Mustang Hills Loop

November 3, 2021

I always save a few hiking routes that are ideal to do in the spring and fall. These routes are dry when higher elevations are still wet and muddy in the spring, or are snow-free in the fall. Mustang Hills is one of these early or late season hikes. It’s also an ideal short hike for kids, as you’ll see in the photos.

For such a small hill, there are a surprising number of routes, with three different access points! I wanted to do the full loop, so I started from the Cobble Flats Day Use area, and went counter-clockwise to the main Mustang Hills summit, and then continued to the Mustang Hills East Summit. The two other access points are both off Highway 66 and offer much shorter There and Back trips.

The Loop Full Disclosure – the return trail from the East Summit to the Day Use area along the Elbow River is not in great shape. It has crumbling river bank walls and some exposure. What is a mild adventure for some, could be quite distressing for others, especially since the rest of the hike is so low key.

Road Closure

Highway 66 is closed annually from December 1 to May 14th. The road is closed at the gates by Elbow Falls. Access to Mustang Hills is beyond the gates.

Gear

Hiking boots, poles, and regular day pack. Gaiters if there is snow.

Overview

From the Cobble Flats Day Use area, we headed up to gain the ridge, passing by a large logging area. Once on the trail, we followed the path and some flagging to the main Mustang Hills Summit. We continued to the East Mustang Hills summit, passing by a fun camp that is easily accessed from Highway 66. From the East summit, we followed the ridge down to the Elbow River, passing through a boggy area we were glad was frozen solid. We walked along the rocky bed of the Elbow River for a bit before gaining the hill side once more. Here, we traversed several washed out sections of the bank. Once past this, it was again an easy walk back to the parking lot.

Parking and Trail Head

Heading west on Highway 66, we turned left to the Cobble Flats Day Use area, and drove back east to the parking lot. Forget-Me-Not Ridge is directly above. I’ve looked down on this side road a few times, and always wondered just where the heck it lead. Now I know!

The entrance to the Cobble Flats Day Use area is on the left. The road heads back east for quite a ways.
The Day Use area has a large parking lot with an outhouse. The picnic tables are to the right of Steve the Six Million Dollar Van. Directly above is Forget-me-not Ridge, which is a lovely late summer/fall hike.

The start of the Mustang Hills Loop is on the left (north) side of the parking lot. There are a few trails, but we chose the one with the most elevation gain right off the bat.

Main Trail

The trail immediately widens out, and is a pleasant walk through the forest.

The trail widens out almost immediately. This is easy hiking, with enough room for side-by-side chitchatting.

Wonder why it’s called Mustang Hills? Probably because of the wild horses that live out here. My friend Sue told me that the wild mustang horses mark their territory with piles of poop.

The wild mustangs will poop in the same location, and build up a big pile to let the other males know this is their turf.

Unfortunately, this lovely trail abruptly ends in a large swath of clearcutting. I’m not sure when this was done, but it’s not very pretty right now.

The start of the clear cutting. No sign of the massive trail we were just on.

The trail on the map is supposed to make a graceful arc to the right to gain the ridge. We couldn’t see anything that remotely resembled a trail in the cut block, so we instead just headed across the open slope, angling for a break in the trees on the ridge. This turned out to be the right spot, and we were able to pick up the trail again.

After poking around looking for signs of a trail, we spotted the break in the trees on the ridge, and headed that way.
Just like that, we were back on the wide trail.

We hiked in the trees, following the wide trail. At just shy of 2 km from the start, there was some flagging. This marks a trail that leads down to Highway 66.

To the left of the flagging is a trail that leads to Highway 66.

Just a short distance down the trail is another flag. This one marks a trail on the right that leads to Mustang Hills summit.

We walked past this point, and back-tracked to pickup the trail on the right that leads up to the summit. I’m thinking it’s easier to find this side trail with no snow, but if not, keep an eye out for the flags.

The hike up to the summit is through a forest, with a fairly defined trail. The summit might be easily missed if it wasn’t marked by a cairn.

The trail up to the summit is easy to follow. The clear cutting is seen on the right, but thankfully didn’t really affect our hike. Not much in the way of views, but it is the highest point on the hike.
The summit of Mustang Hills is marked by this little cairn.

