Cline River Canyon Winter Hike

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Getting lost in a frozen wonderland

It’s easy to see why this has become a favourite.

On this adventure, you will walk through the forest, climb up and down old glacier moraines, experience amazing views over the canyon and stand below a stunning icefall along the Cline River. There is a little bit of everything on this hike that will be sure to satisfy a multitude of tastes. The parking lot fills on weekends and there is almost always at least one group on the trail on weekdays. With this trail becoming more popular every year, please tread lightly, pack out your garbage and pick up your dog’s poop!

We’ve been offering this as a guided hike for almost a decade at Nordegg Adventures. Until the pandemic we only saw the occasional hiker or ice climber, now it is becoming a popular trail. Keep in mind that what we find busy would be considered a quiet trail in Banff or Jasper.

At a Glance

  • Distance: 3.4 km return
  • Elevation gain: ~75 m
  • Challenge Level: Moderate | Family Friendly
  • Trail type: There and back
  • Congestion: Moderate
  • Management: Kiska/Wilson PLUZ
  • Other Trail Uses: None

Trailhead: This trail starts at the Pinto Lake Staging Area, located approximately 50 km west of Nordegg and 42 km east of Saskatchewan River Crossing. Toilets are available at the trailhead.

Head Out On Your Own

Distances

  • 0.6 km | Short but steep hill
  • 0.9 km | Trail narrows
  • 1.0 km | Abraham Lake views
  • 1.1 km | Short but steep hill
  • 1.2 km | Narrow canyon
  • 1.3 km | Icefalls viewpoint
  • 1.4 km | Canyon viewpoint
  • 1.5 km | Canyon acess
  • 1.7 km | Icefalls

The Trailhead

The Pinto Lake Staging Area where this trail starts is easy to miss as you drive down the highway. There is a small parking area near the road, the only place to park in a snowy winter, with a larger parking area a little further down the driveway in an abandoned gravel pit. Alberta Environment and Parks has plans to improve this parking lot and a toilet has already been added in recent years.

This trailhead serves a few different trails and there are no clear signs for most of them. The Cline River Canyon trail starts on the right-hand side as you enter the gravel pit. Going up the old access road you quickly gain a view of Mount William Booth and the Whiterabbit Valley on the other side of Abraham Lake. The trail goes through an area often used as a campsite before entering the pine forest. The next section is on a fairly flat plateau with the Cline River at the bottom of the valley on your right.

The Forest Walk

The walk through the forest is a pleasant one with glimpses of the White Goat Wilderness Area and the Cline River Valley whenever the trees open up. There is one short but steep hill in this section as you make your way from one plateau to the next. It can get quite icy but a pair of ice cleats makes it easily manageable.

Soon the trail narrows and drops down to your right. There are two openings in the forest ahead affording distant views of Windy Point Ridge and Mount Abraham. These openings in the forest are caused by water seeping out of the ground, causing the area to slowly slump toward the river below. Continue on the trail ahead, making your way down another short but somewhat steeper hill. The trail from here changes slightly from year to year, making its way through the forest to the first view of the Cline River Canyon. Be careful here: the edge of the canyon is unmarked and slopes toward the cliff. Make sure to stay at least at body length away from the edge.

This is one of the skinniest and most dramatic sections of the canyon, making it hard to see the river at the bottom. You can see multiple icefalls plunging over the cliffs on the other side of the canyon.

The Canyon

Follow the trail to the left to another viewpoint with a natural railing made of rock. This is your first view of the icefalls where you’re going. There are a number of great viewpoints ahead on the trail, looking straight at the canyon and the peaks framing the valley ahead.

To access the canyon, continue on the trail until you reach an opening in the forest that looks like the end of the trail. Access the small stream on your right and make your way down the drainage. This section is a mix of snow, ice and rocks depending on how much snow the winter has brought. In most years ice cleats work best while snowshoes are great in years where heavy snow fills in the bottom of the gully.

IN THE CANYON

Once at the river, take a left and head towards the icefalls, passing over river rocks and a small water source coming out of the rocks. This source isn’t particularly warm but runs all winter long, even on the coldest days.

An extra jacket will help you enjoy your time here since it’s often much colder in the canyon. Take your time to enjoy the peacefulness of the place, the ice covering the canyon walls and the river running through it. The ice on the walls comes from water seeping above the canyon walls, not from a creek or a stream. On some days you can see the water slowly dripping down the icicles and they get bigger as the season goes on.

A few things to keep in mind to ensure a safe experience include:

  • Stay on the ice that is sitting on rocks at the base of the icefalls. The river in the canyon freezes from time to time but we don’t recommend going up the canyon since the river is deep in sections, the ice is unstable and there is a risk of falling rocks or ice.
  • Ice climbers break off a lot of ice chunks, some quite large, while climbing. Stay a good distance back to avoid getting hit.
  • The ice does break off the wall and falls down below from time to time. This mostly happens when we have large temperature fluctuations and we see this often when the temperatures suddenly drop to -30C. Enjoy the views without getting too close to the canyon walls and stay aware of your surroundings.

THE RETURN

Retrace your footsteps to return to the trailhead.

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You can find us at the Nordegg Canteen:
4 Stuart Sreet, Nordegg, AB, T0M 2H0


We acknowledge that the land on which we gather, explore and adventure is home to the Îyârhe Nakoda First Nation and the Smallboy Mountain Cree, part of the Treaty 6 and Treaty 8 Territories, part of the Métis Nation of Alberta Region 3, and has been the traditional meeting ground for many Indigenous Peoples since time immemorial. We are grateful for the stewardship of these lands along with the knowledge, traditions, and teachings that have been passed down through generations.

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