Hiking Smutwood Peak in Kananaskis Country • A Smart Hike Guide

The hike up Smutwood Peak was easily one of my favorite hikes of the summer. When we set out to tackle Smutwood we had no idea it was going to be so beautiful.

Thanks to numerous photos circulating around social media, this Smutwood Peak hike has become increasingly more popular. I can’t even lie, one of the main reasons this Kananaskis hike was so high on my list was because of the gorgeous photos I saw. If you’re wondering how to tackle Smutwood next summer, keep reading!

Smutwood Peak Hike Guide

Key Points

  • Length: 17.9km (11.1 miles)
  • Duration: 5 – 9 hours
  • Elevation Gain: 961m
  • Difficulty: Moderate-Difficult, mainly towards the summit.
  • Scrambling Involved: Mild scrambling at the very end towards the summit.
  • Best Time To Go: June – October
  • Where to Park for This Kananaskis Hike: Just Past Mt Engadine Lodge along Mt. Shark Rd.
  • Gear Needed: Daypack, Lunch, Layers, hiking poles, Trail Runners

Smutwood Peak Parking

Mount Smutwood
Beginning of our hike

Turn onto Mt. Shark Rd from the Smith Dorien. Here there is a small lot right off of Mt. Shark Rd. This is an out and back trail and is where you will leave your vehicle and return to it at the end of your hike.

Smutwood Peak Route Description

Mount Smutwood
Stopping to cool off

The first hour or so of this Kananaskis hike is straightforward with no elevation gain. You’ll pass a cool waterfall and once you get into the alpine meadow the views are amazing. Don’t mind the whistling marmots.

At about 6 km your first taste of steepness is going into Smuts Pass, where it’s relentless for 2 km or so but then lightens up again as you first lay your eyes on Mount Birdwood. Mount Birdwood is the stark mountain you’ll see to your left as you keep climbing. This is not the mountain you are attempting to summit. Mount Birdwood is for climbers only.

There were many groups hiking here when we went but all of them stopped at the saddle and enjoyed the lakes. The route from the saddle up to the summit of Smutwood Peak looks long and steep, but it’s easier and shorter than it looks.

Mount Smutwood
At the saddle

Continue on past Birdwood and around the two lakes to your right. At about 7.5 km your ascent truly begins. You have another 1.5 km to go of scrambling and climbing. From the two lakes to the true summit took our group between 45 minutes to one hour. We had a pretty fast group.

There is a false summit around 8.5 km. The view from the false summit is great of Birdwood, but continue on to the true summit for 360 views. This is where the route gets a bit scrambly and slightly expose. A fall here certainly wouldn’t be good, but it’s not certain death (that’s next door on Mount Smuts).

Keep pushing for the summit and enjoy the views. Once you reach it the views are amazing and you’ll see Mount Smuts and Mount Birdwood. You’ll even be able to see Tent Ridge if you look hard enough.

Descend the same way you came.

When Can You Hike Smutwood Peak?

Mount Smutwood
Running to the top!

Smutwood Peak is high in elevation. You can attempt this hike as early as June, but you’ll likely want snowshoes and microspikes. Smutwood Peak is best in July, August, September, and early October. We tackled Smutwood Peak early August and had absolutely perfect weather.

How Long Does Take To Hike Smutwood Peak?

Mount Smutwood
At the summit!

Smutwood Peak is a 17.9km (11.1 miles) hike with an elevation gain of 961 meters. The hike is rated as moderate and towards the end you’ll be using your hands a bit.

We had a large group of 10 and were hiking at a good pace. It took most of our group about six hours out and back, but some members took about nine hours. It depends on your hiking ability!

If you are a seasoned hiker expect to be out between 5-8 hours.

How Hard is Smutwood Peak?

Mount Smutwood
The Scrambly bits of this hike

The first 6km of this hike are an easy peasy walk through the meadow. After 6 km you’ll hit your first uphill section before reaching the saddle and Birdwood Pass. Almost everyone else we saw hiking turned around at the saddle. If you stopped here it would be a mild to moderate hike with little elevation gain.

