Cascade Mountain Scrambler's Guide

Banff National Park

Cascade Mountain is the spectacular peak seen to the northeast from the main street of Banff. There are technical climbing routes up the visible face, but the safest and easiest route is hidden from view far around on the west side of the mountain.

While Cascade is considered one of the easier scrambles in the Banff area, all mountains pose hazards. See the detailed route information and important safety tips.

Important! Cascade is a summer climb.

Route conditions are best when there is no snow, usually late June or early July to September. Before climbing, check the left skyline ridge near the summit as viewed from Banff Avenue—if the ridge is snow covered, parties may be forced to turn around and abandon the climb at that point in the route.

From Banff, follow the Mt. Norquay Road (the west access road to Banff) up to Mount Norquay ski area. The 7.4 km trail to Cascade Amphitheatre begins from the day lodge at the far end of the first parking lot on the right.

Walk by the front of the day lodge and follow a service road down through the ski area past the base of three chairlifts. A few metres beyond the Mystic Chair, pick up the trail heading downhill to Forty Mile Creek.

At the creek, turn right at the junction and follow the Elk Lake trail for another 2.5 km to where the signed Cascade Amphitheatre trail branches right. This forested trail climbs steadily up a series of steep switchbacks to the Cascade Amphitheatre, an open meadow at the end of the maintained trail. The scramble route description begins at this location.

Route Description

This route description is aimed at strong hikers and scramblers.

Summit: 2 998 m (9 836 ft.)
Elevation gain of climb: 1 460 m (4 800 ft.)
Distance: approx. 18 km round trip
Average round-trip time: 9 hours

Most of the Cascade climb is a steep, strenuous hike, but a quarter of the route is on loose scree and talus. A few places require using hands for balance. Technical climbing gear is not usually required. There is no built trail. However, route markers are present on the standard route past the treeline. Some worn footpaths have formed but these can be intermittent, and some are “off-route”—in other words, the wrong way.

The route description to the summit of Cascade Mountain begins at the Cascade Amphitheatre (see trailhead information for access to Amphitheatre). The following description matches the numbers on the route photo below.

1. Amphitheatre Meadows

These meadows are the destination of the hiking trail, and the start of the scrambling route to the summit. The Amphitheatre is the huge basin ahead curving gradually around to the left. The route to the summit generally follows the skyline of the cliffs forming the right wall of the Amphitheatre. Take a moment to pick out the main features—the First Peak, False Summit and the Main Summit—as viewed from this point.

2. The Start

Follow the hiking trail along the meadows until nearly past the band of forest on the right. Turn to the right off the hiking trail and pick up a narrow footpath leading back to the right along the base of the steep slope. This path turns up the slope once past the end of the rock cliffs and safely gains the easier slopes along the top edge of the Amphitheatre cliffs. Follow this “edge” up to the last trees on the ridge. Do not traverse left across the steep ledges below the crest of the cliff.

3. First Peak

From the last trees, there are two options: follow a marked route through boulders that contours up and around the right side of the First Peak, or continue along the ridge crest up and over the First Peak.

Climbing Tip: From this point on, make a conscious effort to look back at the ascent route for landmarks to aid in the descent. Weather and visibility can change. See [look back] for key points in this route description.

4. Hidden Notch

Look towards the False Summit, which is the next main feature up the ridge. Careful route-finding starts here! As the name implies, many hikers have been surprised when they reached this peak to find that it is not the top, and that the way to the actual summit is blocked by a drop down a vertical cliff.

Beyond the First Peak, hike easily up the ridge crest on smooth dirt and moss. As soon as the ridge surface changes to solid rock, scramble down a small step (2 m) to the right. Continue up on easy ground just below a little cliff on the right side of the ridge until reaching an obvious notch in the ridge that, until now, has been hidden from view [look back].

At this notch landmark, pick up an important detour around terrain difficulties that lie hidden beyond the False Summit. Ignore the well-worn track that leads straight up the slope above. Instead, take the narrow marked route that leads horizontally right across the 230 m wide slope to the right-hand skyline, onto the south side of the mountain, overlooking the Bow Valley [look back].

5. The False Summit

At the skyline, turn a corner and scramble a few meters down a small rock band. Follow a faint trail in the loose scree along the base of the rock band. If this slope is snow-covered, consider turning back. Within a few minutes, turn left around another small ridge and cross a steep slope to rejoin the main ridge beyond the False Summit [look back].

This slope forms a steep bowl exposed to cliffs below. When the mountain is dry, walk across on soft dirt most of the way. It is easy but breathtaking! However, this is also the last place for winter snow to melt off this side of the mountain. A bad slip here could be disastrous. If snow is present, climb across this place with extreme care and be prepared to turn back if uncertain of safety. A climbing ice axe could be useful.

6. The Main Summit

From the notch beyond the False Summit [look back], scramble up long, loose scree to the main summit. The summit is marked by a cairn. Enjoy the fantastic views but be sure to stay away from cornice snow along the summit ridge (most cornices eventually fall off in the summer). Summit elevation is 2 998 m.

The Descent

Descend by the same route you climbed following the marked route. Retrace your steps. No shortcuts! Follow the ridge, with detours around the False Summit and First Peak, and stay on course. Wandering off-route wastes time and can lead to dangerous terrain.

From the ridge just above the False Summit, a tempting shortcut is to climb straight down to the Amphitheatre. This is a potentially fatal mistake! Review the route photo to see the huge cliffs below which are hidden from view at the ridge.

The practice of looking back during the ascent will now pay off by helping you retrace the route quickly on the way down. At the First Peak, follow the marked route that bypasses the peak on the left side, or climb back up over the little peak and follow the ridge down to the last trees. On a clear day, the view down the southwest face to Mt. Norquay ski resort may look like an easy shortcut back to the parking lot. Again, this would be a serious mistake! This direction ends in cliffs and does not rejoin with the trail.

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