Thursday, May 03, 2018

First Summits for Families in the Canadian Rockies (Updated 2022)

We've been climbing mountains as a family since my son was too young to walk. We started with hikeable peaks we could carry a baby up, moved on to toddler summits, and then slowly walked our way higher each year.

First Summits for Families in the Canadian Rockies (Photo from Little Lougheed, Kananaskis)

I'm going to start with the best first summits in the Canadian Rockies for toddlers and preschoolers walking on their own feet.

If you are carrying a baby or toddler, I'd suggest starting with these hikes as well to get your footing and balance established before moving on to other hikes featured in this story.

I also ask that you pay special attention to the final section of this guide (scroll to the bottom) on safety, disclaimers and recommended guide books.

Climbing the mighty Tunnel Mountain in Banff (age 4)

First Summits for Toddlers and Preschoolers

I wrote a story for Calgary's Child Magazine that features many of the best "first summits" for families with young children.

Banff Gondola hike to the summit of Sulphur Mountain

These are also great hikes for all families who might be new to hiking, new to scrambling mountains, and wanting to start small. They are great easy hikes if you have family in town visiting over the summer as well.

The story can be found here:  Go Climb a Mountain! Family-friendly First Summits 

Bear's Hump Hike, Waterton Lakes National Park

Featured hikes include:

9 years of hiking up the Old Fort Point in Jasper 

Chairlift, Gondola, and Tramway Accessible Summits 

It's not easy to hike up a mountain with young kids, gaining 700 or more metres of height. Why not take a gondola or chairlift if you can to assist with the slog up the lower slopes. (where you'd be in the trees the whole time on endless switchbacks.)

Hiking to the Summit of Whistlers Mountain in Jasper after taking the Jasper Tramway

We love the alpine hike to the top of the Whistlers Mountain Summit in Jasper. You can reach the gorgeous summit with less than 250 metres of height gain, on a short 2.4 km round trip hike. And by taking the Sky Tram, you'll save 950 metres of climbing! That's right, without the tramway ride there is 1200 metres of height gain! So this is a real mountain summit you're reaching!

Read more about the hike to the summit of Whistlers Mountain here:  Family-friendly Summits in Jasper National Park 

There are spectacular views en route to the summit of Whistlers Mountain

Other Recommended Reading: 

Go Climb a Mountain! Family-friendly First Summits  (which includes the Banff Gondola)

First Summits - Polar Peak, Fernie Alpine Resort (Chairlift accessible hiking in Fernie, BC) 

Sunshine Village in Summer (lift accessed hiking and great view points in Banff )

Memorable Hiking and Sightseeing at the Lake Louise Gondola (lift accessed hiking and great viewpoints in Banff )

High on Adventure at Fernie and Kicking Horse Mountain Resort (lift accessed hiking, summits, and ridge walks)

Lift Accessed Hiking at the Lake Louise Ski Resort

And finally, you'll also find lift accessed hiking (and an alpine roller coaster!!!) at Revelstoke Mountain Resort in BC. Read more here: Summer Fun at Revelstoke Mountain Resort

One summer we rode every single gondola between Calgary and Revelstoke! 

Great views at Revelstoke Mountain Resort

Best Easy Summits for Hikers (300 - 500 metres height gain)

Leaving the gondolas and chairlifts behind, these are some of the first summits that you can try as a family. They are all very hikeable, hands in pockets, no scrambling involved, walks. 

Follow the links below to read the full story for each trip, complete with very detailed descriptions and photos.

This hike had been our list for a while, and we finally tackled it this summer. We checked off another family summit, and it was an easy one! This is the perfect "first summit" for families wanting to get that "we just climbed a mountain" feeling without a lot of effort or a huge time commitment.

You'll gain 415 metres of height in 6.5 km return. The ridge traverse is gorgeous when the flowers are in bloom and the summit is a lovely place to hang out on a calm day.

Jumpingpound Mountain Summit

Mockingbird Lookout - Family Hiking in Kananaskis 

The Mockingbird Lookout is an active fire lookout with a house perched at the top. This means you'll be rewarded with a great 360 view in all directions and you can expect easy hiking on the same road that the lookout attendant drives to reach his house.

You only gain 355 metres of height on this hike, making it a great option for young children or for the whole family to enjoy together.

Mockingbird Lookout, Kananaskis

This is a great hike near Elbow Falls starting from Powderface Creek where you'll ascend to the climbing cliffs of the White Buddha. From there, climb up to the top of the ridge where you'll be met with gorgeous views.

