Frank Slide: Why You’ll Love Hiking Up Turtle Mountain

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Frank Slide is Canada’s deadliest rockslide. And when you hike Turtle Mountain in the Crowsnest Pass, you’re hiking that exact mountain. Needless to say, the challenge is mental as much as it’s physical.

It’s one thing to see 82 million tons of rock piled up at the foot of a mountain. It’s quite another to hike that same mountain.

Although I’ve lived in Europe, first Germany and now Bulgaria, for over 12 years, southern Alberta, Canada, will always be home to me. 

I’ve done somewhere between 150 – 200 hikes in the Canadian Rockies, in both Alberta and British Columbia and I can honestly say that hiking up Turtle Mountain, infamous for Frank Slide is the most unique hike I’ve done in the Canadian Rockies!

Hiking up the west side of Turtle Mountain is not something you will forget – EVER!

The area of SW Alberta, which includes the Crowsnest Pass, Pincher Creek, Castle Provincial Park and Waterton National Park is often overlooked by visitors.  Instead, they head to the better-known national parks of  Banff or Jasper. While those parks are incredible, so are the parks and recreational areas in SW Alberta.

Frank Slide and Turtle Mountain seen from near the Frank Slide Interpretative Center
Frank Slide and Turtle Mountain as seen from near the Frank Slide Interpretive Center


History of Frank Slide and How It Happened

In 1903, part of Turtle Mountain collapsed, spreading boulders as big as houses across 3 square kilometres. The rock slide was the deadliest in Canadian history.

An estimated 82 million tonnes of limestone sheered itself off the mountain. A death toll of 70 people in 100 seconds. Most of the bodies were never recovered.

The role of coal mining in the rock slide has long been debated. But scientists currently working on the Turtle Mountain Monitoring Project consider it to be a factor in the 1903 natural disaster.

Diagram showing the fault lines and coal seams in Turtle Mountain
Diagram showing the fault lines and coal seams in Turtle Mountain

Related  Reading: 9 Ways to Experience the Natural Beauty of Vancouver

Hiking Turtle Mountain for a Bird’s Eye View of Frank Slide

when driving to the Crowsnest Pass from the west, you'll pass the famous Burmis tree
Frank Slide and the famous Burmis Tree seen when you’re driving west towards Turtle Mountain and the Crowsnest Pass

Trail Length: 7.4 km

Elevation Gain: 936 m

Highest Elevation: 2100 m

Trail Type: Out and back

Hiking Time: 4 1/2 hours

When to Hike: June to October

Level: Difficult to the South Peak, moderate if you only go to the North Peak

Trailhead: The trailhead parking is located near 134th Street and 15th Avenue in a subdivision of Blairmore. It starts under a power line, just before a chain lay fence blocking access to an old quarry. There’s no sign but yellow painted rocks indicate the trailhead.

Why It’s Freaky Hiking Turtle Mountain

Turtle Mountain is still unstable. Sand scientists predict that it’s not a matter of if but a matter of when more of it will come tumbling down for Frank Slide 2.0.

The Turtle Mountain hike turns into a scramble after reaching the North Peak– meaning you have to use your hands as well to scramble up the mountain. 

The hike starts in the residential district of Blairmore, a town in the Crowsnest Pass. The trail starts off as a very steep climb up the spine of Turtle Mountain.

You’ll find yourself clinging to tree branches to brace yourself, especially if the trail is muddy. But it gets less slippery after the first few minutes. And the steepness does relent…in places.

But the good news is that there’s a well-worn, albeit unsigned trail to the first summit. In my book, an unsigned hike is usually a good sign. Pun intended! And Turtle Mountain is no exception!

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The hiking trail is well worn up to the first summit.
The hiking trail is well worn up to the first summit, but it’s steeper than it looks.

Recommended Reading: The Best Way to Experience Castle Provincial Park in Alberta

Within minutes you will be able to see the first summit, the North Peak. But there are still no signs of rank Slide on the other side of the mountain.

For that incredible, not to mention scary, view of the rock slide, you’ll have to continue to just below the first summit. My heart was racing as I took this photo:

Frank Slide, the deadliest rock slide in Canada's history
Overlooking Turtle Mountain and the rock slide.

