North Powderface Loop

The Trail Creek parking area and Trail Creek trail has always struck me as being completely useless for hiking up to Powderface Ridge. However, I have recently come across a trail that connects to the top of North Powderface Ridge, resulting in a very pleasant loop from this little trailhead.

Compared to the popular, but unofficial trailhead at the high point of the Powderface Road, the Trail Creek trailhead is 100 m lower in elevation and nearly twice as far from Powderface (Three Trail) Pass. If you are just hiking up onto Powderface Ridge, it makes more sense to start higher and arrive at the pass after a short 1.3 km walk. But if you can make a loop hike, then it seems sensible to start and finish at the lowest point. The section between the north end of Powderface Ridge and the Trail Creek trailhead can be hard to find from the top, so I’ll describe the route in a clockwise direction.

North Powderface Ridge

North Powderface Ridge

From the spot where the Trail Creek Trail crosses the Powderface Road, walk north along the road for about 300 metres, past a creek to the point where a grassy rib meets the road on your right. Turn east and walk up this grassy rib, then follow the edge of the embankment for another 300 m. The route then turns north (left) and follows an open rib uphill for a short distance before making several switchbacks up about 250 m elevation to the ridge-crest. The route is clear of deadfall and is marked with some old blazes, a few bits of flagging and some small rock cairns.

Once you get to ridge-crest, you can see the wide open, broad, grassy ridgeline of North Powderface Ridge, curving around in a great arc back towards Powderface Pass. Just follow the ridge-top around to the high point at the NE corner of the loop. This is the the end of the North Powderface Ridge hike (#56A) as decribed in Volume 2 of the 4th edition of the Kananaskis Country Trail Guide. Just reverse the directions in the guidebook to get yourself to Powderface (Three Trails) Pass. This section is a glorious walk on a broad ridge, with views in every direction. The western view is dominated by the full length of Nihahi Ridge. Looking north, you can see past Jumpingpound Ridge to Yamnuska and the Fairholme Range on the other side of the Bow Valley. Turning to the east, you see Moose Mountain, Prairie Mountain and the Elbow Valley all the way back to Calgary. As you head south, you get ever changing views of Powderface Ridge, Iyhare Ipan and the Banded Peak-Glasgow-Cornwall peaks, looking especially impressive with a blanket of snow.

From the trail sign at Powderface (Three Trail) Pass, turn west (right) and follow the official trial downhill for 1.1 km. At the junction, keep right to stay on the official Trail Creek trail. If you miss this junction, you’ll end up at the popular (but unofficial) trailhead within 200 m. Just backtrack and return to the Trail Creek trail.

From the junction, it is a gentle 1.3 km descent back to your car. Despite the fact that this section of trail roughly parallels the Powderface Road, it is a pleasant trail with a couple of nice viewpoints. The total loop is about 7 kilometers in length, with approximately 450 m of elevation gains and there are excellent views for over half of that distance. It’s a great loop for the fall shoulder season and for early June flowers!

North Powderface Map
5 comments… add one
  • RyderDA Jun 28, 2012, 7:58 pm

    Went up there today, June 28th 2012, and you can see the story on my blog here:

    Alf’s directions are very good, to a point. That point is the ridge-crest. Up to that point are flagging, blazes and cairns, though sometimes they are a bit far apart. But it’s not a bad trail to follow at all. It’s worth mentioning that on the embankment after ~50 m (not 300) there’s a trail leading up that is NOT the one you want. Stay on the embankment edge and it will become the trail.

    At the ridge crest, you can’t actually see the meadows you’re heading for and there is no marked trail of any kind. So where Alf says “Just follow the ridge-top around to the high point at the NE corner of the loop”, here’s what I would change that to:

    At the ridge crest, the cairns/flags/blazes make a 90° right turn down hill to the south for 30 m, then a 90° left turn across a draw with an occasional stream. Then all trail markings stop. Continue following a wide open gravel bed in a thin forest uphill for 200 m until you get to a small peak with exposed rusty rocks. Turn 90° right and make up your own route uphill 100 m though an open forest to a rock outcropping. Just around the rock outcrop here lies the meadows on the top of the ridge.

    Lots and lots of water running on and across the trail on the descent from the 3 Trails Pass to Trail Creek Parking Lot. We did a bunch of work to improve the drainage, but expect muddy conditions for a while.

  • thepassionatehiker Jun 6, 2012, 5:30 pm

    That’s a great circuit – and the right way round to do the trip, as I think it would be easier starting from Rainy Pass and heading up the slopes, as opposed to trying to find the right way down off the ridge to the Pass – but that’s just my guess.

    All the times I have been up Powderface Creek I had never – until recently – noticed that left turn at Link Trail Junction onto Cow Pass. It’s a very handy link.

    How quickly conditions can change at this time of year. I was up on Moose Mountain on Sunday and apart from a couple of short sections, it was snow-free. Just a few days previously someone had written in the Visitors Book “15 inches fresh snow – slow going”.

  • Alf Skrastins Jun 5, 2012, 9:48 pm

    Actually, just the other day, I hiked from Rainy Pass to Rainy Summit Ridge (Hike #30 in the the edition Kananaskis Trail Guide, Volume 2), and along the ridgetop of the south half of Powderface Ridge (Hike #31A) to get to the regular ridge-top half of Powderface Ridge. I avoided one more snow-bound forest section of the official Powderface trail by staying on the open ridgeline for the last stretch just before Powderface (3-Trail) Pass. From the Powderface Creek trail, I then used the Cow Pass trail (Hike # 28E) and the Southwest Fork trail (Hike #28B) to make a nice loop back to Rainy Pass. No shuttle required!
    There was virtually no snow on this entire route. It is unfortunate that the official Powderface Trail spends so much of the time on the viewless, dark, shady, snow-choked east side of Powderface Ridge.

  • thepassionatehiker Jun 5, 2012, 5:58 pm

    Great idea – look forward to doing it. If you really wanted to be lazy, I suppose you could always leave a bike at the high point for a quick return down the road but why bother for the sake of a short stroll through the trees.

    Just in case anyone is heading up there in the next few days, I did a huge circuit the weekend before last, from Powderface parking area on the Elbow Valley Hiway, up Powderface Creek to the ridge, and south along the ridge with the intention of dropping down to Rainy Pass where I had hidden my bike. There is still a lot of snow up there (at least up until today’s heavy rain), and the trail is only passable through the trees due to a few hikers having packed the snow down. There is an enormous snowdrift off the east face where the Powderface Trail usually heads down off the ridge into the trees – totally impassable.

    I stayed along the top of the ridge in a southerly direction (mostly easy walking on thin snow) but I stopped where the ridge becomes forested due to soft deep snow. Not possible to drop down to Rainy Pass yet.

    So I had to return back along the ridge, where I dropped down to the Powderface Trail road on the west side and slogged all the way back to Rainy Pass and my bike. I should have had a second bike on Powderface Trail as it’s downhill almost all the way to the Elbow Valley. A 27 km circuit overall and a bit of a slog, but a good hike/bike trip.

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