Heart Mountain Hike – Big Adventure Near Canmore

On the Heart Mountain hike near Canmore, an ordinary human can summit up to three mountains in a single day. That’s something worth bragging about, but in all honesty that wasn’t my main motivation for doing it. My son, Brady suggested we do the hike as a family, and I couldn’t resist. I always try to say yes whenever my children ask if I’d like to do something with them. Hiking adventures are better when you share them with people you love. Bragging rights from the Heart Mountain hike were just a bonus.

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Heart Creek Trailhead and Day Use Area

You’ll find the trailhead for the Heart Mountain hike at the Heart Creek Day Use Area in Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park. It’s a 22-minute drive south-east from Canmore in Kananaskis Country. Since this mountain trail is in a provincial park, you don’t need a national park pass to access it. Take the Lac des Arcs exit and follow the highway signs for Heart Creek and you’ll find it. Here’s a link to the location on Google Maps.

An image of the trailhead for the Heart Creek Trail and the Heart Mountain hike near Canmore, Alberta.
The Heart Mountain trail starts at the Heart Creek Trailhead. Photo by Debbie Olsen.
An image of Heart Creek in Kananaskis, Alberta.
If you have young children or you just want a nice easy hike, go as far as Heart Creek. Photo by Debbie Olsen.

Heart Mountain Hike or Heart Mountain Horseshoe Hike?

The Heart Mountain Hike is 2.8 kilometres (1.75 miles) one-way. You can go up and back down the way you came for a total distance of 5.6 kilometres (3.5 miles) and one peak summit. Or you can opt to hike the Heart Mountain Horseshoe doing a ridge walk that lets you summit three peaks and is 10.3 kilometres (6.4 miles) in total length. We chose to hike the horseshoe loop trail. People who are very fit said they did it in five hours. My husband and I are not very fit and we stopped for lunch and a lot of pictures. It took us seven hours to complete the hike. The up and back hike has an elevation gain for 745 metres (2444 feet) and the loop trail has an elevation gain of 940 metres (3084 feet). I was “feeling the burn” for several days afterwards.

Related: Check out our post How to go Glamping in Alberta.

An image of the steep scramble up Heart Mountain near Canmore, Alberta.
The hike up Heart Mountain trail is a steep scramble. Photo by Debbie Olsen.

What to Bring on the Heart Mountain Hike

This hike is extremely steep and retractable hiking poles can be very useful. Bring a day pack, hiking snacks, a water bottle, a hiking hat, bear spray and good hiking shoes. I have a pack with a water bladder in it that I like taking on day hikes, because it saves having to pack a separate water bottle. If you’re doing this hike in winter, you’ll need ice cleats. It would be difficult to do the Heart Mountain Horseshoe Hike in inclement weather of any kind. It’s very steep and it can be windy at the top. Snow or rain could make it slippery. Snow could also make it more difficult to find the loop trail and make you more likely to get lost. If you’re doing this hike in winter, just do the up and back version and do it carefully on a good weather day.

It’s a Scramble

Shortly after we set out on the Heart Creek Trail, we saw a yellow warning sign notifying hikers that beyond this point the trail is a scrambler’s route that might require the use of hands and feet. Just past the sign is a very steep trail up the mountain. There’s a 745-metre (2444 feet) elevation gain to get to the peak of Heart Mountain, plenty of loose scree (rocks) and several points that are a bit tricky to pass. The rule of thumb on this hike is to always go left and to look for faded red diamonds that mark the route. There are trails to the left that take you on a safer and easier route to bypass some of the rock bands that would be difficult to scramble over.

A picture of a young man taking in the view along the Heart Mountain hike near Canmore, Alberta.
The views of surrounding mountains, valleys and lakes from the trail are lovely. Photo by Debbie Olsen.

How Heart Mountain Got it’s Name

Heart Mountain was named in 1957 for a heart-shaped layer of limestone near the top and the steepest climb is referred to as the crux of the heart. We found faded red triangles that mark the suggested route and navigated up the rocky face to the plateau above. In my case, it took my own hands and feet as well as a hand up from a younger hiker to reach the top, but it was worth it. The view from the top of the mountain is awe-inspiring. We ate our lunch and took pictures along the plateau, which is technically the false summit, before we continued along a trail that led to the actual summit of Heart Mountain at 2135 metres.

