The hike up Mount Smutwood was easily one of my favorite hikes of the summer. When we set out to tackle Smutwood we had no idea it was going to be so beautiful.
Thanks to numerous photos circulating around social media, this Mount Smutwood hike has become increasingly more popular. I can’t even lie, one of the main reasons this Kananaskis hike was so high on my list was because of the gorgeous photos I saw. If you’re wondering how to tackle Smutwood next summer, keep reading!
Mount Smutwood Hike Guide
- Length: 17.9km (11.1 miles)
- Duration: 5 – 9 hours
- Elevation Gain: 961m
- Difficulty: Moderate-Difficult, mainly towards the summit.
- Scrambling Involved: Mild scrambling at the very end towards the summit.
- Best Time To Go: June – October
- Where to Park for This Kananaskis Hike: Just Past Mt Engadine Lodge along Mt. Shark Rd.
- Gear Needed: Daypack, Lunch, Layers, hiking poles, Trail Runners
Mount Smutwood Parking
Turn onto Mt. Shark Rd from the Smith Dorien. Here there is a small lot right off of Mt. Shark Rd. This is an out and back trail and is where you will leave your vehicle and return to it at the end of your hike.
Mount Smutwood Route Description
The first hour or so of this Kananaskis hike is straightforward with no elevation gain. You’ll pass a cool waterfall and once you get into the alpine meadow the views are amazing. Don’t mind the whistling marmots.
At about 6 km your first taste of steepness is going into Smuts Pass, where it’s relentless for 2 km or so but then lightens up again as you first lay your eyes on Mount Birdwood. Mount Birdwood is the stark mountain you’ll see to your left as you keep climbing. This is not the mountain you are attempting to summit. Mount Birdwood is for climbers only.
There were many groups hiking here when we went but all of them stopped at the saddle and enjoyed the lakes. The route from the saddle up to the summit of Mount Smutwood looks long and steep, but it’s easier and shorter than it looks.
Continue on past Birdwood and around the two lakes to your right. At about 7.5 km your ascent truly begins. You have another 1.5 km to go of scrambling and climbing. From the two lakes to the true summit took our group between 45 minutes to one hour. We had a pretty fast group.
There is a false summit around 8.5 km. The view from the false summit is great of Birdwood, but continue on to the true summit for 360 views. This is where the route gets a bit scrambly and slightly expose. A fall here certainly wouldn’t be good, but it’s not certain death (that’s next door on Mount Smuts).
Keep pushing for the summit and enjoy the views. Once you reach it the views are amazing and you’ll see Mount Smuts and Mount Birdwood. You’ll even be able to see Tent Ridge if you look hard enough.
Descend the same way you came.
When Can You Hike Mount Smutwood?
Mount Smutwood is high in elevation. You can attempt this hike as early as June, but you’ll likely want snowshoes and microspikes. Mount Smutwood is best in July, August, September, and early October. We tackled Mount Smutwood early August and had absolutely perfect weather.
How Long Does Take To Hike Mount Smutwood?
Mount Smutwood is a 17.9km (11.1 miles) hike with an elevation gain of 961 meters. The hike is rated as moderate and towards the end you’ll be using your hands a bit.
We had a large group of 10 and were hiking at a good pace. It took most of our group about six hours out and back, but some members took about nine hours. It depends on your hiking ability!
If you are a seasoned hiker expect to be out between 5-8 hours.
How Hard is Mount Smutwood?
The first 6km of this hike are an easy peasy walk through the meadow. After 6 km you’ll hit your first uphill section before reaching the saddle and Birdwood Pass. Almost everyone else we saw hiking turned around at the saddle. If you stopped here it would be a mild to moderate hike with little elevation gain.
The real challenge was continuing on to summit Mount Smutwood. From the saddle it took us a little over an hour of uphill climbing to reach the summit. The last .5 km are the scariest bits as there will be loose scree on your left. You don’t want to fall, it wouldn’t be certain death, but you’ll definitely get roughed up. This, to me, was the most difficult part. However compared to other scrambles and hikes in Banff and Kananaskis it is not that bad.
