Head out into the Canadian Rockies and complete one of the most breathtaking trails in the area! The Reads Tower trail offers crazy panoramic views 🤯 over the Spray Lakes area after a tough climb to the top. If you’re ready for a challenge, then you need to add this trek to your bucket list!
This is one of the best Canadian Rockies hiking trails in Kananaskis country if you like a challenge. Along the way you will get stunning panoramic views of the gorgeous Spray Lakes 💦 area and views of Mount Sparrowhawk ahead of you. After a difficult trek to the top, you’ll get 360 degree vistas.
My husband and I explored a few trails in Kananaskis and this was definitely one of the most difficult. You have to climb up over tons of loose rocks (referred to as scree below), navigate the confusing 🤔 trail, and make your way up 1000 feet in the last mile. However, it also had some of my favorite views I’ve ever seen! It’s quite a journey and even though we are fast hikers it took us 4 hours in total! Also, we had the trail to ourselves the entire time!
Because of the steep climb and the slippery scree, I only recommend this trail for individuals that are experienced hikers! However, if you still want the amazing views you can just hike 2 miles in to the hill and turn back around before getting to the scree.
Download the map on Alltrails before you begin the hike so you don’t get lost!
If you want to complete this wonderful, but exhausting trail then read below for all the details ✍️. I’ve created a complete guide to the Reads Tower hike including a trail description, packing guide, hiking safety tips, and directions!
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Table of Contents
Reads Tower Trail Guide
Quick Hike Info
Distance: 4.5-5.2 miles
Elevation: Roughly 2800 feet of gain
Type: Out and Back Trail
Length: 4-6 hours total (depends on your pace and trail conditions)
EEOR Difficulty Level: Hard-long, steep, plenty of scree (loose rocks), but you can stop early at the hill if you want
Where is Bow Valley?
Bow Valley Provincial Park is located on the confluence of the Bow and Kananaskis Rivers on the east side of the Canadian Rockies. It is adjacent to Kananaskis an hour West of Calgary in Alberta and just south of Canmore. As one of Alberta’s largest parks it’s a fantastic place to go on an outdoor adventure 🧗🏻♀️.
This large park is known for the amazing activities on the Bow River 🚣♂️, jagged mountain peaks that are an adventurer’s paradise, and the sprawling Spray Lakes. There are tons of trails, plenty of water activities, and campgrounds within this great park. So, if you want to explore the Rocky Mountains, then this is a great place to begin!
How to Get to the Reads Tower Hike
Reads Tower is located right next to Spray Lakes in Bow Valley Provincial Park. This park is South of Canmore by about 45 minutes and the drive from Calgary will take about 2 hours. Luckily, it’s pretty straightforward to get there though and finding the trail is easy because it’s located at the Mt Sparrowhawk Day Use area.
From Calgary: If you’re driving from Calgary, take the Trans-Canada highway for about 88 kilometers until you get to exit 93. Take Exit 93 for Three Sisters and then turn left on the highway and continue on that for 30 kilometers. You’ll see the Mt Sparrowhead Parking area on your right.
From Canmore: Cross 8th avenue over Bridge Road and continue until Three Sisters Road. Take a left on Three Sisters Road and then continue for about 25 kilometers. Mount Sparrowhawk Day area will be on your right.
Best Time to Hike Reads Tower
Reads Tower is up in the mountains at 8700 feet. So, the best time to hike this trail is during the summer. From late Fall-late Spring this mountain will be covered in snow and when snow starts to melt ❄️ you may be at avalanche risk.
Because a lot of the higher parts of this hike are out in the open, snow melts here faster than on some other trails in the area. You can usually hike this trail from early June to late September. However, you can always check trail conditions and closures ⚠️ online before you go.
We were able to complete this hike over Memorial Day weekend 📆 and there was no snow on the ground! It was a spectacular time.
How to Get a Kananaskis Conservation Pass
In order to hike in Kananaskis and Bow Valley, you need to have a Kananaskis Conservation Pass. These passes help to preserve the area and keep it clean for all visitors. Luckily, getting a Kananaskis Conservation Pass is super easy and convenient!
When you want to purchase a pass, you just have to go online to the conservation site. On that page, you’ll just provide all of your vehicle information 🚙, your name, and pay for the pass. You only need one pass per vehicle regardless of the number of individiuals in the car.
There are two pass options:
- Daily– $15, purchase a pass based on days that you will be there
- Annual– $90, will allow you access for an entire year
Things to Know Before You Go
🎟 You will need to get a Kananaskis Conservation Pass to hike in Bow Valley. Passes are available online, you can purchase daily permits for $15 (per vehicle) or get an annual one for $90.
☀️ Up on the mountains the weather can change quickly and storms will roll in! If there is rain or storms in the forecast, then you may want to reconsider completing the Reads Tower hike. Scree gets very slippery.
⛺️ There’s one large campground in Bow Valley with RV hook ups. You can reserve the campground here. There are a couple backcountry campgrounds including on Mount Sparrowhawk, but you will need to get permits to camp overnight.
