Wednesday, November 04, 2015

First Summits - Forgetmenot Ridge, Kananaskis

Forgetmenot Ridge is a fabulous late spring or fall hike in the Elbow Valley. While I wouldn't choose it for a prime July/August hike when there are alpine meadows to explore, it's perfect for waking up those sleepy leg muscles in June.

When we first hiked this trail, it was an un-seasonably warm day in late October and I was able to stand on the summit in a tank top. This story contains the original photos from our 2015 hike along with updated photos from 2023 when I returned to hike more of the ridge.

Forgetmenot Ridge is a great spring or fall hike in the Elbow Valley

Quick Stats

Elevation Gain: 700 metres to the North summit

Trail Distance: 10 km return to the North summit

Starting Point and Access: Little Elbow Recreation Area and Campground off Hwy 66 (park at Forgetmenot Pond or just beyond at the parking area just before the campground gate)

Best Season:  Late spring through fall when the highway is open (Highway 66 closes at Elbow Falls  for the season on December 1st and opens again on May 15th each year.) For more information on road closures, visit the Alberta Parks website.

Time it took us to complete the hike: 6 hours round trip to the North summit

All Trails Link to the Forgetmenot Ridge Hike 

Forgetmenot Ridge has a huge summit cairn on the North Summit (updated photo 2023)

Climbing up to the Ridge Top

The hike starts at the Little Elbow Recreation Area and there are a couple of parking lots to choose from. For the closest parking lot, drive past Forgetmenot Pond, and head to the furthest parking lot before entering the campground. Once inside the campground there is no parking for day hikers.

From the parking lot, follow the signed "Little Elbow Interpretive Trail" and make your way to the big suspension bridge that crosses the Elbow River.  - you should be able to see it in the distance.

A photo of the suspension bridge and Elbow River

Once you cross the bridge, you will be on an old fire road called the "Big Elbow Trail." Follow this wide trail until you reach a sign telling you that you are entering the Big Elbow/Little Elbow Loop and turn LEFT onto the Wild Horse Trail. The intersection may not be well marked but it is another wide trail and you'll know you're going the correct way if you end up at the river again (with no bridge this time.)

Cross the river on logs and rocks, or bring sandals along if you are going in summer when the water is higher. Fortunately the river is quite braided here so it is usually easy to find ways across.

If you choose to bring sandals, bring a bag with you, and you can hang them in a tree on the other side of the river for your return.

Crossing the Elbow River in June (updated photo 2023)

Once you cross the river, continue on the trail for about a kilometre and start watching for the cairn that will lead you up the ridge crest of Forgetmenot Ridge. The cairn and side trail are found just after a side creek and trail wash out from the last flood.

If you're starting to feel confused, I strongly encourage purchasing a subscription for All Trails so that you can download the map before you go, and then follow the map to find the trailhead.

Once you're actually ON the Forgetmenot Ridge trail, there's little to no route finding. 

The trail proceeds to climb over 500 metres straight up and I won't lie - it's a slog. 

When we first did this hike, my 6 year old was way faster than me. He charged up the steep slope as if it were flat, running much of the way. 

The final portion of the trail taking you to the ridge, zig zags its way up many switch backs on loose scree (not a problem on the way up but a bit slippery on descent.)

Running up the switch backs to the top of Forgetmenot Ridge

Traversing the Ridge to the North Summit

You'll be able to breathe a sigh of relief when you get your first real views and reach the ridge top. The trail still goes up until you reach the north summit, but it's much more gradual and even feels flat at times.

The first rock outcropping you'll reach on Forgetmenot Ridge

From the first rock outcropping, the trail gradually continues to climb the ridge in and out of trees, and the hiking gets much more open and enjoyable. (Here is where you'll wish you could have taken a helicopter up and could have just spent the whole day hiking on the ridge top.)

The North Summit is in the background and you have to hike around to reach it

We had great fun walking along the open ridge top and we had choices to make once we got out of the trees. We could head left and circle our way over to the north summit, or we could keep hiking towards the higher south summit, another 3 km away. (Most people will choose the closer North summit.)

The final hike to the North Summit

How will you know when you've reached the north summit? You reach the big cairn that you can see from the highway. (for real!)

Summit Shot on Forgetmenot Ridge

The Return Hike and Descent

The return hike was actually quite fast and we found a short cut off the summit ridge that cut off a kilometre of distance perhaps. (Basically, you hike straight down to the lower ridge rather than looping around to get off the summit ridge.)

We had to stop for photos on this giant boulder found on the summit ridge
Feeling pretty proud of himself for reaching the north summit

We enjoyed rambling and easy walking along the ridge until we reached the steep descent trail.

I found the trail down to be steep, slippery, and FAST. My son pretty much dragged my husband down the 500 m of height loss on the descent trail as they were holding hands and running. (And I could hardly keep up.)

The kid is a speed demon at 6!

Want to Continue to the South Summit? 

I returned to do this hike again in 2023 with girlfriends and after tagging the North Summit, we continued on to the South Summit further down the ridge.

Continuing to the South Summit adds approximately 6 km to the trip (round trip) for a total distance of 16 km (round trip.)

Note the All Trails hike also shows the option to continue even further to Forgetmenot Mountain for a round trip distance of 21 km. - Guess that will have to be next year's hike.

South Summit and a new pink summit register signed

Technically the South Summit is only 100 metres higher than the North Summit, but there's a bit of extra height lost/gained on the traverse between the two.

My tracking summary for the hike showed that we had gained 900 metres tagging both summits.

My total hiking time for both summits was 7 hours, so prepare for a longer day if you want to make the traverse.

Scenery traversing to the south Summit 

Forgetmenot Ridge is a beautiful hike in the Elbow Valley

I also recommend having a map downloaded. It was fairly obvious that we just had to traverse the ridge, but there was one small cliff band that we had to scramble our way up, and on the way back, it was tricky finding the exact spot where we needed to leave the ridge to find the descent trail back down.

South Summit Forgetmenot Ridge

The South Summit was a bit anticlimactic after the large rock cairn we found on the North Summit, but it was a fun traverse between the two summits on a beautiful spring day.

It was a long hike back along the rocky ridge

Guess next time, I'll be returning to finish the traverse to the Forgetmenot Mountain Summit.

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