An optional descent allows you to connect the White Buddha climbing crag with the Prairie Creek climbing crag where you'll hike under giant cliffs before crossing the creek and returning on the Prairie Creek Trail.

Gorgeous scenery on Vents Ridge in the Elbow Valley 

Best Intermediate Summits for Hikers (500 - 700 metres height gain)

First Summits - Prairie Mountain, Kananaskis

Most local kids will start with this one as their first real summit. With 700 metres of height gain, it's a workout, but there is no exposure and you're always on a good hiking trail.

Prairie Mountain, Kananaskis (First hiked at age 5)

First Summits - Yates Mountain / Barrier Lake Lookout, Kananaskis 

This is an excellent hikeable summit where you'll be on a good trail the entire way. It is a great first choice for an easy lookout or peak with only 125 metres of height gain once you leave the Prairie View Hiking Trail (600 metres total.) 

Prairie View Trail and Barrier Mt. Fire Lookout (First hiked at age 6)

First Summits - Little Arethusa, Highwood Pass 

This was a great fall summit but would be much easier in summer. From Arethusa Cirque it's a short hike up to the summit of Little Arethusa with a narrow ridge walk at the end (so perhaps wait till the kids are a bit older.) 

There's 625 metres of height gain for this one and you'll need some route finding experience.

Little Arethusa late September (First hiked age 8)

First Summits - Junction Hill, Kananaskis

You'll gain just over 700 metres of height on this hike in Southern Kananaskis and don't be fooled by the name. You're hiking up a mountain (not a hill.) I recommend starting with Prairie Mountain above, and if you like this one, you should enjoy Junction Hill as well. The only main difference is that there is more route finding involved for Junction Hill.

I like that Junction hill can be done as a loop, ascending the east ridge, and descending the west ridge for a glorious traverse. The views are phenomenal and this is a great spring hike from early June onward.

Beautiful ridge walking on Junction Hill in South Kananaskis 

Best Advanced Summits for Hikers (700 - 1000 metres height gain)

First Summits - Mount Fairview and Saddle Mountain, Lake Louise 

You'll gain 1000 metres of height climbing Mount Fairview and then another 100 metres or so if you decide to tag Saddle Mountain as well from Saddleback Pass. We waited until our son was 7 years old for this one (and had several easier summits under his belt already.)

Mount Fairview Summit, Lake Louise (First hiked at age 7)

First Summits - Mount Saint Piran, Lake Louise

Mount Saint Piran was a fall hike and there was already a fair amount of snow. It would be much easier in summer! There is also less height gain for this one than for Mount Fairview, 900 metres total, and you'll be able to visit the Lake Agnes Tea House after your visit to the summit.

Mount St. Piran, Lake Louise (First hiked age 7)

First Summits - The South End of Mount Lawson, Kananaskis 

This summit had been on my list for a couple of years now so I'm thrilled that we finally completed the hike in 2018 (when my son was 9.) We discovered how beautiful it is, and it's now a new favourite hike for us in Kananaskis. It's also one of the easier summits we've reached as a family. 

Height gain for this one is just under 800 metres.

South End of Mount Lawson, Kananaskis (First hiked age 9)

First Summits - Pigeon Mountain, Kananaskis 

We've reached the top of another mountain as a family and this one was a great hike with no technical scrambling or extreme experience required. Pigeon Mountain will crush you though if you don't work up to it (So don't use it as your first training hike of the season!)

If you time your visit for early summer you'll be rewarded with an amazing display of wildflowers blooming in the meadow you'll climb to the summit (something I appreciated as a distraction from the steep hike.)

Note this one was 15 km round trip with 1000 metres of height gain. (hence why you'll want to work up to it.)

Pigeon Mountain, Kananaskis (age 10)

Mount Kidd Lookout - Family Hiking in Kananaskis 

I'd had this hike on my list for years after seeing some pretty photos of the lookout site. Once a fire lookout, the house has been removed, but the platform still remains high on the northeast shoulder of Mount Kidd.

The lookout site is incredibly beautiful!! You might even think you've entered a magical portal to the Swiss Alps. Chances of having the lookout site to yourself are high. This is not a popular hike, despite its beauty, and so you won't be sharing the trail with crowds or hordes of tourists. This is definitely a "locals secret."

Height gain for this one is just over 700 metres.

Mt. Kidd Lookout, Kananaskis (First hiked age 10) 

West Wind Pass is an easy day hike in Kananaskis with moderate height gain that most active families should be able to tackle. The reward for the effort is high, and an optional summit of the Windtower peak provides an ever greater vantage point over the Spray Lakes Reservoir.

