Heli-Hiking in the Rockies of Alberta

Heli-hiking in Alberta’s Rockies provides high-altitude adventure By: Debbie Olsen
Guests on a Lake of the Falls hike, available through Icefield Heli Tours, are treated to hard-to-reach vistas.// © 2011 Kananaskis Heli Tours Canada...
Guests on a Lake of the Falls hike, available through Icefield Heli Tours, are treated to hard-to-reach vistas.// © 2011 Kananaskis Heli Tours Canada & Icefield Heli Tours Canada

Icefield Heli Tours

A 20-minute Cline Glacier explorer flight as described in this story, along with a one-hour stop to enjoy an easy guided nature hike at Waterfall Creek, costs about $230 per person. Longer stops or a gourmet picnic can be arranged for an additional fee. Icefield Heli Tours also offers longer heli-hiking trips to other mountain locales. Heli-yoga, heli-fishing, heli-horseback riding, heli-barbecue and heli-romance packages are also available. Trips are commissionable.

The Icefield Heli Tours heliport is located on Highway 11, about 26 miles east of the Icefield Parkway (Highway 93). The heliport is a three-hour drive from Calgary and a four-hour drive from Edmonton. Tours operate seven days a week, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The Details

Alpine Helicopters
403-678-4802
www.alpine helicopter.com

Canadian Mountain Holidays, CMH
800-661-0252
www.canadianmountainholidays.com

Icefield Heli Tours
888-844-3514
www.icefieldheli.com

Kananaskis Heli Tours
877-591-0222
www.kheli.com

Some operators offer free pickup from hotels in Canmore or Banff.
A full-day hike over rugged terrain and a bit of bushwhacking will get you to a beautiful little spot in the Alberta Rockies called Waterfall Creek. It's a trek that is incredibly difficult for inexperienced hikers and one that would leave even the most experienced hikers quite winded.

But, as I rounded a corner on the trail and caught sight of the falls, I felt fresh and exhilarated. This was, undoubtedly, due to the fact that I took a helicopter to get there.

Heli-hiking might be cheating (all the fun and none of the hard work), but it's an indulgence that makes a lot of sense for anyone who wants to experience the pristine beauty of the Rocky Mountain backcountry -- without spending long, arduous days getting there. It's like taking a magic carpet ride to a wonderful world that otherwise would have been just out of reach.

Transported to Nature
I arrived at the Icefield Heli Tours heliport near Kootenay Plains Ecological Reserve early in the morning, feeling a little excited and nervous about the helicopter ride. After a safety briefing and a group weigh-in, I ducked my head and climbed inside a six-person helicopter with the rotors whirring, I was buckled in and ready to go. Aaron, our pilot, told our group all about the helicopter and scenery, and we listened and asked questions via special headsets and microphones.

In a matter of minutes, we were soaring above breathtaking, metallic-blue glaciers and rugged mountains. The sharp ridges of the enormous, rocky peaks filled the entire window and seemed close enough to touch. We kept our eyes out for small white specks along the flat ridges ó a common place for mountain goats to relax in the sun. Aaron described the interesting geological formations as we looped effortlessly over the pristine landscape.

Before long, the helicopter landed at the edge of a river, and we climbed out to explore the area. Roberta, our guide, identified some of the wild flowers and other flora as we made our way up a trail to Waterfall Creek.

When we reached the waterfalls, some of the younger people in the group stripped down to their bathing suits and leaped into the bone-chilling water. This, however, was a test of manhood or womanhood that I didn't feel compelled to emulate.

After a while, I hiked up a short trail to the top of the 40-foot-high waterfalls. I sat on the large rocks near the top, felt the mist from the small but powerful falls and enjoyed the stunning mountain landscape. When it was time to leave, I almost wished that I had booked a longer stop. It would have been easy to spend the better part of the day just relaxing by the beautiful falls.

Even though I was sorry to leave, I couldn't help feeling excited as I climbed back inside the helicopter for the 10-minute ride back to the heliport. It was nice to be anticipating the jaw-dropping scenery before me instead of thinking about a difficult eight-hour return hike.

Needless to say, the backcountry of the Rocky Mountains is impressive -- no matter how you get there. You can think of heli-hiking as cheating, or you can think of it as magic, either way, it's an incredible way to experience the one-of-a-kind wilderness of Alberta's Rockies.

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