Big Elbow Loop

Difficulty
This reflects the 10Adventures difficulty rating for each route. We aim to keep ratings consistent across regions.
Moderate
Duration
This reflects the estimated time the majority of users will take on this trail. If you are slower, add time to the top-end figure. If you are fast, then you may complete this route faster than this time range.
3-4 days
Distance
This reflects the return distance of this route as measured by the GPS file.
42.4 km
Elevation
This reflects the total elevation gained throughout this route as measured by the GPS file. This includes all ascents and descents, and is higher than what is quoted in most route guides, which simply measure the distance between the starting-point and high-point of the route.
1,420 m
User Ratings
These ratings are completed by users who have completed this trail and not subject to reviews by 10Adventures.
Overall Rating
This is the average user-submitted overall rating on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest.
10.0
Physical Difficulty
This is the average user-submitted rating on the physical difficulty of this route. In general, green is beginner, blue is intermediate, black is advanced/most difficult and double-black is expert-only. It is recommended that users build up to black and double-black routes.
Easy (Circle)
Suitable for beginners, families, young children, and those looking for a casual adventure.
Technical Difficulty
This is the average user-submitted rating on the technical difficulty of this route. In general, green is beginner, blue is intermediate, black is advanced/most difficult and double-black is expert-only. It is recommended that users build up to black and double-black routes.
Easy (Circle)
Suitable for beginners, families, young children, and those looking for a casual adventure.
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Directions to Trailhead
Panorama on Big Elbow Loop backpacking trail near Kananaskis, the Canadian Rockies

The Big Elbow Loop trip is a classic Kananaskis backpacking trip. This is an easy trip that takes you into country between Highway 66 and Highway 40. The Big Elbow backpack offers scenic campsites next to the Elbow River with wonderful scrambling opportunities near each site.

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Route Description for Big Elbow Loop

We love backpacking the Big Elbow Loop, and it’s a great route without too much elevation gain. If you’re looking to progress from a single overnight trip to a couple of nights, then this is a great option.

Day 1

Start at Forgetmenot Pond, just off of Highway 66, near Bragg Creek.

The trail to Romulus Backcountry Campground is mostly along an old fire road, which makes for a wide and easy pathway. The route is just under 12.0 km, and only gains 175 m of elevation gain. This is an easy day even with a heavier pack.

While this is a lovely walk in the woods, there are truly amazing views along this section of the trail.

Before you know it, you reach Mount Romulus Backcountry Campground. This is a nice campground, with 10 campsites, pit toilets and firepits. You are required to have a permit and a reservation for this campground.

If you have time today, consider the scramble up Mount Romulus. This scramble is rated as moderate, but know that this route requires a chilly ford across the Little Elbow River The route up Romulus is about 5.4 km each way, and you’ll gain 1,080 m on the way up!

** It is important to note that this section of the trail is being upgraded and under construction, which means you will likely encounter large machinery. However, this does not impact the Romulus Campground.

Day 2

Today you are making your way to Tombstone Backcountry Campground, which is located at the intersection of Little Elbow and Big Elbow trail, about 10 km from the Romulus campground. You are also only 7.5 km from the Elbow Lake Trailhead on Highway 40.

This section gains a bit more elevation than the first day. The trail is a steady uphill for most of the way, on a very clear route.

Tombstone Backcountry Campground is an equestrian campground equipped with tent sites, fire pits, hitching rails, pit toilets and secure food storage lockers.

There is an excellent and short day-trip from here to the Lower and Upper Tombstone Lakes, which is about 4.0 km return. It makes for an excellent afternoon, and if you have a fishing license, the Upper Lake is full of trout!

Day 3

Your final day will take you back to the trailhead over 20.0 km and 184 m elevation gain. You also drop 400 m at the end of this route. The route is very clear as you follow the Elbow River North.

While some people do the Big Elbow Loop with this as the first day, we think that ending with the hike from Tombstone Lakes Backcountry Campground to the trailhead makes more sense, as your pack will be lighter and you go down 400 m instead of having that be a 400 m ascent.

It is important to note that there is a bridge out before Big Elbow Campground and therefore a river ford is required. Other than that, this is a pretty nice hike out to end a great trip!

Sample Itinerary:

Day 1: Trailhead to Romulus Backcountry Campground (12.4 km / 252 m)

Day 2: Romulus Backcountry Campground to Tombstone Backcountry Campground (10.0 km / 442 m)

Day 3: Tombstone Backcountry Campground to Trailhead. (20.0 km / 184 m)

Insider Hints for Big Elbow Loop

  • This is an extremely popular route for bike-packers so be prepared to encounter many on your trip.
  • There was construction occurring on parts of this trail in 2018. It is not clear whether there will be more construction in 2019.
  • Make your reservations beforehand on the AlbertaParks website.

Getting to the Big Elbow Loop Trailhead

Drive to the end of Highway 66 (about 40 minutes from Calgary). Park at Forget Me Not Pond or the Little Elbow Campground. Note Highway #66 is closed at Elbow Falls from Dec 1st to May 15th.

Route Information

  • When to do

    Early June - October

  • Mountain Huts

    No

  • Backcountry Campsites

    Yes

  • Toilets

    At trailhead

  • Pets allowed

    Yes - On Leash

  • Accommodation Type

    Tent

  • Family friendly

    No

  • Route Signage

    Good

  • Crowd Levels

    Moderate

  • Route Type

    Circuit

Big Elbow Loop Elevation Graph

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