Hiking Mount Allan Centennial Trail in Kananaskis
To get a great view of two big valleys, check out the Centennial trail on Mount Allan in Kananaskis. About an hour away from Calgary, this beautiful, non-technical ridge walk and allows you to walk for hours uninterrupted on a beautiful alpine ridge. Once you break out of the trees after less than hour, you’re in the alpine for the rest of the day – literally, for hours.
History of the Mount Allan Centennial trail
The trail was built in 1967 by the Rocky Mountain Ramblers Association, a climbing club from Calgary, to commemorate Canada’s centennial.
Big on views
On this hike you’ll get a view of Canmore and the Bow Valley, and the Kananaskis valley on the other side. Plus, because this mountain is on the edge of the Rockies, you’ll get a wide open view of the prairies to the east. This hike is big on views! Though it’s easy as in non-technical, this mountain is fairly big with almost 1500 meters of elevation gain and 16 kilometre total round-trip.
The trail is easy to follow and the main route starts near the base of Nakiska ski resort, at Ribbon creek parking lot. Follow the trail through a few intersections, including one that goes to an old mine. The trail is well signed.
The first part of the trail is easy until you connect with the ridge and switchbacks on the open meadow, which give big elevation gain in a short distance. Because this trail is quite old – remember it was built in 1967 – it’s not well graded like new trails we see today, and is quite steep in spots, and certain parts of the trail are becoming quite eroded. The trail gains 600 m in only 2 kilometres.
Once you’re on the ridge proper, it’s very enjoyable walking until you get to the last summit push. The trail will drop down to a col and then climb back up steeply over scree to the summit. Make sure to follow the trail and stay on the ridge proper – don’t venture out to the left as the scree is very loose and exposed.
The Centennial trail can be done two ways, from either the north or south sides. The ridge trail itself spans the entire mountain, and leads down both the north and south sides. Most people do the hike from the south side, starting at Ribbon creek, so if you want more solitude, start from the north.
The north trailhead starts in the other valley, close to Canmore, near the hamlet of Dead Man’s Flats. To hike from there, park at the Skogan pass trailhead and follow signs for Mount Allan. The ultimate would be to do the entire ridge by parking a car at each trailhead. We haven’t done it, but spoke to those who have and it comes highly recommended. This would be only a slightly longer walk but you’ll do the same elevation. You’ll have to budget about an hour to do the car shuttle, making it a very full day trip.
When to go
This trail is closed annually every spring from April 1 until June 21. A great time to do the trail is in the off season, after the summer is over and majority of the summer vacation crowd is gone. In the summer, particularly after it opens for the first time you’ll probably find it’s very crowded with people. This trail gets busier and busier every year and right after it opens, people are itching to go get on it. September and October are great times to do it, as there are much less people on it once a bit of snow falls. If you don’t mind walking on a bit of snow it’s much better to do it later in the season.
This trail is also a great trail run, if you want the extra challenge. It’s “mostly” smooth except for the final summit slope, which is loose and difficult to run.
Distance and elevation
From Ribbon creek, the round trip distance to the summit and back is 16 km with a 1480 m elevation gain. The trip should take fit people about 5 – 7 hours round trip, and of course will vary depending on how many breaks you take.
Bring lots of water. The day is long and you’ll be exposed to the sun and wind all day, so you’ll get dehydrated. There is no water along this trail.
On some of the looser sections hiking poles are nice, though this is a personal preference. The ridge is often prone to strong winds and because it’s high alpine, inclement weather can blow in quickly any time of year, so layers are good to have to prevent getting cold. Don’t get stuck up there in a thunderstorm either, it’s very open terrain.
How to get there
To get to the south trailhead
The south trailhead starts at Ribbon Creek parking lot. Take highway 40 heading west from highway 1, turn left on Mount Allan drive. Take your first left on Centennial Drive and first right on Ribbon Creek Road. Park in the large parking lot at the end of the road.
To get to the north trailhead
The north trailhead starts at Dead Man’s Flats. Turn into George Biggy Sr Road from highway 1 and drive to the end, turning right to park at a large gravel lot next to Banff Gate Mountain Resort. The trail begins at the south end of the parking lot. Follow signs to Mount Allan.
More information including trail conditions and closures on Alberta Parks website.
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