Over the course of our month in Canmore we did around 25 different hikes, ranging from short 1-hour strolls to epic mountain adventures. The Tent Ridge horseshoe hike was definitely one of the latter. In fact, we went back and forth for quite some time trying to decide whether it was actually the best hike we did during our entire stay. In the end, we came to the conclusion that the stunning Smutwood Peak was ever so slightly more deserving of that honour but, I can assure you, Tent Ridge came in a very close second on our list of Best Hikes Near Canmore.
But then we made it to amazing Lake O’Hara and moved it to the top. Maybe we’re a little guilty of recency bias. Either way, we sometimes mentally move Tent Ridge back to first depending on our mood. The point is, the Tent Ridge hike is pretty amazing, and one that we would highly recommend for anyone with a reasonable amount of mountain hiking experience.
As you might guess from the name, Tent Ridge itself is shaped like a horseshoe and once you make it to the top (at either end) you get to spend the next 2-3 hours traversing the ridge, enjoying unbelievable views the entire time.
There are many excellent hikes that, nonetheless, involve many hours of hiking all to reach just 2 or 3 top viewpoints, so being able to enjoy the fabulous scenery the whole time along the ridge is a pretty outstanding benefit. Throw in the fact that it’s a loop, also very unusual in the Canadian Rockies, and you can see why the Tent Ridge hike is one of the very best around.
Where is Tent Ridge?
Located in the heart of Kananaskis Country about 40 kilometres south of Canmore, the trail is accessed via the very scenic but often quite rough Spray Lakes Road, officially known as the Smith Dorrien trail. Don’t worry, it isn’t really just a trail, it is actually a nice, wide road. It is not paved, however, and sections of this gravel road can be quite heavily washboarded, which is why it can take up to an hour to cover the relatively short distance.
How to get to the Tent Ridge Hike
Heading south from Canmore on the Smith Dorrien Trail for roughly 40 kilometres, you will turn off to the right (west) at the Mount Engadine Lodge. From here you follow a narrow logging road for a few minutes (crossing a small bridge) to reach the Mount Shark trailhead. There are a few routes that start here so it is a good idea to use the AllTrails app to make sure you get started on the right trail.
Tent Ridge Parking
There are two small parking areas a few hundred metres apart, each directly next to the trail. Since the Tent Ridge Horseshoe hike is a loop trail you can hike in either direction. Choose the first parking lot to start clockwise, the second to hike it counterclockwise. Although they aren’t far apart and you’ll need to walk from one to the other either at the beginning or end anyway.
How long does Tent Ridge take?
Although the entire Tent Ridge hike is only 11 kilometres, not particularly long for the area, it involves 850 metres of elevation gain so it will take most people at least 5 hours to complete. Plus, in good weather it will be very tempting to linger along the way as the viewpoints are truly spectacular and there are plenty of them, each offering a somewhat different view. The hike reaches a maximum elevation of over 2,500 metres and does involve some steep parts and occasional scrambling so it definitely takes longer than you might expect based on the numbers alone.
Tent Ridge Trail details
11 km / 5 hrs / 850m / max elevation 2,520m
As I mentioned, it is a really nice bonus that the Tent Ridge hike is a loop trail. Most hikes around Canmore are out and backs which require you to retrace your steps which, even if those steps took place in some beautiful backcountry, still isn’t as fun as doing a hike that provides something new every step of the way. In addition, the hike can be done in either direction.
However, based on AllTrails reviews we went clockwise and would highly recommend that direction. There are two particularly steep sections along the trail where hikers access the ridge at either end of the horseshoe. The eastern side of the horseshoe, which you climb up when going clockwise, is not only very steep but quite narrow and actually requires a fair bit of climbing and scrambling in areas where you really would not want to fall.
So, for starters, people who don’t like heights or aren’t confident scrambling up difficult trails may want to think twice about attempting this trail at all. But most people should be able to manage it – just put away your hiking poles, take your time and be careful. Personally, though, we find this type of terrain much easier to climb up than down, which is why we found it preferable to hike clockwise. The steep part at the other end is much different – wide open, rocky and somewhat slippery switchbacks. Not ideal when heading down, but not dangerous at all. So that is our recommendation and the way we will describe it but if you are an experienced mountain hiker not bothered by any of these conditions then it is certainly feasible to go either direction.
Clockwise, the trail starts out with an hour-or-so climb through the trees that seems standard on every hike in the Kananaskis region, followed by a brief flat walk through a nice meadow. From there the difficulty ramps up, steeply through the trees, then up the difficult ridge I described. Soon, though, you will reach the first “corner” with its weather station for reference, and the views are stupendous in all directions, including magnificent Mount Engadine and Rummel Lake.
Then it is back down slightly to a nice saddle (lined with bright yellow larches when we visited in September) and back up to the second corner, with amazing close views of the Fist, Mount Smuts and Mount Shark. After that, as you make your way along the western ridge your views of down the lake-filled valley (including Watridge Lake and Shark Lake) to the west just keep getting better and better until you reach the end and gaze out on extraordinary landscape of the Smith Dorrien, Buller Pass and gorgeous Spray Lakes (calm and glassy the day we hiked).
