Grotto Canyon Ice Hike

by - Monday, December 28, 2015

Grotto Canyon is one of the best known local ice walks for its beauty, history, and accessibility. While walking on a frozen creek to picturesque icefalls is a treat on its own, you also have the chance to observe ancient pictographs with an interesting story! Expect to walk 2.2 km on a dirt trail and 2 km on ice on this unique hike.


Distance: 4.2 km round trip
Elevation Gain: ~100 metres
Trailhead: Grotto Lake Parking Lot (on Highway 1A)
Stroller Friendly? The trail is doable with a Chariot; the ice hike portion may be a bit challenging (wide enough, but bumpy).
Required Equipment: Microspikes, crampons, snowshoes, or ice cleats. Helmets and hiking poles recommended.

Kahtoola Microspikes work well on ice

Trail Description

Take the well signed Grotto Creek Trail, past the Baymag plant, until you come to a park bench overlooking the creekbed. The trail to the bench climbs gently upward through forest, with some open areas along the power lines. Little ones may need a snack at this point and the bench makes a good place to put on ice walk footwear (microspikes, ice cleats, crampons or snowshoes).

Park bench with view of Grotto Mountain
Once you are geared up, leave the trail and head into the creekbed. There is a big rock at the start of the ice hike that you can easily walk over or bum slide over if you don't trust your footwear (slide over on the right side).  After that, it's easy going, but take care not to slip! The canyon walls sweep dramatically upward on either side, and get higher the further you go into the canyon - about 50 metres high in some places - and smooth ice gleams below your feet.

Grotto Canyon Entrance
Looking back at the canyon entrance
Grotto Canyon Ice
On the last turn before the falls, keep your eyes to the left about 4-6 feet off the ground, and look for reddish markings on the canyon wall. These pictographs are believed to have been drawn by Hopi visitors to the area 500-1,300 years ago1. Ancient Hopi legend says that the Hopi peoples split up and travelled in the four directions when they came to America. While they eventually settled in what is now Arizona, paintings of the Kokapelli, the Flute Player (a symbol unique to the Hopi) have been found down east and in Alberta, including Grotto Canyon! It is amazing to think the Hopi travelled this far north so long ago! Please do not touch the pictographs, so they may be enjoyed by other visitors for many years to come (abrasion and oils on our skin can damage the ochre paintings).

Pictograph Viewing
Pictograph Closeup
The twin ice falls are just past the pictographs. If you're lucky, you'll get to watch ice climbers in action!
Mini Ice Falls
Big Ice Falls
Both sets of falls in Grotto Canyon
The whole hike took only 2.5 hours including two snack breaks and lots of stops to play in the snow. Adults could complete the hike in 1-1.5 hours, but why rush? This rare chance to walk in the canyon only comes for a few months a year!

Going Further

There are caves to the west, but I have never attempted to find them. Let me know if you do!

There are also larger ice falls up the slope to the east, but I do not recommend proceeding to those falls unless you are an ice climber. It's a tricky climb to the falls and even more treacherous climb down unless you have the right gear and experience (my friend on ice cleats slipped there and needed 6 stitches).

Where Is It?

From Calgary, take Highway 1 to the Seebe exit, get on to Highway 1A and continue 11 kilometres to Grotto Pond Day Use Area, Bow Valley Provincial Park.

When to Go?

Mid-December until Mid-March are good times to go, however periods of warm weather may melt the ice and make conditions unsafe. Only go on the ice if it is frozen and there is no risk of sudden melting and flooding.

For More Information

For more information on gear you need for ice walks, and two other recommended ice hikes near Calgary, please see this post.

For other hikes in Bow Valley Provincial Park, please see this post.

To see my review of 3 makes of children's snowshoes, please see this post.


Walton, Dawn. (2001, June 29) The Globe and Mail. Alberta Drawings Support Ancient Myth. Retrieved from 

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