The real challenge was continuing on to summit Smutwood Peak. From the saddle it took us a little over an hour of uphill climbing to reach the summit. The last .5 km are the scariest bits as there will be loose scree on your left. You don’t want to fall, it wouldn’t be certain death, but you’ll definitely get roughed up. This, to me, was the most difficult part. However compared to other scrambles and hikes in Banff and Kananaskis it is not that bad.

I would say if you are even a beginner or moderate hiker you can accomplish this hike.

Are dogs and kids appropriate to hike Smutwood Peak?

Mount Smutwood
At the summit

We saw a few children climbing to the saddle and many dogs. Make sure to keep your dogs on a leash as there are plenty of bears around. We saw one grizzly at the saddle of this hike. I’m happy there wasn’t a loose dog around.

Seasoned teenage hikers could definitely scramble of Smutwood Peak.

How Busy is the Smutwood Peak Hike?

Mount Smutwood
At the saddle

We saw maybe six other groups of hikers on the trail. We set out on a beautiful Friday afternoon in Kananaskis. Weekends would be a bit busier, but nothing crazy like around Lake Louise.

You should have no problem having some nature to yourself here on this trail.

Other Notes about Hiking Smutwood Peak

Mount Smutwood
Past the false summit

Smutwood Peak should not be confused with Mount Smuts. Mount Smutwood is a moderate to difficult hike while Mount Smuts is one of the hardest scrambles in the Canadian Rockie (don’t believe me – get Alan Kane’s book). You shouldn’t attempt Mount Smuts unless you are a well-seasoned scrambler and have helmets, rope, and a GPS.

On another note, a popular thing to do here in the past was camp at the saddle so that hikers could get sunrise photos on top of the summit of Smutwood. While these photos look amazing you would be taking a risk to get them. It is illegal to free camp here and there is no camping, a $1000 CAD fine could be issued to you on the spot if caught. Your best bet for an early morning hike is to get to the parking area around 2 am and start from there. If you’re exceptionally fast you might be able to reach the summit by 5 am.

Wildlife Awareness on The Hike

Bear Safety

If you’re on any hikes in Kananaskis you should practice proper wildlife awareness. In the region, there are frequent sightings of black bears, grizzly bears, moose, coyotes, and cougars. They all a potential threat to humans and we should reduce our impact on their natural lives.

Before any hike or walk-in the Canadian Rockies, you need to have bear spray. Remember that the bear spray is worthless if it’s in your pack, you’ll need to be able to grab this in two seconds or less in an emergency. We wear our bear sprays on our hip.

The likeliness of seeing wildlife on this trail is high. It is a moderately trafficked trail, but bear sightings have occurred. The meadow and valley is prime grizzly habitat and the trail has been closed in the past due to bear activity. We saw a male grizzly near the saddle of this hike. Thankfully he was fairly far away and we had a large group.

Always check the park websites for wildlife information (Parks Canada) and then check again for notices at the trailhead. 

When you’re on the trail make noise by banging hiking poles, talking, whistling, clapping, or singing. This is particularly important around blind bends and corners. You’re through the deep woods during these times, and it’s prime time to sneak up on a bear. Once you’re at the summit, you’re safer as you can see wildlife from afar, but still, don’t let your guard down and keep the bear spray on you just in case.

As always while hiking, you need to stay alert, travel in a group, mind children and pets, and finally carrying bear spray and knowing how to use it. If you’ve come to the park without bear spray Valhalla Pure Outfitters in town sells spray and holders with employees who will demonstrate how to use properly. 

Besides bears, it’s common to see hoary marmots and pika. We asked a marmot for directions, but they only gave us a whistle.

Advice on Hikes in the Canadian Rockies

Mount Smutwood

If this is your first time hiking in the Rockies take a conservative approach. Pick an adequate hike for your fitness, plan for plenty of time, pack water and food, and don’t be afraid to turn around. If you want to learn more about what to wear hiking we have a great post.

For long hikes, set a turn around time at the departure. Any time we set out for an objective I determine a time at which we need to turn around in order to arrive at the parking lot or campsite by dark. I would recommend not hiking in the dark as it’s easy to get lost and it’s not fun in bear country.

On that note, always carry bear spray if you plan to hike in the park. We carry ours in the neighborhood and bears have been known to stroll through town and busy parking lots. Always practice wildlife awareness when you’re on a trail, and please give animals space.

