Cory Pass Offers Scenery, Solitude and a Workout

My extended family has vacationed in Alberta’s Banff National Park each summer for 100 years, so I have memories of its stunning scenery since childhood. Banff’s beauty has caused extreme crowding at most of its summertime hot spots such as Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, and at popular hikes such as Tunnel Mountain and Sulphur Mountain.

Because I come to Banff in part to enjoy the peace of nature, I’ve increasingly chosen more challenging hikes because they are less-trafficked. These have included Mt. RundleCascade Mountain and Sentinel Pass. This year my cousin and I climbed Corey Pass, a hike nobody in the family had heard of, which was odd not only considering our “Banff longevity”, but also this hike’s proximity to the city center.

The Corey Pass trailhead is right off Highway 1 and Bow Valley Trail, so initially you hear some road noise, but it’s mild. The best part of this hike is the first half mile through my favorite trees – aspens – which have lush green grass growing among them. Perhaps this section is why the trailhead notification center warned of bison in the area. Normally you are warned of bear sightings on trails, so this was unusual.

After the aspen area, you traverse through trees that still allow you a view, so you don’t feel trapped in a chlorophyll tunnel. 

Then you enter a rocky “moonscape” and can put away the bear spray. There was also a smattering of snow at this point, which “seemed” to be the summit.

It should be noted that the hike to this point was relentlessly uphill for 4.5 miles. On Rundle and Cascade, both hard hikes, you do get the occasional plateau or pleasant switchback, but Cory Pass didn’t offer us any reprieve to this point. We’d taken our own breaks, of course, but this hike’s lack of popularity must, in part, be due to its strenuous nature, because from a scenery perspective, it was wonderfully diverse.

After the rocky moonscape, it seemed we were finally going to descend (yay!), however this was a loop, not an out-and-back hike, so after walking downhill for a blissful bit, we did have to ascend another steep incline, this time into more alpine-looking topography.

Upon finishing, our total mileage was 13 miles, however we had also foolishly chosen to take a vertical scree scramble (similar to Rundle’s Dragon’s Back) to what we thought might be a shortcut from the summit. We were wrong and had shoes full of rocks as punishment for this error that probably added an additional two miles to our total. 

I would highly recommend this hike for anyone visiting Banff who would like to avoid the teeming masses at the popular places. Of course, beforehand it would be wise to spend some quality time with a StairMaster or other training device/location that offers a considerable gradient to get in the necessary shape … or just take it at a slow pace because the views are dramatic and varied.

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