25/04/2024

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Blackshale Suspension Bridge Hike, Kananaskis

7 min read
Blackshale Suspension Bridge Hike, Kananaskis

Kananaskis Country in Alberta is home to the Blackshale Suspension Bridge, located on the southern section of the 80-kilometre High Rockies Trail that stretches from the Goat Creek parking area above Canmore to Elk Pass on the border with British Columbia. The addition of the suspension bridge increases the fun factor for hikers and mountain bikers alike and provides a more direct route along the High Rockies Trail.

There are a couple of ways to hike to the Blackshale Suspension Bridge – the longer official 6.0 km return hike starting from the parking lot at Black Prince Cirque and the short and fast 1.0 km return hike up from the side of the Smith Dorrien Road. However you do it, this is a unique hike that people of all ages will love.

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Blackshale Suspension Bridge hike in Kananaskis summary

Permit: You do need a Kananaskis Conservation Pass. It’s $15 for a day, or $90 for a year – and that covers two cars registered at the same address. It’s best to purchase online, though you can buy in person on Highway 40 at the Kananaskis Visitor Information Centre. 

Distance: 6.0 km return from the Black Prince Cirque parking lot and just 1.1 km return if you start at side of the Smith Dorrien Road to the south. 

Elevation gain: 330 m or 1,083 feet

Time needed: Approximately 1.5 – 2 hours.

Level of difficulty: Easy

Map: Gem Trek Kananaskis Lakes or Organic Maps as an offline hiking app. I’d recommend both.

Be prepared: The Blackshale Suspension Bridge is on the High Rockies Trail – which is shared with mountain bikers. You may need to jump to the side of the trail in a hurry.

Cell service: Don’t count on any service after you’ve passed the turnoff to Nakiska Ski Resort.

Dogs: Permitted on leash.

Wildlife: We’ve seen moose and grizzly bears in the general area of the bridge in the summer. Be smart and carry easy to access bear spray. If you see fresh scat, make lots of noise.

Weather: Check the Kananaskis forecast before you go.

Please: Practice Leave No Trace principles and carry the hiking essentials, ever for an easy hike like this one.

Location map

                                                                             

Background on the Blackshale Suspension Bridge

The Blackshale Suspension Bridge is a 73 metre (240 feet) long rope bridge created to “provide a special experience on the trail and to allow users to cross the creek directly rather than detour around the steep creek bed” – according to McElhanney, the company that provided the structural design of the bridge.

The Blackshale Suspension bridge is closed in the winter as the weight of the snow could be an issue, especially after a big storm. Brace cables have been added to improve stability of the bridge if it gets very windy.

The Blackshale Suspension Bridge is closed in winter
The Blackshale Suspension Bridge is closed in winter

Best time to do the Blackshale Suspension Bridge hike

The best time to visit the Blackshale Suspension Bridge if you want to walk or bike across the bridge is in late spring, summer and fall. Once the snow arrives, Alberta Parks shuts the bridge, though you wouldn’t know it judging by the hardpacked trail across it.

Check on Peter Lougheed advisories and closures before you head to Kananaskis, if you absolutely must have a picture of yourself on the bridge.

We admired the Blackshale Suspension Bridge but did not go on it
We admired the Blackshale Suspension Bridge but did not go on it

Finding the trailhead for the official Blackshale Suspension Bridge hike

There are no public transportation options to get to the Blackshale Suspension Bridge hike – whether it’s the official or unofficial route.

Drive south on Highway 40 from the Trans-Canada Highway. You’ll pass the Kananaskis Visitor Information Centre in about 10 minutes – so stop in here if you need a Kananaskis Conservation Pass or a pee break. You lose cell reception shortly after passing the information centre, so you won’t be able to buy a pass online at that point. 

From there, it’s a 45-minute drive.

  • Stay on Highway 40 to reach Kananaskis Lakes Trail AB 742. Turn right and follow it for 2.2 km.
  • Turn right onto Smith Dorrien Trail – which becomes a dusty, dirt road come the summer. Stay on it for 8.4 km.
  • Make a left hand turn into the signed Black Prince Cirque Trail. Drive 300 m to reach a parking lot.
  • To get to the start of the trail walk back to the Smith Dorrien Trail, cross it, and look for a sign pointing to the High Rockies Trail off to the left in the woods. 

