Hiking the Bow Valley – Mount Lady MacDonald Tea House

We had an almost six-week break from hiking this summer as Mr. GeoK recovered from a mountain biking accident. By Labour Day weekend, his leg had healed to the point that he was ready for a short hike.

We opted to try another classic Canmore area hike – to the abandoned, slowly decaying, only ever partially completed tea house perched on the shoulder of Mount Lady MacDonald. The destination doesn’t reward with amazing 360 degree scenery, so our choice of trail was driven by a few other considerations. First, just in case Mr. GeoK’s leg started bothering him along the way, we wanted to be able to turn back without having burned a bunch of gas to get to the trailhead. Second, there’s a lone geocache hidden near the old tea house and it just happens to fill a blank spot in our Fizzy Challenge grid. And finally, despite becoming part-time residents of Canmore almost 2 years ago, we still haven’t completed all three classic Canmore conditioning hikes (Ha Ling, Lady Mac tea house and EEOR (aka East End of Rundle)).

The usual trailhead parking washed away in the June flood, so we found alternate parking along Benchlands Trail, just west of Eagle Landing. The small parking lot accommodates maybe 10 vehicles, and it was already half full when we arrived a few minutes before 8 o’clock. The front end of the trail disappeared in the flood, so we walked about 800 meters up the almost dry Cougar Creek channel before cutting into the woods at the second trail marker.

As soon as we reached the trail marker, our oldest son picked up the pace, ultimately reaching the tea house in 1 hr 50 minutes. The rest of us took a little longer, stopping to remove jackets and hats, take photos, drink some water, and confer over the best route to take through the boulder field. The trail is very well established. There’s some minor branching to take better advantage of one view or another, but the only section where you have to pay some attention to route finding is through a short boulder field.

The trail is somewhat steep, gaining close to 900 meters over 3 km. I confess I was ready for a break when we reached the tea house 2 hrs 10 minutes after parking the car. We ate some snacks, took some photographs and found GC141VZ Lady MacDonald Tea House before starting back down.

View across the Bow Valley from near the tea house

The boys teamed up for the return trip, arriving back at the car in about 1 hr 15 minutes. The parental units were about 15 minutes slower. We stopped to take a few more photos and said “hi” to about 40 people making their way up the trail as we were going back down. Our total time on the trail was just over 4 hours, including our break for snacks and photographs at the tea house. I think it’s fair to say that Mr. GeoK’s leg is in fine condition to tackle something a little longer (and a lot more scenic) next time we head out for a hike!

For some background on the tea house, read this post. In early June, we read in the Rocky Mountain Outlook that the tea house is set for demolition, with the land to be absorbed into the Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park once all reclamation is complete. If we had to guess, we’d say that the timing for the reclamation has been pushed back on account of so many provincial resources going into dealing with the damage from the June flood.

Total hiking distance = 8.7 km
Net elevation gain = 902 m
Total hiking time = 3.5 to 4 hours (about 2 1/2 hours for the ascent and about 1 1/2 hrs for the descent)

This is a challenging half-day hike. There’s not really any exposure and the trail is very well established (just need to pay attention as you traverse the boulder field). To reach the false summit would add a little more distance and another +/- 300 meters of elevation gain to the challenge. From what we’ve read, reaching the true summit (less than 100 meters beyond the false summit) requires a complete lack of fear of heights, which means Mrs. GeoK will never sign the Lady Mac summit log!

There’s a fair bit of highway noise that drifts up from the TransCanada as it traverses the valley bottom, and we heard the occasional train whistle, too. We would characterize the trail as a good conditioning hike that provides a panoramic overview of the Bow Valley and Canmore townsite and a bird’s-eye view of Mount Rundle, Ha Ling and the Three Sisters. We’ve completed two of Canmore’s classic conditioning hikes this summer. Does that mean we’ll be hiking up EEOR before the end of the year? Only time will tell…

4 thoughts on “Hiking the Bow Valley – Mount Lady MacDonald Tea House

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  4. Mandy

    Hello Mrs. GeoK. Let me know if you are ever looking to go out caching when Mr. GeoK is not available. Thanks for your awesome caches and your informative blog posts! Might try this one on the weekend, or Pocoterra!

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