Mount Lady MacDonald is one of those hikes / scrambles that get you addicted to hiking. I've climbed the mountain twice now, and all the hard work of getting to the summit is worth it when you see the amazing views from up there.
Be prepared for a fairly long day, however I've seen people in great shape run up and down the mountain in a matter of 3hrs or so. The average hiker would take about 6-7hrs to complete this hike allowing for some rest stops at the helicopter landing pad, and then at the summit. Take lots of water as there is quite a bit of exposure and the sun can really heat you up. The elevation gain to the summit is 1200m.
It would be good to check the Kananaskis trail reports for any bear closures as this is a wildlife corridor and there are some permanent closures in the area, and often there are temporary closures. In the fall of 2005 a lady was killed by a grizzly on the Benchlands trails. Don't let this deter you, but be smart, and go with some friends! The trails are very popular and well used by hikers and mountain bikers.
From the Cougar Creek parking area, stay on the West side of the creek and follow the wide trail up into the Benchlands trail system. Soon you'll leave the Benchlands trails behind as you switchback your way up the mountain. It would be good to get a map to help find your way among the many trails at the foot of the mountain.
Once you leave the Benchlands behind, you'll be switchbacking through steep terrain in forest, then through a few meadows where on both times I've climbed the mountain I've seen bighorn sheep grazing. After a long hike taking gradual switchbacks and then following a ridge up to the col just above the treeline.
Just above the treeline you'll find a large helicopter landing pad, a steel ramp for paragliders, and the remains of a teahouse that was being constructed but is now abandoned. A gazebo just to the east of the teahouse sits on the edge of a large cliff. The views from here are spectacular. A number of hikers end their hike here as it's already been a hard push to get this far, and the scree slope above can be daunting for non-scramblers.
Once taking two steps forward and sliding half a step back to the top, you'll be treated to an amazing knife edge summit. The views across the valley toward the three sisters are great, and you can barely see over Chinaman's peak into the spray lakes valley. More adventurous scramblers will walk the summit ridge, but be warned it's basically a shear drop on one side and a very steep incline on the other. All in all, a breathtaking day, as long as the weather holds out!
On the TransCanada highway heading West, take the off-ramp in Canmore north towards the Silvertip resort on Palliser Trail. Follow Palliser Trail road up to the junction and take left to Benchlands Trail road. Just before the bridge on the left along Elk Run Boulevard, you'll reach the Parking by Cougar Creek. Try to get in early as the parking lot fills up with many people using the various trails in the area.
Alternate parking could be on the side streets or nearby business area on Benchlands Trail. The June 2013 flood destroyed the Cougar Creek trail leading to the Lady Mac trailhead, so need to walk on a bed of rocks along the left side passing by houses heading north and just around the bend, head towards the forest where a pink strip tied to a tree leads you to a trail. For first-timers, follow a trail close to the edge until you see a marked Trailhead sign where Lady Mac trail is to your left. Note that there are other trails deep in the forest (bike and Montaine Traverse) before the Lady Mac trailhead.
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Posted By: drunknsnoshu
- Sun Mar 31 02:26:28 UTC 2019
UpsideGreat views, varied terrain, easy trail to follow, well trafficked hike which adds to the safety factor a bit. DownsideScree scramble to the false summit is tricky, the tantalizing ridge to the true summit is probably a bit too tempting for some people. When muddy the trail can be a bit treacherous. CommentGood hike/scramble, I think the views probably make it more worthwhile than it would be otherwise. The lower sections offer some fairly easy hiking with nice views that are easy to reach, which is great for broad appeal. The trail grinds the further you go, with more rock and loose rock, increasing exposure (though fairly minimal until the top), roots and slippery sections, so plenty of opportunity for injury. Treat this as a REAL climb, not a tourist attraction, and just stay away from the ridge walk at the top.
