OverviewCougar Canyon is the only place, ironically enough, where mountain lions are actually still spotted entering or exiting Canmore. It is the major drainage northeast of downtown Canmore located in the Fairholme Range between the popular objectives of Grotto Mountain to the east and Mt. Lady MacDonald to the west. Residences line the well used approach trail along the wide creek bed. (even starts out paved)
As in all canyons in the Canadian Rockies, chasing the sun can be quite the challenge on cold days. House of Cards is a good morning crag while Crowbar further in on the left is a good afternoon crag. Covert and the Canadian Forks (way in the rear of the canyon) catch sun most of the day. I have counted at least 183 routes on 21 separate walls in Cougar Canyon. The majority of these routes are in the 5.10-5.11 range. This website, sponsored by our local climbing gym, has gone through the painstaking task of putting together quite the print friendly topo climbing maps showing all the routes. These would be much more beneficial than our local guide book, Sport Climbs in the Canadian Rockies, but I recommend you take both into the canyon.
Whichever route(s) you chose, start the day off right at the most popular local climbers hangout, the Summit Café on Cougar Creek Drive off of Benchlands Trail right before you reach the Cougar Creek trail head. It is the best coffee shop in town and serves breakfast and sacked lunches. Ask for Steve.
Getting ThereThe TransCanada Highway runs from Calgary through the Rocky Mountain Canadian National Parks on its way to Vancouver. Right before you enter Banff National Park, there is the town of Canmore. The Benchlands Trail is what I would call the main Canmore exit off of the TransCanada. Head north on the Benchlands Trial as it curves right and turn right onto Elk Run Blvd, then take an immediate left into the Cougar Creek trail head parking area. Hike north into Cougar Canyon. The trail starts out paved, then turns to gravel and eventually you will make several creek crossings as you get into the canyon itself. It is a several km hike depending on which wall you are looking for.
Red TapeCougar Canyon and the east end of the Fairholme Range are not in Banff National Park, but rather Kananaskis Country. There are no permit requirements to enter, climb and/or park in Kananaskis. This is active grizzly country, therefore, you should always have bear spray on your person. We had a grizzly fatality in Canmore in 2005 on the Benchlands Trail which is perpendicular to the trail you will use to access the Cougar Canyon climbs. I do advise checking with the park website link provided above for possible trail closures, although Cougar Creek Trail is rarely if ever closed.
All camping is regulated. There is also a backcountry permit required if you plan on spending a night in the backcountry versus the town campsites. This can be obtained via the Kananaskis website which is included in the camping section below. There is no official camping allowed back in Cougar Canyon. You will see evidence of such however.
When To ClimbAs with most rock climbing in the Canadian Rockies, the driest time is from June through September. Virtually no one climbs in Cougar Canyon during the winter months.
CampingThe closest camp site would be back in Canmore at the town campsite located at the information center off of the TransCanada. The Alpine Club of Canada’s national office is located in Canmore and also serves as a hostel, a recently renovated one at that and is within walking distance to Cougar Canyon. There is actually a benchlands trail that takes you from the Alpine Club to Cougar Canyon.
You cannot camp outside of the marked specific camping areas in Canmore or Kananaskis. Refer to the Kananaskis Provincial Park website for more information regarding backcountry camping. Of course there are tons of lodging options in Canmore from 5 star spas to cheap motels.