Choose a sunny day because this is definitely one of the premier hikes in Kananaskis.

You'll gain 375 metres of height for West Wind Pass with an additional 616 metres to the summit of Windtower. Total height gain for Windtower is just under 1000 metres.

You'll get stunning views over the Spray Lakes as you hike to the summit of Windtower (Age 11)

Hiking to the summit of Mount Burke gave us the opportunity to visit the historic Cameron Fire Lookout in Southern Kananaskis, decommissioned in 1953 when the Raspberry Ridge lookout was built instead.

With 900 metres of height gain, you'll work to visit this fire lookout, but the best achievements always require a bit of work.

Mount Burke, Kananaskis (Age 12)

Ridge Walks

We LOVE ridge walks and I think they're more fun than just climbing up and down a trail to a summit. Often you can make a loop or a one-way traverse with a car shuttle as well.

Awesome hiking on Tent Ridge, Kananaskis (First hiked age 7)

I've arranged the ridge walks below in order from easiest to hardest (not necessarily in the order that we hiked them.) Click on the links to read the full story and trip report with detailed instructions and photos.

Note: many ridge walks tend to be narrow, exposed in spots, and may require some hands on scrambling in sections - so read up on your hike before going and know what you're getting into! 

Also it's very important that ridges be clear of snow before you hike them, so save these hikes until 

Sarrail Ridge, Kananaskis (First hiked age 8)

Recommended Ridge Walks: 

Easy Ridge Walks (No scrambling)

Parker Ridge, Banff (Icefields Parkway)

Easy ridge walking on Forget Me Not Ridge (First hiked age 6)

Intermediate Ridge Walks (Narrow sections with some scrambling and steep hiking involved)

Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis (First hiked age 8)

Advanced Ridge Walks (Exposed sections, scrambling, and route finding)

Hiking to the South Summit on Nihahi Ridge, Kananaskis (First hiked age 7 - with a rope)

The Real Deal! Best Easy Scrambles

No gondolas, more than a hike with a lookout at the end, and moving up to official mountains that you'll climb by yourself, hopefully with the kids at your side.

Mount Yamnuska, Kananaskis 

First Summits - The Mighty Yamnuska with a 6 Year Old (to the ridge top)

We turned around at the chains, my son was short roped on all narrow parts, and we really just wanted to get to the top of the ridge. Also, while this is primarily a "hike" to the ridge, you will have to scramble up a short chimney at the end of the official hiking trail. 

Disclaimer - Make sure the trail is open before you go. It is closed early spring when the trail is wet. 

We returned to complete Yamnuska when my son was a couple of years older and you can read that story below:

First Summits - Mount Yamnuska Family Scramble (to the very top!)

Hiking to the top of the ridge on Yamnuska (First hiked age 6)

Ha Ling Peak, Canmore - trail closed for 2022 

We climbed our first big mountain as a family, everybody walking, when my son was 5. We chose Ha Ling Peak in Canmore because it was a mountain my husband and I were very familiar with. We knew we could help our son every step of the way, and knew we were prepared for the loose rock and scrambling at the top.

Read more about our first ascent of Ha Ling Peak in Canmore here:  Ha Ling! My Baby Climbed his First Real Summit

First summit of Ha Ling Peak in Canmore (First hiked age  5)

Ha Ling Peak and Miner's Peak (Double Summit Day,) Canmore - trail closed for 2022 

Since then, we've moved on to tagging both Ha Ling Peak and Miner's Peak in the same day. And then we progressed to also tackling the Three Humps next to Miner's Peak (for a 5 summit day.)

Read about our bigger adventures on Ha Ling Peak here:

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

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

Ridge walking on Miner's Peak next to Ha Ling Peak 

Mount Lady Macdonald, Canmore - trail closed for 2022 

And for another great easy summit, try Mount Lady Macdonald in Canmore to the platform. You'll gain 900 metres for this one but will be on a good trail for the majority of the time. It's really just a steep hike. Beyond this, it turns into a real scramble with a knife edge ridge walk to the summit (not a place for children.)

Read about our hike up to the platform on Mount Lady Macdonald in Canmore here:  First Summits - Mount Lady Macdonald Hike, Canmore 

Lady Macdonald Platform, Canmore (First hiked age 7)

Wasootch Peak, Kananaskis

Wasootch Peak is the unofficial name for a small mountain located near Kananaskis Village, and it is not connected to the popular Wasootch Ridge Trail. Wasootch Peak and Wasootch Ridge are different hikes starting from different trailheads.

