When visiting the Canadian Rocky Mountains around Banff, one can feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of gorgeous hikes at their disposal. While most of the crowds stay near Banff or along the tight Icefields Parkway corridor, there is an endless supply of amazing adventures off the beaten path. Kananaskis Country is home to many of these. Known more to locals than to the droves of tour busses driving toward Lake Louise, Kananaskis Country has quite a few hikes that require long drives on unpaved roads. Smutwood Pass, and the extra credit hike to summit Smutwood Peak, is one of the crown jewels of the whole area.
Starting at Smutwood Peak Trailhead just after Mount Engadine Lodge, watch for the sign on the left. The hike begins as mostly a dual track road, so quick work can be made until you turn right up into the trees to meet Commonwealth Creek. Roots and rough trail will be the norm for half a mile or so until you start meandering along a lovely meadow, opening views to the pass ahead and mighty Mount Birdwood looming in the distance.
After the short meadow section, reenter the trees for a moment and then leave again to traverse a maze of downed trees that will test your route finding skills; keep an eye out for the ribbon. Descend to the left through the downed trees to get near the creek again, and depending on the time of year, you may now enter a snowfield to take you around the left of the mass of shrubs to rejoin the trail.
The hike steepens and works its way up toward the first pass, Smuts Pass. The bulk of the steep climbing is over, and now Smutwood Pass doesn’t seem quite that much higher. The hike between the two passes will likely involve walking over several snowfields and loose scree, so watch your footing. The views on the other side will surely be worth it, unless unfortunate weather rolls in and snatches it away from you. The huge peaks of Smuts and Birdwood, along with Smutwood Peak, and Upper and Lower Birdwood lakes will surely make the whole effort worthwhile regardless of how far you can see down the other side.