part and keep going. At 8 and 6 years old, we just don’t believe our kids would enjoy this hike all that much. They don’t care as much about the views as we do.
We would also prefer our youngest be a little older and able to follow directions enough to stay away from the edge.
If you hike Wasootch Ridge with kids, you don’t need to go the entire way to get incredible views. Keep kids close along any steep drop-offs and take caution back down as it is quite steep.
Where to Stop for Lunch or a Break
The best place to stop for lunch or a break is at one of the cairns. From there you can contemplate the distance ahead and also look back to see what you’ve completed!
An easy to pack picnic blanket allows you to stop for lunch whenever you are ready to eat.
Wasootch Ridge Hiking Safety
The Wasootch Ridge trail starts out steep and has some steep drop-offs along the way. The final portion is a scramble, which we have not done yet. Make sure you know what you are getting yourself into before proceeding past the 5.2 km mark.
Take the time to educate yourself on Bear Safety. And please, make lots of noise as you hike to alert the bears of your presence.
Cougars also live in Kananaskis Country. Learn more about Cougar Safety.
Chances of a dangerous wildlife encounter in Kananaskis are very low, but you never know what will happen with wildlife, so be prepared.
We recommend you check the Wasootch Creek trail report for wildlife warnings and possible closures before you head out.
Wasootch Ridge Trail Logistics
On-leash dogs are allowed on the Wasootch Ridge hike.
Wasootch Ridge Day Use parking lot has toilets and a few picnic tables to enjoy a snack before you start your hike.
This is a long hike, so fill your hydration packs before you leave.
You won’t get cell service for most of your hike and we don’t recommend counting on it for your safety.
What to Bring for Hiking Wasootch Ridge Trail
Check out our list of hiking essentials with the hiking gear and clothing we recommend to enjoy your hike, regardless of the variable Rocky Mountain weather and trail conditions.
The Wasootch Ridge trail is a long Kananaskis day-hike and we would like to reinforce the importance of a few items from our hiking essentials list:
- Bear spray is a must. Cannisters are available to buy or rent at many locations in Canmore and Banff. Every member in your group should be carrying bear spray in an easily accessible location (not in your backpack).
- Water – the Wasootch Ridge trail is a long hike and at times very exposed to the sun. You’ll need to pack a decent amount of water, more than you think you’ll need. A hydration pack is an effective and eco-conscious way to bring enough water for a hard hike.
- Bring several layers of clothing with you. It can get very windy along the ridge, so a wind breaker is a must. The weather can also change quickly, so be prepared. 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 all day.
- We don’t use trekking poles, but you will see many people using them on the Wasootch Ridge hike to help with balance and to take pressure off their knees on the descent.
Wasootch Ridge Footwear Recommendation
The Wasootch Ridge trail is steep and you’ll contend with some very rocky sections and roots along the trail. If you continue to the end, you’ll also be doing a scramble. We recommend a good pair of hiking boots for this trail.
We are certain you’ll love this incredible Kananaskis hike as much as we do!
Other Kananaskis Hikes
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Celine Brewer, a local Canmore resident, is the co-owner of Travel Banff Canada. She has a passion for being out in the mountains any time of year. In the summer, you'll often find her hiking or mountain biking. In the winter, she enjoys cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and winter hiking the most.
As much as she loves the mountains, she also loves travel! When she's not playing outdoors at home, she's either traveling the world with her husband and two kids or working on their other two travel sites: Family Can Travel and Baby Can Travel.