Porcupine Ridge Hike in Kananaskis

BySteven I. Green

May 27, 2022 , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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My inspiration for doing the Porcupine Ridge hike came from a post I saw on Instagram in early May – a time when most Alberta hikers are chomping at the bit to get into the mountains. The photo showed a little snow up high, but most had melted because of the south facing exposure. Fast forward three weeks, and John and I did the hike. It’s a challenging one – but a rewarding one with truly exceptional views after you break through the trees, about an hour into the hike.

The trail is better than I expected and darned obvious for most of its length. It runs parallel to the Wasootch Ridge Trail – which is very popular as a spring hike. From Porcupine Ridge, you can also see Boundary Ridge, the west ridge of Midnight Peak (accessed from the Baldy Pass trail) and Tiara Peak. If you’re hiking early in the season, be sure to take warm clothes as its windy on the ridge. Icers would be a good idea if there was snow around. The same goes for gaiters. This is a fabulous hike that will help get you in shape for the hiking season.

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Porcupine Ridge hike details

Distance: Approximately 9.2 km return to the high point

Elevation gain: 713 metres or 2340 feet

Time needed: 4.5 – 6 hours

Map needed: Gem Trek Canmore & Kananaskis Village

Dogs allowed: Yes, on leash; water available in Porcupine Creek at start and end of hike

Family friendly: No – best for older kids who have done some scrambling

Don’t forget: Purchase a Kananaskis Conservation Pass before you go. Always take the 10 hiking essentials.

Panoramic view from Porcupine Ridge
Panoramic view of part of Porcupine Ridge

Porcupine Ridge hike description

I had read several Porcupine Ridge hike descriptions, but I was always left confused. I hope I’m clear in my directions.

The description assumes a start at the unofficial parking lot (see directions at the bottom of the post) beside Highway 40 where it meets Porcupine Creek. Hike southeast up Porcupine Creek on a well-defined trail for 1.2 km to reach a bridge. The connector trail from the Wasootch Day Use Area ends at the bridge. From here you are going to go back and forth across Porcupine Creek – perhaps four of five times, depending on water levels, until you come to a fork and two branches of Porcupine Creek. There is no right or wrong place to cross the creek. Sometimes there are logs bunched together, and at other times you’ll have to rock hop, but its all very straightforward. You might also pass some people climbing on the cliffs.

You might want to have a dry pair of hiking socks in case you get a soaker. If water levels are high, consider taking water shoes or even a lightweight pair of crocs for the crossings. Hiking poles really help for balance.

At the location where the two creeks meet (as shown on the Gem Trek map), you will notice a faint trail straight ahead, that climbs steeply up in a general southeast direction. That’s the one you want – and that is where the hard work and climbing starts. About an hour from the trailhead, you’ll emerge from the trees. At that point the grade eases slightly and the views explode. Be sure to look back to see the mountain peaks including “Mary Barclay’s Mountain” and Mount Lorette.

Work you way up to the next high point on the ridge. The trail is good up to here. There is a short side trail where you can enjoy a great view and have a look at a memorial bearing a cross and golf club. 

The next section will have some people turning around BUT don’t. There is one scramble up a slab but it’s short. You may need someone to give you a boost to get up. Once on top of this, look for another well-defined path along the ridge. It looks scarier in photos than it really is. From the end of it – which only takes about 5 minutes to walk, you’ll see the way forward to the real summit ridge. However, if you have a huge fear of exposure, you will not like this section.

After descending off this short section of ridge, head left around the big nob of rock in front of you. Continue up through the woods, to reach a flatter area. At this point there are two ways to the top. Most people head up the rocky boulders and stop short of a slab with some exposure you must climb. Others go round the rock at the bottom – and I am told the route to the real summit is easier this way BUT the descent isn’t fun. In that case, you’ll need to do a loop and come down the slab (see photo with hiker downclimbing). 

