Scrambling the summit of Helena Ridge offers the best view of the amazing Castle Mountain Plateau. Scenic lakes, fossils, and lovely old-growth forest will keep you entertained on the approach. This is an incredible scramble.
From Banff, drive north to Castle Junction and turn onto the 93 South. Take the exit to the right and keep going to Castle Mountain. Turn right on to Highway 1A, and the parking will be on your left.
|When to do|
July - October
Yes - On Leash
Low to Moderate
Out and back
Helena Ridge is the second highest peak on the huge Protection Mountain massif and offers wonderful views.
From the trailhead, follow the trail signed towards Rockbound and Tower Lake. Be aware that this is a bash through the trees, and is not recommend just to see Tower Lake or Rockbound Lake, the views alone just aren’t worth the slog in isolation. You will arrive at Tower Lake after approximately of 2 hours and 8.0km.
Although fairly mundane to this point, things improve after Tower Lake and a short ascent later leads you to the beautiful Rockbound Lake. Take a 15-minute break to soak in the scenery and mentally recuperate, before starting the ascent towards Helena Ridge, to the N-NE of Rockbound Lake. This is a steep ridge, and it can be very hot, as well as tiring. Make sure you have enough water on the way up.
Getting to Helena Ridge, involves contouring around the SE side of Rockbound Lake, whilst heading for a ridge N-NE of the lake. After gaining the ridge above Rockbound Lake, start to head towards the gully coming down from Helena Ridge that serves as the ascent route. Your instinct may be to simply contour upwards to reach the gully at perhaps its halfway point, but numerous cairns will instead lead you along level terrain to its base. Shortly after this point, you will intersect an acceptable trail heading up the gully.
At the top of the gully, turn west (left) and ascend the final 150m to the summit of Helena Ridge. You will have many bits of trail throughout this section, but with or without trail it is a perfectly typical Rockies plod up scree and rubble. Views from the summit are fantastic and certainly better than those from Castle Mountain, in which the western panorama is marred by the sight and noise of the Trans Canada highway. Particularly stunning is the entire Castle Mountain massif with its ridges and plateaus.
At the Helena Ridge Summit, you may be tempted to walk out NE along the ridge towards an enormous cairn hoping to get a view of Luellen Lake. This is not recommended as the terrain will keep forcing you down.
To get down from the Helena Ridge summit, most people simply go back to the col and head back down. An alternative is to continue past the col and ascended 150m to a more easterly summit. This ascent was very easy and granted a surprisingly different panorama of the Johnston Creek valley than from the main summit. Several colorful tarns were also visible in the valley below, including the east end of Luellen Lake. This is a thoroughly worthwhile detour.
Heading back to the col, retrace your steps to Rockbound Lake, enjoying a quick descent on the scree and then a fairly bland trail back to the car. It’s a long day but one with some of the best views of the Bow Valley.
If you want to explore the area more extensively, come to the region for a longer-stay, see our recommendations for what you can do in Banff.
Johnston Canyon is a really fun, but very popular, hike just a little further down the road. If you choose to go, go very early or very late for minimal crowds. Even better is when the canyon is frozen in winter.
The 1A highway often has animals feeding very early in the morning, keep your eyes open for bears and other wildlife! If you see them, remember to give them space and stay in your car, well away from the animals.
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