Just a short drive from Golden in British Columbia lays Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, a year-round adventure hub. While winter brings epic skiing, the summer seems even better for a visit.
In summer, this is what you can do at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort:
- see Boo, a grizzly bear living in a refuge
- try downhill biking
- alpine hiking
- take a scenic gondola up the mountain for the most majestic views
- dine on top of the mountain
- last but not least, climb a Via Ferrata to another mountain peak
Via Ferrata (“iron path” in Italian) is a protected climbing route, or as I call it, mountain climbing for everyone! And Kicking Horse Mountain Resort has one of the most exhilarating Via Ferratas in North America.
I just climbed Via Ferrata in Golden while having lots of other fun, adventurous experiences with my family, but this was so much fun that I need to tell you about it in a full blog post rather than just a quick Instagram post.
If you’re thinking about driving from Calgary to Golden just for via ferrata, I say Do It! It’s worth the drive.
My first Via Ferrata climbing experience was more exhilarating than I thought it would be. And I’m happy to report that it’s accessible for all levels (depending on your route).
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In this blog post, I’m sharing my own Via Ferrata experience, what to expect, and all the tips for your exhilarating Via Ferrata, which I’m sure you’ll want to book when you finish reading this.
My Via Ferrata experience at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort in Golden
We arrived at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort on a sunny September afternoon. The mountain peaks towering above us were still in their summer attire with no snow. I couldn’t wait to be on the mountain for the bird’s eye perspective.
We all boarded the gondola, excited for the views, and being a two-year-old, our son was just excited about riding a gondola again. While seeing the grizzly bear was on the later agenda, the sign informed us that we might be able to see Boo from the gondola as well. The grizzly bear refuge is huge, and we didn’t know where to look, but now we know he likes to hang out at the pond.
After about 15 minutes, the highest sightseeing gondola in the Rockies took us to 2,347 metres. The panoramic views welcomed us; I didn’t know where to look first.
It was very windy, so after a short walk around the top of the mountain, Michal took our son for a gondola ride down the mountain and then onto a chairlift to see the grizzly bear.
I started the CPR Ridge hike along the gondola. After a few minutes, I had the whole Columbia Valley in front of me with a bird’s eye view of Golden. Sitting on the trail, taking it all in, I felt a rush of gratitude that I get to experience these views.
As it was nearing the time for starting Via Ferrata, I quickly ran into the bathroom to layer up my pants. Since I’ll be wearing a harness and slowly making my way up the mountain exposed to elements, there would be no option to do that once we start.
At 1 pm, the other three ladies and I met with our guide Lisa at the tiny hut near the top of the gondola. We got helmets, harnesses, even gloves for better grip and to protect our hands, and a brief explanation of how the cable system we’ll be attached to works. Then we proceeded to a small rock wall for practice. This truly gave me the confidence to head out on a mountain.
All Via Ferrata climbs start after a 15-minute hike on the Terminator Ridge. With our guide Lisa leading the way, we connected to the steel cable with our carabiner.
Since they’re using an “Aeroline” carabiner system and not traditional (with two carabiners constantly clipping and unclipping), you’re securely attached to the cable at all times. You can only disconnect at the beginning or the end of the Via Ferrata route. This gives anyone anxious about trying Via Ferrata peace of mind that there is no chance of disconnecting and falling.
The first real test is at the suspension bridge. It’s the first and only time you have a wiggly surface to walk on, not rocks or iron ladders. While I held onto the cables and slowly walked towards the other side, I couldn’t stop turning around in awe of the fantastic views. The suspension bridge was not that high up and didn’t feel dangerous.
Next up was our first vertical climb. To my surprise, there were lots of secured iron ladders to step on and hold onto, requiring minimal to no rock climbing. This is also the end of the easiest Pioneer Route, and we continued further on the Discovery Route.
And that’s when things got interesting!
The vertical climbs were longer and higher, mixed with more relaxing traverses. Our guide told us about a cool little trick to make this an even more exhilarating experience – while having the main carabiner constantly secured to the main cable on the mountain, there was another carabiner on my harness which was optional to use for ‘leaning away from the rock wall’.
If you feel like working towards the via ferrata and try something easier first, I highly recommend visiting Golden Skybridge, where you can try zipline, a climbing wall, a rope course, and even a canyon swing!