If you have the time I highly recommend the easy 2 – hour return hike to Warspite Lake from the parking lot before or after the Blackshale Suspension Bridge hike.

The trailhead is on the Smith Dorrien Road, across from the entrance to the parking lot for the Black Prince Cirque
The trailhead is on the Smith Dorrien Road, across from the entrance to the parking lot for the Black Prince Cirque

This is the most popular hike into the Blackshale Suspension Bridge because it’s so short. The trail though is unmarked, so you’ll need to have a close look at the location on Google maps. Usually there are cars pulled over at the side of the road, though beware as there are other unmarked trailheads in Kananaskis Country.

Park on the side of the road by a narrow cleft with two dirt trails on either side of it. The hike is on a loop trail, so you can take either trail up to the bridge. From the road it’s only a 10 – 15 minute slightly uphill hike to reach the bridge.

Blackshale Suspension Bridge official hike description

After walking back to the Smith Dorrien Road, cross the highway carefully as vehicles fly down this road. Look for the High Rockies trail sign on the far side of the road. Hike up through the trees to meet the High Rockies Trail after 400 m. Signage points you right to the Blackshale Suspension Bridge.

Follow the trail as it weaves through the woods, gaining and losing elevation with regularity. There is a 330-metre elevation gain in total but there’s never a long-sustained climb. It’s more like a mini roller coaster.

There are a couple of openings along the trail that provide great views of the mountains. 

In the winter there is one short couloir to cross (27 paces for me) that can be done in about 7 seconds. There wasn’t much snow when we did the hike in mid-February, so I wasn’t worried about an avalanche. However, I would avoid it after a big snowstorm.

You know you’re just seconds away from reaching the Blackshale Suspension Bridge when you see a sign saying congested area. Frankly, the area around the suspension bridge sounds too busy for my liking in peak times, so if you’re like me go early or late in the day or visit in the off season., appreciating you can’t walk on the bridge in winter. 

Hike 400 m up the trail to reach the High Rockies Trail and go right
Hike 400 m up the trail to reach the High Rockies Trail and go right
Pleasant but not exciting hiking in the woods on the High Rockies Trail
Pleasant but not exciting hiking in the woods on the High Rockies Trail
There are some good mountain views on a couple of occasions
There are some good mountain views on a couple of occasions
In the winter there is a narrow avalanche path you can tell from the short trees
In the winter there is a narrow avalanche path you can tell from the short trees on the left
The fact that there is a sign speaking to congestion tells you busy the Blackshale Suspension Bridge gets in summer
The fact that there is a sign speaking to congestion tells you how busy the Blackshale Suspension Bridge gets in summer
A particularly pretty view on the hike back to the parking lot
A particularly pretty view on the hike back to the parking lot

Blackshale Suspension Bridge rules

The Blackshale Suspension Bridge gets very busy in the summer and fall – and from what I hear there can be lineups. Exercise patience and be courteous. 

The bridge is designed to hold a certain weight. To be on the safe side, stay off the bridge when there are 20 people on it.

There is no right of way per se for the mountain bikers, but if you see one, let them pass so they can continue their ride without being held up for selfies. Again – just be courteous and patient.

Blackshale Suspension bridge rules
Blackshale Suspension bridge rules

Where to stay in Kananaskis Country

If you’ve got the budget I’d recommend nearby Mount Engadine Lodge and their fabulous glamping tents. Even though their prices seem high, it includes three meals a day and an afternoon charcuterie plate.

Other options near the Nakiska Ski Area are Kananaskis Mountain Lodge or the Kananaskis Wilderness Hostel.

Another excellent option kids would likely love are the tipis and trapper’s tents found at Sundance by Basecamp near the entrance to Kananaskis Village.

Afternoon tea at Mt Engadine Lodge includes a charcuterie plate
Afternoon tea at Mt Engadine Lodge includes a charcuterie plate

More Kananaskis area activities you’ll love

Day hikes in Kananaskis

Backpacking trips in Kananaskis

Camping in Kananaskis

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The Blackshale Suspension Bridge hike or bike ride in Kananaskis Country, Alberta

 

 

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