Soon after that, you’ll reach the first summit, the North Peak. Expect it to take  1 1/2 to 2 hours.

From the first summit, you’ll see exactly how humongous the rockslide was:

Overlooking Frank Slide from the first summit of Turtle Mountain in the Crowsnest Pass
Overlooking Frank Slide from the first summit of Turtle Mountain

This is where your head starts to fill with thoughts like What if it collapses again while I’m on it? Relax and take a deep breath. You are safe. The mountain is continually monitored.

Nobody wants a repeat of 1903. If there were any significant signs of seismic activity, the area would be closed off.

For more positive thoughts, face west for far-reaching views over the Crowsnest River Valley and over the town of Blairmore and Crowsnest Mountain to the north!

That’s another scramble that I really enjoyed, but with 1200 m elevation gain, it should be attempted only by those with hiking/scrambling experience looking for an adventurous hike.

Related Reading: The Rocky Mountains Canada: The Best Adventures For Everyone

Overlooking the town of Blairmore and Coleman from Turtle Mountain. Crowsnest Mountain is on the right in the background.
Overlooking the town of Blairmore and Coleman from Turtle Mountain. Crowsnest Mountain is on the right.
Gorgeous views of the Crowsnest Pass from Turtle Mountain.
Gorgeous views from Turtle Mountain

The first time I hiked Turtle Mountain several years ago, I continued on.

Trust me, you’re going to want to. However, this time, my now ex-partner and I were forced to turn around due to bad weather.

Related Reading: Things To Do in Jasper: The Top Attractions Not to be Missed

Storm moving in over Turtle Mountain in the Crowsnest Pass.
Storm moving in over Turtle Mountain in the Crowsnest Pass.

You could literally see the rain moving towards the mountain. And I’m guessing the wind was at least 50km an hour, probably more.

I had difficulty standing without falling over. As hard as it was to turn around, it simply wasn’t safe to continue. The unstable mountain was too much of a risk to proceed. Check out the video, and you’ll see what I mean:

Hiking to the South Peak of Turtle Mountain

This next part is from the first time I hiked Turtle Mountain. Now, assuming that the weather is on your side, the best part is yet to come – the part that makes this hike truly unique!

But before you can get to that part, you’re going to have to do a bit of a dreaded down climb – about 25 m.

I know, I know, you’ve just spent the last couple of hours climbing up, and now you’re going to have to climb down, only to climb up another 50m!

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Trust me, it’s SO worth it!

Turtle Mountain Summit
View of the second summit from the first summit. You can’t see the crevices in this photo, but believe me, they’re there!

Ignore the voice in your head that shouts: LOOK AT HOW UNSTABLE I AM! This is truly the fun part of the hike for adventure lovers!

My heart was beating as I visually created my hiking route up the mountain, only to have it be interrupted by fractures and boulders blocking my way. It’s like a giant puzzle on top of a mountain. Your job is to figure it out. I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this part!

Try to hike relatively near the top of the mountain. It is easier going this way. At this point, your heart will be pounding – both from the effort and overcoming the fear that the mountain could collapse at any time –  it won’t!

Then, you start to see all the seismic solar-powered monitoring equipment.  All of a sudden, another rock slide seems imminent. Your heart starts beating even quicker. You start listening for the sounds of a rock slide. You’ll  convince yourself that you hear the rumbles of Turtle Mountain.

Remember, despite what your eyes are seeing, you are safe – mind over matter! Frank Slide 2.0 isn’t going to happen when you’re on the mountain. All the monitoring equipment is keeping you safe. 

Related Reading: Things to Do in Yoho National Park: Why You Should Visit this Canadian Gem

Monitoring equipment on the summit second. Photo courtesy of bfcoffey on TrailPeak
Monitoring equipment on the summit second. Photo courtesy of bfcoffey on TrailPeak

While the second summit, the South Peak, is not far, it’s slow going. It will take you at least 45 minutes to reach it, even though it doesn’t look like it will take that long.

Enjoy it, this is the part that makes Turtle Mountain such a unique hike!

