Introduction

Trail under construction in mossy forest.

The High Rockies Trail, which connects Goat Creek at the Banff Park boundary to Elk Pass on the Alberta B.C. boundary, is the westernmost section of the The Great (Trans Canada) Trail in Alberta. The project’s proponent, Alberta TrailNet, envisions the trail becoming a world-class destination trail through Kananaskis Country, with shuttle busses transporting trail users between trailheads — this may take a while! Contrary to its name, most of the trail keeps to the valley bottoms, hardly “the Jewell in the Trans Canada Trail Crown” as touted.

A mixture of old and new trails, the High Rockies Trail heads south from Goat Creek along existing trails west of the Spray/Smith-Dorrien Highway (742). It passes Goat Pond, crosses Three Sisters Dam and heads down to Driftwood day-use area where it crosses to the east side of the highway for the remainder of the way to Lower kananaskis Lake.

Between Driftwood and the start of the Buller avalanche slopes the trail winds through predominantly mossy forest. The plan was to route the trail 200–500 m uphill from the highway to catch the best views through open areas, but you don't get much in the way of views until the trail breaks out across the scree slopes of Mount Buller. Now follows the most scenic section of the High Rockies Trail heading around Mount Buller to Chester Lake trailhead. Short connectors have been built to access existing day-use areas along the highway.

From Chester Lake trailhead the HRT makes use of the old Sawmill ski trails, now designated as snowshoe trails, although the new bridges are wide enough for grooming and tracksetting in the future. This section is not particularly good for hiking. Trail runners and mountain bikers will probably make use of it. One advantage is that there are several possible loops for those who only have one vehicle and don't want to walk back the way they came. The rest of the way to Lower Kananaskis Lake is mostly through trees with a surprising amount of height gain as a result of the designer's efforts to find interesting creek crossings and maximise the limited views. The suspension bridge, the showpiece of the trail, is on this section between Black Prince and the Lower Lake.

On the way to Buller Creek
The pointed peak is Eon Mountain

After reaching Lower Kananaskis Lake the trail passes through Canyon campground then turns south along the power line, crossing the park road to Elkwood and on past the end of Marl Lake using existing paved trails. The final section heads south on a paved trailto Boulton Trading Post, a potential supply point for through hikers or bikers. It then follows dirt trails along Boulton Creek and up Fox Creek to Elk Pass on the power line where a kiosk will be erected. In winter much of the route is on groomed ski trails that are closed to fat bikes. The number of snowshoers attempting to through hike (snowshoe) the HRT in winter is likely to be very small, and they will have to snowshoe the ski trails. A group of students from BC has erected a carved cedar log portal on their side of the border welcoming visitors to the Elk Valley.

The section between Goat Creek trailhead and the bridge over Buller Creek was completed summer 2015 to a very high standard. The next four phases between Buller and Lower Kananaskis Lake were built in 2016. The approximately 80 km-long trail was finished before Canada’s 150th celebration in 2017.

The trail caters to hikers, trail runners and mountain bikers. It remains to be seen how much the trail will be used in winter by snowshoers, skiers, winter walkers and fat-tire bikers. Note that bicycles are not allowed on any of the trails east of the HRT. The section north of Buller Creek is closed in winter because it crosses avalanche slopes. Also be aware of steep banks on some bridge approaches that may sluff-off heavy wet snow in early spring. Take a look at the avalanche forecast before you go.