Cline River Canyon Winter Hike

Getting lost in a frozen wonderland

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

Published on March 6, 2021 | Last updated on January 15, 2023

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.

The Cline River Canyon
The Cline River Canyon Galleria

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 With A Guide

All bookings are handled by Explore Nordegg & Abraham Lake and offered by local partners. Most bookings require a minimum of 2 days' notice, contact us for last-minute options.

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Icefalls Winter Hike

We all have our part to do to keep this place special. Planning ahead is key to ensuring that we all continue to enjoy adventures in the Nordegg & Abraham Lake region. These are a few of the things you can do to help:

  • Minimize your impact by using existing sites, fire rings and toilets instead of creating your own.
  • Know about current fire bans, make sure that your fire is completely out before you go and buy firewood instead of cutting down trees. Remember that shooting fireworks is not allowed in the region.
  • Keep your site clean and your food stored inside your vehicle to help keep our wildlife wild. Always use bear-proof garbage bins.
  • While alcohol is now permitted in some Alberta Parks day-use areas, none of those are in our region. Alcohol is only allowed at registered campsites.
  • Be mindful of your neighbours and other visitors, including keeping noise to a minimum.
  • Be prepared for adventures in a remote area. Explore within your skills to reduce the strain on our volunteer search and rescue team.
  • Remember that cell service is limited. We recommend carrying a satellite communicator, like a Zoleo, on your adventures.
  • Support local businesses and communities in Cline River, the Bighorn and Nordegg.

Information provided here may be inaccurate or outdated. Always make sure to obtain current information before going on your adventure.

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 Pinto Lake Staging Area
Hiking through the forest along the Cline River
The Cline River and Abraham Lake
The narrow canyon of the Cline River

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 Icefalls
The Cline River Canyon Viewpoint
The access to 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.

The Cline River Galleria
ICe climbers in the Cline River Canyon
broken ice blocks in the canyon

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.

The People

All the stories we share are by locals, whether they live here or love our region and contribute to making it an amazing place.

Contributors to this Story:

Contributors

  • JP Fortin

    JP is the Owner + CEO at Nordegg Adventures where he oversees the development of new adventures, guide training, strategic planning, marketing and destination development partnerships.

  • Brett Pawlyk & Annabelle Oung

    They have been exploring the Canadian Rockies and the world's mountain ranges for close to four decades combined. They manage HeLa Ventures, an outdoor education centre located between Rocky Mountain House and Nordegg. Brett also guides for Nordegg Adventures in the winter and Annabelle is a freelance translator. When they are not working you'll find them hiking and scrambling in the region with their daughter Tessa.