You also have the option to continue on a bit further to the helicopter landing pad! And no, not for your rescue, but just because it’s cool.

When you return, try to stay close to the top of the mountain until you reach the path again. I made the mistake of descending too quickly.

Trust me, it’s a natural tendency to want to put some distance between you and the monitoring equipment and black hole crevices. But it’s actually easier if you stay closer to the top.

Figure your way down through the maze. Take your time and go slowly.

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Most of all take in a few deep breaths of fresh mountain air. You have just summited the most unique mountain in the Canadian Rockies!

Frank Slide and the Crowsnest Pass for the Less Adventurous

After reading that, you will probably have one of two reactions:

1)That sounds like SO much fun, I can’t wait! or

2) Never, ever going to happen!  If you choose #1, have fun and let me know how you like it.

If you choose #2, you’re in the majority. Fortunately, there’s some fun stuff for you too – that doesn’t involve deep crevices – I promise!

View of Frank Slide from the Interpretive Centre
View of Frank Slide from the Interpretive Centre

You’ll definitely want to stop by the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre. It’s worth checking out the exhibitions. But even if you don’t go inside, there is a short interpretive loop outside, which is informative. There is also the Crowsnest Pass Public Art Gallery nearby.

The Frank Slide Lookout is also a good choice for giving you one of the best views of Frank Slide – without having to climb up a mountain. It’s one of several short cycling/walking routes with a paved path you can choose from.

Related Reading: Why a Visit to Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo-Jump is a Must

Cycling and walking trails starting from Frank Slide Interpretive Centre in the Crowsnest Pass.
Cycling and walking trails starting from Frank Slide Interpretive Centre.

After your hike or your visit to the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre, you’ll probably have worked up an appetite. I really enjoyed Stone’s Throw Cafe located at 13019 20 Ave Blairmore.

This is where the locals hang out. The homemade goodies, friendly service, and cozy atmosphere reminded me more of a cafe in Europe than in Canada. Trust me that’s a good thing, Europeans know how to do cafes.

Related Reading: The Best Hiking Journal and 7 Reasons You Should Keep One


Stone's Throw Cafe in Blairmore
Stone’s Throw Cafe in Blairmore.

Downtown Coleman Walking Tour

Coleman National Historic Site and Walking Tour
Downtown Coleman

There’s also a 1 to 1.5-hour self-guided walking tour through Coleman. It’s a historic town that grew up around the mine in the early 1900s.

Highlights include the Coleman National Historic Site and the Coke Ovens, along with historic buildings. The route is well signed. And it gives you an overview of the area’s history.

Related Reading: Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, Canada

Heritage Driving Route

Crowsnest Pass Heritage Driving Route
Heritage Driving Route

It’s also worth taking a mini road trip or cycling through the beautiful Crownest River Valley through the communities of Coleman, Blairmore, Frank, Hillcrest, and Bellevue. The 20 km long route will show you the highlights of these mining towns.

Related Reading: A Canadian Adventure: Itinerary for Western Canada

Know Before You Go to the Crowsnest Pass

  • Even if you don’t plan to hike Turtle Mountain, the Crowsnest Pass is still worth a visit to explore Frank Slide and its mining history.
  • You could easily spend a week hiking in the area and the nearby Castle Wilderness. If you’re looking for another challenging mountain, Crowsnest Mountain is a difficult but stunning hike that I’d recommend. 
  • If you’re not planning on hiking, 1 -2 days is long enough to see the highlights.
  • Weather can change very quickly in the mountains as it did on my second visit to Turtle Mountain. Be prepared to turn around if conditions become unsafe.
  • SW Alberta is famous for its wind, so expect the summit to be very windy and bring a jacket.

Now you know everything about the Turtle Mountain hike for views over the Frank Slide valley. Would you do it? 



Turtle Mountain Hike to see Frank Slide
hike up Turtle Mountain for views over the Frank Slide valley

Disclosure: My visit to the Crowsnest Pass was made possible by Travel Alberta. I climbed Turtle Mountain on my own initiative. As always, all opinions are my own. This post was originally published in 2015 but updated and republished in 2022.