Ha Ling Peak is impossible to miss from downtown Canmore and the most popular peak in the area to climb. Nearly every local in town has likely clambered up to its peak and over the years it has grown to be one of the most popular hikes in the Canadian Rockies.
While Ha Ling peak may look daunting from Canmore the hike up the backside is not much more than a physical challenge. The peak is likely the most popular in all of the Canadian Rockies which may detract some, but if you’re not comfortable in a wilderness setting on your own there is some assurance in numbers.
- The Best Hikes in Kananaskis
- Hiking Tips for the Canadian Rockies
- What to Wear Hiking
- The Best Canmore Hikes
Ha Ling Hike Guide
Ha Ling Peak Description
Due to the closure of Alberta Parks in 2020, we could not start from the usual parking lot off the Smith Dorrien Highway. Instead, our journey began from our home in Canmore which added an extra 450 meters and 16km on to the hike, a proper day. It’s a nice challenge and provides a small taste of the Canmore Triple Crown or Quad. For the approach, we made our way up the Highline before connecting to the Riders of Rohan on our way to Smith Dorrrien. It definitely beat the dusty long highway or the well-trodden path of Grassi Lakes.
As you make your way around Whiteman’s Pond whether on foot or car you get a spectacular view of the profile of Ha Ling. A view that’s made the East End of Rundle hike a classic and popular on social media platforms.
Once past Whiteman’s Pond parking takes place at the Goat Creek day-use area. The trailhead begins across from the parking lot across the dam bridge at the end of Whiteman’s Pond. It’s an easy one to find along with several signs. The old trail up to the top of Ha Ling was a bit of a mess through the woods do erosion from foot traffic. However, at the end of 2019 Alberta Parks unveiled a new trail that was a significant upgrade with even grading, switchbacks, steps, and handrails in certain locations.
The improvement has increased the safety of the trail, but make no mistake it’s still a tough physical challenge for many. Once you enter the trailhead and make your way through the forest it’s a constant uphill climb to the summit. It’s probably best to pace yourself on the entirety of the hike. T
he outset through the forest will be largely uneventful as there are no views until a couple kilometers up when the forest starts to break apart. You’ll first be greeted with glimpses of the Spray Valley and the Goat View Peak. The view is only a small taste of what lies further up the mountain.
The switchbacks and climb through the forest continue until it reaches a viewpoint that has a viewing platform with chains and steps. Views from here are great of Rundle, the Bow Valley, and Spray Valley. It’s a good point to turn around if the hike is proving too difficult, but we suggest you continue to the top for 360 views.
The final push moves through an increasingly thin forest that allows for views of Miner’s Peak and Lawrence Grassi. It’s an easy grade from the viewpoint until the final climb up the steep track to the saddle and summit. Trail improvements include two sets of steps over loose scree, not that we got to take advantage of them in winter conditions during the spring.
From the last of the steps you leave the forest behind and the summit is in clear view to hiker’s left. The last bit is almost an easy scramble as there is not a defined trail to the summit across the scree and rock saddle. It takes maybe ten minutes to make your way across the rocks, but do take care. Despite all of the improved measures of safety a hiker still managed to break their ankle the first day of the trail’s opening and required search and rescue.
Once on the summit, the views are expansive of the region as you can see up the length of the Bow Valley to the distant Cascade Mountain. The jagged peaks of the Rockies feel innumerable and forested valleys are a sight to be seen. If it’s your first peak in the Canadian Rockies it will take your breath away, many declare it the best sight they have ever seen. In our opinion, it’s just the tip of the iceberg and a great way to become acquainted with hiking/scrambling/mountaineering in this spectacular part of the world.
It’s often windy on the summit so be prepared with an extra layer if you plan to spend much time on the top of the summit to enjoy the views. The hike is an out and back so you’ll need to descend the same way you ascended unless you feel like adding on nearby Miner’s Peak for an extra half hour.
History of Ha Ling (Chinaman’s Peak)
The name Ha Ling Peak certainly stands out in the Canadian Rockies. Naturally, with a name like that, there is a story to the origin. Back in 1896, a Chinese cook working for the Canadian Pacific Railroad Company was bet $50 he could make it to the summit of the nearby mountain in under 10 hours. To everyone’s surprise, he not only succeeded but after setting out in the morning was back in time for lunch. After the feat, the peak was referred to as Chinaman’s Peak until 1980 when it officially received the name. Chinaman’s Peak did not last long as in 1997 the name was changed to Ha Ling Peak to be less derogatory.
Parking For Ha Ling Peak
Parking for Ha Ling Peak is at the Goat Creek Day Area. It’s pretty common for the parking lot to fill up as it’s a very popular hike if that is the case you can park further down along the road, or just go for another hike in Kananaskis Country. For hikers, our personal favorite is Tent Ridge.
When Can You Hike Ha Ling Peak?
In some ways Ha Ling Peak is a year round objective. Just about every week of the year someone or some group clambers up to the top of the peak. That being said it does cross a couple avalanche paths. So if you choose to hike/snowshoe it in winter/spring conditions you should be aware of avalanche conditions and the forecast.
The good news is the elevation and sun exposure melt the snow much faster on Ha Ling than many other trails. It’s typically a good early season objective, but be prepared to deal with a little ice, snow, or mud. If you have them microspikes are a huge help, I even found my ice axe to be useful for the top section. However, it’s not needed.
