The Tent Ridge Horseshoe hike is not only one of my favorite Kananaskis hikes but one of my favorite hikes in all of Alberta. Hikers climb to 8,000 feet for tremendous views of Kananaskis Country and Banff National Park.
Its location down the Smith Dorrien allows for a true wilderness setting if the crowds from other hikers don’t detract. Hikers cross alpine meadows, larch forests, loose scree slopes, and narrow ridge walks. Views from the ridge are surreal, with a phenomenal panorama of the Spray Valley below.
It’s a stunning loop hike with only an hour’s drive from Canmore in the Spray Valley. If you’re looking for a quick but moderately difficult hike, then Tent Ridge Horseshoe is tough to beat.
How to Hike Tent Ridge
10.6km (6.6 miles)
3 – 6 hours
Mount Shark Road
Best Time To Hike Tent Ridge
It’s best to hike Tent Ridge in the summer months from June to October. The ridge sits at a lower elevation and receives a fair amount of sunlight, so it drys out earlier than many hikes in the Rockies.
Tent Ridge Hike Route Description
The Tent Ridge trailhead can be found along Mount Shark Road, not far past the Mount Engadine Lodge. There is a small unofficial dirt parking lot that is near the end of the trailhead. It can be found on Google Maps. We recommend completing the horseshoe in a clockwise loop, so you should head south from the car park.
It’s a short walk along the gravel road to a wide trailhead that moves through the dense forest. From the road, the trail begins a steady climb up through the forest. The trail is pretty well-trodden, so it should be straightforward to find your way with the combination of GPS tracks.
Along the climb, you’ll catch a few glimpses of the reservoir and valley behind. Eventually, the trail leads into a large valley alongside a snow-fed brook. Above lies the ridge that you’ll eventually gain.
From there, you’ll follow the established trail to the southwest that begins to climb the ridge. It follows a combination of switchbacks and straightforward climbing. It is easily the most arduous part of the hike.
Before gaining the ridge, there is a small section of scrambling with a slight exposure. It’s a mild section of exposure, and it is the only section on the route. If this is your first scramble, it may be a bit intimidating, but with caution, it’s doable for most.
After passing the scramble, the trail continues to gain the ridge. It is a bit of a grind, but you’ll reach the weather station after a while. Which is a small rocky summit that overlooks Tryst Lake. It’s the perfect spot to snack and put on extra layers as the ridge is windy.
From here, you’ll continue downhill along the ridge before another large climb up to the saddle. There are a couple lesser used trails and routes from here that continue on to The Fist or down to Tryst Lake, but it’s best to stick to the ridge. The ridge combines solid rock and packed scree from thousands of hikers.
To follow the trail along the ridge is straightforward. It moves up and down and has several sections that offer some protection if you find yourself in inclement weather. We had some of our worst weather ever on a hike on Tent Ridge as we saw lightning, high winds, rain, and snow.
Luckily it was short-lived, and we were able to hunker down in the rocks along the ridge. Although, there was some debate about backtracking and descending down to Tryst Lake. The good news was we were treated to some of the most incredible evening light we’ve experienced in the Rockies.
The trail is gorgeous, and it’s tough to decide which direction to look. That is until you reach the promontory and final viewpoint along the ridge. It affords sublime views of the Spray Reservoir down below. This is where you’ll want to sit down and pull the camera out!
From this viewpoint, you’ll find a series of steep switchbacks on the ridge’s northeast side. It’s steep and loose but not as technical or exposed as the ascent route. Perfect time to pull out a trekking pole to help gain your balance.
The route remains steep until the treeline before it levels off. However, it remains steep and moves over large roots and steep banks, so do take care. Eventually, the trail reaches an old logging road that leads back to Mount Shark Road and the car park.
Gear We Recommend for the Tent Ridge Hike
Many hikers will enjoy the security, comfort, and value in the Merrell Moab II. It’s a great beginner hiking boot.
Arc’teryx Cerium is our pick for the best down jacket. It’s incredibly light, and we bring it on almost every hike in the Rockies.
