Nihahi Ridge is a wonderful hike located just 45 minutes west of where I call home, in beautiful Kananaskis country. If you are looking for a hard hike that gives you a little bit of everything you’ve found it. You get a flat leisurely walk against the elbow river, mountain meadows, steep forest, a bit of scrambling, some heights and a little exposure. Nihahi Ridge has it all. If you are a determined person of reasonable fitness you can complete this hike with little experience and no special gear required.
Is Nihahi ridge a kid-friendly hike? Yes. But it’s difficult, you will need patience and the ability to coach and motivate your little ones through the more difficult sections along this hike. More importantly, you will need to be able to complete this hike with some gas left over yourself before you can expect your children to do it.
With the disclaimer out of the way, I’m happy to say that both my boys were able to top the ridge. My youngest boy 5 years old (with assistance) and my oldest at 8 years, nailed this hike with relative ease. Was it hard? Yes. Was it worth it? Hell yeah. Did the boys enjoy this hike – most definitely. But it might have been that we promised them ice cream at the end.
Parking is located at the little elbow parking lot. This area is well marked and paved. I would guestimate there are around 100 or so parking spots available for cars and around 40 for jacked up diesels.
The official distance of this hike is 5.6KM to the ridge with additional distance for the ridge traverse. My GPS states 6.88KM – my only assumption is that the 5.6K is to the rock wall and the section designated as the traverse starts there.
You will definitely want to hike the 6.88 and traverse the ridge further if you like. It took us a bit over 3 Hours to top the ridge.
The first 1.5KM is a leisurely walk along the elbow river through little elbow campground. The trail is well marked and you will see several signs pointing you in the direction of the trailhead. If you haven’t hiked Nihahi Creek – It’s also a great hike. And kid friendly.
Just past the campground, you will pass through a vehicle gate and you are politely warned to be prepared for the 38KM Elbow loop. It’s on my list of hikes to do but on a mountain bike not by foot.
Shortly after this, you will reach a turnoff for the Nihahi ridge trail. Take a hard right and follow the trail to the next trail marker.
There is a decent amount of elevation gain and the trail starts steep and seems to just get steeper. Go ahead and channel your inner mountain goat you’re gonna need it.
Lot’s of time to take a break and play with the rocks. Smell the flowers, look for bugs and have fun. Once copious amounts of fun have been had, off we go.
Shortly after the rock playground, you pass through a mountain meadow where we had the pleasure of seeing what looked like a white-tailed deer. Nature +1.
Facing west in the meadow you can catch a glimpse of our destination.
Through the meadow and back into the tree line, you will start climbing again and the trail will start to get a bit rocky. They have installed a wire fence in one section to help keep you on the trail. The crazy thing is the trail gets a bit more gnarly ahead and no barriers to be seen. Not sure exactly why this was installed but it’s nice to see people take care of the trails. So, I thank the trail gods for that.
Natures playground – Some light scrambling for the kids along with some exposed roots and rocks.
Always time for another break. Just up ahead you start climbing out of the tree line along a scree trail that starts an incredible journey to the ridge.
There is a bit of snowpack at the top that has turned this rock face into a mini waterfall. There is one other interesting thing about this rock face – you will need to climb it.
Despite it looking like the wall of death – years of water pouring down its face has developed a scar down the center of it which has conveniently made a step like crevice that you and your kids can scramble up.
Just above this rock face, you will continue your adventure to the ridgeline. You can see the pockets of snow that have been feeding the rock face. You can also see a few other hikers on their own journey. This adds to the scale of these mountains for sure – Looking very small.
In about 200M you are at the ridge. Here we stopped for a quick snack and enjoyed the panoramic vistas that Kananaskis offers. What a beautiful place to take a family photo. Ha! This is not facebook, this is real life as you see below, we never did get that “perfect shot”. But it doesn’t really matter. I like them all.
In life, if an opportunity presents itself you better take it. If you have an opportunity to make snow angels in the summer – you must do so. Remember that snowpack that I mentioned earlier – here it is.
My youngest boy L – Said no way! With zero hesitation, he wanted nothing to do with these shenanigans. My oldest boy was willing to give it a shot (maybe it was the ice cream) – When his back hit the snow, he did let out a few screams – pure joy of course. It was mountain fresh.
We continued our hike down to the base following the same tracks. We stopped off to play with more rocks, had a few more snacks and water and when we made it to the bottom, we ended this beautiful hike with a quick refresher in the river. This is definitely an experience that the kids will remember. A difficult hike but doable if you have the fitness to assist the younger ones under 6.
Distance: 6.88 km (13.76 km Return)
Elevation Gain: 692 m
Physical Difficulty: 3/5
Technical Difficulty: 4/5
Time: 4-6 hrs return – Download GPX
Random Kananaskis Fact O’ the day: Nihahi Ridge was officially named in 1922 after the Stoney Indian word equivalent of “rocky”.