A Scramble up Smutwood Peak in Kananaskis Country

I spent 14 months hiking around the Canadian Rockies, I’ve completed many beautiful hikes in Jasper National Park and several incredible trails around Lake Louise in Banff National Park but if I had to pick one as my all-time favourite then the route up to Smutwood Peak in Kananaskis Country would be my answer. 

It’s a 19km one way in, one way out hike that encompasses almost 1000m (3000ft) of elevation gain. It’s not easy by any means but the views are out of this world. 

The first time I publicly shared a photo from the summit I was accused of manipulating the image in Photoshop, it’s so beautiful that someone didn’t believe it was even real!!!

Another perk of this hike is that there are several resident grizzly bears that frequent the area and sightings are quite common. On a side note, Kananaskis Country is certainly one of the best places in the Canadian Rockies to spot wildlife. 

Hiking up Smutwood Peak in Kananaskis country

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Birdwood Lakes from the ridgeline

Getting to the Smutwood Peak Trailhead

The route starts near the Engadine Lodge. To get to the car park from Canmore take the Peter Lougheed road (742). After circa 38 kilometres turn right and drive past the lodge.

Cross the bridge and after a few hundred meters take the first road on the left. It’s an old logging road and really easy to spot. There is a decent parking area right at the end where the hike starts. 

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Early morning light during the descent from Smutwood Peak

Smutwood Peak – Trail Description

The trail begins along an old logging road before branching off to the right-hand side, where you’ll intercept Commonwealth Creek. By following the creek upstream you’ll soon emerge into a vast alpine meadow. Don’t forget to stop and admire the waterfall on the way. 

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Mount Birdwood at sunrise

Up to this point, the route isn’t strenuous. Once you’ll cross the enormous avalanche debris path, the alpine stroll through the meadows quickly turns into steep switchbacks up to the Smuts col, or Smuts Pass as it’s sometimes referred to.

There are ribbons all along the trail that you can follow. During our descent, I saw hikers getting lost near the avalanche debris. Pay attention to the trail and you’ll be fine. From Smuts Pass, you’ll get your first view of the lower Birdwood Lake.

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Coming down from Smuts Pass

The route then heads clockwise around the two lakes (the lakes will be on your right-hand side). The trail ahead is clearly visible from the distance.

Shortly you will begin the ascent to the summit. This is the final hour of your 3-5 hour hike so far. The views of Mount Birdwood become more and more astonishing the higher you venture.

Don’t be satisfied with the false summit, push yourself a little further. 

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Mount Birdwood and the Birdwood Lakes below

The final ascent can be quite tricky and some route finding may be necessary. Loose rock may slow down your final approach.

Upon reaching the high point of the ridgeline it’s possible to see Mount Assiniboine in the far distance and of course the beautifully shaped Mount Birdwood (pictured above) – the highlight of the hike. 

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Descending down from Smutwood Peak in the morning light

The route down will be much faster than the way up. The entire trail should take anywhere between 5 and 8 hours depending on your fitness level and how long you spend at the top. 

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Due to the high grizzly activity, Smutwood Peak is an unofficial trail with Alberta Parks. Make sure you carry bear spray with you and know how to use it. Parks Canada always recommends hiking in a tight group with a minimum of four people in areas with high grizzly bear activity. 

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Larch trees in the valley below Mount Birdwood

The hike up Smutwood Peak is particularly rewarding in September when the larches covering the slopes of the surrounding peaks turn yellow. 

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Jack standing below the peaks on the way back from Smutwood Peak

If you have questions about the hike, leave them in the comments and I will answer them as best as I can! 

Check out my Canadian Rockies Guide for more day hikes, backpacking trips and road trip ideas!

Marta
Marta

Hi! I am the photographer and creator of www.inafarawayland.com. I come from Poland, but I've been living, travelling and working around the globe since I turned 18. A few years ago, during one of my trips to Scotland, I bought my first DSLR and my adventure with photography began. When I am not stuck to my computer editing photos, you can find me hiking somewhere in the mountains.

6 Comments

  1. Hello!

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge about this trail! I was curious if your photographs from this post were taken during morning or evening light? Also, do you know if backcountry camping is permitted on this trail?
    Thanks!

    • Hi Chris. Thanks for stopping by. They were taken during both morning and evening. I am afraid camping isn’t permitted on this trail. I did the trail a few years back already and I bivouacked under the summit. We got there in the evening and left early in the morning.

  2. Hello Marta,
    Here we are a year later looking at your Rockies guide after having had so much success with your Italy guide last year. We’re planning to be in Canadian Rockies starting mid-September for 4-6 weeks. We’re wondering what would be some good towns to be based at for exploration, outside of Banff and Canmore which, turns out, are VERY expensive. We’ll do a combination of camping, car camping, and also remote working. We’ll need a place to stay for the weeks we will be working. Calgary seems too far. How about Radium Hot Springs? Also, what would be some good hikes for nice fall colors? Already backpacking in Assiniboine the last week of September! Thank you and hope you’re well!

    • Hi Radka. Thanks for returning to my site! So glad to hear you’ve had success with my Dolomites guide. I will have one for Norway next year! :). Today I had a peak at some of the hotel prices in Banff and I was left shocked. Tourism is on the rise again and the high demand vs small supply makes the prices soar.

      As for your question. Radium Hot Springs offer great access to Kootenay NP and it’s certainly less touristy than Banff or Canmore, but if you were to do day hikes in Kananaskis or Canmore it would mean driving back and forth.

      Valemount close to Mt Robson Provincial park is another town which is close to the Rockies, but far from the very touristy Jasper township. Hinton is another small town close to the Rockies and not far from Jasper where you could get lower prices.

      Golden is another good place to consider and it will be significantly quieter during September/October.

      I hope that helps a bit! Let me know if you have more questions!

  3. Marta, Thank you very much for putting together the account of your trip to view Birdwood Peak. My wife and I (a couple of mountaineers from California) just returned from hiking to Mt Assiniboine. We made the nice circle from Mt Shark Trailhead over first Wonder Pass, and then Assiniboine Pass, and back down Bryant Creek. Here and there we were able to spot an intriguing sharp peak in the distance, and thought that it was very likely Birdwood Mountain. Your account, and photos confirm it, so thanks a lot.

    We already are thinking of a return trip one day to climb Smutwood Peak to gain the view of Birdwood. We choose to hike to places with intriguing sharp mountains, and have done this through many of the world’s ranges. If you are heading to Norway, we highly recommend that you head for the Lofoten Islands, where there are astonishing fairyland peaks of striking sharp appearance. It is a mountain photographer’s paradise! Al the best to you in your journeys, and please visit us on the coast of Cal. if you are ever nearby. You might love a trip to see the jagged Minarets of the eastern Sierra, where we mostly do own own mountain traveling. Cheers, Ian and Lizzie.

    • Hi Ian! Thanks for stopping by and for your great feedback. Sounds like you are hooked on the Canadian Rockies. I still think they are some of the most beautiful mountains out there. I used to live in California between 2006 and 2008 and got to experience a lot of it, but unfortunately, I never made it to the Sierras.
      As for the Lofoten Islands, I spent 6 weeks there in summer 2021 (which had very little to do with summer) and another 7 weeks in the Fjords this summer season. I will be posting lots of articles about hiking in the Fjords of Norway. I do love Norway. If you love sharp peaks then sounds like you should also plan a trip to the Dolomites! My website focuses mostly on the Dolomites and I am sure you would love them!

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