Take your time to enjoy the sights here as soon you will tackle the steep slope down before spending the final hour hiking down through the trees back to the trailhead.
Tent Ridge Weather
To state the obvious, mountain weather is unpredictable. So you need to be prepared for almost anything. But how much you enjoy the Tent Ridge hike is going to be far more weather dependent than most hikes. With so much time spent on an exposed ridge at relatively high altitude, it really makes sense to plan it for a day with a decent forecast. We find that Mountain Forecast is one of the best sites at predicting trail conditions, mainly because it actually differentiates by altitude.
Plus, in poor conditions this hike could actually be quite dangerous. The narrow climbing sections would be pretty treacherous in rain or snow, and strong winds could also cause problems. Everyone should try to be honest about their own abilities and whatever you do, don’t take this hike lightly.
What to Take
It is always important to be prepared when venturing out hiking, especially in the mountains, and Tent Ridge is particularly exposed. Obviously, long, challenging hikes require more advance planning and safety gear but even for short hikes you still need to be properly equipped. Dressing properly will make the experience much more enjoyable and carrying useful safety supplies can ensure you are prepared in case mishaps take place (as they tend to). Here is a quick checklist of items we alway carry, wear or use while hiking:
A good day pack is essential. We have recently become big fans of Gregory packs and would recommend the Gregory Miwok 18 for short hikes or when your gear is split between two people. And the Gregory Optic 48 for longer hikes. I know 48L sounds big but it is a super-light and comfortable pack that cinches down smaller when it isn’t full.
Water is obviously important and we go back and forth between using a Camelbak bladder and just a couple of water bottles. We also keep a few Aquatabs with us at all times just in case we ever run low and want to treat some river or lake water. They are tiny and every now and then come in quite handy. It is always a good idea to carry some snacks as well. It never hurts and sometimes hikes end up taking longer than planned.
Laynni always hikes in compression leggings that she swears by for the extra knee, hip and muscle support.
Layers, baby! Considering the Tent Ridge Horseshoe starts at around 1,800 metres elevation and climbs to a height of over 2,500 metres, you could easily experience significant changes in weather. We couldn’t have asked for better late September weather – calm, warm and sunny. And we still cooled off pretty quickly while lingering at the best viewpoints.
Merino wool is definitely the way to go for your base layer. Warm, quick-drying and doesn’t smell.
Fleece is usually the ideal second layer, providing warmth and comfort.
You will definitely want a wind resistant layer, either a windbreaker or a rain jacket, which can do double duty if it comes to that. As I mentioned, I had my down jacket along mostly to fill space in my 45L backpack (it is more comfortable when the heavier items are up toward the middle instead of at the bottom) but used it during our lunch break.
Once again, depending on the temperature you may also want to carry a toque (i.e. beanie or ski cap) and gloves as it can feel 5-10 degrees colder in the wind on the ridge than it does down at the parking lot.
And just in case we are so impressed by the scenery that we decide it’s worth a photo with both of us in it we always carry the tiny, extremely handy octopus tripod.
Of course, a comprehensive first-aid kit is key to make sure those “mishaps” are simply inconvenient and don’t ruin your whole day.
Other useful items that we sometimes carry and sometimes don’t, depending on the hike:
There are lots of steep sections along this hike where poles can be helpful, both in dragging yourself up and bracing yourself on the way down. They help you balance on the exposed ridges and save wear and tear on your knees going down. And make sure you have a way to attach them to your backpack for the parts where you need to the use of both your hands.
Grizzlies are commonly spotted in the area so take all the normal precautions for hiking in bear country – stay alert, make a lot of noise, consider a bear bell (can’t hurt, right?), and definitely carry bear spray in an easily accessible location.
Sunscreen. Much of this trail is very exposed, which doesn’t just mean wind and/or rain, but also a lot of sun. And at these altitudes the sun can be a lot stronger than you expect.
Well, that probably covers most of it, although somehow we have even more to say on the matter in our Day Hike Packing List post. Check it out if you’re looking for even more detailed info.
Tent Ridge Horseshoe Hike Summary
Simply put, this is a tremendous day hike. The scenery is almost too good to be true and the variety of different viewpoints is outstanding. Throw in some nice forest walking and the fact it can be done as a loop and the Tent Ridge Horseshoe hike is definitely one that every avid mountain hiker needs to have on their Rockies bucket list!
Where to Stay in Canmore
A benefit of slow travel and staying for a month is that we can also rent a fully-equipped apartment, get a monthly rate and have plenty of space and all the comforts of home. We stayed at the Canadian Rockies Chalets and it was excellent – well-equipped, roomy and walking distance to grocery stores and downtown. A couple other good choices are Base Camp Chalets (next door) and the Lamphouse Inn, which is right downtown.
Mount Kidd RV Park is one of the best campgrounds in the Rockies and a great place to base yourself close to all the best Kananaskis hikes.
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