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Five Breathtaking Alberta Trails to Hike in Fall - After the Crowds Have Gone Home

Author: Leigh McAdam

Leigh is a Calgary based travel blogger, social media enthusiast, adrenaline junkie and author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures. In love with Alberta’s big skies and wild places, she’s always ready for the next adventure.

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Wilcox Creek - Leigh McAdam

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Crypt Lake 

What will you remember from this hike? It’s not the scenic boat ride on Waterton Lake, nor the countless stunning waterfalls you’ll pass en route to Crypt Lake. What will stay with you forever is the adrenaline rush you’ll get on a short section of trail that crosses a steep scree slope, then climbs a ladder to a 20 m (65.6 ft) tunnel that delivers you to the crux of the hike: a narrow trail with a steel handhold on one side and a sheer drop-off on the other. This is one of the most unique and interesting hikes you’ll ever do. 

How to get there 

In the town of Waterton, reserve a boat ride with Waterton Shoreline Inter-Nation Cruise Co. You can buy tickets on the dock the morning you plan to hike. 

  • Trailhead: Crypt Landing 
  • Distance (return): 17.2 km (10.7 mi)
  • Time (return): 6-8 hours 
  • Elevation gain: 700 m (2,300 ft) 

Turtle Mountain 

For incomparable views of the site of Canada’s deadliest landslide, which partially buried the town of Frank in 1903, you must do the steep 3 km (1.9 mi) hike to the north peak of Turtle Mountain. On the summit, should you dare to look over the edge, you’ll see scattered below 82 million tonnes of rock that plummeted from the mountain just steps away from where you’re standing. There’s a tension on the summit you’ll feel, knowing the mountain remains unstable but breathe easy - the peak is carefully monitored for any sign of tremors, so you can focus on the beauty of the Crowsnest Pass instead. 

How to get there 

Heading west on Highway 3 in southwestern Alberta, turn onto 133rd Street in Blairmore. Turn left at 18th Avenue, then right on 135th Street and right on15th Avenue, and travel for a block. Take the dirt road leading left from the cul-de-sac and follow it for 400 m (1,312 ft). Park at the top of the dip. The trailhead is marked by painted yellow rocks near the base of the cliff, accessed by walking down the dip and then up a short steep hill on your right. 

  • Trailhead: Pipeline Road in Blairmore 
  • Distance (return): 6.2 km (3.9 mi) 
  • Time (return): 3 – 5 hours 
  • Elevation gain: 780 m (2,560 ft) 

Wilcox Pass 

Fifteen minutes is all it takes for the Wilcox Pass hike to show its extravagant beauty. Breaking out of the trees, you hike into a scene filled with mountains and the sparkling glaciers of the Columbia Icefield. You’ll want to stop at the Parks Canada red chairs for an Instagram-worthy #sharethechair moment. Then, continue on an easy trail through flower-studded meadows and across sparkling streams to the pass, marked by cairns. Energetic hikers can carry on to the ridgeline for even more magnificent views. And everyone can watch for the bighorn sheep that call this area home.  

How to get there 

From the Columbia Icefields Discovery Centre on highway 93 through Jasper National Park, drive 2.8 km (1.75 mi) southeast. Turn northeast towards the well-signed Wilcox Creek Campground. 

  • Trailhead: Wilcox Creek 
  • Distance (return): 8 km (5 mi)
  • Time (return): 3 hours 
  • Elevation gain: 335 m (1,100 ft)

Beauty Creek 

Beauty Creek near the Icefields Centre in Jasper National Park offers romantics and adventurers an easy hike in a landscape similar to ever-popular Johnson Canyon in Banff National Park, but without the crowds. The hike starts off pancake-flat but begins a gentle climb once it reaches Beauty Creek. It’s here the scenery explodes with waterfalls, rock shelves and canyons. Hike until you find a spot to stop and revel in the moment. Or continue up past Stanley Waterfall, the largest of them all. Put on your explorer’s hat once the trail steepens and see how far you get. 

How to get there 

From the Columbia Icefields Discovery Centre on highway 93 through Jasper National Park, drive 15.5 km (9.6 mi) north. Look for a pull-out with a sign of a hiker on the east side of the highway.  

  • Trailhead: Unnamed  
  • Distance (return): 3.6 km (2.24 mi) 
  • Time (return):  1 –3 hours (if you don't go past Stanley Falls)
  • Elevation gain: 40 m (131 ft) 

Buller Pass 

From your perch at the top of Buller Pass, reached after a moderate two-hour, 7.3 km (4.5 mi) climb, you’re treated to a stunning assortment of mountain views ranging from snow-covered Mt. Assiniboine through to the Rainbow Lakes and Guinn Pass. Further off-trail rambling from the pass is possible. Consistently called one of the top hikes in Kananaskis Country, it delivers from the time you step into the mossy forest and slosh through a couple of streams until you finish the ascent of the headwall. Come late September, it’s also known for its fabulous display of larch trees shedding their needles in a burst of golden splendour. 

How to get there 

In Canmore, drive 31 km (19.2 mi) southwest from the Canmore Nordic Centre along the Smith-Dorrien/Spray Lakes Road (un-paved). The trailhead is directly across from the Buller Mountain Day Use Area. 

  • Trailhead: Buller Mountain Day Use Area 
  • Distance (return): 14.8 km (9.2 mi) 
  • Time (return): 5 –6 hours 
  • Elevation gain: 670 m (2,200 ft) 
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