Mustang Hills Main Summit to East Summit

We continued past the summit, and started to lose elevation as we made our way to a bump between the Main and East summits.

The trail leading away from the Main summit towards the East summit, and starts to lose elevation.
There is the odd cairn along the way to mark your way

We hiked back up, and came to a little clearing with some logs to sit on. While it’s tempting to keep walking straight along the open slope, instead look for a cairn on the left. This leads to another downhill section.

The clearing at the top of the bump. We walked to the end of the clearing, but soon realized the trail went off to the left at the cairn.
This cairn marks the trail to the left, which is another downhill section.

We again gained back the slight elevation loss, and came to the East Summit. This is also accessed via Highway 66, and it looks like a great place to bring young kids. Lots of places to sit, and a big cairn.

After losing some elevation, we headed back up to the East summit.
Remnants of a snowman at the East Summit. This cairn is much larger than the Main summit, but this is also easily accessed from Highway 66, and it has some lovely views. If you only have time to hit one summit, then do the East Summit.

East Summit to Elbow River and Parking Lot

To descend from the East summit, we stayed on top of the ridge, and hiked straight down.

The trail sticks to the top of the ridge crest, heading straight down towards Elbow River.

Near the bottom of the ridge, we entered the flats. Some of it was marked. As we hiked a bit further, we entered a boggy area. I was very thankful this was frozen solid, otherwise it would be a mess when wet.

As we left the ridge, the trail heading into the flats was marked with flagging.
Even under the blanket of snow, we could see this area was very boggy. I was thankful for it being frozen solid, as walking on this when wet would be a mess.
There were a couple of small stream crossings.

Once through the bog, we popped out onto Elbow River and walked down the rocky shore. We regained the trail on the right. The bank was washed out in a few places. A slip here would be a dunk in the river.

Walking on the wide gravel flats beside the Elbow River. The original trail was washed out by the 2013 floods.
When the gravel flats started to run out, we kept an eye out for the trail to start up again on the right.
This is one of the areas where the bank slumped and washed away the trail. Someone ran a line of rope here, which made the crossing seem a bit easier. A slip here could lead to a cold dunk in the Elbow.

The trail finally gained elevation away from the river, and then lead right back to the Cobble Flats Day Use area.

The trail actually undulated up and down a bit. When given an option, we went high to avoid the mess closer to the river.
The trail lead us right back to the Cobble Flats Day Use area, where Steve was still the only vehicle. Poor Steve needs a buddy. Powderface Ridge is directly above Steve.

Mustang Hills is an ideal loop for a late season hike before the road closes for the season. Be sure to go when it’s dry to avoid any unnecessary muck and mud in the boggy area.

If you found this post useful, please do me a huge favour and click the Star button to “Like” it. You can also follow my blog, join my FaceBook page Al’s Adventurers, or follow me on Instagram

Alisen

Totals – Tracked on Gaia, Displayed on Strava

Date: November 3, 2021
Group:  Two (Alisen and Mike)
Distance:  6.9  km
Elevation:  301 m (993′)
Time:  2 hours 38 minutes (includes snack breaks)

Mustang Hills are a series of bumps between Highway 66 and Elbow River. Eclipsed by their more popular neighbours Powderface and Forget-me-not, you can see why they might be overlooked.
With only a 300 m elevation gain, this is a very doable hike for people of all ages. Ideal for families, especially the East Summit.
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Posted in Adventures, Hiking
11 comments on “Mustang Hills Loop
  1. Very snowy area to hike.

  2. I continue to be impressed at your navigational skills. This looks like a pleasant hike and glad to hear that it wasn’t too muddy.

    • alisendopf says:

      Thanks Linda 🙂 Navigation is an art and a science. I am actually taking an advanced map and compass course in June to up my skills a bit more. Navigating in known areas (even on a few trail) is a bit easier because I can do situational awareness to nearby landmarks, but to go into a completely new area requires a bit more skill. Hence, the course. Wish me luck!

  3. Jill Kuhn says:

    Beautiful scenery!

  4. Breathtakingly beautiful scenes.

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