It is meant to clip the carabiner to the specially placed ladders where you can secure yourself to a fixed point (rather than just loosely on the main cable) and challenge your courage. Letting go of the ladders with my hands and leaning into the harness away from the wall felt freeing and a bit scary at first, I’m not going to lie. But once I tried it, I was looking for more of those special ladders to do that again.
And I did, shortly before the end of the climb, where we were at the highest point. Looking down at the very steep rock wall wasn’t the best idea. I looked at the wall in front of me, reminding myself that the harness was strapped around my body and onto the steel cable secured on the mountain.
With that in mind, I let go with my hands and leaned away from the rock wall again. I don’t remember the last time I felt so alive; my body was buzzing with excitement!
Shortly before the finish, I also found a Lego figurine hidden in rocks, just one of two Via Ferrata guides hid along the way for fun.
When I disconnected from the cable at the end, I immediately wished I could have done it again. Then we hiked up a few rock stairs and arrived at the top of Terminator Peak. The views along the Via Ferrata were breathtaking, and there was lots of time to enjoy them, but being on the very top of the mountain gave me a new sense of accomplishment.
With happy tears in my eyes, I took some celebratory photos and headed down the mountain to the gondola. The whole ride down, I couldn’t stop smiling; this was an experience to remember!
3 day itinerary for Golden
Tips for Via Ferrata at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort
Via Ferrata routes at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort
You can choose from three different routes based on difficulty:
- Pioneer route (starts at 2 pm) – takes about 1 hour; you climb through the suspension bridge and one small vertical climb
- Discovery route (starts at 11 am and 1 pm) – takes about 2 hours, and it’s the one I took and described above
- Ascension route (starts at 10 am) – takes about 3 hours, there’s more vertical climbing than on the Discovery route, and you finish at the top of Terminator Peak and walk on the ridge
Check out their website to book the Via Ferrata climb.
Via Ferrata weather conditions
Via Ferrata tours run Fridays to Mondays during summer and Fridays to Sundays in September. They operate in every weather condition except thunderstorms and snow storms.
But because you’re 2,000 meters high on the mountainside, you can expect all weather conditions year-round. The weather can change dramatically; that’s why I layered my pants as I’d like to be hot rather than too cold or wet.
Via Ferrata timing
Arrive about an hour before your booked Via Ferrata tour to Kicking Horse Mountain Resort. You need to pick up your tickets, sign waivers, and take the gondola up the mountain, and I’m pretty sure you’ll want to enjoy the views on top.
If you’d like to see Boo, the grizzly bear, consider that you can see him until 3 pm. If you choose the Discovery route, which starts at 11 am and 1 pm, you won’t make it after Via Ferrata if you choose the later start. Either choose the 11 am option or see Boo before your Via Ferrata tour.
What to wear & pack for Via Ferrata
Your Via Ferrata guide will provide you helmet and all climbing equipment. They can also lend you gloves and a rain jacket.
Based on my experience and guide’s recommendation, you should have:
- Merino shirt or quick-drying shirt
- Fleece, merino or down jacket as mid-layer
- Waterproof & windproof jacket
- Hiking pants
- Hiking shoes (I was wearing trail running shoes)
- Small backpack
- Water bottle or thermos
- Sunscreen & sunglasses
- Snacks (you can take lots of breaks during Via Ferrata for pictures, snacks and enjoying the views)
- Camera with a leash (I had a GoPro camera strapped to my backpack and phone in my pocket for quick access)
What to do after Via Ferrata at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort
- Have a celebratory drink at Eagle’s Eye, Canada’s highest restaurant
- Go for an alpine hike – there’re seven hiking trails accessible from the top; I recommend the CPR Ridge hike along the gondola for the views
- Visit Boo the grizzly bear – interpretive tours are available every hour on the hour from 10 am to 3 pm (except 1 pm), daily in summer, and Friday to Sunday in September. If you don’t see Boo, which is unlikely, you can return for another visit for free.
- Try downhill biking – rentals and lessons are available, and the trails are accessible from the chairlift or gondola and vary in difficulty (this is on my list for the next time we visit Golden)
- Enjoy a meal at Eagle’s Eye on the mountain top or at the base of the gondola
- If you visit with kids, there’s a nice playground near the parking lot
More fun things to do in Golden
- Drive up Mount 7 to the lookout
- Northern Lights Wildlife Wolf Center
- Stand-up paddleboard on Cedar Lake
- Mountain bike in Canyon Creek
- Meet buffalos at Rocky Mountain Buffalo Ranch
- Camp Moose Trail, glamping in the woods
- Kicking Horse Pedestrian Bridge