🦮 Technically, dogs are allowed on the trail, but you should know your dog’s hiking ability. The scree can get very slippery for dogs.
🐻 The Canadian Rockies and Bow Valley are bear country, so make sure to stay bear aware. Always bring bear spray when you are hiking in the Canadian Rockies.
🚙 There is parking right across from the trail at the Spray Lakes area. It’s a fairly large parking, but it may still fill up on weekends.
🍃 Remember to follow the Leave No Trace Principles. As always, you want to leave nature looking better than you found it.
Reads Tower Description
Through the Forest
Cross the road from the parking lot and you’ll see the trailhead straight ahead of you. Once you enter the trail, it starts to climb up through the forest 🌳🌳. There are a couple shaded switchbacks in the forest and an ascent on a hill.
There are a couple forks in the path, but there are some signs towards Mount Sparrowhawk. You want to follow the trail to Mount Sparrowhawk for the beginning of the hike. We even saw a sign 🪧 that someone had wrote Reads Tower and an arrow on. This part in the trees should be fairly easy to follow with a steady but not horribly steep incline.
Over the Hill
Once you get past the forested area of the hike, it starts to get a little confusing. That’s why you should definitely download the map 🗺 on Alltrails before you go. There are many areas where we almost lost the trail, but were able to find it by using the map.
This part of the trail begins to get rocky and continues to climb up at a steep pace. As you make your way up, views begin appearing of Spray Lakes behind you. Whenever you need a break, just stop and turn around to take it all in. I was euphorically happy as I gazed upon the mesmerizing landscapes 🤩 of the bright blue lakes.
The trail twists and turns over rocky paths before finally cresting on the top of a beautiful hillside. This hill is a great place to stop and take a break to take in the stunning panoramic vistas 👀, eat lunch, and make your decision about what you want to do next.
At the end of the hill there’s a fork in the path and this is where the toughest area of the hike begins. From here, you can choose to go left towards Mount Sparrowhawk, go right 👉 up to Reads Tower, or turn around and head back down the mountain if you’re satisfied.
Straight up Scree
From this point on you’re going to be taking a very challenging climb. If you want to go up to Reads Tower, then you should have taken the path to the right. You’ll see a peak right above you and the surface will be covered in scree 🪨. As you stand below Reads Tower, you’ll realize that you pretty much have to ascend directly up.
This last mile of the trail to Reads Tower is completely over scree and it gains 1000 feet in elevation. It is a terribly hard climb, because every time you take a step up you slide down a little as well. We were huffing and puffing 😮💨, taking a break pretty much every 50 feet up.
I highly recommend that you go very slow and go on the path that looks easiest for you. The scree is constantly changing, which means the the path is also constantly changing.
After the mile long slog, you will eventually make it to Reads Tower 🙌🏻. There is a small marker at the top and Mount Sparrowhawk will tower over head. We were exhausted at this point, so we just took everything off and took a long break to take in the panoramic 360 degree views. It was stunning, but also super windy!
Unfortunately, you have to go back down the way that you came. I recommend allowing your feet to slide a little bit as you go down the scree. It is really helpful to just treet it like skiing ⛷ instead of walking. If you resist the scree, it will only make it harder for you to go down.
On the way down, you should use you poles to relieve some of the pressure from your legs. It is a very steep descent, but going a little more side to side will also relieve some of that pressure on your legs 🦵🦵. Then, simply retrace your steps to the bottom of the trail and back to the parking lot.
Once you get back, you can go for a swim or dip your feet in the beautiful spray lakes!
Packing Guide for the Reads Tower Hike
Like many Canadian Rockies hiking trails this one is covered in scree, so the most important thing to bring is a good pair of hiking poles. If you have good hiking boots 🥾 and hiking poles, then you will feel more secure on the trail. I used the hiking poles the entire climb up and back down. They were life savers on the steep inclines.
Also, there are bears in this area of the world. So, you will want to have bear spray just in case of emergencies. We didn’t see a single bear 🐻 when we were in Kananaskis but they are seen in the area. You can read my complete packing list below.
- Comfortable Hiking Boots
- Small Pack
- Hiking Poles
- 1-2 Liters of Water
- Water Reservoir
- Snacks and Food
- First Aid Kit
- Bug Spray
- Bear Spray
- Hat to block sun
- Rain jacket or light winter jacket
- Satellite phone
- Kananaskis Conservation Pass
Final Tips for Hiking Reads Tower
In order to conquer the Reads Tower hike you should be an experienced hiker. This trail should not be taken lightly, because it’s very difficult. If you’ve never hiked over scree before that’s okay, but you will just have to go a bit slow as you get used to this new terrain.
Otherwise, this trail is wonderful and its one of my favorites that I’ve ever done. Take you time, allow yourself to take breaks, and soak it all in. You’ll absolutely love 💕 this beautiful area!
Let me know in the comments if you enjoyed this trail guide.
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