Monday, November 28, 2016

First Summits - Mount Lady Macdonald Hike, Canmore

Continuing with my family "First Summits" series, we tackled one final summit this fall for a grand total of 11 family summits by the end of October. Then I went and bashed one of my knees on a tree root (on a very simple hike) and that ended our hiking season. Fingers crossed for quick healing before ski season!!

2023 edit: The platform everybody used to visit on Mount Lady Macdonald has been removed by Alberta Parks so unfortunately you won't get photos like many of the ones shown in this guide anymore.

Mount Lady Macdonald Family Summit

Mount Lady Macdonald is a technical scramble with a knife edge traverse required to reach the true summit. Needless to say we did not hike to the summit! Rather, we stopped at the "Tea House Platform" (They tried to build a tea house up here many years ago before they realized nobody was climbing up 900 metres for a cup of tea I suppose) and sat back to enjoy the views.

The beautiful platform that we reached sits perched at 2260 metres on Mount Lady Macdonald overlooking the Town of Canmore and the Bow Valley. It's an easy hike up to this point, no hands on scrambling required, and most families with experience hiking on steep terrain should have no problems reaching the platform. Most of the hike is on a fairly decent trail and it only gets tricky to follow in a couple of spots.

Awesome Views over the Bow Valley and Canmore from the platform on Lady Macdonald

Stats for Mount Lady Macdonald to the Platform

Height Gain: 888 metres

Distance: 4.4 km one way to the platform

Time that it took us: 5 Hours round trip time

Best Resource Guide: Kananaskis Country Trail Guide, Volume 3

Following the relatively straight forward path up Mount Lady Macdonald

The Motivation behind tackling Mount Lady Macdonald

I'd already hiked up Mount Lady Macdonald (affectionately referred to as Lady Mac) to the platform once this year so repeating the steep grunt of a climb wasn't high on my priority list. Noah however was BEGGING to climb Lady Mac. It was bothering him that I had "climbed" it and he hadn't. I warned him that it was a very steep trail, that it wasn't an overly exciting hike (no hands on scrambling,) and that the only "fun" part would be reaching the beautiful platform. It didn't matter though because he was determined to do this hike.

I promised Noah that I would not go up Lady Macdonald without him again and that I would take him with me the next time I did the hike. I then marked it down for a spring hike (next year) and forgot about it - until one beautiful fall weekend arrived and I realized we still had time to check it off our list this season. And so we did.

My boys on our way up Lady Macdonald

Hiking up Lady Macdonald

The crux of the whole hike is twofold. First, you have to find parking near Cougar Creek and find the trailhead amidst the current construction going on. Second, you have to find the correct trail leading up Lady Macdonald from Cougar Creek. Leaving the creek too soon will take you along one of the wildlife corridor trails and you'll realize that you are traversing the lower slopes of Lady Mac rather than climbing UP the slope.

Trailhead: From the Tourism Canmore website:  "Drive along Bow Valley Trail and turn left onto Benchlands Trail. Follow the road until you see the parking lot on the left side of the road, just before the Cougar Creek Bridge."

And note that the parking lot is currently closed for construction so you'll have to park on the side of the road beside Cougar Creek.

Next, again from the Tourism Canmore website: "Follow the creek. You will reach a signed junction,
stay straight on the creek, a few minutes later you will reach an un-signed junction, go left. Another few minutes later you will reach another junction, go left onto the Lady Macdonald trail. Follow the
most used trail and avoid fainter trails and off-shoots."

And if that above descriptions confuses you too, I suggest bringing a friend along who's done the hike before. Seriously, I've gotten lost before trying to find the correct trail leading off from Cougar Creek - and I've done the hike several times!

Once you find the Lady Macdonald Trail from Cougar Creek, it's a steep but fairly straight forward hike that takes you up 900 metres to a beautiful platform.

And my best piece of advice once you reach the confusing section in the boulders where the trail seems to disappear, is to stay left. Always stay to the far left. There is a very good trail along the left hand side of the boulders.

Up, up, up the steep trail on Lady Mac

Our Experience

It was steep. It was a looooong hike through the trees until we started to get views. It was a slog.

Almost there!
That all being said, Noah loved it and it's probably one of his favourite scrambles/hikes to date because he'd wanted to do the hike so badly. We also ate pretty close to an entire package of pumpkin spice Oreo cookies during the hike so sugar may have helped a fair bit.

Noah loved a sign that he found as we approached the final section leading to the platform. It was encouraging to him and made me think we should make some of these and leave them near the top of all family-friendly summits.

The platform was awesome, we had it all to ourselves, and the views were amazing! I always pick a nice day for the Lady Mac hike because it would be disappointing to hike all the way up and then to see nothing.

The return trip down was an "interesting" one for us. Normally Noah is crazy fast on the descent and runs faster than I could possibly keep up. This hike however, he was definitely walking rather than running and we had to keep encouraging him to continue on. I think it's the first hike ever where he was stronger on the way up than down. Fortunately, I'm sure this will never happen again and I'll be chasing after Noah for the rest of my life as I struggle to keep up.

My boys on the platform overlooking Canmore

Safety Notes with Late Season Hiking


Planning on heading out to hike Lady Mac this season still? Read my previous first summits story: First Summits - Mount Saint Piran, Lake Louise, for some special tips and advisories associated with shoulder season or winter hiking.

As far as I know, there is little to no avalanche danger on the Lady Mac hike (as far as the platform) BUT I am no expert. Consult with a local visitor centre before taking the kids here on a true winter hike up this mountain.

 Lady Macdonald Summit Shot


Other Family First Summits

Family-friendly Summits in Jasper National Park

More First Summits - Prairie Mountain, Kananaskis

Ha Ling! My Baby Climbed his First Real Summit

First Summits - The Mighty Yamnuska with a 6 Year Old 

First Summits - Barrier Lake Lookout, Kananaskis 

The Four Summit Day - Ha Ling Peak to Miner's Peak (and beyond)

First Summits - Forget Me Not Ride, Kananaskis 

Copper Mountain from Shadow Lake Lodge, Banff 

First Summits - Polar Peak, Fernie Alpine Resort

Family Hiking at the Next Level - Scrambles and Summits (Nihahi Ridge to the South Summit)

5 Summit Day in Canmore (Kid-Friendly) - Ha Ling Peak and Miner's Peak  

First Summits - Table Mountain, Beaver Mines Lake 

First Summits - East End of Mount Rundle Summit 

First Summits - Tent Ridge Horseshoe, Kananaskis

First Summits - Mount Fairview and Saddle Mountain, Lake Louise 

First Summits - Mount Saint Piran, Lake Louise

Rest stop at the old Tea House Site on Lady Macdonald

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