CANYON CREEK ICE CAVE TRAIL
AllTrails Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ – moderate
AllTrails Link: Canyon Creek Ice Cave Trail
The Canyon Creek Ice Cave Trail is off Highway 66 in the Elbow River Provincial Recreation Area about 40 minutes southeast of Calgary. [directions]
Take the Ing’s Mine exit off the highway, the parking lot for the hike is a few hundred metres up the road on your right-hand side.
CANYON CREEK ICE CAVE TRAIL REVIEW:
Before I get into the review of the Canyon Creek Ice Cave Trail, let me just give you the biggest tip of all right off the bat: bring a bike.
This hike is dreary for the 5-6km from the Ing’s Mine parking lot to the base of Moose Mountain where you climb to the Canyon Creek Ice Cave. Years ago you could drive to the base of the caves, but with easy access came big crowds and many people unprepared to climb the steep shale slope or explore the cave. Now, with the extra distance, the people who head to the cave are more likely to be prepared.
The old road makes for an easy ride, but not an interesting hike (except for spotting marmots sparring on the side of the road), hence the recommendation for bringing bikes. Once you get to the end of the road and the base of the trail, you can lock your bikes to a tree or fence.
The trailhead is easily marked, but following it to the Canyon Creek Ice Cave takes some effort. We popped out of the trees to the first shale slope and climbed up alongside it instead of continuing west.
We were headed to what we thought was the cave, but the notch we were targeting was actually a few hundred metres east. Once we figured out our error, we had to climb across two bouldered valleys of shale and stone. It meant for some nervous scrambling, but also an opportunity for fossil hunting.
We didn’t have to hunt very hard for our fossils, they were very easy to spot!
Once we found the entrance to the cave, the trail was much more straightforward than our scrambling path. It is very steep, but quite short so it doesn’t take much time at all to get up to the cave entrance.
We stopped and had our snacks and geared up before exploring the cave. There are some great ledges and podiums to scramble around for some fantastic views of Canyon Creek and Prairie Mountain.
Then we geared up.
The part of Canyon Creek Ice Cave we explored is about 150m deep. There are fantastic floor to ceiling ice pillars and a massive ice wall to explore. With ice pillars in the cave, you can guess the temperature is going to be cold.
We packed light poof jackets and gloves. The floor of the cave can be very icy in parts, so you might even want to throw on your microspikes before entering, but we got along without them.
A headlamp, flashlight, and helmet is a very good idea since the cave is so dark your depth perception could have you bonking into the side walls or slipping on the ice and smacking your head as you go spelunking about.
When you get right to the back of the cave, by the ice wall, see if you can get everyone in your group to turn off their lights and experience the complete darkness and silence of the cave.
It’s pretty cool.
The scramble back down is going to be tough on your knees so just take your time, pick your steps carefully and be thankful you brought your bike and you don’t have to trudge 6km back along a dirt road to the car!
This hike is a very unique experience in the Rockies packing in fossils, wildlife, a bike ride, a scree scramble, and a unique ice cave all into a half-day adventure! We loved it!
CANYON CREEK ICE CAVE TIPS:
1. Be prepared. Hiking 10k on a dirt road is long and boring without bringing a bike. You’ll need warmer clothes, helmets, and headlamps or flashlights for exploring the cave.
2. Arrive early. We grabbed a few of the last spots in the parking lot when we pulled in around 9a in mid-May. By the time we got back after lunch, cars were all over the side road and into the ditches.
3. Stay low. We climbed up into the mountain too early, so stay lower on the trail to cross the scree valleys at the bottom and then head straight up once you’re below the cave.