Little Elbow Hike to Mount Romulus Campground

I’ve done a lot of hikes in the Highway 66 corridor near Bragg Creek, Alberta but never had I done a backpacking trip. There is an excellent family friendly option that takes you to the Romulus Campground via the Little Elbow hike. It’s part of a larger loop hike you can do that takes in the Tombstone Lakes and Big Elbow Campsites but that will have to wait for another day.

I booked the Mount Romulus Campground in late March thinking the weather would be warm and the snow would be gone by the time the May long weekend rolled around.

That wasn’t the case. The forecast was dreadful – snow, rain and temperatures dropping to 0 degrees C, but we decided to pack our warm gear and hike the Little Elbow trail anyway – and I’m so glad we did.

Read on to see what a surprisingly beautiful hike it is along the Little Elbow River – with plenty of dramatic mountains to keep the hike interesting.

This post includes some affiliate links. If you make a qualifying purchase through one of these links, I will receive a small percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you. Thank you very much for your support.

Little Elbow hike to Mount Romulus Campground summary

Location: Little Elbow Provincial Recreation Area

Distance: 11.9 km one way

Elevation gain: Approximately 175 m one way though I have read up to 238 m.

Level of difficulty: Easy

Time needed: 3 – 4 hours one way as a backpacking trip

Type of hike: Out and back with an option to do a three-day loop hike.

Permits: You will need a Kananaskis Conservation Pass to hike and a Alberta Parks pass for the Mount Romulus backcountry campground.

Dogs: Permitted on a leash.

Bears: Be sure to be bear aware and carry bear spray that you can reach in a second. I carry mine in abear spray holster.

Don’t forget: Pack the hiking essentials and practice the seven Leave No Trace principles.

Map:Gem Trek Bragg Creek and Sheep Valley Organic Maps is a great offline hiking app too.

Opening dates: The road to the trailhead – Highway 66 is open at the winter gates from May 15 – November 30 every year.

Highlights: Scenic mountain views including Mount Remus, Mount Romulus, and Mount Glasgow. Lovely campground. Pretty around the bridge over Little Elbow River.

Scenic mountain views on the Little Elbow trail hike to Mount Romulus campground

Finding the trailhead

From Bragg Creek drive to the intersection of Highway 22 and Highway 66. Turn right and follow Highway 66 until you come to the parking area for Powderface Ridge. Turn left just before Highway 66 becomes a dirt road. Continue past the turnoff for Forgetmenot Pond to reach the signed Little Elbow Day Use area parking lot at the eastern edge of the Little Elbow Campground.

Make sure you don’t park in the lot for equestrians. Also, there is no parking in the campground unless you have a campsite reservation.

The Little Elbow River is a beautiful turquoise-blue colour

Best time to hike or backpack the Little Elbow Trail

Access to the Little Elbow hike is only possible from May 15 until November 30th. If you go early in the season like we did, expect to run into snow. Take a pair ofleg gaitersto keep snow and mud out of your hiking boots.

When you’re sharing the trail with horses, be prepared for some flies. I’d suggest packing some insect repellent by the time June rolls around.

Prime time to hike (or bike) the Little Elbow trail is from mid-June until late September, depending on the year of course. It can snow at any time in the mountains, so you should always go prepared with some warm layers.

The Little Elbow trail will be much busier during the summer, especially as you have to share it with horseback riders and bikers. Fortunately the trail is on an old dirt fire road, so there is a lot more room than what you’ll find on a normal mountain trail.

Running into snow over the May long weekend – but only in the shady areas
Sharing the Little Elbow trail with mountain bikers on a May long weekend

Map of the Little Elbow and Big Elbow Trails

We found several maps along the trail, so you shouldn’t have any problem with route-finding.

Map showing the Mount Romulus campground in relation to the Little Elbow trailhead

Little Elbow hike description

We almost bailed on the Little Elbow hike.

On the Sunday of the May long weekend, it threatened rain on the hike into the Mount Romulus Campground but never delivered. By the time we’d set up our tent, put our camp chairs together and poured the wine, it was positively glorious, especially with our spot down by the river in a campground we had entirely to ourselves.

The next morning was a different story. Everything was covered with a sprinkling of snow, and it was cold. With a fire and a hot cup of coffee all was good in short order.

Even though the hike out on the Little Elbow was snowy and rainy, it was worth it for a quick weekend getaway. We only ran into a handful of hikers both hiking in and out over the two days.