This nifty clip from Peak Design secures a camera to my backpack strap for easy reach. No more digging in the backpack!
A pair of durable and lightweight hiking poles are a great asset on the hiking trail.
20L feels like the ideal size for quick hikes and scrambles. We love the Nano from Gregory with a hydration reservoir.
There is not much cell service in the Canadian Rockies. In case of emergencies, we carry an emergency beacon with GPS.
How Long Does the Tent Ridge Hike Take?
Tent Ridge Horseshoe is a 10-kilometer loop trail with over 800 meters of elevation gain. We are faster than average hikers, and this trail took us about 5 hours, with LOTS of photo stops as it was too beautiful and a very long lunch break near the satellite tower as we had some interesting weather roll through. We also waited around quite a bit for the light to hit the peaks just right.
If we weren’t taking any photos or video (or waiting around for great light at sunset), we would have been able to do this loop hike in 3-4 hours.
How Hard is Tent Ridge Trail?
Although many guides rate this as hard, I would put it slightly above moderate. There are a few steep pitches that will have you panting, but I believe the real reason it’s rated as hard is because of the scramble up (or down, depending on which way you go) from the ridge. I saw all ages of life on this trail. The scramble was slightly exposed and very short-lived, but nothing too sketchy.
Which Way Should I Hike Tent Ridge?
Since this is a loop trail from the parking area, you have two ways you can begin your ascent. The most obvious one is to the right of the parking area because it is more visible from where you park. This will take you up a steep climb, and you’ll move counterclockwise on the ridge, ending with a steep scramble down.
I do not recommend going this way, and instead, walking to the left of the parking lot until you find the trail and going clockwise for two reasons.
Number one, then you just have the steep scramble up and not down, making it much less scary. Number two, because once you gain the ridge, you’ll have breathtaking 360° views of Spray Lakes in front of you, instead of behind, for the remainder of the ridgeline.
When Can You Enjoy the Tent Ridge Hike?
This trail would be best between mid-June and mid-October, though I’ve seen photos in the winter, and the images are gorgeous. Just make sure you have gaiters, crampons, and poles or snowshoes, or ski touring equipment if you decide to do a winter “hike”.
You’re also in an avalanche-prone area, so taking an AST1 course and having avalanche knowledge and gear would be extremely wise. Avalanches happen back here, and deaths have tragically occurred.
We hiked this trail on Canada Day weekend (July 1st). There were a few spots with slushy snow, but it was a dry trail for the most part. It’s still the mountains, though, and the weather changes rapidly. When we started this hike, it was a bright sunny day. When we reached the top of the ridge, it was snowing, and the wind was howling, with no views at all.
Then as we walked further along the ridge, the clouds passed, and the sun made a wonderful appearance again. Make sure that you’re fully prepared for any adventure out in the mountains, or you’ll have a miserable/dangerous time. You can see our hiking recommendations at the end of this post.
How Busy is the Tent Ridge Hike?
We set out for Tent Ridge on a beautiful weekday afternoon. When we reached the car park, there were about 10 other cars parked. We passed maybe 20 people on our way up. They were all hiking counter-clockwise direction – the one I don’t suggest.
Towards the end of the day, we found a few people who just came up for sunset but not to hike the whole loop – and one trail runner.
AllTrails rates this as a heavily trafficked trail, and I agree with them. You’ll have to time it right to have it to yourself like we did. (Update 2023 – We also hiked this years ago, before Tent Ridge became a sort of insta famous hike, so keep that in mind).
Weekends and holidays are jam-packed. The best time to hike Tent Ridge would be on a Monday through Friday at sunrise or sunset.
It’s far from the busiest trail in the Rockies but also far from the quietest. As most foreign visitors stick to Banff, you’ll mainly pass Albertans on the trail.
You also have to drive quite a ways on the Smith Dorrien Trail to reach it, past Mount Engadine Lodge, which probably keeps numbers down.
Should Dogs and Kids Do the Tent Ridge Hike?
