The New and Improved Ha Ling Hike in Canmore

Written byRobin

Note: We’ve added a COVID-19 update for Ha Ling at the end of the post and our thoughts on hiking this particular trail right now. You can also read our general thoughts on hiking during the outbreak here.

Update March 24, 2020: Parks Canada has now suspended motor access to all National Parks in Canada (I know Ha Ling isn’t in a National Park).

Ha Link Peak is one of the most iconic hikes in the Bow Valley in the Canadian Rockies. It’s well known to be a challenging yet beautiful hike, that’s easily accessible from the town of Canmore.

Last year, the new and improved Ha Ling hike in Canmore reopened after being closed for more than a year. The federal government spent over $800,000CAD on trail renovations and restoration to make an absolute classic hike in the Canadian Rockies just that little bit better.

In the past, the trail rose steeply through the forest with multiple zig-zagging, dirt trails through the trees. It was a grind, to say the least.

With the creation of the new trail, Parks Canada has hopefully saved this amazing trail from unnecessary trail erosion and has made it significantly easier and more enjoyable for anyone hoping to attempt it.

This is because they’ve:

  1. Made the trail slightly longer with gentler switchbacks
  2. They’ve added wooden staircases in some of the traditionally more challenging and steeper parts of the trail
  3. The longer trail now includes a viewpoint of the East End of Rundle and Whiteman’s Pond below.

The Ha Ling Hike in Canmore

ha ling peak kananaskis view

Quick Stats:

  • Distance: 3.5km to the Saddle, 3.9km to the Summit (each way)
  • Elevation gain: 810m (100m from saddle to summit)
  • Time to complete: approx 3-5 hours depending on season
  • Difficulty: Medium

Is Ha Ling Peak difficult?

These questions are always relative, but it’s a short and steep hike that will almost certainly have you breathing heavily. On the plus side, it’s over pretty quickly!

This was one of the first hikes I summited, and at the time it certainly felt difficult. Now, being a more experienced hiker, it really isn’t too bad. Having said that, aside from the scree, there are no technical features that require additional skills.

The scree section in the top 25% is challenging though and may be tough for inexperienced hikers. Remember, getting to the top is only half the battle, and getting down can sometimes be harder than the ascent (especially in winter).

Ha Ling Trailhead GPS

Here’s a map of how to find the Ha Ling trailhead!

Ha Ling Trail description

The lower mountain

What used to be quite a steep grind now gently winds its way up the mountain through several switchbacks. It’s easy progress, and unless you’re really moving quickly, it’s not very challenging.

Along the way, you’ll pass a small avalanche path area which you mustn’t linger at during winter. Eventually the route opens out and you’ll spot a short detour to the aforementioned EEOR opposite. This signals that you’re almost at the top of the tree line and your ascent on scree is about to begin.

Above the Tree line to the Saddle

Just as you reach the top of the tree line (around 7,000ft in the Canadian Rockies), you’ll notice two large wooden staircases leading into the scree field. In summer, these help you easily gain elevation on the slippery scree, but in winter these are relatively challenging to navigate as they because covered in snow and ice. Having said that, they’re a significant improvement on actually having to climb the slope without them.

Once you’re above the second set of stairs, the path cuts upwards and left across the screefield towards the saddle to the right of the summit. Here the scree is a little loose and hazardous, and in winter this is particularly challenging.

On the plus side, there are now large trail marker signs that make the route obvious.

Once you reach the saddle, peek over the edge and you’ll be greeted with stunning views of Canmore below. If you’re visiting in Winter, don’t get too close as there are several large cornices that could dislodge at any time.

The Final Push to the Summit

The final push to the summit is not physically too challenging, as the vast majority of work is now behind you.

From the saddle to the summit, there is approximately 100m elevation to be gained over 400m.

The scree is a little loose and challenging, but no worse than the majority of other trails in the area with similar scree.

From the summit, you’ll have the same amazing views of Canmore below, Rundle directly next to you, and much of the Spray Lake Valley behind you.

Ha Ling is a beautiful hike with a great payoff considering how short it is. Thanks to the Spray Lakes road, you’re able to start the hike well above the base of the valley. This means you can easily summit what could normally take 2-3 hours in around 1.5 hours.

