grace + gravity

The Elbow Valley + Nihahi Ridge

Updated: Nov 18, 2018

The Elbow River Valley as seen from the Little Elbow trail and campground.

It was a beautiful sunny Monday! No, but, really. Believe it. A Monday, of all days, was absolutely beautiful. Clear blue skies, no wind for the majority of the day, and somehow still not too hot. The perfect hiking weather kind of day. Plus, who doesn't want to spend a Monday out in the mountains??

This stretch of the Elbow Valley is one of my favourite go-to spots. It doesn't take long to get there from Calgary, it's easily accessible, and I find it's not as well traveled or as busy as the highway 40 side of Kananaskis. To get out there, plug Elbow Falls into your google maps app or GPS. That will get you out in the right area, and through the winter, it's as far as you can drive. In mid-May, the gate opens and you can get in even further: to the Forget-Me-Not-Pond area, which is where this sunny Monday hike of mine began.

I travel highway 8 (the extension of Glenmore Trail) out of the city, and at the Kamp Kiwanis round-about intersection, go left (south) and follow highway 22 down through Redwood Meadows towards Bragg Creek. At the stop sign in Bragg Creek, turn left to stay on highway 22 (also called Cowboy Trail) until you reach another stop sign intersection at highway 66. Turn right to go west on highway 66. Bragg Creek Provincial Park is accessible from here, as are McLean Creek, Paddy's Flats, Powderface Trail, the Sheep River Provincial Park, and of course Kananaskis. At the southern-most end, you are on the opposite (east) side of the Highwood Pass and Peter Lougheed Provincial Park from the south end of highway 40.

As I mentioned, I really love this area, and I find it to be relatively quiet (which is one of the reasons I love it). However, down in the Forget-Me-Not Pond area, there is a large campground: Little Elbow Campground. There are numerous hikes in the area, but both Nihahi Ridge and Nihahi Creek require parking near the pond (marked trailhead parking) and walking through the campground to head in the right direction down the river. It's not the most exciting service road, but it does wind alongside the river, which can be quite pretty.

You can find trail details here on or on Trail Peak. It took me about two hours to get up to the ridge, but travel down was much quicker, and I think could be run (if you're into that!). A word of warning - the trail does braid frequently as you come down off the ridge. I jogged a portion, accidentally mistook an intersection, and traveled about five or ten minutes in the wrong direction before realizing that I was coming down off the west side of the mountain, instead of the east. So, watch carefully if you're busy running or chatting with your friends!

Looking back (south), off the lower ridge.

The trail is well established and well-signed off of the campground road along the river valley. You go up through the forest and break out into a beautiful meadow before a second climb. A small portion of steep trail over rock has a cable guard to protect you as you climb, but there are some other sections not protected where it's important to watch your step and keep steady. At times, the trail is exposed rock.

Coming up out of that climb and stretch of trees, you are rewarded with your first sweeping views of the Elbow Valley in either direction - Mount Glasgow, Remus and Romulus to the west, and Powderface Ridge and Forget-Me-Not to the east. It's a great spot for a water or snack break before carrying on around the east face of Nihahi, and up through another stretch of trees to the true ridge.

As I was traveling the scree up towards the summit and ridge, the wind picked up pretty fiercely. I have heard from a number of other people who have done this trip, that there is always some pretty nasty wind up this way. It prevented me from reaching the true summit, but the views from the ridge below are still worth the trip, even if you run into the wind! When you're hiking alone especially, it's always best to consider your safety first and foremost. 

If the day isn't long enough for you (it's only a 9 km round trip), you can hike back down to the Little Elbow campground trail and follow it further west, watching for trail signs for Nihahi Creek. Barry describes best how to find the entrance, which is a bit hidden, into the creek and something of a small canyon. I haven't traveled the creek canyon since 2013, but it was beautiful! Definitely a highlight of the area for me.

After your hike, you can head down to Forget-Me-Not pond for a picnic or a re-grouping with friends. Or, if you're me, drag out and setup your hammock for a sweet post-hike hang and a bit of time to rehydrate, swingin' with a view! Don't forget a book and a snack. You'll be the envy of all the day use area users!

Left: the occasionally rocky "trail" | Centre: the trail heading up the lower ridge | Right: rehydrating in my hammock around Forget-Me-Not Pond

Photos are my own. Please do not reproduce without my written permission.


Coming soon; please hang tight for all the sweaty, dirty and exploratory details!

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