The Hailstone Butte hike in South Kananaski Country exceeded all expectations, especially as an early season destination. The hike is short at only 2 km one way, so fit folks can be at the top of Hailstone Butte in 30 – 40 minutes from the parking lot. Many of you may be wondering why bother with such a short hike when it’s a little difficult to get here from the Calgary area.
To begin with, there is quite a drive through the foothills to reach the trailhead. This is an area that is not very busy, so you may only see a few other hikers. And once you’re at the top of Hailstone Butte, you can add to the run with about 3 km return, continuing to the south summit, which is reportedly several feet higher than where the Hailstone Fire Lookout is located. I think it’s a worthy goal to appreciate the panoramic views of the mountains.
Another option is to walk up the fire road (and back through the canyon) to get back to your car. That would probably add a few more miles.
In my mind, what’s wrong with just lazing around at the top, enjoying a long lunch, after a hail hike? The views of Plateau Mountain, the Burke Mountains, Wind Peak and the Livingstone Mountains behind Hailstone Lookout are exceptional, making it a great place to relax. One thing I should mention is that the Hailstone Butte hike is notoriously windy, even though the day we did it was calm.
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Hailstone Butte hike recap
The distance. 4.0 km (2.5 mi) return with the option of adding about 3.0 km (1.9 mi) by walking south to the building.
Height increase. 327 m or 1073 feet
Difficulty level: Moderately you have to cross a steep slope and climb grass and stone benches.
Required time: 2 – 4 hours depending on whether you want a quick hike up and down Hailstone Butte or if you want to add miles on top and lunch with a view.
The best time of the campaign. Late May to October, but it will depend on the year and the amount of snow, as there can be eaves and wet snow avalanches from above.
Backcountry hiking. Yes, pretty close to Indian Graves Campground and Cataract Creek Campground.
Dogs: Allowed on the chain. There are cooling streams and a pond at the start of the hike. Carry extra water for them and don’t forget a collapsing dog bowl.
Hailstone Butte trailhead location
The Hailstone Butte trail is only accessible by car starting May 1st each year, but due to snow it’s best to wait until early June. Dirt roads will also be muddy in early May. I was surprised at how scenic the drive from Highway 22 is and how dusty it feels. Smith Dorier trail ride.
If you reset your odometers at the Highway 22/Highway 532 intersection or Highwood Junction, you should have no trouble finding the trail.
Take the Cowboy Highway, also called Highway 22, to Longview. Continue 28.5 km to Highway 532, a dirt road. Turn right or west and drive 21.5 km past the turnoff to Indian Graves Campground at 13.4 km. On the east side of the road you will find a large exit just past the large pond and the Texas Gate. Parts of the road can be bumpy, especially the last 8 km.
Note that Highway 532 is closed through April 30 from the turnoff to Indian Graves Camp.
From Highwood Junction (where highways 40, 541 and 940 intersect)
Drive 31.8 km on Highway 940 (closed December 1 – April 30). At Highway 532, turn left or northeast and follow the road for another 4 km to a roadside called the Hump, before a large pond and Texas Gate.
Hailstone Butte location map
Description of the Hailstone Butte hike
There is no sign on the Hailstone Butte hike, but if you’re eagle-eyed, you can see your destination on the high ridge to the northwest from the parking area at the top. To start the Hailstone Butte hike, cross the road from the parking lot and walk about 25m on the road (south) to the left. You will see a small white sign at the end of the bank on your right. From here, climb the bank to the right (avoid stepping on the pretty wildflowers) until you see a clear dirt road emerge. A little further (~ 25 m) the path will split. Make sure you take the left fork that goes down the hill. The path to the correct fork appears to be simply exiting.
Going down the left fork, you come to a small stream. Find a place for your dog to water and remember it for the return. You’ll be following this stream for a while, but don’t expect the water to be higher in it depending on the season. As you move along, you’ll come across more leg-scratching bushy areas that sometimes overgrow the road.
Continue up the drainage, following the path until you are below the rock bands and looking at the aerial point 100 meters ahead of you. Call this a pre-trial lookout and it could be one of the entry points on the Roper route described below. To access the other two summit paths, carefully traverse the steep slope until you reach the aerial point, as shown with John and our dog Mila. It’s worth looking over the edge as there are great views and interesting folds in the rocks below.
When you’re under the Hailstone Butte cliffs, there are Three ways to climb Hailstone Butteone that is easy but longer, one that is between easy and moderate and the most popular, and a more difficult route that requires more traction.
The first and more difficult route we didn’t do is called the Roper Route. From below where the fire lookout is located (if you could see it), the route involves a southerly, sometimes steep, grassy slope, only about 50 meters from where the fire lookout is located. You have to put together a rock band to get to the top, and there’s some exposure. It shouldn’t take you more than a few minutes, and there are some grassy sections that make it easier, but it sure looks impressive. Do not attempt this route in the spring if there are large overhangs.
The second option we did is to cross the steep slope pictured below, then turn left and climb a series of grassy ledges that lead to a rocky ledge that juts out in front of the picnic table. From a distance it looks more difficult than it actually is. We knocked it down in about 10 minutes.
A third option is to walk down the steep tourist slope to the fire road you can see in the distance to the north. It curves around and climbs a modest incline to reach Hailstone Lookout. If you are walking with small children, this would be your best option, but probably adds about 2 km each way.
Hail observation post
Hailstone Lookout was not staffed when we did this hike in early June. Because of this, we hiked up the lookouts (recommended by one of the hikers at the picnic table) to admire from above the incredible stone work done by one of the former lookouts, Tom Johnson. It’s a beauty and worth the hike up Hailstone Butte just to see it.
We are extending the hail campaign
Notice the small building at the top of the rock band in the distance. It’s about a 1.5km hike to get there and well worth it. The views are very good and you get a different perspective from the hike to the end of the butte.
I loved the Hailstone Butte hike for the wildflowers and views of the mountains above. And what a treat to see another fire lookout along with the fabled stones. If you’re looking for a longer hike on the same trail, if it’s not crazy windy, try the 9km Windy Peak Hills Hike.
Interested in exploring and hiking more in Southern Alberta?
South Kananaskis hikes
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