* All photos taken by lotzacurls *
* Day hike/scramble. Horseshoe-shaped loop. No signs, but distinct path.
* Difficulty: Demanding hike / Easy scramble (Class 3 & 4 sections)
* Distance: Roughly 11 kms (4-6 hrs total)
* Elevation gain: Roughly 750m
* Trailhead: On Mount Shark/Engadine Lodge Road (off Smith Dorrien Trail/hwy 742)
Tent Ridge is probably my favourite hike that falls into the scramble category. You’re certainly not in mountaineering terrain, but you’ve definitely graduated past simple hiking here. If you have experience with easy scrambles, or are comfortable with heights and exposure, this is the adventurous hike for you!
On this hike, you’ll walk through forests of larches and evergreens, cross an alpine meadow, walk along rocky ridges and gain an impressive 750 metres in elevation. Views from the 1st and 2nd summits, as well as down onto the Spray Lake valley, are breathtaking.
This is fairly steep and rocky terrain - Friends of Kananaskis have rated it as a Class 4 (due to one tricky spot) and it has a few short Class 3 scramble sections; read up on the YDS (rating system) here. TrailForks rates it as SAC Class T3. It is the kind of adventure where hikers with experience won’t even hesitate at the scrambles or heights, but inexperienced hikers could get completely freaked out.
A great article by Friends of Kananaskis explains: The moment you need anything other than your feet and hiking poles to move, you are not hiking: you are scrambling. You’ll need to use your hands on this one and keep your wits about you if you’re squeamish about exposure or heights. That being said, all of it is doable. I’ve seen 10 year-olds up here, as well as a few folks in their 70s. I’m afraid of heights and I’ve done it twice. Carefully. So know your capabilities before setting out; it would really suck to turn around mid-point, but it would be worse to freeze or panic at the wrong spot. OK, responsible disclaimer over.
Tent Ridge is maintained by Alberta Parks because of the weather/communication box sitting atop its peak, but it is not a designated trail. There is no signage throughout the hike, but the trail is straightforward, other than on its scrambling sections.
Make sure you purchase a Kananaskis Conservation Pass before coming out; the fine for parking without one is 180.00 $. Before setting out, check the Kananaskis Country Trail Report for possible trail closures and warnings (you are in grizzly territory). Hike in a group and bring your bear spray.
Lastly, I do find hiking poles to be helpful, as I tend to lean too far forward when walking uphill and they help my knees on the way back down. They also provided extra traction with the many steep sections on this trail.
OK, let’s check it out!
The trail begins on Mount Shark Road (off Smith-Dorrien Trail). Park your vehicle at the large unmarked dirt lot on the right side of the road about 1.5 kms after turning onto Mount Shark Road. Cross the road and walk back the way you came for a few dozen metres until you see a trail heading up on your right. Once you find this trailhead, route finding will be easy.
You’ll walk uphill through a lot of forest and a few open spots for at least an hour. Always keep to the obvious trail, even as the bush and forest thickens. The ridge you’ll eventually be clambering onto will be visible from time to time over the treeline. After about an hour or so, you’ll finally arrive at the large meadow situated within the Tent Ridge horseshoe.
From the alpine meadow, the trail heads left for a steeper climb into more forest. Eventually (after 20 minutes or so), the path heads right, the forest ends and you pop out at the bottom of the rocky ridge. Prepare for adventure!
Over the next hour, you’ll be climbing up and along the left arm of the horseshoe. As you climb upward, the once-distinct sandy trail will become rockier and fainter, but still obvious.
You’ll sometimes skirt some pretty steep avalanche chutes, but you almost always have wide spaces for adequate footing. The slopes are quite slanted so it wouldn't be a straight fall down, but the climb can be quite vertigo-inducing.
Eventually the trail becomes a bit more treacherous; there are some class 3 and 4 scrambles here. In a few spots, a fall would have dire consequences. Use your hands to hold on to rocks, keep your balance and you’ll be fine.
Near the scrambling areas, avoid heading to the left side of the ridge, as it’s very exposed. At one point, I found myself stranded on a ledge and started feeling slightly panicky, as did my hiking partner. I couldn’t back up or turn around, but was able to climb up some rocks to get off the ledge but it really left me shaken, as a fall could easily have been fatal. After that, I made sure to look up constantly and keep my eyes open for the best and safest route possible. My second visit to Tent Ridge went much better.
Shortly after the scrambly sections, you reach the weather beacon that sits atop the first summit. I was not prepared for the stunning views here; I must have sat for 30 minutes with my jaw hanging open.
I usually only take one lunch break when I hike, but I like my two lunch spots on Tent Ridge. The first one is at the weather box; the second one is at the 2nd summit. Not only do I bring lots of snacks to keep my energy up, but the views are outstanding at both summits.
Jason heading down toward the saddle. Try to spot the trail leading back up to the second summit.
You’ll lose 100 metres of elevation when descending to crest the saddle between the two arms of the horseshoe. Then you’ll climb back up a stiff 250m to reach the second summit. It’s a bit of a 30-minute slog, but it’s not technical whatsoever (unlike your efforts to reach the first summit). The trail is sandy and rocky and follows short switchbacks all the way up. This second summit will be the high point of your day, elevation-wise.
You’ve climbed at least 750m so far today. Take a good rest on this 2nd summit. Take photos of the breathtaking views before continuing on the second half of the hike (yes, the 2nd summit is considered the halfway point). Most of the day’s effort has already been expended - relax and enjoy the views now.
You’ll have to negotiate a spot of boulders to get from the 2nd summit onto the right arm of the horseshoe, but it’ll probably feel like a piece of cake at this point (although if you get vertigo, don’t look down). The next few kilometres involve casually strolling atop the right ridge, which is much longer than the left ridge. You’ve earned this chance to walk freely whilst enjoying the scenery - appreciate your accomplishment!
As you approach the end of the right ridge, views of the Spray Lake valley will get better and better. You’ll spot a few turquoise-coloured lakes, such as Marushka (Shark) Lake and Watridge Lake, on your left. Soon, the trail will abruptly drop and you’ll begin a steep descent into the forest.
The path down is obnoxiously steep on slippery sand and gravel; tighten up your boots to keep your feet from slipping forward. Poles are definitely your friend here.
Slippery sand eventually gives way to packed earth and trees, providing better footing. After 45 minutes of losing elevation rather quickly, you’ll eventually turn right along a flat 4x4 trail that leads you back to your parking spot.
This is yet another gem of a hike/scramble to appreciate in beautiful Kananaskis Country, Alberta. I hope you enjoyed reading about it as much as I enjoyed tackling it!
See you on the trails!
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