Hiking Ha Ling in Winter

ha ling peak hike in winter

Ha Ling is a great hike to attempt in Winter, although if you don’t have any mountaineering experience or equipment, I would save attempting this until Spring. We attempted this in mid-March and it was very manageable without any special equipment.

One thing I would definitely point out is that above the treeline there are very few things to stop you if you fall over. Do not attempt the portion above the treeline without ice spikes or crampons.

I would also recommend having them on for the duration of the hike, in fact, as virtually the entire hike was extremely slippery and dangerous for the people hiking without spikes.

Do not use cheap ice spikes either. We did this after some fresh snow, and the thin layer of powder made the trail especially slippery and difficult to grip. Cheap ice spikes will be virtually useless if there’s been fresh snow.

Additionally, bring hiking poles as these are tremendously helpful on the scree section.

What equipment do you need to hike Ha Ling

Hiking Ha Ling in Summer

I would highly recommend hiking poles and thick rubber soled hiking boots in summer. Walking on scree is like rubbing your shoes along sand paper, and your boots won’t last long without thick soles.

Ha Ling can also get extremely windy. There are times that we’ve barely been able to stand on the summit, and although it’s been a boiling hot day, the summit has been freezing. Bring a windproof layer and a puff for added insulation.

Aside from these trail dependent pieces, you can find a full list of things you might want to bring to the mountains here

Equipment for Ha Ling in Winter

As mentioned earlier, hiking spikes, crampons and poles are an absolute must. I would also recommend layering because this is a steep hike that is guaranteed to make you sweat. Once you’re on the top, however, the wind can finally reach you and your core body temperature will drop dramatically. Pack layers that you can whip out and throw on in a bind.

Need more layering advice, here’s our guide to winter layering!

As the mountain is very snow covered in Winter, I’d also recommend bringing sunglasses and sunscreen to protect yourself from the added glare.

Finally, a face protector like a balaclava, a hat, gloves and warm boots are a must. Hand warmers are also a great idea if you’re starting on a cold morning!

How to get to the Ha Ling Hike Trailhead

The Ha Ling Hike in Canmore begins at the south West side of Ha Ling, along the Smith Dorrien Road (742). There’s a large parking area across the street for visitors, which is also the trail head for the Goat Creek Trail leading to the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel in Banff.

It’s also very close to the East End of Rundle (EEOR) hike trailhead as well. These two hikes represent your entrance into Kananaskis Country (somewhere with some of the most incredible hikes in the Canadian Rockies!)

You can reach the trailhead by heading up to the Canmore Nordic Centre, passing it on your right and continuing along the road up into the mountains beyond for another 10 minutes.

Once you’ve parked, cross the road and walk up the hill to the small bridge that spans the canal. Cross the canal and head up into the trees ahead of you. The start of the trail is now clearly marked and easy to follow.

Is this a good hike to attempt during the Covid-19 outbreak?

This is only a temporary section (hopefully), but it seems relevant to mention hiking during Covid 19. Hiking is a great way to socially distance yourself and get some fresh air at the same time, and we’ve written our thoughts about it here.

With that being said, I’m tempted to say that Ha Ling is probably not the ideal trail to go for right now.

Ha Ling is traditionally one of the most popular and busy hikes in the Bow Valley area. It is no doubt the first hike that comes to mind for many locals when they want to get out for a quick stretch. It’s short, quick and very close to Canmore.

Challenging for social distancing

Unfortunately, therefore, it makes it a pretty poor candidate for social distancing. On any given weekday or weekend now, I’ve already heard of dozens of people heading to the same spot for social isolation. If everyone heads to the same place, then it doesn’t really work. In addition, the trail on Ha Ling is very narrow, so you’ll be hard pressed to pass anyone at a distance of 6ft.

I’d highly recommend sticking to loop trails or less popular routes so you’re not passing people in the other direction!

Avoiding extra risk

The other factor to consider of course is avoiding extra risk that might burden medical resources.

As I mentioned before, Ha Ling is quite dodgy above the tree-line, and a bad fall would almost certainly require rescue services, particularly in winter.

I would highly recommend opting for a lower risk, flatter trail during this time.

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