Summer is the ideal time to hike up Ha Ling Peak; however, you’ll find a very busy trail. The typical summer day sees over a thousand hikers! Making it one of the most frequented trails in all the Alberta Parks.
How Long Does Take To Hike Ha Ling Peak?
Ha Ling Peak is a short and sweet summit that won’t take up the whole day on a hike. This makes it ideal for visitors tot he area who don’t want to spend their whole day on the trail. Average times on the hike are between three and five hours. Of course, it’s entirely possible to spend longer on the trail while anything shorter requires some serious trail running.
How Hard is it to Hike Ha Ling Peak?
The hike is steep and constant so be prepared for a workout on your way to the peak. From the parking lot, you gain 800 meters in 2.9 km. The trail is physically difficult, but it contains no technical difficulties. It’s tough to be considered a scramble to the summit, and with the recent trail improvements, the hike is much easier.
Dogs & Kids on Ha Ling Peak?
Both dogs and experienced kids would be able to handle easily handle Ha Ling Peak. Make sure to keep your dog on a leash as there are bears and even cougars around. It’s the law and can be detrimental to other hikers, the dog, and wildlife.
A negligent hiker last year let their dog off-leash which resulted in their animal being eaten by a cougar. Alberta Parks was then forced to euthanize the cougar due to predatory behavior displayed to dogs which the animal then viewed as prey.
Wildlife Awareness on The Hike
If you’re on any hikes in Kananaskis you should practice proper wildlife awareness. In the region, there are frequent sightings of black bears, grizzly bears, moose, coyotes, and cougars. They all a potential threat to humans and we should reduce our impact on their natural lives.
Before any hike or walk-in the Canadian Rockies, you need to have bear spray. Remember that the bear spray is worthless if it’s in your pack, you’ll need to be able to grab this in two seconds or less in an emergency. We wear our bear sprays on our hip.
The likeliness of seeing wildlife on this trail is high. It is a moderately trafficked trail, but bear sightings have occurred. The meadow and valley is prime grizzly habitat and the trail has been closed in the past due to bear activity. We saw a male grizzly near the saddle of this hike. Thankfully he was fairly far away and we had a large group.
When you’re on the trail make noise by banging hiking poles, talking, whistling, clapping, or singing. This is particularly important around blind bends and corners. You’re through the deep woods during these times, and it’s prime time to sneak up on a bear. Once you’re at the summit, you’re safer as you can see wildlife from afar, but still, don’t let your guard down and keep the bear spray on you just in case.
As always while hiking, you need to stay alert, travel in a group, mind children and pets, and finally carrying bear spray and knowing how to use it. If you’ve come to the park without bear spray Valhalla Pure Outfitters in town sells spray and holders with employees who will demonstrate how to use properly.
Besides bears, it’s common to see hoary marmots and pika. We asked a marmot for directions, but they only gave us a whistle.
Overall Advice on Hikes in the Canadian Rockies
If this is your first time hiking in the Rockies take a conservative approach. Pick an adequate hike for your fitness, plan for plenty of time, pack water and food, and don’t be afraid to turn around. If you want to learn more about what to wear hiking we have a great post.
For long hikes, set a turn around time at the departure. Any time we set out for an objective I determine a time at which we need to turn around in order to arrive at the parking lot or campsite by dark. I would recommend not hiking in the dark as it’s easy to get lost and it’s not fun in bear country.
On that note, always carry bear spray if you plan to hike in the park. We carry ours in the neighborhood and bears have been known to stroll through town and busy parking lots. Always practice wildlife awareness when you’re on a trail, and please give animals space.
In regards to times keep in mind your mountain fitness — different than the gym. The low end of the times in this post is a constant fast pace uphill with little to no breaks and a brisk pace downhill. Most hikers should plan for a middle of the road time with the estimated duration.
It’s also super important to know that there are limitations and to come prepared. These are very serious mountains and it easy to get in well over your head with life-threatening consequences.
Lastly, a GPS tracker could save your life – it’s one of those backpacking essentials I like to have on me just in case I need to hit SOS. We carry the Garmin Inreach Explorer+, but the high cost may not be worth it for the average recreationalist.
Alltrails is our favorite app to have on a hike. It shows the correct trail way, elevation, and other hiker reviews. We paid the subscription fee so that we could download all the data we need to our phones. Best $2.50 (per month) ever spent!
What to Wear On a Hike?
The most basic principle of what to wear hiking is layering. Anyone that has spent time in wilderness or mountains can speak to the fact your temperature can fluctuate a lot on a hike. You can easily start off cool at the base of the mountain and get hot as soon as you begin moving.
The goal of hiking clothing is to help regulate your body temperature, element protection, and moisture management. Temperature management is best done through a layering system if you want to learn more about what to pack for a day hike or what to wear on a hike, you can see our full post! Here are the best hiking clothes for men and the best hiking clothes for women.
Other Kananaskis Country Hikes
There are so many more great hikes in the Kananaskis Country Provincial Park or you can check out some awesome Banff hikes. Both are home to some of our all-time favorite hikes and scrambles in the region. To learn more, we’ve got a post on our favorite hikes in Kananaskis Country.