I would say if you are even a beginner or moderate hiker you can accomplish this hike.
Are dogs and kids appropriate to hike Mount Smutwood?
We saw a few children climbing to the saddle and many dogs. Make sure to keep your dogs on a leash as there are plenty of bears around. We saw one grizzly at the saddle of this hike. I’m happy there wasn’t a loose dog around.
Seasoned teenage hikers could definitely scramble of Mount Smutwood.
How Busy is Mount Smutwood Hike?
We saw maybe six other groups of hikers on the trail. We set out on a beautiful Friday afternoon in Kananaskis. Weekends would be a bit busier, but nothing crazy like around Lake Louise.
You should have no problem having some nature to yourself here on this trail.
Other Notes about Hiking Mount Smutwood
Mount Smutwood should not be confused with Mount Smuts. Mount Smutwood is a moderate to difficult hike while Mount Smuts is one of the hardest scrambles in the Canadian Rockie (don’t believe me – get Alan Kane’s book).
You shouldn’t attempt Mount Smuts unless you are a well seasoned scrambler and have helmets, rope, and a GPS.
On another note a popular thing to do here in the past was camp at the saddle so that hikers could get sunrise photos on top of the summit of Smutwood. While these photos look amazing you would be taking a risk to get them. It is illegal to free camp here and there is no camping, a $1000 CAD fine could be issued to you on the spot if caught. Your best bet for an early morning hike is to get to the parking area around 2am and start from there. If you’re exceptionally fast you might be able to reach the summit by 5am.
Wildlife Awareness on The Hike
If you’re on any hikes in Kananaskis you should practice proper wildlife awareness. In the region, there are frequent sightings of black bears, grizzly bears, moose, coyotes, and cougars. They all a potential threat to humans and we should reduce our impact on their natural lives.
Before any hike or walk-in the Canadian Rockies, you need to have bear spray. Remember that the bear spray is worthless if it’s in your pack, you’ll need to be able to grab this in two seconds or less in an emergency. We wear our bear sprays on our hip.
The likeliness of seeing wildlife on this trail is high. It is a moderately trafficked trail, but bear sightings have occurred. The meadow and valley is prime grizzly habitat and the trail has been closed in the past due to bear activity. We saw a male grizzly near the saddle of this hike. Thankfully he was fairly far away and we had a large group.
When you’re on the trail make noise by banging hiking poles, talking, whistling, clapping, or singing. This is particularly important around blind bends and corners. You’re through the deep woods during these times, and it’s prime time to sneak up on a bear. Once you’re at the summit, you’re safer as you can see wildlife from afar, but still, don’t let your guard down and keep the bear spray on you just in case.
As always while hiking, you need to stay alert, travel in a group, mind children and pets, and finally carrying bear spray and knowing how to use it. If you’ve come to the park without bear spray Valhalla Pure Outfitters in town sells spray and holders with employees who will demonstrate how to use properly.
Besides bears, it’s common to see hoary marmots and pika. We asked a marmot for directions, but they only gave us a whistle.
Advice on Hikes in the Canadian Rockies
If this is your first time hiking in the Rockies take a conservative approach. Pick an adequate hike for your fitness, plan for plenty of time, pack water and food, and don’t be afraid to turn around. If you want to learn more about what to wear hiking we have a great post.
For long hikes, set a turn around time at the departure. Any time we set out for an objective I determine a time at which we need to turn around in order to arrive at the parking lot or campsite by dark. I would recommend not hiking in the dark as it’s easy to get lost and it’s not fun in bear country.
On that note, always carry bear spray if you plan to hike in the park. We carry ours in the neighborhood and bears have been known to stroll through town and busy parking lots. Always practice wildlife awareness when you’re on a trail, and please give animals space.
In regards to times keep in mind your mountain fitness — different than the gym. The low end of the times in this post is a constant fast pace uphill with little to no breaks and a brisk pace downhill. Most hikers should plan for a middle of the road time with the estimated duration.
