If you’re looking for a spring hike with some elevation gain, I’d recommend driving to Longview, Alberta and then turning southwest onto Highway 541 and taking it into Kananaskis Country. Close to the park boundary is the trailhead for the Grass Pass hike – an easy and surprisingly pretty hike you can do from April through to late October. From the pass there are several options if you want a full day of hiking. Do the short out and back hike up Boundary Pine Peninsula and then continue to the Bull Creek Hills. From there you can do a loop that includes a section of walking along Highway 541 or you can simply retrace your steps to the trailhead.
John and I chose to do the Grass Pass hike in mid-April after a cold snap. I had been looking at the Longview weather forecast and was looking for a day that was sunny and mild. What I hadn’t counted on was over 20 centimetres of fresh snow on the trail. Fortunately, we’d both packed gaiters and warm clothes. Unfortunately, we brought our son’s dog with us. He, as you can see in the photo below, collected snow in great clumps to the point that once we got to Grass Pass, he could hardly move.
So, between deep snow and a frozen dog, we passed on hiking to the far end of the Boundary Pine Peninsula – where there’s supposed to be a large limber pine – and nixed the Bull Creek Hills. We’ll save that for the fall.
Grass Pass hike details
Distance: 6.4 km return + 2.0 km add-on out and back to the Boundary Pine Peninsula
Elevation: 420 metres (1378 feet) plus approximately 60 m (197 feet) on Boundary Pine
Time needed: 2- 3 hours
Map needed: Gem Trek Highwood & Cataract Creek
Best time to hike: Spring until late fall (pictures below are mid-April after a fresh snow)
Watch for: Ticks are active in the grassy areas from early-April until mid-June. Check yourself and your dogs after a hike.
Don’t forget: You need a Kananaskis Conservation Pass to visit Kananaskis Country. Purchase a once off day pass or a yearly pass if you plan to visit a lot. Also, take bear spray on this hike.
Camping: There is a large campground in Cataract Creek Provincial Recreation Area with over 100 unserviced sites for both tents and RV’s.
Finding the trailhead
If you’re doing the Grass Pass hike before June 15th, then you must access it from Longview via Highway 541. Drive 37.6 km and either park on the shoulder on the north side of the road about 100 metres east of the Sentinel Recreation Area – if its closed – or in the parking lot there when its open.
If you’re coming from Highwood Pass on Highway 40 (open as of June 15th every year), continue to Highwood Junction to reach an intersection with Highway 940, 40, and 541. From Highwood Junction go east for 5.4 km on Highway 541 and turn right into the Sentinel Recreation Area.
The trailhead is across the highway, about 100 metres east of the Sentinel Recreation Area.
How the Grass Pass hike unfolds
The Grass Pass hike is not signed but it’s still easy to find and follow. There’s an obvious trail into the woods – but not a single sign. However, just 30 seconds up the trail is a bright yellow sign forbidding dirt bikes. It’s not till you get up the trail a little further, that you can appreciate why that sign is there. The trail becomes wide and braided – and an area that looks like dirt bikers would love.
It’s a straightforward hike to Grass Pass. Simply continue in a NNW direction on the well trodden trail (without snow it will be easy to follow) all the way to the pass. From there you have five options.
- Head west and then southwest to a ridge that descends SSE back to the Trailhead. (It’s shown on the Highwood Pass map.)
- Continue straight through the pass and descend NNW into Wileman Creek Valley. Even if you hike just a few minutes in this direction you’ll get some good views of Holy Cross Mountain and even Mount Head behind it.
- Go right or northeast on the trail to ascend the Bull Creek Hills.
- Take a sharp right and head southeast to Boundary Point Peninsula. From here you can normally see the Bull Creek Hills – and that might help you get your bearings. Allow approximately 30 minutes to go up and down the Boundary Point Peninsula.
- Or simply enjoy the views and retrace your steps to the parking lot.
Detour to Boundary Pine Peninsula
A few things you might want to take on this hike
Take lots of water as there is nowhere to fill up. If you’ve got a dog with you, this collapsible water bowl is perfect.
I like something comfortable to sit on at lunch time. It can be your mitts on a warm spring day but in summer I swear by my almost weightless seat cushion.
The older I get the more I like using hiking poles. Invest in a good pair that are collapsible, preferably made of carbon because of their weightless quality.
In summer low gaiters are ideal for keeping pebbles and sand out of your shoes though I was very happy to have my full length gaiters for the snow we encountered.
I always pack a buff as it’s a multi-purpose piece of cloth yet it takes up almost no room.
Another nice addition for those of you who love wildflowers (as you’ll see plenty on this hike by late spring) is the book Popular Wildflowers of Alberta and the Canadian Rockies.