Opal Ridge South
Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis Country
Time: 4 1/2 hours
Distance: 6.4 km (return)
Elevation Gain: 1,026 m
How To Get There: From Calgary, travel west on Hwy 1 until you reach the turn off for Hwy 40. Heading south on Hwy 40, travel for 41 km, until you reach the Fortress Junction service station on the east side of the road. The trailhead begins here.
You know that mountain that you always seem to pass by? The one that looks really incredible to you and you really want to try but never seen to get around to it? That’s what Opal Ridge was to me. When I first started hiking, I passed Opal Ridge often whenever I drove along Highway 40, on my way to another destination of some sort, and always wondered what it would be like to get to the top. I could never figure out how anyone could summit the ridge for all it’s severe edges and rocky cliffs and I never seemed to find the time to try.
I finally put aside a day to get to the top and I was extremely excited to get the opportunity. I had been told several times that the right trail was hard to get to so I decided to keep it simple and start from the gas station along Highway 40. On the northeast side, behind the store, the trail starts behind the no parking post, moving straight up on a narrow but obviously there path.
I moved up an almost dried up creek run-off before slipping into the trees.
I continued walking up until the path finally intersected with the fire road that leads underneath the powerline. There are currently rocks positioned into arrows that a past helpful hiker left behind.
I enjoyed the easy flatness of the fire road as I knew most of the way was going to be virtually straight up. So I took my time and marvelled at the Purple Virgin’s Bower that lined the way.
I hopped over a small creek that into the Kananaskis River below and then came to another man made arrow, pointing me to my right. It was time to climb.
Trembling aspen leaves provided an interesting translucent light as the sun struggled to make it’s way over Opal’s ridge line.
More wildflowers pushed me up the mountain as I made sure to make a lot of noise through the trees. There had been and usually is always a lot of bear sightings in this area so it’s best to keep the head on a swivel.
The gravel on the trail began to transform into larger loose stones and I was able to get my first good look of Highway 40 below and the fabulous backdrop of mountains.
More trembling aspens provided a welcome reprieve from the already warm sun as I continued pushing upwards.
From there, I continued up one of the myriad of trails that was created by hikers refusing to stick to just one trail, picking my way around and up a series of rock bands.
The aspen trees began to fade away to growing rock until I found myself at a beautiful grass clearing where only coniferous trees grew.
Then it was a quick but somewhat tricky scramble up loose scree followed by going on all fours to climb up the remaining rock bands until I reached a cairn, somewhat marking the halfway point of my climb.
I took this moment to take a breath of fresh air and enjoy the viewpoint thus far, taking in my first glimpse of Upper/Lower Kananaskis Lakes. There is a bit more thick scree to climb up before alpine grass begins to slowly sprout amongst the rocks.
As I began to reach the grass top, I was greeted by a majestic chipmunk.
Even more majestic was the views once I hiked over the final scree-band. From this point, you can see almost the entire range surrounding the ridge.
Before the final climb to the top, there was a nice level area that almost resembled a small alpine meadow. Grass felt unexpected after hiking up the rocks but it was also a welcome reprieve.
The grass faded once more to scree and I climbed up between the notch, getting a quick glimpse of the part of the valley hidden from the highway.
There is another 1.5 km to go on a faded trail as it winds around and begins traversing the ridge.
Eventually the gravel trail led to the top of the ridge where there was still remnants of snow from the long winter.
I followed the easy to follow trail the whole way up, a nice easy section of walking up with a great view all around me. I enjoyed the tranquil moment where you can feel the sun on your back, there’s no one else around and there’s an almost haunting silence from being so far up. A person needs to keep their eye out for bighorn sheep as there was plenty of signs they frequented the area. Once I began to reach the highest point of the ridge, the easy trail turned back to rocky scree until I quickly made my way to the top.
I had finally climbed Opal Ridge.
There was no wind, leaving me with all of the time in the world to explore. I walked around the ridge for a bit, marvelling at the view around me, careful with my steps on the sharp rocks. To the east, there was a whole world of mountains I had never seen before, tucked away behind the massive ridge I was on. To my west sat the aforementioned lakes.
I took my time on this hike to sit and have lunch and just enjoy the moment. I was very fortunate to be so high up and not have to deal with any wind.
It was evident that wind was often an issue up top as several hikers before me had built a rock wall in order to create shelter.
Finally, after taking many pictures, I began my descent downwards, accompanied by gorgeous prairie crocus.
Hiking Opal ridge was a great strenuous hike. It’s not as much of a scramble as I thought, as there’s only a short section where you need to go “hands on” but it also wasn’t easy, as much of the trail is more vertical than horizontal. The views surrounding the ridge are mind-blowing and so worth the effort. Opal Ridge was every bit worth the wait!
Before you go, check out a quick video I took while on top of the summit of Opal Ridge!