NOTE: Ha Ling is closed from April 2022 through end of year, for parking lot upgrades. See Kananaskis Country Advisories & Public Safety for the latest updates.
Original Post Starts Here
From just about anywhere in Canmore, the near-vertical face of Ha Ling draws the eye. At the north end of the Ehagay Nakoda Range, Ha Ling sits just across Whitemans Gap from the east end of Mount Rundle (EEOR). In 2018/19, Alberta Environment and Parks invested $850,000 to upgrade and realign the hiking trail to the summit of Ha Ling, making an already popular day hike even more accessible.
While climbers approach Ha Ling from the Canmore side, hikers have to drive, cycle or otherwise travel about 15 minutes from downtown Canmore, heading up past the Canmore Nordic Centre onto the north end of Highway 742 (aka the Smith-Dorrien/Spray Trail). Parking is at the Goat Creek Day Use Area – also the point of access for the Goat Creek Trail to Banff and the north end of the High Rockies Trail that runs 80 km from Goat Creek at the Banff NP boundary to Elk Pass on the Alberta/BC border. There are pit toilets at the parking lot.
Mrs GeoK and her hiking buddies for the day arrived at the parking area around 8:30 on a weekday morning. Another half dozen cars were already there, although two left while my group was ready to hit the trail – they’d gone early to catch the sunrise from the summit.
The Ha Ling trail starts across Highway 742 from the Goat Creek Day Use Area parking lot. We had to wait a minute or two for a break in the convoy of hikers’ vehicles before crossing the road and heading up the gravel trail to the bridge over the canal that feeds Whitemans Pond via a tunnel.
A plaque mounted to a boulder marks the official trailhead.
My worst memories of our 2013 hike up Ha Ling relate to the lowest section of the trail: rammed earth and pressure-treated lumber “stairs” of various heights. Fortunately, the upgrades completed in 2019 include rerouting of the lower sections of the trail to gentle the grade. Several stretches of rock stairs also help, and (dinosaur?) footsteps were blasted into rock slabs that would otherwise be treacherous when wet.
We reached the main viewpoint after hiking about an hour. There are lots of stone seats here, so it’s a good place to have a short rest and snack break while taking in the stunning scenery. From this elevation, EEOR (pronounced eeyore – the east end of Mount Rundle) doesn’t look too daunting! And Whitemans Pond is a vibrant turquoise gem below.
We spent the next hour working our way up to the saddle between the summit of Ha Ling and Miners Peak. The route is made easier by three sets of floating stairs (total step count = 214). Like most of the Ha Ling trail, physical distancing is impossible here.
Despite the the sets of floating stairs, there’s still a good stretch of steep, packed dirt/loose gravel trail to reach the saddle. To minimize trail braiding, several “Stay on Trail” signs have been installed.
Pictured below, Mandy and Marilyn push on towards the saddle. One good thing about pausing to catch your breath here is the fantastic view across the Spray Valley.
At the saddle, we paused for a few minutes to take some photos and talk through the continue to the summit/turn back decision. Another option would have been the short side-trip up Miners Peak.
We decided we were all feeling pretty good, with enough energy left to continue to the summit. By that time, the wind was really picking up, so we donned extra layers and kept a sharp eye on the weather (wouldn’t want to be caught up top in a thunderstorm).
Mandy is an Urban Poling instructor and leads introductory workshops and guided hikes through her Canmore-based business, Active by Nature. She has great poling technique!
About 2.5 hours after leaving the parking lot, we reached the summit!
During our (somewhat early) lunch break, Mandy pointed out that the tops of some Calgary office towers can be seen in the distance.
I wandered about for a bit, taking photos in all directions.
I always appreciate it when my hiking buddies for the day share some of their photos, too.
With rain visible to the northwest, we didn’t hang around for long. A few minutes after starting our descent, Marilyn stopped to lengthen her poles – always a good idea on the way down.
Midway between the main viewpoint and the lower viewpoint / stone bench, we were in the grin and bear it phase of tired quads!
Our leg muscles really appreciated reaching the lower stretches of the trail, where no rock steps are required and it’s a gentler slope through the woods.
Approaching the parking lot about 4 hours after we departed, we were not surprised to see it had filled pretty much to capacity. We passed an estimated 150-200 people while hiking and most were unconcerned about physical distancing. We did our best to maintain 2 meters, but most of this trail doesn’t accommodate that much distance.
We saw no wildlife and very few wildflowers on this hike, but we did get a workout and enjoyed the views.
Compared to the old Ha Ling Trail, the upgraded and realigned route is significantly improved. But it’s still challenging – short and steep. If you opt to give this one a try, I strongly recommend hiking/urban poles. There’s no water, so be sure to pack lots. And it’s pretty exposed up top, so pack one more layer than you think you’ll need!
Total hiking distance = 7.8 km
Elevation gain = 810 meters
Total hiking time = 4 hours 15 minutes (including multiple photography stops and short breaks for lunch and snack)