NOTE: The Ha Ling Trail was upgraded in 2018/19. For a current trail description, check this post from 2020.
We’ve been monitoring Twitter and the Alberta Parks and National Parks websites as areas damaged by the extensive June 2013 floods slowly re-open. The Smith-Dorrien (Highway 742) re-opened Friday (July 12) although it’s not yet clear what the trail conditions are like. So when @TourismCanmore tweeted on Friday that Ha Ling was open, we decided to hike up one of the most visited peaks in the Canmore area.
The drive up the Canmore end of the Smith-Dorrien was as dusty as usual and we saw several areas where high volume water flows in June caused erosion problems along the road. Also on the short drive up from Canmore, we passed by a cycling road race, a few deer and a mountain goat halfway through shedding its winter coat!
There were very few vehicles parked in the Goat Creek lot when we arrived about 8:30. We spotted one more deer as we crossed the bridge over the canal and then we entered the trees to begin the relentless climb to the top. The trail through the woods is fairly narrow, but quite well maintained. Some sections reminded me of the excellent trails constructed by Lawrence Grassi in the Lake O’Hara region.
We took several breaks on the way up to search for geocaches hidden along the trail. For the most part, they were strategically placed to provide a breather at just the right time. We found three on the way up, one at the summit and two on the way back down.
Above the tree line, the trail is less well-defined, but there are several boot-beaten paths to follow if you have some experience at route finding. There was a pretty good breeze once we were out of the trees, so we paused to pull on our fleece sweaters. We were glad we opted to bring our trekking poles, as they provided a bit of extra muscle power for the climb and also provided two extra points of contact to help secure a safe trip down across loose rock on hard-packed dirt.
We reached the summit about 11 o’clock. The views from the top were fantastic – the meandering Bow River, familiar streets and mountain biking trails in Canmore, and a different perspective on some of the mountains most familiar to us. We also enjoyed the view up the Spray Lakes Valley, although the shoulder of Mount Lawrence Grassi cut that line of sight a little short.
While soaking in the sights and taking photographs, we were joined by a couple dozen people. Looking back down the trail, we spotted lots of folks working their way up, so about an hour after we arrived, we decided it was past time to begin our descent. Despite stopping to search for a few geocaches on the way back down, we were back at the Goat Pond parking lot by about 1:15 p.m. It was jam-packed and people were starting to park up by the pond.
We passed close to 200 hikers going up while we were on the way down. Since it was our first time hiking Ha Ling, we have no idea whether this is the norm for a summer Sunday or caused in part by all the post-flood trail closures. Whichever the case, if you prefer solitude when hiking, we recommend starting this hike as early in the day as you can.
Total hiking distance = 7.2 km (guidebooks report 5.6 km)
Net elevation gain = 805 m (guidebooks report 732 m)
This is a moderate half-day hike. Canmorites who regularly hike this trail can walk from the town of Canmore to the summit and back home in under three hours. Given the short distance and 700+ meter elevation gain, it would be a great, early season conditioning hike. We’ve read that it’s quite possible to do this hike in the winter, too, so we’ll add it to our list of potential destinations for this coming winter. It’s guaranteed to be a lot less busy then!