Most of the trail is moderate, but there is a steep and short scramble either up or down, as mentioned before. Only experienced trail dogs should tackle this, and young children with no scrambling experience may not enjoy it. However, any experienced child or pet who has done some hikes in the Rockies will have no issue.
Wildlife Awareness On Tent Ridge
- 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 are all a potential threat to humans and we should reduce our impact on their natural lives.
- Before any hike or walk in Banff National Park or Kananaskis Country, 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 or on the outside of our running vests.
- Always check the park websites for wildlife information (Parks Canada and AB Park), and then check again for notices at the trailhead. 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, which there are many at the start and end of the Tent Ridge hike. You’re through the deep woods during these times, and it’s prime time to sneak up on a bear. Once you’re on the ridge, 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 carry bear spray and know how to use it. If you’ve come to the park without bear spray, Valhalla Pure Outfitters in Canmore sells spray and holders with employees who will demonstrate how to use it properly.
A Kananaskis Conservation Pass is Needed to Hike in Kananaskis
Visitors are required to hold a Kananaskis Conservation Pass. The area covered in the pass includes Kananaskis and the Bow Valley corridor. Passes may be purchased online and are attached to a license plate number. Requirements are around vehicles and parking, not the individual. This includes parking at the Canmore Nordic Center or Grassi Lakes.
Kananaskis Conservation Pass Prices
- Daily Pass: $15 (registers one vehicle)
- Annual Pass: $90 (registers two vehicles)
Things to do in Nearby Canmore
- Grab A Beer at the Tavern 1883: It doesn’t matter the season, but to end any day with a local craft beer and an appetizer in the stunning Rockies is the perfect day. We love Tavern 1883 as it’s one of the best restaurants in Canmore.
- SUP: There is no secret that Canada has some stunning lakes, more than any country in the world. Canmore has a wide selection of waterways itself and there are so many water activities that visitors can do in the area. One of those things that have made its way from the coast is stand up paddleboarding. Bow Valley Stand Up Paddleboarding has been operating in Canmore for the past five years and offers rentals, lessons, and sales.
- Grotto Canyon: An easy Canmore hike that’s good year-round is Grotto Canyon. Even in the winter, this famous canyon with rock art is possible to walk along the frozen creek. In the summertime, it’s popular for families seeking to enjoy the narrow slot canyon and climbers looking to scale its walls. At only 4km in length, you can check this one off the list in an hour or two.
- Indoor Rock Climb at Elevation Place: Though rock climbing isn’t for the faint of heart, you don’t have to put your life at risk clinging to a sheer rock face thousands of feet up to experience it. That’s just what they had in mind when they created Elevation Place – the place to go in Canmore to see what the climbing hype is all about. It’s also a great place for expert-level climbers to practice their moves.
What to Wear On a Hike?
The most basic principle of what to wear hiking is layering. Anyone that has spent time in the 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 mountain base and get hot as soon as you begin moving. We break down our hiking essentials here.
Other Kananaskis Country Hikes to Check Out
There are 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.
Hopefully this helped you determine if the Tent Ridge Hike is good for you!
If you have any other questions leave a comment or see our Canadian Rockies travel guide for more articles about photography spots, lakes, hikes, and everything else.
Plan Your Trip to the Canadian Rockies
- Hiking in the Rockies: Purchase an AllTrails subscription to have a mobile map on you as you hike.
- Hotels in the Rockies: There are many places to stay, from luxury hotels to wilderness cabins. See all our favorites here.
- Pack for the Rockies: See our complete Alberta packing list here.
- Get Around: We suggest either renting a car to get around, you can search for rental cars on Rentalcars.com. Or embark on an epic campervan trip with companies like Outdoorsy.
- Fly For Free: Turn your spending into airline miles and points with travel credit cards (that’s what we do!). See our favorite travel credit cards. We also use Going to watch for cheap airfare deals!
- Travel Insurance: We don’t recommend traveling without travel insurance. We recommend checking out HeyMondo, which offers competitive rates for all travelers.
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The Banff Blog Facebook Group is your headquarters for the Canadian Rockies’ travel advice and information. Including hike info and off-season travel information. You can also meet new adventure buddies.