I went up the boulder route and stopped short of the climb up the slab to the very top. That seemed to be what most people were doing – so do what feels comfortable to you.

From there, retrace your steps, enjoying the superlative views on the way down. Below are photos that will give you a good idea of what the Porcupine Ridge hike is really like.

The hike starts by following Porcupine Creek
The hike starts by following Porcupine Creek
When the trail dies out on one side you'll have to rock hop across Porcupine Creek to pick up a trail on the other side
When the trail dies out on one side you’ll have to rock hop across Porcupine Creek to pick up a trail on the other side (the water is low the third week in May so crossing is easy)
Sometimes you'll find logs to cross on
Sometimes you’ll find logs to cross on
If it's a nice day you might pass some climbers beside Porcupine Creek
If it’s a nice day you might pass some climbers beside Porcupine Creek
This is the junction of the two creeks and where you start to climb
This is the junction of the two creeks and where you start to climb (up the rock on the left in the woods)
The views when you emerge from the trees
The views when you emerge from the trees
The Porcupine Ridge hike
The next stop is the top of the ridge on the right via a well defined trail
Me downclimbing a slab
After the memorial at the top of the first ridge (previous photo) you must climb up …and eventually down this short slab section
A section of trail that is solid but has some exposure
A section of trail along the ridge that is solid but has some exposure
Descend and follow the trail up through the snow - the only time you would need to consider icers but more on the descent
Descend to the col and follow the trail up through the snow – the only time you would need to consider icers but more on the descent (and this snow won’t be around for long)
Looking back to the descent of this section of the ridge
Looking back to the descent of this section of the ridge
Ultimately you are heading for the knob to the left of the high point
Ultimately you are heading for the knob to the left of the high point
Our dog loved cooling off in the snow on teh Porcupine Ridge hike
Our dog loved cooling off in the snow
A fellow downclimbing from the high point
A fellow downclimbing from the high point
John at a high point - though you can drop down from here
John at a high point – though you can drop down from there – and can reach it by going around this hunk of rock
Lunch spot and turnaround point for most people on the Porcupine Ridge hike
Lunch spot and turnaround point for most people on the Porcupine Ridge hike
Getting out of the wind for lunch
Getting out of the wind for lunch
A few people will climb up here but I was happy to just enjoy the view
A few people will climb up the knob on the right but I was happy to just enjoy the view
Descending Porcupine Ridge
Descending Porcupine Ridge and heading for the snowy section in the trees
Watch your footing on the steep descent
Watch your footing on the steep descent
You can look down and see the climbers beside Porcupine Creek
You can look down and see the climbers beside Porcupine Creek
This is the bridge over Porcupine Creek you reach from both the Wasootch Day Use Area and the Porcupine Creek parking area
This is the bridge over Porcupine Creek you reach from both the Wasootch Day Use Area and the Porcupine Creek parking area

Finding parking for the hike

There are a couple of options when it comes to parking. The easiest thing to do is to drive south on Highway 40 for 16.5 kilometres from the Trans-Canada Highway to reach Porcupine Creek. There is a large parking area BUT it is off the highway in a semi-developed area. There is a dirt road, and you can park along it. It can feel steep dropping down to reach the parking area so some people pull over and park on the west side of the highway. It can also be dangerous to make the left hand turn – so the other option is to drive to the Wasootch Day Use Area, turn around and then drive north to Porcupine Creek.

The other option is to park at Wasootch Creek Day Use Area and hike the connector trail to Porcupine Creek. The downside is that it will add to your overall mileage.

You need to drive over the highway lip and drop down to park at Porcupine Creek
You need to drive over the highway lip and drop down to park at Porcupine Creek
This gives you an idea of how many people are visiting the Porcupine Creek area
This gives you an idea of how many people are visiting the Porcupine Creek area

Location map for the Porcupine Ridge hike

                                             

More reading on Kananaskis hikes

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

The difficult Porcupine Ridge hike in Alberta's Kananaskis Country

 

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