Three Sisters creek and waterfall hike

CautionUpdate July 2013: The severe flooding of June 2013 has severely impacted this trail. Many of the details in this report, especially past the waterfall, will no longer apply. I posted an update on May 23, 2015

Depending on how far you go, this hike can offer just about everything. On a hot day, the cool waterfall is a pleasant destination in itself. The old dam at 1.5K is the site of a long-abandoned quarry and is neat to see.

The scenery is spectacular, especially if you get to a viewpoint where all of the sisters are visible. There’s also the peaks of Mt Lawrence Grassi to the west, including Ship’s Prow and the 5th peak. It’s a bit of a challenge to get past the falls, but it’s well worth it to walk up the canyon.

Above the dam, you can cross the creek on this plank

In another month, the wildflowers will be blooming in the dry part of the creek bed. I’ve included some photos which were taken last year when the flowers were in bloom. Already, however, we spotted some calypso orchids(not in the creek bed, however, as they prefer cooler, shadier habitat).

We started out on the extreme east end of the Highline trail from Hubman Landing in Canmore. After 1.2K the Highline trail proceeds up the side of the mountain, but you’ll exit the Highline trail and head up the Three Sisters creek trail. Continuing south, in 300 metres you’ll see the old dam(or whatever it is). Go up the right bank to the top of the man-made structure, cross the creek on the wooden plank(if it’s still there), then proceed up the east bank for a further 300 metres to the waterfall. Elevation gain to this point is 100 metres, distance 1.8K.

Waterfall on Three Sisters creek

Now the fun starts. Getting past the waterfall presents some challenges. If you go down to the foot of the waterfall and cross the creek(possibly getting a bootful of water if the creek is high), you can climb an incredibly steep trail straight up the bank. It’s almost as steep descending the other side, where you can once again reach the creek bed and be on your way.

The drainage which you can hike up from the Forks. Ship’s Prow is on the right, and the 5th peak is on the left.

Today we took the other steep trail up the mossy hillside to the left of the falls. It eventually spits you out back into the creek bed 60 metres upstream. It’s a steep one, and has some big steps, but luckily there are some roots in strategic places to give you a firm hand-hold to pull yourself up. You’ll need to rock-hop across the creek.

For the next 1K to the Forks, the hiking is easy and you’re surrounded by beautiful scenery.

At the Forks you can check out the remains of the old loggers’ cabins. There’s still lots of hiking from here: Proceed up Three Sisters creek, or take a right at the forks and make a loop. That’s what we did today. Going west, we proceeded up the drainage which is a deeply incised tributary that comes in from between Ship’s Prow and the 5th peak.

Skull and bones were sighted along the drainage

Along here is where we stumbled upon the skull and spine of what I’m guessing was a Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. About 300 metres up the drainage, we scrambled up the north bank. From here , if you still have lots of energy, you can hike up to the face of Ship’s Prow. I did that hike last year and it’s a good one too.

Total elevation gain so far is 350 metres, and that’s about as high as we would go today. From the top of the bank, we went northeast and headed for the Grassi Knob access trail which was about 600 metres away. There are some semblances of trails through here, but it would be easy to get lost, so if you don’t know your way around, best to go back the same way you came.

The avalanche slope which leads to the base of Ship’s prow

Last summer, from this spot, we hiked up to the base of Ship’s prow and I’ve included a few photos in the gallery. If memory serves me, it’s a further 300 metres elevation and about 1.5K in distance. The path starts out on the banks of the drainage but eventually you hike up an avalanche slope. This was my first attempt to find Grassi Knob, but we ended up on the wrong ridge. It turned out to be a beautiful hike, and we could see Grassi Knob across the way.

Today, rather than taking the trail up to Grassi Knob, we continued downslope to the old road which eventually joins the Highline trail. Today’s round trip was about 9K.

Three Sisters Pass

It’s possible to continue up Three Sisters creek to Three Sisters pass. I’ve hiked it in the opposite direction, one way, starting from the Smith-Dorrien(Hwy 742), and continuing over the pass to Canmore. There are some difficult places where you’ll need to do some serious bushwhacking, at least that’s how it was for us. I still am not sure if we were really on the proper route, however. From the Smith-Dorrien up to the pass, and the pass itself, is all wonderful. I’ve attached three photos from our hike to the pass in June 2010, including what I believe were wolverine tracks.

The first trail marker will appear 450 metres after you leave the trailhead. There is no sign at the eastern trailhead at Hubman Landing.

The trailhead

I’ve now given descriptions of two hikes which start at the far eastern trailhead of the Highline trail. Perhaps you’d like to know how to access it.

If you’re coming towards Canmore from Calgary on the Trans Canada, take the first exit which is the Three Sisters Parkway. At the end of the ramp, turn left onto Three Sisters Blvd. You’ll soon come to a four-way stop where you won’t turn, but proceed straight through.

The Highline trail starts here

In about 1K you’ll come to the end of the Blvd(it’s a dead end) at Hubman Landing and that’s where you’ll park. The trail leads south. There is no marker at the trailhead, but you will soon see the blue strip signs with “Highline Trail” written on them. The first one is 450 metres from the trailhead.

5 Comments:

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  1. Bob,
    I came here for a ski holiday in 1978, moved here in 1981. Still here, still on holidays. The upper Three Sisters trail was a weekly highlight for us and visitors alike. We used to drive the old fire road to the trail head, eye blinds for our city visitors was manditory! Prior to any of Three Sisters being there it was more than interesting to see people in full camo, tree stands and crossbows in hand as we rode by. They used to hunt sheep on the slopes of Lady Macdonald. S-t, I don’t feel that old! It is, just a number! From the screaming downhill single track from the damn, everyone whooping and hollering, and of course pop cans with a few rocks, tied to frames, we never had a negative encounter.

    A quick left prior to the main road , more single track weaving through the trees, we come upon a hole in the ground. We drop a pebble, 32 feet/sec/sec.
    Almost 3 seconds, almost 100 feet. My understanding of the damn was that it was used to generate hydroelectric forces to draw fresh air into the mines, and just over years it has filled with silt.

  2. Did the hike yesterday up to the old loggers cabins with my family. It was really nice except for the waterfall section which was a bit difficult for my kids. I probably should of brought a rope to tie in the kids to make it a bit safer!
    Thanks Bob for the great directions and trip idea! We all had lots of fun!
    Next time I might try your route up Grassi Knob!

  3. Thanks for sharing another interesting hike in your own backyard, Bob.

    I’m curious about the one way trip to Canmore via Three Sisters pass.
    Just wondering if you descend into the main creek gully on skier’s right or left?

    • We descended the first drainage that we came to, but I’m not so sure it was a wise decision. It was very difficult due to very heavy underbrush and thick willows. If this was the best route, than I wouldn’t recommend it, but I still think there’s a better descent somewhere else. I hope to do it again some day from the north end and find the correct route that way.

      Now that I have a GPS, it has made route-finding a lot easier.

  4. Thanks so much for sharing your hiking trips. This one looks very intriguing…
    Last Wednesday our Second Sixties group did the Snagmore Trail (no not a joke) in conjunction with Fullerton Loop. It was a super hike.

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