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Melanie Woods

Two local spring hikes to start the season

By Melanie Woods, June 7 2016 —

Hiking is one of the most rewarding summer hobbies in and around Calgary. The Rocky Mountains are a natural playground, and exploring them is a great way to stay fit and experience some of Canada’s most stunning scenery.

Before you hit the trails, ensure you have all of the proper equipment. Sturdy shoes with ankle support are a must. Dress in layers for unexpected weather changes. Bring at least 2–3 litres of water if you plan on being out for most of the day and a healthy lunch with plenty of snacks. Don’t forget your bear spray — you’ll probably never use it, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

While parts of the mountains may still be snow-covered or flooded in June, here are two great spring hikes to get you out before the summer rush.

Ribbon Falls is one of Alberta's best spring hikes.

Ribbon Falls is one of Alberta’s best spring hikes.

Ribbon Creek to Ribbon Falls:
(311 m elevation gain, 22 km distance)

Ribbon Falls is a gentle season starter that can help set the stage for larger hikes. But don’t let the lack of elevation fool you — it’s a rewarding trail showcasing various small waterfalls leading to the titular water feature. The trail is best early in the season, as it’s less crowded and the spring runoff in Ribbon Creek creates dozens of smaller waterfalls throughout the gorge. A friend and I made the trek in mid-April, and we only saw two other groups over the course of the six-hour hike.

Starting from the Ribbon Creek parking lot, the trail first rambles through the remnants of an old logging town. We encountered a park ranger at the trailhead who informed us of recent bear activity in the area — a good reminder to keep up loud conversation throughout the hike.

Despite extensive damage from the 2013 floods, the path is well-maintained and follows several wooden bridges across the creek. This allows for some spectacular views of the gorge as you slowly ascend.

The falls themselves were frozen when we arrived, but they should thaw by mid-June. There’s a small lookout with benches for an ideal rest stop and the opportunity to partially scale the cliff behind the falls.

With such small elevation gain spread out over a longer distance, Ribbon Falls is more of a pleasant walk through the woods than a mountain trek. It’s an ideal warm-up and a great way to get outside before attempting bigger mountains.


Forgetmenot Ridge features meadows at its summit.

Forgetmenot Ridge:

(705 m elevation gain, 20 km distance)

Forgetmenot Ridge is a more strenuous — but rewarding — hike. The highway to the trailhead doesn’t open until May 14 every year, but the trail is best enjoyed early in the summer season when the wildflower meadows on the ridge are in full bloom.

The trail starts at the Little Elbow Campground and crosses a suspension bridge before turning towards the ridge. One of the most exciting moments comes early in the hike where spring runoff necessitates a river crossing. When I forded the river at the end of May, the water wasn’t much deeper than knee height. But it’s still smart to bring an extra pair of shoes to avoid cold feet for the rest of the hike.

After the river crossing, the trail meanders a short way before reaching a junction marked by a large cairn. What appears to be the obvious trail forks to the left, while a smaller track ascends to the right.

It’s the small single track on the right that leads up Forgetmenot Ridge. Most of the hike’s elevation is gained in this section as the trail quickly rises through dense trees and exposed sections of scree.

The top of the ridge features a 360 degree view and is filled with fields of forget-me-not flowers.

Once you’ve crested the ridge, most hikers turn left to the ridge’s northern edge where a peak is marked by a large cairn. To the right, you have the option to walk several kilometres along the ridge-top to Old Forgetmenot — the ridge’s true highpoint in terms of elevation — or the lower Forgetmenot Mountain a short hike beyond.

My group chose Old Forgetmenot as our summit. A brief scramble over an outcrop of jagged, lichen covered rocks is necessary to get there. But at the summit, with prairie views spread out before us to the east and towering mountains to the west, a chipmunk joined us for lunch — we appreciated the company.

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