Time: 5.5 hours (excluding getting lost and stopping for lunch)
Distance: 14.6 km (return)
Elevation Gain: 470 m
How To Get There: Drive to the entrance of the Moose Mountain Fire Road located on the right hand side of the #66 highway just west of the Paddy's Flats Campground 35 minutes west of Calgary. Turn right onto the gravel road and follow it all the way up (about 7 km) until you see a parking lot on your right.
You know when you get to the start of the trailhead and you think to yourself 'instead of starting the hike right away, I'm going to wander around aimlessly for an hour and a half first'? Well, it was that kind of day for me and my hiking partner (Nathan, friend and coworker). Or at least that's what I'm going to tell myself. Because of the fact of the matter is, Nathan and I somehow managed to get lost (twice) in an attempt to climb to the top of Moose Mountain. And yes, this is the same popular mountain that countless people climb every year. For some reason, we just couldn't get ourselves on the right track. Our first attempt, we walked north across the parking lot to what looked like the start of the trail but quickly became unsure when it didn't turn into a fire road (though I have my suspicions that if we had just kept going, we would have eventually found ourselves meeting up with the fire road). So we turned west and popped out about 200 meters from the gaited road that we had started from. After asking around, we were told that if we continued west on the road, it would eventually turn towards the mountain and we would be on our way. Wrong again. This time we ended up walking for about a kilometer on the road until we found ourselves at an oil refinery. When we walked back to the parking lot in confusion, we finally caught up to a couple who had just finished the hike. It turned out, the fire road started right away, a few yards east of the parking lot (and right across from the parallel parking zone). You know you're going the right way if you start walking and are shortly greeted with a green gate.
So, after that embarrassment was out of the way, we headed off, a little less energetic and with a little less time in the day. The forecast had called for rain showers throughout the day but we ended up getting very lucky in the sense that we had clear skies almost the entire time. The temperature was about plus 16 degrees, which is perfect hiking weather in my opinion. After 0.5 km into the hike, we came across a huge dip in the road.
Because the trail is so popular, we were passing quite a few people on the way down and they didn't look very enthused to be finishing their hike going uphill. Once we got past that point, there was a small fork in the road. We continued onto our left, making our way up a long and gradual climb through forests with occasional views of Moose Mountain and the Moose Dome Creek valley.
Once we reached the subalpine, there were beautiful wildflowers everywhere you looked!
About 3 km of walking through beautiful meadows, we emerged above the tree line. And this is where things start to get interesting. The gradual climb starts to become a bit more tedious as there is a lot of loose rock along the trial. Then you are faced with switchbacks that make their way up a steep slope to the saddle, a broad rounded plateau that leads to the hardest and last part of the climb.
You can tell that a lot of people have cut through the switchbacks to get to the top faster but Nathan and I were perfectly content with just taking the long way around. Once we reached the plateau, we saw that someone had built a strange and intricate looking cairn (that we're now convinced is haunted/magic).
Up until this point, the trail had just been a fire road. But once you get to the last 500m, the final ascent is a single track worn into the steep talus slope. There is even an sign warning people to be careful, as the rock is loose and the trail is tapered.
The climb was difficult, especially because it was incredibly windy up top and we were attempting to not get pushed off the mountain. Once we reached the picnic table that looks over the valley below, we knew we were close to the lookout.
About 100m more and we found ourselves standing on top of the helicopter pad, which is situated just below the Fire Lookout Station.
The station itself is private property, but we were still able to get some really cool pictures on the helicopter pad and beside the wind flag (it was whipping around like crazy). There is a visitors book you can sign into (which Nathan did) and never ending beautiful views.
After we had finished taking pictures of the surrounding area and having a nice couple take a picture of both of us, we finally decided to hunker down beside a man-made wall that blocked the wind for us so we could eat our lunch.
Nathan figured that the fire lookout ranger was the one who built the stone wall. We talked and ate for about twenty minutes until we (me) were no longer able to stand the cold. So with one last look at the alternate Moose Mountain peaks in the near distance, we headed back down.
It's crazy the difference of a few hundred meters of elevation will do for the weather. As soon as we had made it back to the meadow landscape, we were taking off our toques and gloves. The sun was still shining at our backs but a grey cloud not too far off was sprinkling down a light brush of snowflakes (which actually looked very cool with the sunlight) for a few minutes. That was the extent of the bad weather we faced that day. While the amount of people heading towards the summit had dispersed quite a bit on our way back (as it was about 4:00 pm), I was surprised to see there still a handful still making their way in the opposite direction of us. That just goes to show how popular this trail really is. Once we took our turn at climbing up the 60m ascent near the end of the trail, we finally made it back to our vehicle, happy with a hard day's hike.
Moose Mountain is known for three things: (1) easy access from Calgary; (2) great hiking AND mountain biking; and (3) a great shoulder season hike. Those three reasons are why it's such a popular place. So if you have kids that you think can handle it, bring the family and try this mountain out for yourself!