It’s also super important to know that there are limitations and to come prepared. These are very serious mountains and it easy to get in well over your head with life-threatening consequences.
Lastly, a GPS tracker could save your life – it’s one of those backpacking essentials I like to have on me just in case I need to hit SOS.
Alltrails is our favorite app to have on a hike. It shows the correct trail way, elevation, and other hiker reviews. We paid the subscription fee so that we could download all the data we need to our phones. Best $2.50 (per month) ever spent!
What to Wear On a Hike?
The most basic principle of what to wear hiking is layering. Anyone that has spent time in wilderness or mountains can speak to the fact your temperature can fluctuate a lot on a hike. You can easily start off cool at the base of the mountain and get hot as soon as you begin moving.
The goal of hiking clothing is to help regulate your body temperature, element protection, and moisture management. Temperature management is best done through a layering system if you want to learn more about what to pack for a day hike or what to wear on a hike, you can see our full post! Here are the best hiking clothes for men and the best hiking clothes for women.
Here is exactly what we take on hikes in the Canadian Rockies
Fjallraven’s Keb Pant
Both Cameron and I have Fjallraven’s well known Keb pants. Fjallraven’s Keb pants are a mountaineering staple, but they are heavyweight and not excellent for quick dry properties yet extremely durable.
They kept me warm throughout this entire hike and are windproof. When I was too hot at the base of the mountain, I was able to unzip the sides for airflow. These are, without a doubt, my favorite pants to hike in the Canadian Rockies. You can also check out the best hiking pants for women and the best hiking pants for men.
Outdoor Research Shirt Echo Series
I have six Outdoor Research Echo shirts and rotate them on all my hikes. They are lightweight and moisture wicking. Seriously, you don’t want to be stuck with a cotton shirt while hiking it traps all your sweat and then when you get cold it becomes a problem.
Outdoor Research shirts provide full coverage with their long sleeve collections, but you won’t get hot under the sun. These shirts are built with UPF sun protection, AirVent™ moisture management, and ActiveFresh™ odor control technology.
We ALWAYS have a down jacket with me on every single hike I go in the Rockies. It’s a just in case jacket that we usually end up wearing when we reach the summit, and it gets cold. Down jackets pack up light and small so there is no reason NOT to have one in your bag. Seriously it could save your life in a bad situation. We wrote a whole post on our favorites (hint – Arc’Teryx Cerium LT Hooded Jacket, Patagonia Down Sweater, REI Coop Down Jacket)
I also always have a water-resistant windbreaker/rain jacket in my hiking backpack. This is for if it rains (which it did on this hike) or if it gets windy. I have never regretted having a windbreaker in my back.
Again, it’s another piece of clothing that is super light and could save your life. The one I wore on this hike is by one my new favorite companies – Topo Designs. They make a Global Jacket that is waterproof, with a structured hood, and venting pockets.
I have a pair of Outdoor Research gloves in my hiking pack at all times. They are great for when you are scrambling and I always end up using them. I never want to come back with bloody hands and they protect against that.
We’ve learned to love our feet with a good pair of merino wool hiking socks. You will want to keep your feet nice and dry while you walk around. Most importantly wool socks stay fresh for several days as they have natural antimicrobial properties.
We travel with a couple pairs of the Darn Tough Merino socks and our feet have never felt cold or wet. As a bonus, they’re produced in Vermont!
We personally like to use between a 30-40L pack for most day hikes in the mountains as it allows for us to carry everything we could need. The major plus side is a large bag means we can bring things like a stove to make coffee or a hot meal for a nice rest on long hikes. We also love to use our Camelbak’s for easier objectives.
Make sure to protect your eyes from the sun since you’ll likely spend a lot of time hiking in the sun at elevation. There are a lot of options for sunglasses and everyone should own at least a pair. It’s best to make sure they do have UV protection for the health of your eyes. Sunglasses are particularly important if you plan to visit any glaciers or high alpine passes as sun reflection from the snow is damaging to your eyes.