Posted By: A.schroeder.1
- Sun Aug 20 01:13:00 UTC 2017
UpsideThrilling ridge walk DownsideFalls can be fatal Can be busy... The ridge has no passing lane CommentI started from the trailhead at 6:30 am, summited/began descending around 9:45 am. On my way down there was plenty of people on their way up. It would be a nightmare to try to pass a group going the opposite direction once you get on that ridge. No passing lane. I strongly recommend getting a very early start or going mid-week for that reason.
For experienced scramblers and capable hikers, the ascent to the ridgeline is relatively mild. Once at the ridge, confidence is mandatory. Although the falling to climbers left on many sections of the ridgeline would result in serious injury but may not be fatal, there are plenty of sections where a fall to the right or left side would almost certainly be fatal. If you aren't prepared to keep your composure on sketchy, EXTREMELY narrow sections, turn around at the tea house or the false summit.
We did it in 4.5 hours round trip. 6 hrs round trip is more realistic if you want to have meal breaks/hang out at the summit/aren't feeling like pushing yourself.
Posted By: MELHOGAN
- Mon Oct 24 00:56:08 UTC 2016
Upside- beautiful views the entire way up and down - good steady incline the whole way up - absolutely stunning peak - easy to follow trail Downside- wasn't sure where to park - coming down is a bit hard on the knees CommentWe did this hike Oct 23, 2016 and it was magnificent! The weather was perfect and the hike is now one of my favorites. Great views all the way up, and possibly the nicest peak I've ever seen. The top 500 meters was tricky, but the snow helped us find our footing. I wonder if we could have walked the ridge? I think anyone with a decent fitness level should do this hike!
Posted By: Sdelara@ualberta.ca
- Sun Oct 23 01:11:35 UTC 2016
CommentJust came back from Lady McDonald Ridge today Oct 22, 2016. Parking was closed for construction so we parked in the next street. Started hike at 6 a.m. There was little snow after helipad but no need to have traction device or crampoin. It was windy at the top. In the way back, saw a couple heading to the ridge for "Love Celebration" ð??ºð??º In our way back from helipad saw many people were hiking up. The trail was slippery in our way back to bottom.
Posted By: Blitzblack
- Mon Jun 20 19:00:19 UTC 2016
UpsideWe're in the mountains and heading up, can there be more of an upside then that? DownsideCan there be a downside when in the mountains? CommentJust completed this with my girlfriend June 19/2016, there was still some snow past the shoulder. But snow or not we went to the summit ridge, but wind kept use from getting to the true peak. Will do again and hope for better conditions on top. Our round trip from the car back to the car, was 5h 45min, including a few small breaks and a 15min break at the pad. Like others have said plenty of water, and if you sometimes use poles you will want them here. Cheers, happy trails. Rich and Jenny
Posted By: Zerz11
- Tue May 03 04:40:46 UTC 2016
QuestionHello just wondering if it's a good idea to bring a dog on this hike?ANSWERS are in this forum: Dogs
Posted By: lodo
- Mon Oct 06 17:28:12 UTC 2014
UpsideGreat views Fun scrambling DownsideRelentlessly steep going up Painful descent CommentJust did this hike for the first time on October 5th. The ascent is relentlessly steep, so you need to be in pretty good shape. Bring tons of water. Great views for most of the hike; very rewarding summit. Descent was pretty long and painful. I wish I had hiking poles! With lots of breaks it took us 6 hours.
Note that they demolished the teahouse so don't expect to find it
Posted By: aurelien.pierre
- Fri Oct 03 23:19:25 UTC 2014
UpsideShort enough DownsideSummit often windy CommentDone today (3rd october) and ridge was covered with light snow and ICE...Anyway managed up and down in about 4 hours. Doable in 3 hours with light pack and minimum breaks..
Posted By: ArchTyriel
- Sun Jun 08 22:07:31 UTC 2014
UpsideGorgeous View Challenging Scramble up large rocks South facing so typically no snow except the peak Great to climb early in the season Great view of Canmore DownsideScree at the final scramble is EXTREMELY loose Easily trash your hiking boots Very Steep Not newbie friendly Difficult to find Very Busy CommentBring LOTS of water. I went through 3L of water easily. It's a long hike and you definitely don't want to run out.
