Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Best Short Hikes Near Calgary

Whether you are on short on time or will be out and about with little hikers, it helps to have a selection of attainable hikes close to home. The six trails I've compiled here are all within an hour of Calgary and less than 4 kilometres round trip. Most of them have minimal elevation gain and are suitable for preschoolers or kindergartners. Enjoy and let me know which one is your favorite! 

Note: All of these hikes except Grassi Lakes can be done year round. Ice cleats recommended in winter months.



These short but sweet hikes have been sorted by distance from Calgary. See the bullet points for details regarding hiking distance, driving distance, geocaching, and whether or not the trail is stroller friendly.


1. Tiger Lily Loop, Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park - This trail is the perfect length for toddlers and preschoolers. Take the short detour to the lookout before you start, then head down into the valley. Look for geocaches along the way, then head up to the Park Office at the top of the hill for sweeping views of foothills and mountains.

History buffs will enjoy learning about local history and viewing the old store, sheds and corrals. Picnic on the site of an old home with brick fireplaces and chimneys still intact (directly behind the park office).

There are several options for a longer hike or bike ride if you wish - we like heading down to the river, the old Glenbow Store (no longer open for business), or the lookouts on Yodel Loop. Check for trail closures as the park is still a working ranch and certain areas are periodically closed to the public.

More information on Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park may be found here.
  • Distance: 1.4 km (Note: Bikes are not permitted on the Tiger Lily Trail, but are permitted on most other trails)
  • Geocaching: Yes
  • Stroller friendly? Carrier recommended. (We lifted our single Chariot over the bike barriers, but this is not ideal for most people.)
  • Driving distance from Calgary: 33 km
View From Glenbow Ranch Park Office
Fall Colors at Tiger Lily Loop
Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park
2. Big Hill Springs Provincial Park - The perfect place to cool off on a hot day! Splash in the creek and little waterfall, then head down the fairly flat, forested trail. Please stay on trail to preserve plant life; this popular area has been affected by trail braiding. New trail markers make it easy to find the path.
  • Distance: 2.3 km
  • Geocaching: Yes
  • Stroller friendly? No
  • Driving distance from Calgary: 42 km
Big Hill Springs Provincial Park in Fall
Big Hill Springs Provincial Park
Big Hill Springs Provincial Park
Big Hill Springs Provincial Park
3. Troll Falls & Hay Meadow, Kananaskis Village (86 km) - A fun one to do year round as the trail is flat and ends at a waterfall (that looks pretty cool when frozen). Wear ice cleats or snowshoes depending on trail conditions. I recommend making a loop with Hay Meadow, for views of the Kananaskis River and surrounding peaks; a nice change after the forested Troll Falls trail. In fall, expect to see volunteers  in Hay Meadow tracking the Golden Eagle Migration near the river. If they aren't busy, they will point birds out to you! 
  • Distance: 3.1 km
  • Geocaching: Yes
  • Stroller friendly? Yes, but the last 100 m or so is very bumpy. Sports stroller recommended.
  • Driving distance from Calgary: 86 km
Hay Meadow
Aspen Grove along the Troll Falls Trail
Troll Falls
Troll Falls in Winter
4. Bow Valley Provincial Park: The park has several short and beautiful interpretive trails (1-3 km round trip) to choose from. Start with a picnic and pictures at Middle Lake, then do some hiking and geocaching. Our other favorite trails in the area were Many Springs and Flowing Water. For more information on hikes in the park, please see: Family Fun in Bow Valley Provincial Park
  • Distance: 1-3 km
  • Geocaching: Yes.
  • Stroller friendly? Montane, Middle Lake, and the paved Bow Valley bike path are doable with a sports stroller (be prepared for rooty sections), but Flowing Waters is not (has stairs and very narrow sections). Many Springs Trail is best done with a carrier as the boardwalk is sometimes flooded.
  • Driving distance from Calgary: 97 km 
Note the annual road closure west of Middle Lake from mid-October to April 30. It is, however, possible to bike or walk past Middle Lake to access the rest of the park! 

The Best view of Mount Yamnuska from Middle Lake
Whitefish Day Use Area
5. Heart Creek, Bow Valley Wildlands: Children will enjoy this popular trail as it passes over so many (9!) bridges and offers several opportunities to play in the creek. There is a small uphill section from the parking lot, but from there on the trail is fairly flat. Mid-summer is great for wildflower viewing (I saw my first wood lilies there!) and there is a pretty aspen grove near the beginning that blazes yellow in fall. A kid favorite on a hot day!
  • Distance: 4 km return
  • Geocaching: Yes
  • Stroller friendly? No
  • Driving distance from Calgary:  102 km
Heart Creek Trail with Heart Mountain In Background
Heart Creek Trail
Heart Creek Trail
Narrow bridge on Heart Creek Trail
6. Grassi Lakes, Canmore: Amazingly scenic given the short distance and minimal effort, Grassi Lakes is popular for a reason. Go midweek to avoid the crowds and allow extra time to check out the pictographs (can't miss 'em - there's a sign in front of them) and watch the rock climbers on the far side of the lakes. Near the beginning, you will have the choice of taking the "difficult" route or "easy" route (old access road). The easy route is stroller friendly. The difficult route has stairs, uneven terrain, and narrow sections, as well as ice flows in winter. 

We prefer making a loop by ascending on the difficult trail (far prettier, the easy route is in the trees) and descending on the easy trail (kids can run back to the car without falling off anything). 
  • Distance: 3.8 km
  • Geocaching: Yes (our favorite cache is "The Small Cave" located just past the lakes)
  • Stroller friendly? Easy trail - yes. Difficult trail - no. 
  • Driving distance from Calgary:  108 km
Update: Check Kananaskis/Canmore Trail Reports as the "difficult" trail to Grassi Lakes is often closed for in winter and early spring due to icy conditions. 

The Difficult Way To Grassi Lakes
Waterfall on route to Grassi Lakes (Difficult way)
Grassi Lakes
The Easy Way To/From Grassi Lakes 
Pictographs just past the lakes

Which ones have you done? What hikes would you add to the list?


For more great, short hikes, please see this post: More BEST Short Hikes Near Calgary (Kananaskis Edition).

Even More Short Hikes

4 comments :

If you want a longer hike, several of these routes can be combined into a morning and after lunch option. We are really lucky in this area. There are many more options that could be added to this list, like Brown Lowry and others. Enjoyed your picture So!

We are truly lucky to have so many great choices! Which are your favorite short hikes south of Calgary?

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