Ice Caves – Canyon Creek – Hiking Alberta

 

The Ice Caves are a perennial attraction along Canyon Creek in Kananaskis Elbow, Alberta.

 

 

The decision to revisit the Ice Caves in the Canyon Creek area west of Bragg Creek in Kananaskis Countris always a good adventure. 

The cave, suspended high on the rocky, west side of Moose Ridge, has a huge entrance and about 500 meters (1,640 ft) of reasonably navigable depth.

The bicycles are loaded on the back of the car to prepare for the drive west on Highway 22x and 66 to the Canyon Creek parking area a short distance past the road for Moose Mountain.

 

 

The Ice Caves – Canyon Creek, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Preparing the bicycles at the trail-head to Ice Caves in Canyon Creek

 

The gated, one-way, seven kilometer (4⅜ mile) access road, over mildly rolling terrain to the Ice Caves trail-head is on decent gravel.  The hike, up to the entrance of the cave, is alternatively on good trail and talus with a final bit of occasional, easy scrambling.

 

The Ice Caves – Canyon Creek, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada The 7 KM access road approaching Moose Mountain Ridge and the Ice Caves

 

The Ice Caves – Canyon Creek, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Hiking the trail - Ice Caves entrance is visible on Moose Mountain Ridge

 

The Ice Caves – Canyon Creek, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Traversing the rock fall on approach to the entrance of the Ice Caves

 

The weather is gorgeous, sunny and comfortable for hiking the steep, rocky trail to the massive entrance of the Ice Caves.  Lunch is consumed in the sun on the ledges just outside the entrance while overlooking the spectacular Canyon Creek Valley below and Prairie Mountain across the valley.

 

 

The Ice Caves – Canyon Creek, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Gearing up on the ledge at the entrance to the Ice Caves

 

The Ice Caves – Canyon Creek, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Making the scramble into the Ice Caves

 

The next hour is enjoyed in rock helmets and warm clothing exploring the cave's ice formations using headlamps, flashlights, two-way radios and powerful mega-candlepower lamps

Conditions in the cave are good with a few slippery areas and the occasional bit of groundwater.  There are many side passages and squeezes to explore.  Efforts by ASS (Alberta Speleological Society) to clear an ice plug blocking several caverns since 1984 have been unsuccessful so far.

 

The Ice Caves – Canyon Creek, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Ice just inside the entrance to the Ice Caves in Moose Mountain Ridge

 

The Ice Caves – Canyon Creek, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Floor ice formations, lit by powerful, handheld lamps, in the Ice Caves

 

The Ice Caves – Canyon Creek, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Large floor to ceiling icicle with back-lighting in the Ice Caves

 

The Ice Caves – Canyon Creek, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada A giant ice plug sealing off a chamber in the Ice Caves

 

The Ice Caves – Canyon Creek, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Taking a break in the Ice Caves

 

The Ice Caves – Canyon Creek, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Giant, back-lit, floor to ceiling icicle in the Moose Mountain Ridge Ice Caves

 

The Ice Caves – Canyon Creek, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Hiking the rock fall back to the trail-head in Canyon Creek

 

The hike back to the base of Moose Ridge is via the same route used for access.

 

The Ice Caves – Canyon Creek, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Hiking back into the forest section

 

The bicycle ride back to the car includes  stops along Canyon Creek to enjoy the chilly water and the fabulous scenery.

 

The Ice Caves – Canyon Creek, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Off trail hike along the shores of Canyon Creek

 

The Ice Caves – Canyon Creek, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Enjoying a break at beach side along Canyon Creek

 

The Ice Caves – Canyon Creek, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Cycling the access road back to the parking lot

 

Back at the car the bicycles are racked for the drive to Bragg Creek for refreshment and a game of pool at the Powderhorn Saloon before returning to Calgary, Alberta.

 

 

The Ice Caves – Canyon Creek, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Refreshments at the Powderhorn Saloon in Bragg Creek, Alberta, Canada

 

Note:  Shortly after passing through the cave's entrance, cavers are consumed by total darkness.  All navigation is done with portable lamps.  Photographs are flash.  Giant icicles within the cave are back-lit with powerful lamps. Turning off all the lights creates total darkness where a hand is not visible 2 inches in front of the face.  The cave is cool.  It is very important to be very well equipped to handle conditions in the cave.  In winter, cleats may be mandatory to avoid serious injury and difficult recovery.

