Fullerton Loop is an easy hike. Its close proximity to Calgary, in the rolling foothills west of town, also means it’s well patronized and while not the most scenic outing, much of the time you’re in the trees, it has its moments. The high point of the trip, is well, the high point, where the forest opens up at the top of a low ridge, offering one some pretty nice views in a couple different directions.
The start of the trail is at a parking lot opposite the Allen Bill day use area, on Highway 66 (get your kicks on route 66!) just after it crosses the Elbow River – so just inside the Kananaskis Park boundaries. The trail is marked from beginning to end, so you won’t, or at least you shouldn’t, get lost.
Fullerton Loop is also an official Kananaskis Country trail, so it’s maintained and is nice and wide and reasonably well drained (so few mucky parts). If you want peace and quiet though, don’t go, or do so mid-week when things are less busy. There are often a lot of people doing what you’re doing.
The loop is best done counter clockwise, so the best, most scenic section, is done last.
Head east on the shared Fullerton Loop/Snagmore/Elbow Trail. It heads toward the Elbow River then drops down beside it. Along here parts of the trail were washed away in the spring 2013 floods (lot of damage in the area) so some rerouting has taken place. The way is always clear though.
Pass though a gate and soon after a junction comes into view. Go left. The trail drop down, passes another junction (the return leg of the Fullerton Loop) then heads up slightly to where it traverses an open south facing grassy slope for the a while. We were blessed with blue skies and vivid light, so all those bold colours mixing together – the blues, whites, greens – was mind blowing!
Along this section many flowers can be seen. We passed an unusual number of Tiger Lillies. They were out in force that day.
Turning left and crossing a small creek, the trail passes yet another junction (take the left route), heads up, passes through a gate – close it when done, so the cows don’t get out – yes, you may encounter cows – then heads up some more. In the next little bit, most of the elevation gained this day, will happen here. A large number of ferns grow in a sort of boggy area, where water bubbles up from the ground in places.
Parts of the trail, for the last couple clicks anyway, follow an old seismic cut line. The whole area is criss-crossed with them, hold overs from the old days when they used to search for gas here before Kananaskis became more of a recreational use area (there are still some producing wells nearby).
Topping out, a three way junction is passed (the two left trails are mainly for mountain bikers). The Fullerton Loop route now turns east following the modest summit of what’s unofficially known as Ranger Ridge, so named for a forest ranger station located nearby. At occasional gap in the trees, one can catch a glimpse of Moose Mountain and Prairie Mountain off in the west.
A bench here makes a nice rest stop
The ridge bends east and coming to a view point, a sea of low hills and treed ridges stretch off to the south and southwest. The big mountains are still far away. The Elbow River and the highway can be seen, plus right below, that ranger station and some other support buildings mentioned earlier.
The ridge soon drops down, sometimes steep-ishly, and in no time meets up with the route you came in on. Retrace your steps back to the parking lot. When there look back and up and see where you just were. Ranger Ridge is just above you.
We passed a couple dozen hikers on this trip. It was a little busy for us, but every one was in a jovial mood, so it’s wasn’t so bad. This trail is so popular it’s often done year round, even in the chilly, snowy depths of winter. We last did it in the 1990s! It’s been a while. It does appear that a good number of souls don’t do the loop and make the ridge a short out and back jaunt instead. So the top is the busiest.
If you wish more information on this trail, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: June, 2015.
Location: Elbow River Valley, Kananaskis, AB.
Distance: 6.5km loop with part out and back.
Height gain maximum: 210m.
Height gain cumulative: 300m.
NOTE: all heights and distances are approximate.
Reference: Kananaskis Trail Guide by Gillean Daffern.