The snowy Mount Romulus equestrian campground on the May long weekend
A hot cup of coffee and a fire make all the difference on a cold morning

Getting onto the Little Elbow Trail

After parking, head towards the Elbow River where you’ll be able to pick up a trail that parallels the Elbow River all the way to the Little Elbow Campground. Along the way you’ll pass a bridge that you’d cross if you were going to hike up Forget-Me-Not Ridge.

You’ll likely see a lot of RV’s with prime sites facing the Elbow River as you continue towards the turnoff to Nihahi Ridge. Pass through gates with a kiosk and a map to get on the Little Elbow trail. It’s a decommissioned fire road that travels all the way to the Mount Romulus Campground.

Continue past two separate trails on your right heading for Nihahi Ridge. (They meet up.) You’ll also pass a trail up Nihahi Creek. There are rocks by the creek that are a good place to have a breather.

In short order reach the bridge across the Little Elbow River. This is a very pretty area with a big sandstone cliff and a bench.

After the bridge there’s a good climb, followed by lots of ups and downs, much of it on snow in mid-May. The views though are often dramatic – and way better than I expected.

You will cross a couple of washed-out sections of road but the trail through is obvious. We did come across moose poop and either coyote or wolf poop (see photo below.) We saw two deer, and one spruce grouse but no signs of any bears.

After 3.5 hours with breaks and photography stops, we reached the Mount Romulus Backcountry Campground – which I understand was completely rebuilt after the 2013 floods. It’s quite lovely with private campsites and great views by the water.

As you’ll see the weather changed the next day, so the hike back on the Little Elbow Trail was quick – a few short snack breaks and we were at the car in three hours. All in all it was a hiking trip that exceeded expectations!

Photos of the Little Elbow hike to Mount Romulus Campground

Follow the signs to the Nihahi Ridge trailhead and you’ll end up on the Little Elbow hike

There is the option to cross the Little Elbow River floodplain though there’s a trail to the right in the woods
Beautiful hiking beside the Little Elbow River
Reaching the bridge over the Little Elbow River at about 6 km in from the parking lot
Enjoying some gorgeous mountain views on the Little Elbow trail
Looking back at dramatic clouds over the mountains
Coyote or wolf scat?
We got lucky and missed the rain from these storm clouds seen from the Little Elbow hike

Views from an overlook about 3 km from the Mount Romulus Campground

More dramatic mountain views
The hike out in snow but we were prepared with the right gear

Mount Romulus Campground

Book the Mount Romulus Campground online starting 90 days before you plan to go. The campground is open from May 15 to November 30th. There are 10 sites for backpackers plus an adjacent equestrian campground which is nicer as it’s closer to the river. The cost is $12 per person per night plus a $12 reservation fee.

Facilities at the campground include bear boxes, fire rings, picnic tables, pit toilets, firewood and an axe – along with hitching rails should you be arriving on a horse.

Enjoying the warmth of the sun, a glass of wine and an empty Mount Romulus Campground
I had an email from Alberta Parks saying that the hiker’s side was snowy but the equestrian side had melted out so guess where we stayed
The access to the Mount Romulus backcountry equestrian campground – which wasn’t snowy
We opted for the equestrian campground as there was no snow and not another soul so we weren’t putting anyone out
Bear lockers, picnic tables and fire rings near the river for the hikers – but quite a distance from where you camp in the woods
Big wood piles at both the hiker and equestrian campgrounds at Mount Romulus

Options for longer backpacking trips

The hike along the Little Elbow River to the Mount Romulus campground can be made into a longer trip on foot or by bike. It’s called the Big Elbow Loop and is 42 km long in total.

Continue past the Mount Romulus Campground to reach the beautiful Tombstone Lakes Campground – which is often accessed from the Elbow Lake Day-use area off of Highway 40, so it doesn’t open until June 15th.

From Tombstone Lakes head for the Big Elbow Campground and then finally the parking lot to complete the loop. The route is laid out on the map near the start of the blog post.

A few things to take on the Little Elbow hike

This is a straightforward backpacking trip and a great one for those of you new to backpacking. You might like my suggestions for more beginner backpacking trips in the Rockies.

If anything breaksgear aid tenacious tapecould come in very handy. 

Don’t forget awater filter.

Because this is an easy backpacking trip we brought ourcamp chairs. It just makes life a little nicer in the woods. I also bring wine in a smallNalgene bottle.

Fire starteris useful on wet mornings. I also like thesemini windproof barbecue lighters.

More great hikes and backpacking trips in Kananaskis

The Hike to Three Isle Lake & South Kananaskis Pass

North to South Kananaskis Pass Hike via Turbine Canyon

Easy Kananaskis Hikes Everyone Will Love

The Raspberry Ridge Hike in Alberta

BEST Kananaskis Hikes for Mountain Lovers

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.