The view is definitely worth it but I would not recommend this to new hikers. This is a very steep climb and will challenge most.
With all of the construction in the area, it can be difficult to find the Trail Head for this. It's not even clearly marked and can be very easy to miss. I recommend parking in the area marked "Cougar Creek Parking". Follow Cougar Creek up to where the large retaining fence is and then cut to the left into the forest. The trail goes up almost immediately.
Posted By: UpSheGoes
- Thu Sep 19 05:03:39 UTC 2013
Upsidechallenge yourself Downsideyou will wreck your hiking boots. Descend is long and painful. CommentI challenged myself and wrecked my boots. There are tempting spots to quit like the tea house, but the rewarding views and near-looking goal will keep you going.
Posted By: ChrisMarry
- Sat Sep 14 05:41:39 UTC 2013
UpsideRidge walk to true summit is breathtaking, dangerous scrambling because there is so much exposure. Excellent views of Canmore and the Valley, great fitness challenge as well. Net elevation 1187 m, max 2551 m. Over 10 km from prk lot. DownsideNone for me, not after that ridge! CommentI did Lady Mac 3 times this year. First time, I was afraid to get to the ridge, I stopped as soon as I met a slab. 2nd was better, I made it to the ridge, like most of the people I would think. I've been told that I never went to the true summit, I had to see that. I did 30-40 hikes this summer, so I thought I could do it and I did! The ridge is so much fun, difficult because it is impressive, extremely steep on both sides almost all the way along, but it's a must if you can handle that much exposure! I don't see Lady Mac the same way after today this is for sure. I did it in 22 min and came back in 18, feeling already much more comfortable. It's approx. 350 m one way. I'll add some pictures here.
Posted By: Tournesol
- Mon Jul 23 16:31:36 UTC 2012
UpsideAwesome. Great views, great sense of accomplishment. DownsideSome scrambling up scree to the summit. CommentLoved this hike. And if the ridge is too scary, then just don't do the last 50 meters!
Posted By: mark3107
- Mon Jun 28 03:57:25 UTC 2010
UpsideWell maintained and easily followed trail. Dog friendly DownsideExperienced scrambler to get safely to the summit and back down CommentOnly went to the tea house due to the in experience of the party i was with. Dog friendly only to the tea house
Posted By: cookiemaster
- Mon Jul 13 03:18:28 UTC 2009
UpsideWhatever I said before. DownsideWhatever I said before. CommentMake sure you check yourself for ticks, especially in the spring! I found four female wood ticks in my pants when I came back from the hike. If you do get ticks, smother them with petroleum jelly (cuts off their air supply and makes them release their hold on you) and pluck off with tweezers.
Posted By: cookiemaster
- Sun Apr 12 00:15:35 UTC 2009
UpsideTrail is easy to keep track of. The summit is something special. The view is spectacular. Pictures just don't cut it. You'd have to be up there to understand how great the view is. On clear days, you could probably see all the way to Lake Louise. DownsideNot the greatest family hike. If you're with a group who cannot handle steady steep elevation gain, this is not for you. CommentI just came back from this hike. Its April 11, and the trail is in very good condition. The conditions are almost summer-like in the more exposed parts of the hike. Butterflies and ground squirrels were not an uncommon sight. The way down was a bit of a scramble. I suggest you be prepared to tackle this ascent. It demands an excellent physique. Allow yourself lots of time to complete this hike.
Posted By: intothewild
- Tue Nov 04 02:49:43 UTC 2008
UpsideGreat view! DownsideBears might chase you down the mountain. CommentI hiked Lady MacDonald twice; the first time I got chased down by a bear, at night. Luckily for me, I am very quick and agile, and managed to barely out run the bear (bears are quite a bit quicker and have a lot more stamina then I would have previously imagined). it was a close one; when you can hear the bear breathing behind you as its chasing you while you run for your life, you know it was a close one. I suggest you take bear mase, a nice size pocket knife, walk around with a axe on hand, and/or don't hike up that priticular mountain alone.