In regards to times keep in mind your mountain fitness — different than the gym. The low end of the times in this post is a constant fast pace uphill with little to no breaks and a brisk pace downhill. Most hikers should plan for a middle of the road time with the estimated duration.

It’s also super important to know that there are limitations and to come prepared. These are very serious mountains and it easy to get in well over your head with life-threatening consequences.

Lastly, a GPS tracker could save your life – it’s one of those backpacking essentials I like to have on me just in case I need to hit SOS.

Alltrails is our favorite app to have on a hike. It shows the correct trail way, elevation, and other hiker reviews. We paid the subscription fee so that we could download all the data we need to our phones. Best $2.50 (per month) ever spent!

What to Wear On a Hike?

Group Summit Photo

The most basic principle of what to wear hiking is layering. Anyone that has spent time in wilderness or mountains can speak to the fact your temperature can fluctuate a lot on a hike. You can easily start off cool at the base of the mountain and get hot as soon as you begin moving. Also, never underestimate the power of a good hat for hiking and sunglasses.

The goal of hiking clothing is to help regulate your body temperature, element protection, and moisture management. Temperature management is best done through a layering system if you want to learn more about what to pack for a day hike or what to wear on a hike, you can see our full post!  Here are the best hiking clothes for men and the best hiking clothes for women.

We Have an Entire Website on Banff!

We live in this beautiful area of the world and want to make sure you have an epic time in the wilderness. Check out The Banff Blog for more travel information.

Banff Blog 4

What to Pack for Banff?

We’ve put together our favorite packing list items for the Canadian Rockies. This list is meant to be good in any season, for many different levels of activities. Whether it’s hiking or just wandering around exploring the town of Banff and it’s surroundings here are the things to consider for your trip.

Travel Insurance

Banff Itinerary

We don’t travel without travel insurance and neither should you. You never know what can happen in a foreign country and it’s best to be prepared. World Nomads provides good short term coverage

SafetyWing is perfect for digital nomads. See our full review here!

Hiking Backpack

Best Camera Backpacks for Hiking

You’re going to need something to carry your belongings in while your traveling around Jasper. Even if you’re not doing extensive hikes you need at least something small for day trips. My favorite daypacks are from Camelbak.

Hiking Shoes

The North Face Ultra 110 GTX

If you’re wondering what necessities to bring to Banff then sturdy shoes are perhaps the most important thing you will need before you get to Canada.

Down Jacket

We ALWAYS have a down jacket with me on every single hike I go in the Rockies. It’s a just in case jacket that we usually end up wearing when we reach the summit, and it gets cold. Down jackets pack up light and small so there is no reason NOT to have one in your bag. Seriously it could save your life in a bad situation. We wrote a whole post on our favorites (hint – Arc’Teryx Cerium LT Hooded Jacket, Patagonia Down Sweater, REI Coop Down Jacket)

Hiking Pants

Packing List Keb Hiking Pant

Both Cameron and I have Fjallraven’s well known Keb pants. Fjallraven’s Keb pants are a mountaineering staple, but they are heavyweight and not excellent for quick dry properties yet extremely durable.

They kept me warm throughout this entire hike and are windproof. When I was too hot at the base of the mountain, I was able to unzip the sides for airflow. These are, without a doubt, my favorite pants to hike in the Canadian Rockies. You can also check out the best hiking pants for women and the best hiking pants for men.

Peak Design Capture Clip

Peak Design Capture Clip

This is has been one of our favorite additions to our camera equipment and hiking outfit. The Peak Design capture clip allows for a camera to be clipped on to your backpack strap or belt.It has to be one of the best accessories we’ve ever used for carrying our camera.

The clip feels secure and robust with a straight forward design that makes switching straps easy. We’ve brought it on several hikes around the Canadian Rockies now and it has changed the way in which we photograph hikes. The access it provides to your camera is so much better than a camera strap that allows a camera to swing and banging into everything.

It’s super handy and a must for anyone who want to carry their camera on hikes, but not have to fumble around in their bag every time they want to take a photo.

Hike More!

All Around Canada

Leave a Comment