An unofficial trail near Burstall Pass leads to a valley of larches and awesome views of the French and Robertson glaciers.
On my quest to find a less-travelled trail with fall colors, I came across Piggy Plus Col on Kananaskis Trails. Nestled between Burstall Peak and Piggy Plus, the col (or pass) offers fantastic views of the French Glacier, and the trail to it leads through a narrow valley of larches.
Although it is an unofficial trail, the route is fairly straightforward provided you don’t miss the turnoff from Burstall Pass Trail. I recommend using a GPS or phone app that can track your distance, and carrying a topographic map of the area (affiliate link). If you’d like to shave off some time, you can mountain bike the first few kilometres.
Expect to see golden larches in late September – and snow! The Burstall Pass / Chester Lake area is in the snow belt of Kananaskis and as such, has a long snowy season. Microspikes and trekking poles are recommended.
Avoid this hike during winter conditions – it is in avalanche terrain!
The trail to Piggy Plus Col begins at Burstall Pass Trailhead. Go left along Mud Lake. After a few hundred metres, go left at the fork, to stay on Burstall Pass Trail. Continue up the hill and to the right / southwest on the old road for about two kilometres.
3.3 kilometres from the parking lot, there will be a narrow trail on your left. This is the turnoff for Piggy Plus Col. (If you are biking, continue 200 metres on the main trail to reach the bike rack.) Follow the trail and cairns uphill through the trees. After crossing the shallow creek, take a good look at it and note the cairns. It’s easy to blow past this spot on your way back!
Hike along the creek, and continue onward and upward through larch trees. Eventually the trail levels off and you can hike straight across the rocky basin to the col, or up the gentle slope at right to a scenic lookout (look for the cairn on the right after the rock wall).
- Detour to the Knoll/Robertson Glacier Viewpoint: Hike northwest along the bluffs, past the sinks (look for lumpy frost heaves) until you reach a grassy/rocky knoll surrounded by larches. From the knoll, you can see Robertson Glacier! Go back the way you came as there are dangerous drop-offs on the north side of the ridge.
Allow about half an hour to hike from the edge of the basin to the col. Cairns mark the way, but since this section is bare of trees, you can always see your objective. Take care on the scree, especially in shoulder-season conditions.
From the col, the saddle between Burstall Peak (at left) and Piggy Plus (at right), you get a fantastic view of the French Glacier.
Return the way you came.
Piggy Plus Col Trail at a Glance
- Distance: 13.1 kilometres round trip (add 400 metres if parking bikes at the bike rack, and an extra kilometre if going to the knoll)
- Elevation Gain: 614 metres elevation gain
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Parking: Burstall Pass
Know Before You Go
Since Piggy Plus Col is an unofficial trail, there is no signage indicating the turnoff from Burstall Pass Trail. A GPS or fitness tracker is recommended so you don’t miss the turnoff at 3.3 kilometres. You should also carry a topographic map of the area. Piggy Plus Col is on the Gemtrek Kananaskis Lakes Map (affiliate link); it’s the unofficial trail branching off of Burstall Pass Trail.
Burstall Pass area is prime grizzly bear habitat. There were multiple sightings of a bear and cubs on Burstall Pass Trail the week we hiked Piggy Plus Col, and we saw tons of fresh bear prints below the col. Hike in a group, make LOTS of noise (especially by the creek), and keep bear spray accessible in a holster (affiliate link). For more tips, see our Bear Safety Tips for Hikers.
It was +11 in Calgary on September 16th, but only around zero at the trailhead due to the elevation, so bring extra clothes including a toque and gloves. Traction devices are recommended when the trail is snow covered.
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. Carry bear spray in a Frontiersman Bear Spray Holster (attaches to your backpack or belt) or Scat Belt.
Burstall Pass Parking Lot, the starting point for Piggy Plus Col, is located two hours from Calgary on Smith-Dorrien Trail. The best way to get there is via Highway 1 and Highway 40.