Tuesday, May 07, 2024

Canyon Creek Ice Cave - Spring Hiking in Kananaskis

This has become my new favourite spring hike, and while it would be a great hike any time of the year, spring is magical when there is actual ICE in the ice cave. Visit later in the season, and it's just a cave (still cool, but not exactly an "ice" cave.)

There's no better spring adventure than biking and hiking to an ice cave!

When the trail is dry, the hike is generally family-friendly for experienced youth who have done intermediate/advanced hikes with some easy scrambling. I wouldn't recommend it with babies or young children (for rock fall hazard alone,) and to fully enjoy every aspect of the trip, you're going to need bikes to access the trailhead.

Canyon Creek Ice Cave Adventure in Kananaskis

Stats for the Hike

Distance: You'll bike or hike 5.5 km on a gravel road. After that, you'll hike ~1.5 km to reach the cave. All added up, your adventure will come to roughly 14 km round trip.

Height gain: 450 metres including the height gained/lost on the gravel access road. The road gains about 75 metres and the rest is gained on the steep hiking trail.

Time it takes to complete the hike: It really depends on whether you hike or bike the gravel road, and how much exploring you do in the cave. At a fast pace (with a bike) you could complete the hike in 3 hours. Most people will spend significantly longer on the adventure though.

Rating: The actual hiking trail is steep and scrambly at the top. Hiking inside the cave is very rough (and slippery when there's ice.) For these reasons, I'd rate this as an intermediate/advanced adventure.

Most fit adults (or youth) should have few problems getting to the cave if they are with a strong group of hikers, and this trip is definitely a "crowd favourite" if wanting to introduce friends to hiking. Everybody loves a good adventure, and caves are fun to explore (even if novice hikers have to slide down a few sections at the top on their bums to descend the steep trail.)

The entrance to the Canyon Creek Cave is pretty spectacular!

Best Guide BookKananaskis Country Trail Guide, Volume 2, Gillean Daffern - Amazon affiliate link 

All Trails Link: Canyon Creek Ice Cave

* All hiking distances are approximate

Visit the cave in spring when there's actual ICE

Trailhead Information 

The trail starts from the Ing's Mine parking lot off Highway 66 in the Elbow Valley west of Bragg Creek.

You can see the Google Maps link here.

The Canyon Creek Road is open as far as the parking lot. Beyond that, there is a gate, and I highly recommend bikes for the next 5.5 kilometres of distance to reach the true trailhead for the cave hike.

The Canyon Creek Road is accessible year round, and is located before Elbow Falls where there is a highway gate that doesn't open until May 15th. 

Such a fun adventure for a group of friends

Hiking or Biking the Canyon Creek Road to the Ice Cave Trailhead 

The gravel road portion of the trip would be mind numbingly boring to walk, and is therefore best done with bikes. If hiking, make sure you bring a lively group to chat with.

With bikes, there are a couple of hills that children or novice riders may need to walk. I walked a couple myself since it was one of my first rides of the season and my lungs weren't in biking shape yet. The road is generally easy to bike though, and is just a wide gravel road. This isn't mountain biking, and you'll do fine with a simple gravel bike or mountain bike if you prefer.

Even if you end up walking a hill or two with your bike, it's still preferable to walking the entire 11 km round trip distance (on a road!!)

Bring a bike, and the trip out is very FAST because it's relatively downhill coasting on the way back to the parking lot.

When you reach the end of the gravel road, lock your bikes up, and switch to hiking mode. There are no bike racks, but we just locked our bikes to trees beside the road where there was a nice clearing beside the trailhead.

Biking the Canyon Creek Road (not something I want to hike for 11 km round trip!)

Hiking to the Canyon Creek Ice Cave

There's a decent trail that you can follow all the way to the cave, but I do recommend downloading the map if you have a premium subscription to All Trails, just for the peace of mind as the trail is braided in a few spots closer to the cave.

The ending is steep but manageable on a good trail

The trail has a few steep spots, but is generally quite pleasant to follow through the trees until you reach the scree slope below the cave. Once you reach the final section, it becomes much steeper, more scrambly, and there are a few blocky steps to climb up. (On the way down I had to lower myself from my bum a few times.)

Approaching the cave after a short 45 minute hike from the end of the road

As far as "scrambling" goes, this is a very easy scramble. There is no loose scree and you'll never feel like your feet are going to skitter out from underneath you. 

If the trail is snow covered, ice cleats or spikes would be imperative.

Arriving at the cave after a bike and hike adventure

Exploring Inside the Cave

I recommend helmets for exploring inside the cave, and you should have them on as you approach the cave as well because people can knock rocks down from above. I visited mid-week with friends when we had the cave to ourselves so it was less of a worry. On a weekend though it could be a different story. - And in a pinch, just wear your bike helmets if you rode up (no need to bring two helmets.) Or, bike in a climbing helmet.

There are no shortage of fun photos you can take inside the cave

We enjoyed seeing so much ice in the cave!

You'll also need good headlamps for this adventure. There's lots of light near the cave entrance, but as you go further, it becomes very dark. 

Ice pillars and giant icicles inside the cave 
And a final word of caution about hiking in the cave: Exercise extreme caution when walking around. Many of the rocks are covered in ice and are also polished from thousands of boots walking over them.

This is where that headlamp becomes super important so you can see the ice covered floor sections of the cave.

Bring headlamps to explore the cave!

Spring is a great time to visit this ice cave

Hike as far back into the main chamber of the cave as you want, and then if you're feeling brave, you can crawl into a few other smaller chambers. For this, I really do recommend helmets. (Ignore our bad example in the photos below.)

Crawling around at the back of the main chamber

This is definitely my new favourite spring hike

The Hike and Bike Out from the Cave 

On descent, I found the trail to be much trickier near the cave entrance, but a pair of poles and slow maneuvering got us down safely.

The descent from the cave is steep so take your time

The descent starts off steep but the angle eases as you descend

The bike ride on the way out was exceptionally fast! We just had to climb up the first hill from the end of the road, and then it was a beautiful ride back down to the parking lot. I can't even imagine hiking back down the road.

Our happy group at the Canyon Creek Ice Cave 

We enjoyed a fast bike ride back down the road 

Returning for the Family Version 

I visited the cave mid-week with girl friends, but my son was ticked when he looked through my photos, and I knew there would be no forgiveness until he'd had the chance to visit the cave too.

My son HAD to visit the cave himself after seeing my photos!

I wasn't quite up for a second cave adventure in the same week, so my husband happily took him on the weekend. They got a very early start, biked up the road, and beat the weekend crowds.

Safe to say most kids will LOVE this adventure.

Every child's dream hike!

Other Recommended Reading for Spring Hikes