The Mount Burke hike in Alberta is fairly unknown and underrated. This trail begins in the forest in Cataract Creek, and opens up to incredible mountain views above the treeline. Less popular than other trails, Mount Burke is perfect for those who want a quieter outdoor experience in Kananaskis. This demanding hike rewards your efforts with out-of-this-world views and the old Cameron Lookout at the top. You might even have the summit all to yourself.
Surprisingly, the Mount Burke hike is not very well-known. For example, it’s way less popular than classic go-to’s like King Creek Ridge and Pocaterra Ridge. But don’t let the half-empty parking lot fool you—Mount Burke is worth every step!
About the Mount Burke Trail
Location: Cataract Creek Provincial Recreation Area, Kananaskis Country
Distance: 13.5 kilometres out and back
Elevation: 940 metre gain
Time: 5 – 7 hours
Dog-friendly: Yes, but dogs must be kept on leash.
Features: The Mount Burke hike begins at Cataract Creek Provincial Recreation Area. Next, the path flows through the forest until you rise above the treeline to incredible views behind. Then the trail continues along the ridge and then finally up the scree and rocky slope to the summit. The old fire lookout creates a unique experience at the summit (but it doesn’t stop the wind!).
Directions to the Trailhead (From Calgary)
The trailhead for Mount Burke is found at the Cataract Creek Provincial Recreation Area in Kananaskis Country. Prepare to drive between 1.5 – 2 hours from Calgary to Cataract Creek PRA. It’s worth the drive!
To get to Cataract Creek, drive south from Calgary toward Longview on Highway 2A through Okotoks (or on an alternate route). At some point, you’ll need to make your way west. Driving south on Highway 22, turn right onto Highway 541 before entering Longview. Keep going west on this highway for about 43 kilometres until you reach the seasonal road closure in Kananaskis (where Highway 541 turns into Highway 40). At the barricade, turn left onto the gravel road and follow this until you reach the Cataract Creek parking area.
Note: Don’t trust Google Maps for directions from Calgary. For some reason, it automatically routes further south and essentially doubles (!) the driving time. Apple Maps provides the route described above.
The Mount Burke Hike
From the parking lot, head east on the road toward the Cataract Creek Campground. You’ll cross a bridge over Salter Creek and will soon find the “Mount Burke” trailhead sign on your right. Head toward the trail that soon ascends into the forest.
There’s also a sign warning of bears in the area. This is bear country. Male grizzlies will drowsily emerging from their dens, soon followed by momma bears with their cubs. Be bear smart to protect yourself and Alberta’s incredible wildlife: bring bear spray, make noise (don’t surprise them), and hike with a buddy or two when possible. I do fair amount of of solo hiking, and recently picked up this wildlife deterrent horn for extra precaution.
Note: Leave the bear bells (or shall I say, “dinner bells”) at home. Bear bells are not effective at deterring bears, but 100% effective at annoying fellow hikers…. I’ve heard from Parks Canada staff that they can also attract bears out of curiosity since they’re not loud enough to deter them.
The Ridge Walk to the Summit—Very Windy and Cold!
Above the treeline, the views open up to the west along the Mount Burke trail. Continue up the mountainside to reach the ridge walk. It was incredibly windy when I hiked the ridge, so be prepared with your essentials for winter hiking (including layers!).
The terrain also becomes very rocky on the ridge, with sections of snow and ice. So stick to the packed-down trail as snow can be hazardous. As you trek along the ridge toward the Cameron Lookout, this old fire lookout gradually gets closer (but it’s still a few kilometres away). Trail crampons and hiking poles were helpful for this section!
The trail up to Cameron Lookout is rock and scree, but no real scramble. This means that I didn’t need to use my hands or climb on the rock in any way. Though I did really appreciate my hiking poles for extra balance.
The Mount Burke Hike—Demanding But Worth It
I’d recommend this trail to anyone with a fair level of fitness and an adventurous spirit. This can also be perfect for hikers who enjoy a bit of solitude. For instance, I passed a handful of hikers on the trail (or they passed me!) but I still had the summit to myself. All in all, Mount Burke offers incredible Rocky Mountain views in the south part of Kananaskis Country… but you have to work for ’em!
More Kananaskis Country hikes you might enjoy:
- The King Creek Ridge Hike in Alberta — Great Winter Summit
- The Breathtaking Pocaterra Ridge Hike in Kananaskis (With Yellow Larches!)
- Hiking the Loop Around Upper Kananaskis Lake in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park
Have you hiked the little-known Mount Burke? What was it like for you? Anything missing from this post? Let me know in the comments below!