People have contacted me to complain about the cave being dark inside.  Rock helmets are important and headlamps are a good directional supplement to powerful lamps.  Warm clothing, sturdy boots and warm gloves are important for protection and to make this adventure more comfortable and enjoyable.  An emergency and first aid kit is a fundamental requirement.

Returning to Canyon Creek by dropping straight down the steep rock slope at the entrance to the cave has resulting in several broken legs and the destruction of many pairs of pants.  Just saying.

 

 

 

 

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Comments

Be sure to keep your eyes open while in the rocky scree going up to the cave. If you love fossils there are a ton here. I spent at least an hour here picking through the rocks and photographing fossils. Tons of shell, corral and sea sponges :). This will always be a favorite hiking place for me. Thank you for your blogs. They often help me decide where my next hike will be.

Time will vary for every group of hikers. Plan for a full day 6 to 8 hours + drive time back and forth. Be sure you are equipped with layers, a helmet and plenty of light + spare batteries. Good footwear is important. The commercial road is closed to traffic. The option is to hike or bike the 7 KM each way. You should plan with a good map and hiking guide book. Good luck and have fun. Nice views from the cave entrance into Canyon Creek Valley.

I was wondering how long the hike takes round trip (minus exploration time)? I was also wondering why you didn't take the car down the access road and biked instead?

Thank you. The Ice Caves in Canyon Creek beneath Moose Ridge are accessible year round. Weather conditions and length of access can be factors. Be sure to have all the gear required. Lamps, helmets, instep crampons, layers. Another great experience would be an <a href="http://www.canmorecavetours.com/caving-activities/" title="Rat's Nest Cave, Canmore, Alberta, Canada" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">evening guided tour of Rat's Nest Cave in Canmore</a>.

Wonderful site! I wondered if the Ice Caves could be done as a winter hike? Perhaps on snowshoes. Or if there is a cave within a few hours of Calgary that you would suggest for a winter excursion. Thank you!

I have been in the ice caves, in Canyon Creek Valley, and at the Moose Mountain summit many times. I have experienced hydrogen sulphide gas (the rotten egg smell) only once. That was several years ago on the saddle between the false summit and the true summit when my hiking partner and I took shelter in a ridge alcove for lunch with protection from the often present wind at higher elevations on Moose Mountain. At first I thought it was my partner. My partner thought it was me. We glared at each other then relocated for lunch somewhere else. The mountain is covering significant gas reserves. It is reasonable to suspect a bit may seap out periodically. If it is a significant issue, then warning signs should be posted. It is such a popular place for hiking, trail running and cycling that other experiences would be valuable from those who wish to comment. Thanks for your comment. Much appreciated.

Having been to the ice caves many times I would just like to remind people to be aware of the large amounts of h2s gas in the area. Especially at lower elevations near canyon creek. I typically don't go into the lower areas unless there is a good breeze going. Heck, even some of the oil workers ( who I have hitched a ride with more then once) say the h2s levels are high in this area. Stay safe and have fun!

Go south on Deerfoot and head west to the mountains on Hwy 22x. Hwy 22x turns into Hwy 66 past the exit to Bragg Creek. Continue west on 66. Very Scenic. Continue west past the Elbow Valley Visitor Information Centre or alternatively stop in and speak with one of the Park Rangers. They will help you. Continue west on 66 past Allen Bill Pond, then past Station Flats and Paddy's Flats. Turn right at Canyon Creek Road and drive about half a kilometre to the obvious parking area. The road is gated. and you can hike in or bike in the next 7 KM on the road to a small pumping station where the Ice Cave trailhead begins. Follow the trail. Pick your way across the rock fall. The huge cave entrance is visible above near the top of Moose Ridge. You need lanterns. spare batteries, a rock helmet and approropriate clothing. I always take in-step crampons and use them more often than not. It is cooler inside the cave. Have a wonderful adventure and stay safe. Thank you for your comment, Nikoloas. Hope this helps.

wondering if anyone could give me directions to this area i live in the northeast of calgary ...thx.

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