For a short, gorgeous hike without crowds, head to Sunrise Hill in Kananaskis! This trail is a great alternative to Prairie Mountain as it is shorter, less busy, and has less elevation gain. The 360 views from the top are awesome too! While this is a spectacular sunrise spot, with open views to the east, the view to the south is most dramatic. Forgetmenot Ridge and Nihahi Ridge hem in several peaks while the Elbow River meanders through the valley below.
We ended up on Sunrise Hill by accident after missing the pullout for Jumpingpound Summit. When we parked at the junction of Powderface Trail and Highway 66 to stretch our legs and get our bearings, we realized we were at the Powderface Ridge trailhead. While it was too late in the day for a 14 km hike with kids, there were two bumps on the topo map that looked promising. Both ended up being worthy objectives with awesome views and best of all, no bushwhacking was required! We christened the first bump Powder Puff. The second, bigger bump is Sunrise Hill, also known as Rainy Summit Overlook.
Park in the small pullout at the end of Highway 66 on the right side (junction of Hwy 66 & Powderface Trail & turnoff to Little Elbow Campground). Note that the pullout is unmarked and there is no trailhead sign near the road.
Facing Powderface Trail, the dirt road, you will see a narrow but beaten path on the right of the road (see photo above). Follow it up the hill and around to the right. Shortly you will see a pink marker nailed to the tree that says Powderface Ridge. You’re on the right track!Follow the trail through mixed pine and spruce forest for about 1.5 km. You will see Powder Puff, the first bump on your right, which is a great destination if you’re pressed for time. The views are gorgeous and there’s a fun boulder on the way to the top too.
Carrying on, the trail narrows and can be quite snowy in late fall or spring. There was about a foot of snow on the trail on October 30th! After about 900 metres (2.4 km from the trailhead), start making your way up Sunrise Hill, the treeless hill on the right. You can’t miss it as there’s a large cairn on top with a wooden sign. The ascent is steep and rocky, but short (about 300 metres) and nontechnical.
At the top, sit back and enjoy the view. The cool, prominent ridge to the right is Nihahi Ridge, Forgetmenot Ridge is to the left, and the blue-green pond below is Forgetmenot Pond. Looking east, you can see Calgary’s skyline! We could see for miles in every direction! What we didn’t see were people – there was only one person on the trail all afternoon!
Return the way you came. For the perfect Elbow Valley day trip, picnic at Forgetmenot Pond, then hit up Elbow Falls on the drive home. This is also a great trail to do if you’re camping at Little Elbow Campground. For a longer hike, try Powderface Ridge!
Sunrise Hill at a Glance
Distance: 5.7 km round trip
Elevation Gain: 504 m
Difficulty: Moderate (steep, nontechnical hike)
Stroller Friendly: No
Going further: Option 1) The Powder Puff extension adds on about half an hour max. Option 2) For a longer hike, descend Sunrise Hill and continue on the main trail to Powderface Ridge (9.6 km round trip from trailhead to ridgetop; several extensions/loops possible).
Parking: Park at the junction of Hwy 66 & Powderface Trail in the pullout on the right side of the road (if driving south on Hwy 66 from Calgary). **There is no sign at the pullout.** The trailhead is straight up the grassy hill on the same side of the road. See photo above.
Fun Fact: Sunrise Hill’s official name is Rainy Summit Overlook. Which name do you prefer?
Know Before You Go
Seasonal Road Closure: The winter gate on Highway 66 (at Elbow Falls) is closed from December 1 – May 14.
A Kananaskis Conservation Pass is required to park in Kananaskis. Purchase your pass online at https://www.alberta.ca/kananaskis-conservation-pass.aspx.
What to Bring
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You should also carry The Ten Essentials including: water, extra food, extra clothes, a headlamp, a GPS/compass and map of the area, bug spray (this one contains 20% icaridin and will repel ticks), sunscreen (this one is safe for babies), and bear spray.
In spring and fall, traction devices such as Kahtoola Microspikes (Available from Amazon, MEC, and Breathe Outdoors), or Hillsound Trail Crampons (Available at Amazon, Hillsound, and Sport Chek) are recommended.