Oct 212014
Banded Peak

This was not our first trip up Powderface Ridge this year, Earlier in the spring we hiked it, but a thick fog prevented us from seeing anything once at the summit. What a bummer, as we heard the views were stupendous. Even before we finished that first trip, we vowed to return. With blue skies foretasted this wonderful fall day, we felt the time was right for another stab at it. This day was near perfect and we had a blast!

On this latest visit we not only took in the summit but also two outliers, or high points, on the ridge’s south end (on the way down).

The trailhead for this adventure is at the end of Highway 66 near the Little Elbow Campground. Park at the side of the road just before the pavement ends and follow the obvious path heading up and right into the trees.

Until a col is reached, so most of the way up, the trail heads up fairly steeply without so much as a break. For a time, trees are all you’ll see. Later on though you’ll pass through some grassy meadows. This up section is fairly rocky in places with the occasional loose bits here and there.

When the trail tops out at a saddle, take the path heading left into the woods. As a side trip, climb the the bare bump to the right for some good views. It’s not much work. We’ll visit it on the way down.

For the next while you’ll traverses the east face of Powderface Ridge a little below the crest. The trail has got a a bit of a roller coaster profile and so you’ll drop down here and there and head up here and there, many times over. There are a few flat sections thrown in for good measure. Some parts are muddy.

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Part way in, a large slump is passed where a section of hillside gave way (spring 2013). A new trail has formed across the mess.

In pretty much no time you’re at the top. Step out of the trees onto a broad flat and mostly featureless ridge crest. The actual summit is hard to determine, but I think it’s one of the small bumps just to the north. Take the time to explore this wonderful place – you can head both north or south for quite a distance without loosing any real elevation.

Now take in the views, they are simply amazing. To the west, a wall of rock called Nihahi Ridge stretches off to the right. Later it connects with Compression Ridge further on. Almost directly north is Jumpingpound Mountain and in behind a bit, Cox Hill. To the east are Moose Mountain and Prairie Mountain, two places we’ve been up before (Prairie Mountain twice). In the southeast are many rolling hills and ridges, the most prominent one called – depending on the source – Iyarhe Ipan (Stoney First Nation’s language) or Quirk Ridge. I’m confused since there is a lot of contradictory information on this modest bump. Anyway…

Directly south is Forgetmenot Ridge (sometimes Forget-me-not Ridge), another place we’ve been up. Large barren peaks seen in the southwest include Mounts Glasgow, Cornwall and Banded Peak. Highway 66 can be seen below at many points as can the Elbow River which is Calgary’s water supply.

I’ve been told the summit of Powderface Ridge is often a windy place and it did not disappoint this day. In fact the gusts were sometimes so strong that it was often hard to stand. You’ll notice that a few gnarled and stunted trees grow in this very harsh environment, I can’t even image what it’s like in winter.

On the way back down we took time to visit that one high point we spoke of earlier. The views were good and somewhat different when compared to the true summit. Lower down, we flanked another outlier to examine a couple very larger boulders. I love rocks. Strange, yes.

The rest of our trip down was uneventful.

This is a fairly popular trail but it’s stretched out enough that crowding does not appear to be a problem. We passed perhaps several dozen people in total, including a small girl, maybe four or five years old, who incredibly was able to trudge up and down the trail all on her own. We saw her at the summit! By the way, it appears that a lot of people turn back at that one outlier.

The Powderface Ridge trail is also used by mountain bikers. Expert mountain biker’s I’d say – but we saw none this day. With it being so steep and rocky it must be a real challenge. I guess equestrian riders also visit here, based on the horse poop we saw.

There are options to continue north up the ridge if you wish. After dropping down you’ll intercept the Powderface Creek Trail which can take you to Highway 66 or the Powderface Trail gravel road if you so wish. But then where do you go? Hike back along the road? No way! Bike back? Workable. Arrange a ride or use two cars? That’s best.

This is an official trail so it’s marked, although the way is always clear anyway. This status also means that deadfall (always a problem), gets cleared periodically.

The name Powderface is taken from a First Nation’s fellow that once lived in the area.

To see our first visit here, follow this link…
Powderface Ridge

Check out these wonderful hikes…
Amazing Burstall Pass.
Grotto Canyon.
Lake Minnewanka.

If you wish more information on this trail, by all means contact us!

Date of adventure: October, 2014.
Location: Elbow River area, Kananaskis, AB.
Distance: 15km out and back.
Height gain maximum: 610m (last trip said 640 – Powderface Ridge is shrinking).
Height gain cumulative: 760m (estimated).
NOTE: all heights and distances are approximate.
Reference: Kananaskis Trail Guide by Gillean Daffern.

Powderface Ridge trail

A pretty typical view on the way up.

Powderface Ridge hiking trail

We break out into a meadow.

Powderface Ridge Kananaskis

Some people on the southern high point, which we’ll visit later.

Hiking Powderface Ridge

At a col, the trail soon plunges back into the trees.

Powderface Ridge summit

Your’s truly on the windy summit.

Powderface Ridge views

Looking south.

Summit Powderface Ridge

The ridge top is broad and flat.

Nihahi Ridge

Nihahi Ridge in back.

Calgary Alberta

Calgary, some distance off.

Banded Peak

Summits to the left of the rock include Mt Glasgow and Banded Peak.

Compression Ridge

Compression Ridge far right.

Summit of Powderface Ridge

The featureless ridge top.

Hiking atop Powderface Ridge

Connie follows behind.

Moose Mountain

Moose Mountain in back.

Views from Powderface Ridge

Looking north.

Prairie Mountain

Prairie Mountain, just right of centre.

Powderface Ridge stunning views

Iyarhe Ipan, sometimes called Quirk Ridge, middle background.

Summit of Powderface Ridge

Our summit is a modest one when compared to those in back.

Powderface Ridge outlier

The outlier, or high point, our next destination.

Powderface Ridge top

The ridge top is mostly open save for a few trees.

Wind stunted tree

A weather beaten spruce.

Powderface Ridge trail slump

A large slump on the trail.

Forgetmenot Ridge

On the southern high point.

Kananaskis Powderface Ridge

Looking down at Connie.

Cairn Powderface Ridge

Highway 66 can be seen below.

Outlier Powderface Ridge

Enjoying the views.

Outlier of Powderface Ridge

Me on the top of the southern high point.

Powderface Ridge trail views

A large rock and the outlier we just visited.

Forget-me-not Ridge

I head to another big boulder.

Large rock Powderface Ridge

Forgetmenot Ridge in back.

Hikers Powderface Ridge

Hikers come in all sizes…

Powderface Ridge parking

Parking at the trailhead – you can see how popular Powderface Ridge is.

Powderface Ridge route

Our route…


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8 Comments on "Powderface Ridge"

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A nice beer-worthy view!

Lila C
Lila C

Fantastic photos, very beautiful.


I have to come with you two on a trip. You know all the best hikes!

Mairi Anne
Mairi Anne

I’ve ridden horse up there, the most beautiful scenery!