This glacier hike in Kananaskis, Alberta, takes hikers into the front range of the Rocky Mountains. You'll be rewarded with one of the last glacial views on the eastern slopes.
Rating - Difficult due to steepness
Distance - 2.7 kilometers one-way
Elevation Gain - 400 meters
Duration - 1 hours
When to Go - July, August, September
The trail to the Rae Glacier is wide and rocky as it follows the crystal clear stream from the ice. The trail winds through a pine forest and quickly punches through the tree line to a boulder field surrounded by towering rock walls on three sides. We were hiking in a natural, wide open and gorgeous amphitheatre surrounded by mountains.
The valley is open and easy to hike. The imposing glacier is never out of sight. We started the trek early in the morning from Highway 40 and there was no one else on the trail. We felt like intruders in this mountain paradise.
Along the way, we saw small pica rodents and large marmots enjoy the hot morning sun. At this altitude (~7200 ft), the air was about +20 C but the sun was scorching. No wonder this glacier was receding so fast.
Access to the trailhead is from the popular Elbow Lake, the headwater for the Elbow River. This is the same Elbow River that eventually becomes the drinking water for the city of Calgary.
At the lake, follow the trail around on the right-hand side as it skirts next to the water, past the campsites. Follow the well marked trail to the creek, turn right and start heading up.
As you're making the ascent, turn around to take in the beauty of the Elbow Valley.
This hike can be done from Highway 40 all the way to the glacier in about 2.5 hours going at a slow pace (so that you can enjoy the views!). Campers at the Elbow Lake backcountry campground can easily make it to the snowline in about 1 hour.
For those die-hard skiers & snowboarders who need a quick downhill fix in the middle of summer, bring your equipment. The snow is hard and there may be some rocks. The run is short but this outdoor adventure is memorable.
Later in the afternoon, after some more hikers joined us near the top, some young kids went sliding down the glacier on garbage bags. They lost control and tumbled through the hard-packed snow. Their laughs bounced off the rock walls and echoed throughout the valley as they headed back up for another icewalk.
Access to this hiking trail is only available so long as Highway 40 is open (mid-June to November). The snow pack lingers well into late June making the trail impassible. The best time to hike in Kananaskis is usually from mid-July to the end of September.
Hiking conditions and wildlife reports can be found at the Kananaskis Hiking Trail Report. A hiking guide isn't required as this is a moderate trek and the glacier conditions are fairly safe.
View Rae Glacier Hike in Kananaskis, Alberta in a larger map
Distance to Calgary - 140 kilometers (1.75 hours)
Distance to Canmore - 92 kilometers (1 hour)
Distance to Banff - 115 kilometers (1.25 hours)
This glacier hike may not be around for long, if the ice sheet keeps melting. Get out there when you have an opportunity, or check out more great hikes and outdoor adventures in Alberta, or visit scenic stops or roadside attractions.