We made our first investment in quality polarized sunglasses with a pair of SMITH Optics Lowdown 2. Truthfully, not everyone needs to invest $150 in a pair of sunglasses; however, we love ours and will never buy cheap ones again. Polarized glasses are great at enhancing vision in bright environments and removing glare from windshields and the water.
I always have a baseball cap in my bag in case the sun gets too intense. I’ve been out too many times without one and my forehead gets too toasty for my liking – even with sunscreen. A baseball cap protects against that and I highly recommend having one in your bag.
If you have plans to take part in a long day or multi-day hikes a pair of hiking poles are a great way to save your knees and prevent injuries. If you’re on a full day of hiking in the mountains you’ll gain and descend a lot of elevation. So, it’s easy for your legs to get tired so a pair of hiking poles will pay off. Although I don’t always need hiking poles, they are always in my pack. I ended up using them while hiking the ridge and descending on this hike.
Black Diamond is a company dedicated to mountain sports and has worked hard to craft wonderful products. I personally use the Black Diamond FLZ Hiking Poles, but there are some other great poles out there produced by companies like REI and MSR. “Z” poles are fantastic as they’re lightweight and can be stashed inside a backpack should you not need them.
Peak Design Capture Clip
This is has been one of our favorite additions to our camera equipment and hiking outfit. The Peak Design capture clip allows for a camera to be clipped on to your backpack strap or belt.It has to be one of the best accessories we’ve ever used for carrying our camera.
The clip feels secure and robust with a straight forward design that makes switching straps easy. We’ve brought it on several hikes around the Canadian Rockies now and it has changed the way in which we photograph hikes. The access it provides to your camera is so much better than a camera strap that allows a camera to swing and banging into everything.
It’s super handy and a must for anyone who want to carry their camera on hikes, but not have to fumble around in their bag every time they want to take a photo.
Camera (We have the Fujifilm X-T3)
This beautiful and reasonably priced camera is both weather-resistant and mirrorless. It is easily the best ASP-C camera on the market and gives a serious run at many of the full-frame cameras. After all, is a full-frame camera really a necessity? In my opinion, not at all! We love photography, posting to Instagram, and posting on this website so we always have a camera on us on any hike. See the best cameras here.
This is a non-negotiable Banff packing list item if you’re in bear country and in some parks, it’s actually required by law. Bear spray should be on your person and not in your pack. We each have a neoprene sleeve that holds our bear spray on our belt pocket. It’s easy to reach in case of an emergency which the most important detail.
It’s a good idea to make noise while hiking in bear country whether that is singing, ringing a bell, clapping, or banging your hiking poles. Be wary of blind spots on your hikes such as tight bends and forested sections of the trail.
On any trip where we’ll spend time outside, almost every trip, a headlamp is on our packing list. I typically don’t plan on using it on a day hike, but it’s always there just in case.
We have several, but one of our favorites is the Biolite 330. It took several recommendations online before settling on this one because of its affordable price and durability. It delivers 330 lumens, costs $60, and it’s rechargeable.
Pack some high-calorie snacks for your hike on the trail. Popular options are energy gels, bars, or balls, jerky, nuts, or even a Snickers. Hiking at elevation can burn a lot of calories so it’s important to maintain your glucose levels.
It’s advised to eat as much as 200-300 calories per hour of exercise. If it’s a long day on the mountain you can always bring a packed lunch with a sandwich and high calorie like dried fruits. (I’m pretty much a kid and still love a peanut butter and jelly sandwich). We fell in love with the Nut Butter filled Clif Bars.
How to Choose Energy Foods
This is where preparation for spending a night out in the wilderness comes into effect. If you’re on a short loop around town it’s probably not necessary, but any significant hike in a national park or wilderness area presents the risk of spending the night outside.
When temperatures drop at night it presents the very dangerous threat of hypothermia or frostbite. Every time I pack this thing the photo cracks me up, but I suppose it’s better than a smiling couple.
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Plan Your Trip to the Canadian Rockies
Sometimes it’s nice just to have a real book in your hands when traveling. We recommend picking up a Lonely Planet to get you through the wireless nights.
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