Porcupine Ridge {Kananaskis Country}

Porcupine Ridge {Kananaskis Country}

Porcupine Ridge

  • Distance – 8.00 km roundtrip
  • Elevation – 700 meters
  • Difficulty – Hard
  • TrailheadPorcupine Ridge Trailhead
  • Logistics – Finding the correct trail to the start of the ridge

Every spring, I am chomping at the bit to start hiking. April comes, the snow melts in Edmonton, and I decide that it is hiking season. Unfortunately, the snowpack in the mountains rarely melts as fast as I want it to and I usually find myself trying to hike up an icy mess and nearly fall on my head a dozen times. After quite a few years of hiking, I have learned to be patient, even though I am not.

Thank goodness for shoulder season hikes!

Depending on the year, melt, and spring snowfall, sometimes you can find yourself hiking some solid shoulder season hikes in the middle of May. Baldy Pass, Wasootch Ridge, Prairie View, Yamnuksa, East End of Rundle, Cory and Edith Pass, Aylmer Lookout, and many others are the first snow-free hikes in the Banff, Canmore, and Kananaskis areas.

On Friday morning, we realized that the weather was going to be a beautiful – 24 degrees on May 15 in Canmore, so we packed up the car and hit the road after work.

Always in the mood to do something we haven’t done before, we put Porcupine Ridge on our list – supposedly as good as but less busy than its neighbour, Wasootch Ridge.

I had collected the instructions for the hike and we were ready to go on Saturday morning. It turns out the instructions I received were terrible, convoluted, and confusing. I hope to help make this solid shoulder season, a bit more straightforward for you when you hike it.

It is a lovely hike and at the end, you are standing with mountains under your feet, so it is worth doing, especially in May!

Hiking Details.

Drive to the Porcupine Ridge Trailhead, which is 16.4 km south on Highway 40 from Highway 1 (take exit 118). On the east side of the highway, there is a steep turn-off that you can drive your car down. The road down to the trailhead is about 300 meters, and extremely bumpy with large rocks. My little Mazda3 probably would have bottomed out, so we opted to park on the shoulder of the highway, along with many others.

Walk down to the trailhead and start following the creek. You will come to a signed junction, continue straight (keep following the creek).

Porcupine Creek
This is what the beginning of the hike looks like. As you progress, you will get closer to the water. Just follow the creek bed.

About 800 meters into the hike, you will see a bridge that crosses the creek. Cross the bridge and then drop immediately down to the creek and continue to follow it. The trail continues to follow the creek and you will have to cross it a few times (we had to cross twice on logs roped together to make sturdy crossings) to get to the start of the ridge. The reason you will need to cross the creek is because the walls of the gorge make hiking that side of the creek impossible.

bridge at porcupine ridge
This is a picture of the bridge on the way back down, so you won’t have this mountain in the background, just trees. When it crops up in view, take it! If you don’t, you are going to run into a sheer wall that makes keeping your feet dry impossible.

There is a crag where people will be climbing, just walk through them. Just past the climbers, the ridge starts.

At 1.4 km, the creek forks and a ridge rises up in between the forks. This is Porcupine Ridge and where you need to look for a trail up through the rising forest. When you are trying to decide whether or not to go left or right at the forks, the answer is neither. You need to look for the trees and a trail that climbs up. If you hike past 1.5 km and lose all the people, you have gone too far. Retrace your steps back to the fork and continue to look for the trail in the trees. You shouldn’t be hiking next to the creek anymore after 1.5 km.

The trail is somewhat obscured by the trees, but as you start into the trees, you will see the trail. It is steep and requires some clambering up slabs. This is where the climbing begins. You will gain 700 meters of elevation in the next 2.5 km.

  • Bring water – you will need it. Especially on a hot day. Once you start climbing, there is no water on the trail.

At about 2.5 km, you will reach a shoulder with wonderful views of Mount Lorette, Nakiska, Barrier Lake and Prairie View.

first shoulder porcupine ridge
A great place to grab some water and rest your legs for a few minutes as the climbing continues for quite some time.

Continue climbing, after another 500 meters, you will reach another shoulder of sorts. More clambering up slabs and large craggy sections is required. You will find yourself on a spine of rock. Looking forward and at about 2:00, you will see your final destination – the ridge.

second shoulder porcupine ridge
Looking toward the second shoulder. This is not the final destination!

The final push drops you down into a saddle and windy pass and then up through the trees. This was where we encountered snow. The path was well-trodden through the snow, but it was slippery due to how warm it was; which made the descent a bit dicey.

Suddenly, you pop out and you’re on the ridge. Enjoy for as long as you like and then head back the way you came. It is a lovely spot for a snack and some water. Bring a coat if you think you might like to linger. The wind picked up while we were on the ridge. And after sweating for so long on the way up, you can get cold rather quickly.

Top of Porcupine Ridge
A pretty nice place to have a well-deserved snack!

Make sure to use caution on the way down. And don’t be afraid to employ the crab walk down the slabby sections! Falling on your head is a surefire way to have a terrible time.

Porcupine Ridge is beautiful, but also a steep climb and a bit of a slog at times. I recommend you do it, but not in the middle of summer when there are other fabulous hikes like Lake Magog that you can do!

7 Stars

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