An image of a trail marker on the Heart Mountain trail near Canmore, Alberta.
Look closely and you can see the red diamond trail markers that mark the easiest and safest route up Heart Mountain. There’s one on a rock on the left hand side of this image. Photo by Debbie Olsen.
An image of the steepest climb on the Heart Mountain trail near Canmore, Alberta.
Put your poles away when you reach the Crux of the Heart. You’ll need free hands to climb the rock face. Photo by Debbie Olsen.

Ridge Walk to Grant MacEwan Peak

We walked along the ridge east of Heart Mountain and ultimately reached Grant MacEwan Peak, the second summit of the hike. In 2006, this peak was officially named for the former lieutenant-governor of Alberta. At 2149 metres, it is the high point along the ridge. We signed our names in the summit register and took in another expansive view of mountains, meadows and forests.

An image of three people taking in the view along the first section of the Heart Mountain Horseshoe trail near Canmore, Alberta.
The views on the Heart Mountain Horseshoe Trail are beautiful. Photo by Debbie Olsen.
An image of the ridge walk to Grant MacEwan Peak on the Heart Mountain Horseshoe loop trail near Canmore, Alberta.
The ridge walk to Grant MacEwan peak can be a little dicey when the wind picks up. Photo by Debbie Olsen.
An image of four people holding the summit register on Grant MacEwan Peak near Canmore, Alberta.
Bring a pen so you can sign the summit register at the top of Grant MacEwan Peak. It’s the second summit on the Heart Mountain Horseshoe Hike. Photo by Debbie Olsen.

The third peak on this hike doesn’t have an official name, but it is marked by a stone cairn. Once we reached it, we began the descent down a scree-covered rocky path that eventually led to a wide dirt trail through the forest past Quaite Creek and back to the parking area.

An image of the ridge walk between Grant MacEwan peak and the third unnamed peak on the Heart Mountain Horseshoe hike near Canmore, Alberta.
This is a look at the ridge walk between Grant MacEwan Peak and the third unnamed peak on the Heart Mountain Horseshoe hike. Photo by Debbie Olsen.
An image of a couple taking a selfie on the third summit of the Heart Mountain Horseshoe hike near Canmore, Alberta.
You have to take a selfie when you reach the third unnamed summit. It’s a rule. Photo by Debbie Olsen.

Summiting three peaks in a day wasn’t as difficult as I imagined, but it wasn’t easy either. The best thing about it, or any adventure for that matter, is who you share it with.

An image of the steep scramble down from the Heart Mountain Horseshoe trail near Canmore, Alberta.
From the third peak it’s a steep downhill scramble over loose rocks to the lower trail. Hiking poles and good hiking boots are really helpful here. Photo by Debbie Olsen.
An image of the trail through the forest on the last part of the Heart Mountain Horseshoe hike near Canmore, Alberta.
When you reach the dirt trail that winds through the forest, you’re through the hardest part of this hike. Photo by Debbie Olsen.
An image of wildflowers and fungi on the Heart Mountain Horseshoe hike near Canmore, Alberta.
Keep an eye out for wildflowers and wild fungi as you hike through the forest. Photo by Debbie Olsen.

Trail Tips

  • Heart Mountain Horseshoe is about 10.3 km with a 935-metre elevation gain. It’s ranked moderately difficult. It can be hiked year-round, but it sometimes gets very windy at the top and you shouldn’t do this hike if it’s icy. It’s best to hike the loop counter-clockwise, so you’re climbing up the steepest part instead of climbing down it.
  • There is no shade and the hike can be very hot on a sunny day. Take plenty of water, snacks, hiking poles and bear spray.  (We saw bear droppings on the lower section of the trail.)
  • The trailhead is 18 km east of Canmore by the Lac Des Arcs exit. Follow the signs for Heart Creek to the parking lot on the south side of the Trans-Canada Highway.

Related: Read our post about Hiking to Troll Falls in Kananaskis Country.

An image of a bear warning sign in Kananaskis, Alberta.
We saw this warning sign on the way out. We also saw some bear scat on the trail. You should always assume there are bears in this area of the Canadian Rockies. And you should always pack bear spray and make plenty of noise. Photo by Debbie Olsen.

2 thoughts on “Heart Mountain Hike – Big Adventure Near Canmore

  1. Darius Reply

    Thank you so much for the detailed description of this hike!!! awesome content and got me excited knowing where we going and what to expect

    1. wanderwoman Reply

      You’re welcome Darius! Thanks for taking the time to comment. I hope you enjoy the hike! Let us know how it goes and if you have any tips for other hikers. -Debbie

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