Today we hike up Volcano Ridge, a grass-topped hill located in the foothills of Kananaskis west of Turner Valley. In spite of its modest elevation, the views from the top are something amazing! One can see for many kilometres in all directions. Barren grey limestone peaks in the west are in stark contrast with the rolling green hills and ridges that make up most of the summits in the immediate area.
Smoke from forest fires in BC and elsewhere caused everything to be cloaked in a blue-ish haze.
This would be our fourth attempt to gain the Volcano Ridge summit. The first time we missed a crucial turn and ended up wandering off in an opposite direction. The second, a bear along the trail forced us to turn around. The third try it rained so much that we had to make a retreat. Well, at least we finally made it. We have a never say die attitude.
The trailhead is located along the Gorge Creek road, a winding gravel affair, that when wet can be somewhat slippery. This part of Kananaskis is horse-friendly and one can expect to pass riders while hiking the trail (we saw none this trip however). Free range cattle also frequent the area. Horses and cows equal mud and poop, remember that. It’s bad at the start. Once you started gaining elevation things get much better.
This trail has been out of commission for much of this year and last. Access was lost when a culvert on the road in was washed away by those nasty spring 2013 floods. Naturally, the trail has seen little use, and in the lower moister sections, grass has almost obliterated it. It’ll get better now that it’s accessible again.
From the parking lot, take the muddy path heading west. It’s not terribly pleasant at the start, but don’t worry it’ll get better. The trail drop downs, then heads up briefly before dropping down once more. In no time you’re at a creek crossing. There is a bridge here so you don’t get wet feet (most, but not all, crossings are bridged). Right after is a junction (Gorge Creek and Mt Ware to the left). Head straight.
For the next while you’ll pass through grassy meadows, following that same creek you just crossed (and will cross again many more times). Just after entering the trees, go left at a sign. This trail is official meaning junctions (most of them anyway) are signed and have maps. This sign, like others we’d see this day, were so sun faded as to be not much use. They are also outdated and do no reflect new trails built in the area.
From the last junction on the hike become much more enjoyable. The trail is well drained and not muddy, for the most part, and the cows seem to avoid it. For the next kilometre or so, things are fairly level. Then, without warning the trail heads up at a moderately steep pace. Just before gaining a ridge it levels out for a time, allowing one to catch their breath, before heading up once again just prior to connecting with an old exploration road coming in from the left. Turn right.
Along here the showers started and we worried this trip would be a repeat of the rained-out visit we had a couple years back. Even though the skies boiled above us, the whole day, it only sprinkled a little bit here and there.
The trail here is straight and wide (it’s an old road remember) and gains a bit of elevation before arriving at South Volcano Ridge or the “rocky knoll” as some people refer to it. We’ll visit it on the way down. Along here we have come good open views to the south.
Just past this point, find a faint trail (another old road) heading left. It’s easy to miss. We did so on our fist visit back in 2008. It plunges into the trees briefly and then alternates between lightly wooded areas and meadows. In places it’s hard to follow and the only guide is the two grassy ruts made long ago (what were they doing here anyway?). In other places the route is more obvious.
At the base of a grassy hill the trail/road heads up very steeply, tackling the slope head on. After a time it levels out and heads into the trees for a while, before looping around, plunging into a meadow and coming to an end just below the summit ridge. Along here we see lots of signs of bear activity – many turned-over rocks where one has been looking for grubs and the other yummy bug type meals.
The summit of Volcano Ridge is broad and grassy. And the views, they’re amazing. See for yourself. Too bad the smoke and haze obscured things in the distance.
To the east we have a good view of Missinglink Mountain and a number of other long parallel treed ridges. To the north Allsmoke Mountain can be seen and in behind it, Forget-me-not Ridge and Mountain. To the south we see Mount Ware, along and countless treed ridges and rolling hills, many of them nameless. To the west-ish are big barren limestone peaks – from left to right: Bluerock Mountain, Mount Rose and Threepoint Mountain. To the north and northwest, we can see into the Elbow River valley (the river is Calgary’s water supply). Normally one can see the city from here too, but not today. That smoke obscured the view.
Many other mountains can be studied from this position, but haze made them hard to photograph so we didn’t bother. Directly below (all angles) are many deep valleys and river gorges.
Heading down after a nice lunch, we retrace our steps back to the south ridge. I climb it while Connie waits below. The views here are similar to those from the true summit, which we can see a couple clicks away.
Rather then return the way we came, we elected to take a new trail that heads down just to the left of the south ridge. This was built only a few years ago and replaces a more northerly trail (which you can still take if you want). Well built and drained, it zig-zags down to the Gorge Link trail which then takes us back to the car using much of the lower route we came in on.
Back on the valley floor, we head right at the next junction and in no time we’re on familiar ground. Dreading the muddy mess at the end, we’re soon back at the car. Scape off the muck and cow crap before getting in your vehicle!
Our GPS failed for some reason part way into this hike. The section from South Volcano Ridge back to the trailhead was not mapped and I don’t know why, yet the distances and elevations were recorded.
You need not make a partial loop like we did. You can return the same way you came, or you can also follow a faint trail that heads down directly from the South Volcano Ridge high point. I’d like to try that next time as it looks scenic. Also, the old decommissioned trail spoken of earlier, even with its shortcomings (steep and loose descent and boring in-the-trees walk), can still be used.
If you like solitude, this trail seems to be a good one. We saw no one once we left the parking lot, nor did we pass many people other times we tried to reach Volcano Ridge.
According to hiking guru Gillean Daffern, the Volcano name was coined by a survey crew who, well over a century ago, found the top blanketed in a volcano-like (I guess) smokey haze. Sort of like on our visit. This makes sense since the next mountain over is called Allsmoke, a somewhat related name. A different source says it was due to volcanic activity. Hmmm. I am not convinced. There are few volcanic features in all of Alberta and certainly none in this part of the province.
If you wish more information on this trail, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: August, 2014.
Location: Kananaskis AB, Sheep River area.
Distance: 19km by our route.
Height gain maximum: 550m.
Height gain cumulative: 600m.
NOTE: all heights and distances are approximate.
Technical bits: mud and cow poop at the start of the trail.
Reference: Kananaskis Trail Guide by Gillean Daffern.