If you’re itching to get out and explore the snowy outdoors, a winter hike may be just what you’re looking for. With such close proximity to the Rocky Mountains, Calgarians are lucky to have tons of options of great winter hikes to explore. Whether you’re looking to explore by boot, ice cleat, skis, skates, or snowshoes, here are 8 of our favourite family-friendly winter hikes to discover near Calgary.
Johnston Canyon | banff.ca
Johnston Canyon is a popular hike to take year-round, but its stunning frozen waterfalls make it even more magical in the winter. The hike is fairly easy, but ice cleats will definitely help you to keep your bearings if things get slippery. If you don’t already have a pair, they can be purchased or rented in nearby Banff. Dogs are welcome to join your family on this hike, provided they stay on-leash. The walkway twists and turns with beautiful views of the falls and canyon below. For a shorter hike, stick to the Lower Falls, where you can take in the frozen waterfalls from a nearby viewing platform, and can also view a deep pool at the bottom of another set of falls. For a longer adventure, head to the Upper Falls (an extra 2.7 kilometres one way), where rugged trails will take you past smaller waterfalls, and beautiful walls of ice that are a popular destination for ice climbers. The hike takes approximately 2.5 hours return if you plan to visit both the Upper and Lower Falls, and about half that time if you just visit the Lower Falls.
Grassi Lakes | explorecanmore.ca
The Grassi Lake hike is an easy and beautiful one that everyone in the family (even your pup!) can enjoy. There is an easier and more challenging route to the top, so if you have younger family members coming along, sticking to the main trail is recommended. Pushing an off-road stroller up the easier trail is also possible. The harder route has more twists and turns, as well as more rugged terrain, with a beautiful waterfall view. Regardless of which path to the top you choose, you are sure to enjoy the scenery along the way. Although the colours of the lake at the top are breathtaking and vibrant in the spring and summer, the scenery is still lovely in the wintertime. The 4-kilometre hike takes about 1.5 hours to the top and back.
Grotto Canyon | albertaparks.ca
Many people have commented that the Grotto Canyon Trail is a great one for families and kids, thanks to the primarily flat hike. Dogs are also welcome on this trail, but must stay on leash. From the parking lot, it’s about one kilometre to get to the creek bed, which continues for another kilometre, at which point you will reach a fork in the path. If you continue to the right, you’ll see a beautiful frozen waterfall, as well as historic Hopi pictographs, painted on the walls up to 1000 years ago. You’re likely to see many ice climbers scaling the frozen falls, in addition to a cave and hoodoos along the way. Because this hike is primarily over slick snow and ice, you won’t want to take it without ice cleats or crampons. This 4-kilometre hike takes about 1.5 hours round trip.
Lake Minnewanka | banfflakelouise.com
The Lake Minnewanka trail includes a 0.8-kilometre hike to the Stewart Canyon Bridge, which has a wide trail with views of Lake Minnewanka and the Cascade River. If you continue past the bridge, the low elevation hike is about 3 kilometres (1 hour) round trip. Lake Minnewanka is also a fantastic place to go for a cross country skiing adventure. Or, if you’re up for it, why not join your fellow winter enthusiasts and lace up your skates for some skating or a game of shinny on the ice of the lake?
Big Hill Springs| albertaparks.ca
Big Hill Springs Park offers a nice, easy hike for families and furry friends, just outside of Cochrane. The 1.6-kilometre loop features creeks and lots of little waterfalls, as well as bridges and stairs in the wooded areas, and benches to sit on to relax and enjoy the scenery. A hike through Big Hill Springs takes a little under an hour.
Fullerton Loop | albertaparks.ca
Fullerton Loop is a fun and easy hike that is accessible for all family members, including pets. The easy elevation gain and beautiful views (including wildlife, such as moose) will make it a trail you’ll want to visit all year long. While sunny areas of the trail may not require more than good snow boots with grip, shadier areas may become slippery, so ice cleats may come in handy. With huge dumps of snow, your family may even want to try a snowshoeing adventure! In total, the loop is 6.8 kilometres long (including the access trail) which should take about 2.5 hours to complete.
Troll Falls | albertaparks.ca
For an easy hike with little elevation gain, Troll Falls is sure to be a favourite for everyone in the family. The cold of winter freezes the falls, making it even more magical than it is in the busy summer months. Snow cleats aren’t really necessary for this hike, although after a large snowfall, exploring by snowshoe is a popular choice. At the fork in the trail, stick to the right to find the picturesque frozen falls. Don’t forget to keep your eyes peeled for the hidden trolls along the path that gives this hike its name! The total loop distance is 3.4 kilometres, taking about an hour to complete.
Spray River Loop | banff.ca
Located just a few hundred feet from the iconic Banff Springs Hotel, this hike follows the Spray River for about 5.7 kilometres. For the duration of the hike, Mount Rundle is in full view, in addition to the turquoise waters of Spray River. Once you reach the bridge, you may opt to turn back, or you can continue on to complete the loop. On the north side of the Spray River, you may be able to spot ice climbers on the huge frozen waterfall. On the return loop, there are views of the Banff Springs Hotel, or the Banff Springs Golf Course, depending on the path you choose. Depending on the amount of snow, snowshoes may be a better option than boots. If you choose to complete the full loop, the distance is about 12.2 kilometres and can take about 4.5 hours to complete.
What are your favourite winter hikes to take with your family? We’d love to hear about them in the comments!