Wasootch Peak is a fabulous early season training hike in spring and you'll get some serious height training completed on this very steep trail that finishes with a scrambly ending near the summit. Start with Prairie Mountain and a few other more "gradual" hikes before working your way up to Wasootch Peak. 

Wasootch Peak, Kananaskis (First hiked age 12) 

Moving Up! Intermediate Family Scrambles

You've done Prairie Mountain, Ha Ling Peak, and Lady Macdonald as a family. (Along with other hikes and ridge walks already mentioned in this guide.)

The kids are strong, with good stamina, have solid footing on loose scrambly terrain, and are not especially scared of heights.

You the parents have significant experience scrambling and climbing mountains! Let me stress that word again - "Significant!!!"

East End of Rundle Summit, Canmore (First hiked age 7)

You are prepared to bring a rope to "short rope" your kids on narrow sections, you will bring helmets if there is risk of rock fall or a serious tumble while scrambling cliff bands, and you are prepared to turn around if necessary at any point on your trip.

Your route finding skills are solid!!

You know who Alan Kane is and have spent hours reading through his book: Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies. (Amazon affiliate link.)

Heart Mountain Summit, Bow Valley (age 8)

These are the "intermediate" scrambles that we have done so far as a family. (I define them as intermediate by family standards:)

First Summits - East End of Mount Rundle Summit  trail closed for 2022 

First Summits - East End of Mount Rundle Double Summit Day  - trail closed for 2022 

First Summits - Heart Mountain Horseshoe 

First Summits - Little Lougheed, Spray Valley Provincial Park 

First Summits - Grizzly Peak, Kananaskis 

First Summits - Mount Yamnuska Family Scramble (to the very top!)

Mount Baldy Double Summit Traverse from Baldy Pass - advanced 

Little Lougheed Summit, Spray Valley, Kananaskis (First hiked age 8)

Note that most of the scrambles above are included in Alan Kane's scrambling guidebook with the exception of Little Lougheed and Devil's Thumb. We read about these ones in Andrew Nugara's new book, More Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies, Third Version. (Amazon affiliate links.)

Grizzly Peak Summit Ridge, Kananaskis (First hiked age 8)

Summits Requiring Camping or Backpacking 

I couldn't write this guide without including our fabulous hike up to a lower summit on Copper Mountain from Shadow Lake Lodge in Banff.

We did it while staying at the lodge but you could do it from the campground as well.

Read about the adventure here: Copper Mountain from Shadow Lake Lodge, Banff 

Copper Mountain, Banff National Park (age 5)

Another amazing summit that we just reached is "the Onion" located above the Bow Hut along the Icefields Parkway (2019.)

The Onion is an amazingly fun scramble with only 300 metres of height gain once you reach the hut.

Read all about the trip here: Bow Hut Family Alpine Adventure, Banff National Park   

Climbing snow slopes to reach the Onion above the Bow Hut, Banff National Park (age 10)

The Safety Stuff 

Don't know what "scrambling" is? Want to join an experienced group to get started?

Please request to join my newly created Mighty Mountain Kids group on Facebook. This group is aimed at kids ages 6-12 and please answer the questions you'll see when you request to join.

Mighty Mountain Kids! (photo taken on the Miner's Peak saddle looking at Ha Ling Peak)

I also recommend getting some good guide books!

Recommended books:

- Amazon affiliate links 

Little Arethusa Cirque in September


  • Please don't take my son's age on our previous climbs as a "reference age." My son has been climbing mountains since he was 4 years old and is now able to do hikes that many adults would be terrified to do.

  • Start small and work your way up!! I always tell my son every spring that I won't take him up the bigger mountains until he does three practice hikes! This means he slogs his way up Prairie Mountain before he touches scree or loose rock. 

  • Hike with a group of friends you trust, that you can work together with as  team, and that you know will have your back. 

  • PLEASE read my previous story: Family Hiking at the Next Level - Scrambles and Summits and scroll to the bottom of the guide where I've included very detailed sections on "useful tips if doing scrambles with kids," and "recommended gear for scrambling with kids." 

Ridge walking at the top of Little Lougheed, Kananaskis 

I hope this has been helpful and I will be adding to this guide regularly so please pin or save it for your references.

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  1. Your posts are always so informational! My boys are a bit older, but we've never done a summit. This is the summer we're going to change that, it's just overwhelming trying to figure out where to start. Thanks for the suggestions!

    1. Glad to help. I hope this story breaks it down to give you some good ones to start with. Ha Ling Peak, Lady Macdonald to the platform and East End of Rundle (even just to the viewpoint over Canmore) are three good ones to start with.