Round Trip:
4:45 hrs
1792 m
Height Gain:
317 m
Round Trip:
N/A km
Latest Date:
July 1 2012

With the exception of the Cave and Basin in Banff National Park, the Canyon Creek Ice Cave is the most frequently visted cave in the region. Although the Natives have long known of the Ice Cave, the Canyon Creek Ice Cave located on the southern flank of Moose Mountain, was only discovered in 1905 by Stan Fullerton. This isn't to say that the area around Moose Mountain was not prospected and explored by other adventurers in the late 1800's. Bragg Creek, turns out, has quite the history!

Formed in 1968, the Alberta Speleological Society (ASS) has not only guided groups to the Canyon Creek Ice cave but also maintained and cleaned it up. Over the years their trips and conservation was gradually stopped overtime and finally suspended when the access road was closed. The A.S.S. efforts are predominantly cave conservation; to protect the caves found in Alberta yet still encourage free public access, with appropriate knowledge and gear of course.

The society has worked with Parks Canada to provide information on cave inventory and management and in general on the various caves located within the national parks. They also provide guidance to cavers and non-cavers alike and liaison with mountain rescue organizations.

This area is sometimes referred to as Ing's Mine, which is inaccurate as the ice caves are completely separate from the old 1900's coal mine that was previously active here. As history has, in the 1890's Dr. George Ings was the prospector who discovered the rich amounts of coal along Canyon Creek at the base of Moose Mountain. This was the beginning of Ing's mine where he mined thousands of coal. The coal from Ing's mine was detrimental to powering the "Mowbray-Berkeley" oil well in 1913 for the three years it was in operation on the banks of Elbow River. The access to Ing Mine is back at the parking lot where you have to cross Canyon Creek (northeast of the lot).

In 1985, Shell built a pumping station on Moose Mountain to extract the natural gas, which is what you pass by along the Canyon Creek road to the Ice Cave Trailhead. Be warned as you may get a light whiff of the unpleasant sour gas as you move along the road.

In 2000, due to the rising amount of incidents, the access road (Canyon Creek Road) to the Ice Cave trailhead was closed. Hikers were careless and rocks falling down ended in a tragic fatality. Not only that but many hikers were not equipped with the proper equipment to explore the cave. The furthest you can drive on the Canyon Creek Road is to the gate by Ing Mine's Trailhead. The ice cave trailhead is 7 km from that gate and is a fairly level road. When we got there, we wished we had brought bikes because it would have been a quick and easy bike ride to the trailhead as opposed to the nice long walk we made back and forth. But hey, at least it is a good workout!

Once you get to the mouth of the cave, you can feel the cool breeze escaping from the darkness. All year long, there is a wall of ice and plug of ice in the back of the cave as there is a consistent cold temperature kept deep in the back of the cave. The ice plug blocks a tight squeeze which leads to the Corkscrew Climb, the Crowbar section and the Weasel Extension. These additional sections now inaccessible were all first explored in 1968 through an ice dig. If you look closely, you may be able to spot holes were drilling has been attempted to break through the ice but all efforts thus far have been unsuccessful. Hopefully, one day, these extra sections that the ice plug blocks can once again be explored.

If you have never entered a cave before, this experience can be exhilarating and foreboding at the same time. You need to turn your headlamp on almost right away when you enter the cave because it truly is just complete darkness. As you walk further in, you have to be careful where you step. Rocks of every size cover the bottom. Massive rock chunks fallen from the ceiling of the cave, lay on the bottom and you can easily twist your ankle if you are not watching your footing. In the summer, there are pools of water from some of the melted ice and mud while in the winter, we have heard that there are numerous enchanting ice formations near the mouth of the cave.

In the middle of the cave, we came across a sole pillar of ice that went from the ceiling to the floor and was as thick as a tree trunk! The cave is roughly 5 to 15 metres wide and 170 metres long. When you reach the ice plug and ice wall, you can no longer see the entrance and are immersed into complete darkness. If you want a truly unique experience, have everyone sit comfortably and safely against a rock, then have everyone turn their headlamps off and try not to make any sound; you are rewarded with complete silence and the complete absence of light. You can hold your hand a centimeter in front of your face and no matter how long you hold it there for, your eyes will never adjust as there is absolutely zero light. For those who like to climb or scramble will enjoy with chimney formations located near the cave entrance. There are some tighter spots that you can explore within the cave too, just remember that some spots are easier to get in than get out of.

