Heading west from Calgary, Alberta, the rugged peaks of the Canadian Rocky Mountains dominate the skyline. Within a half-hour of leaving the city limits, one of the first mountains in sight is the iconic Mount Yamnuska, or 'Yam' to locals. The Yamnuska hike offers explorers a hard summit with an exciting chain section that gets the adrenaline pumping!

As you drive west on the Trans-Canada Highway, Mount Yamnuska's distinctive flat face stands at the entrance to the Rockies west of Kananaskis Country. The Yamnuska hike is a must-do, offering the unique satisfaction of admiring the summit you've conquered each time you travel this familiar stretch of highway.

Views of Mount Yamnuska from Brewster's Kananaskis Golf Course.

Mount Yamnuska Hike

Located along the relatively unknown stretch of Highway 1X in the foothills of Kananaskis Country, Mount Yamnuska hike is popular due to its' proximity to both Calgary and Canmore. As one of the best summit hikes near Calgary, the Yamnuska hike is renowned for its breathtaking views and exciting scramble sections.

Mount Yamnuska hike summit views.

Summary of Mount Yamnuska Hike

  • PERMITS: Ensure you have a Kananaskis Conservation Pass, available for purchase online or at the Kananaskis Visitor Information Centre. Day-use permits cost $15, while an annual pass for three vehicles at the same address costs $90.
  • DISTANCE: The Mount Yamnuska hike spans approximately 9.3 km (5.8 miles) round trip, with an elevation gain of 889 m (2916 feet).
  • DIFFICULTY: Rated as a hard hike, it typically takes 4 - 6 hours for the return journey.
  • ATTRACTIONS: 3 viewpoints, raven's end lookout, the chimney, the crux with a chain section, scree slope descent and an easier descent option (West Col Descent).
  • TRAILHEAD/PARKING: Westbound from Calgary along the Trans-Canada Highway, turn off onto the 1X Seebe exit. Continue on the Highway 1X, pass Brewsters Kanananskis Golf Course to your left, and continue to the end as it intersects with Highway 1A. Turn right, heading back towards the city. The Mount Yamnuska hike parking lot is a quick left after you get on Highway 1A.
  • SERVICES: If, like us, you often run off caffeine to fuel your adventures - restrooms are available in the parking lot. Be warned, like all the Alberta Parks washrooms, the toilet paper is one-ply and requires patience and finesse to whittle enough together for wipage!
  • FAMILY/DOG FRIENDLY: Mount Yamnuska hike is not kid-friendly terrain, and while on-leash dogs are allowed, I wouldn't recommend bringing your dog. If you're planning to lug your toddler up to the Raven's End Lookout, try to convince someone to tag along for the adventure and share weight of your heavy, wiggly backpack!
  • PLANNING: Prior to setting off, download a trail map and check the trail reports for the Yamnuska hike.
  • ALL SEASONS: In winter, carry microspikes and hiking poles to navigate icy sections. Hiking in bear country always requires easy access to bear spray, even in winter.

Raven's End Lookout

The Yamnuska trail is maintained by Alberta Parks until Raven's End Lookout, which offers adventurers an easier hike option. You still get the incredible views but don't have to face your fears on the crux. After Raven's End Lookout, it becomes a more challenging scramble including a sketchy chain section. If hiking to Raven's End is enough, turn around and descend back the way you hiked in.

If you're on the lookout for a rock climbing adventure, Yamnuska is a popular spot for rock climbing enthusiasts. With over 150 climbing routes up the face, it's crucial that hikers don't throw rocks over the edge.

Rock Climber at Mount Yamnuska.

Mount Yamnuska Geology

Mount Yamnuska displays an approximately 500 m vertical cliff face and is about 2.5 km wide. The cliffs are made up of Paleozoic limestones, which sit on Mesozoic fluvial sandstones. The contact between the two rock units (the McConnell Thrust) is visible along some of the base of the cliff face. These limestone cliffs are 430 million years older than its lower slopes thanks to this massive thrust fault that shaped much of the front ranges.

Image ©University of Calgary

Mount Yamnuska History

The Nakoda (Stoney) name, Îyâ Mnathka, means “flat faced rock” and is pronounced EE-yah mnah-THKAH.

In 1961, Yamnuska became officially named Mount John Laurie, in honour of John Laurie (1899-1959), educator and advocate for Indigenous causes. Laurie was the founder of the Indian Association of Alberta and heavily involved in promoting the causes of Indigenous peoples in Alberta.

Yamnuska Hike Route

Starting from the Yamnuska parking lot, head towards the information kiosk where a wide trail begins. This trail crosses a gravel road and climbs 800 meters to a Y-junction where you’ll find the West Col Trail and Climbers Access Trail branching off to the left. Go right at this intersection to do the Yamnuska hike counterclockwise.

To the right, the East Ridge Trail offers a gentler ascent with beautiful scenic viewpoints. This trail meanders east before curving back west to reach Raven's End Lookout. At this point, if you're considering continuing on the scramble route, consult the decision matrix sign to evaluate if you have the necessary preparation and experience. The scramble route has seen many hikers get lost and has even resulted in fatalities. Follow the blue blazes and refer to the specific trail description for detailed guidance.

 It traverses below the east shoulder of Yamnuska, climbing gradually, before reaching the ridgeline. After that, it turns west, heading to cliffs. You can scramble through the notch in the cliffs and then continuing on until you reach the crux.

Due to the popularity of the Yamnuska hike, you often have to wait in line as hikers shuffle along a narrow ledge while holding onto a chain.

After the crux, it's tricky going (and difficult to pass slower groups) until the trail moved off the rocks and back onto a scree slope. Expect at the summit, that you will share the experience with many other adventurers.

After a picnic, start your way down the west side of the mountain where you'll descend on scree trail to the col. Footing is definitely tricky with loose stones on hard-packed ground. You'll make you're way around to the front of the mountain.

Constant Updates

As an outdoor enthusiast that lives within an hour to Kananaskis Country, I hike Yamnuska often, meaning that this post will be updated frequently. You can be assured that we are always posting relevant and accurate information.

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