There used to be reports of people entering the cave wearing nothing more than flip flops and a t-shirt with a flashlight in hand. Bear in mind you are entering a true cave and you are surrounded by numerous hazards. Wear a climbing helmet or at minimal, keep your biking helmet on if you rode in. We saw a lady keep her helmet on the hike up to the cave entrance and then promptly removed it to carry it once inside the cave. That is rather opposite and dangerous thinking. Pack a flashlight or headlamp and bring warm clothing as well. Year round the temperature inside the cave is just above 0℃ and the rock itself throughout is very cold to the touch. It is the careless behaviour of ill equipped people that resulted in the closure of the initial parking area. Please ensure you are setting the right example to help prevent preventable accidents.

Canyon Creek Ice Cave Trip Log

The trail starts off on the north side of the parking lot. You essentially just follow the road you drove in on to reach the parking lot. As you pass the gate the gravel road continues to keep its width as it gently gains and loses elevation. A bike is recommended for this portion as even the occasion rider will not have trouble with these 'hills'.

The gravel road continues on and about 2.8km in you will pass a small bridge on your right (east) hand side. While it is not large in size, it does have an interesting construction to it that is worth taking a peak at. Be sure to get back on the gravel road and do not follow the path across the bridge as that leads in the opposite direction of the Ice Cave.

As you continue along the road, around the 3.4km mark the river will kiss the west side of the road. There is a plaque attached to the rock face remembering Larry Ostrander. We also happened to see a young moose scurry away into the denser forest. Shortly after this point you encounter the single large hill on the gravel road.

Once you crest and descend the hill, you can actually see the entrance to the Ice Cave in the far distance, it appears as a long vertical opening. At the bottom of the hill you come across a junction, stay to the left.

Shortly after going left at the fork in the road, you will see a small trail meander into the woods on the right hand side of the road. At this point the rest of the trail is on the mountain side and you pass over numerous places where loose rock can be a hazard.

As you trot along the single track the elevation starts to gain and you get your first really good views of the ice cave entrance.

The last half a kilometer is the steepest. A mixture of roots and large rocks aid your ascent on the smaller loose rock. As you pass under the cliffs above you can spot numerous smaller caves. Nearly all of these do have small trails leading up to them which allows you to skip having to dread up the scree to reach them.

As you approach the cave entrance, there are a few boulders to get yourself up and over. There is a little bit of hands on time as some of the steps are large depending on your height. The loose rock on the steepening grade poses the largest difficulty as you near the entrance. The rock above the cave entrance overhangs a tremendous amount. While you may be 20 meters away from the entrance by foot, if you look up, you are actually already under the cliffs above. Be sure to put your helmet on here even if you are not completely inside as a rock even small in size can be fatal dropping from that height.

Once you dawn your helmet and headlamp/flashlight it is time to start the grand adventure. All the slogging up hill is immediately forgot as you venture into the depths of this darkness. The cave starts off rather large, large enough that you could drive a bus through it. As you go in further it slowly closes in around but still remarkably large in size. Care should be taken as you make your way through as there is still lingering ice even in summer time and pools of water or ice. As you near the end of what is possible to walk, the cave ends abruptly as you come to the ice plug. Around here you do have to duck as there is overhanging rock which is well in the correct height to bonk you on the head.

Depending on your experiencing in caving, there are numerous smaller and tighter passages that you can explore. Or if your nose is starting to get a bit chilly due to the ambient temperature and you want to head back, the return is the same way you entered.

GPS Plotted Route

The route itself is very straight forward and as long as you don't go right at the fork near the end. Besides that it would be nearly impossible to get turned around.

It is recommended to take at least the first 5.3 km of the trail by bike as it is relatively level and the hills are manageable. The single large hill before the junction would be the only difficulty. If you go to the left around the compound you can actually bike to nearly right below the cave. The ascent will not be as gradual though as you will have to hike straight up.

Click here to download the GPS route in GPX format. You may have to right click and select "Save Link As" if your browser does not download it automatically. Be sure to save it as a .gpx file.

What were your experiences hiking Canyon Creek Ice Cave?

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