The Best Short Hikes Near Calgary

These scenic hikes are all 4 km or less round trip and less than 1 hr from Calgary.

The Ultimate Car Camping Pack List

Everything you need for an awesome camping trip!

Tips for Fun Family Backpacking

Family Backpacking 101 - what to pack, where to go...

Discover Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site

Go back in time and live like a trapper at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site, only 2 hours from Calgary.

Why you should visit Writing on Stone Provincial Park

Hoodoos, beaches, and paddling! Need I say more?

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Bow Valley Bunker

Known as the Heart Creek Bunker, Diefenbunker, Vault, and Bow Valley Bunker (among other names), the large caverns in Mount McGillivray are a unique hiking destination with a colorful history. Urban legend has it that the massive bunker was carved into the side of the mountain to house important government officials during the Cold War. The real reason for the "bunker", however, was to store sensitive documents1. Due to budget constraints and humidity, documents were never stored here, but the caverns remain as a testament to the politics and paranoia of the late '50s. An interesting place to visit year round.

The trail to the Bow Valley Bunker begins at the Heart Creek Parking lot, just off the Trans Canada Highway, across from Lac des Arcs. Look for the Trans Canada Trail marker across the parking lot from the Heart Creek Trailhead. If you pass an interpretive sign about black bears within a few metres, you're on the right track. Continue through mixed forest to a gravel lined gulley (200 m from the parking lot). The path has been re-established post floods and is easy to follow. 

Start here
The broad trail is Chariot friendly but bumpy in sections.

1st Gully
At the halfway point (~1 km from parking lot), you will cross another gulley. Continue through the forest on a fairly level trail, then go down a big hill. At the junction (marked with a Trans Canada Trail marker), turn left. At the next junction (also marked), turn left again. From here, it's only 200 metres to the cavern entrance.

On dirt trail

First junction - go left
Second junction - go left

Almost there - Heart Mountain in the background
Bunker entrance
Bring bright headlamps so you may explore the 80' x 25' caverns2. There is also a smaller cavern that may have been meant to be a reception area or lounge3.

Looking into the cavern
Looking towards the entrance
Looking down at Lac des Arcs
My kids were a bit freaked out by the darkness and graffiti, so we didn't venture too far inside, but were still happy to discover this interesting site. We enjoyed some cocoa and cookies at the cave entrance and watched a train go by Lac des Arcs below. A quick win when you want to try something new!

Bow Valley Bunker Trail At A Glance

SAFETY NOTE: The last 100 metres to the bunker is avalanche terrain. Avoid this area if the slope is snow covered.

Distance: 3.8 km return
Elevation gain: 94 m
Difficulty: Easy
Chariot friendly: Yes
Directions from Calgary: Go west on Hwy 1 for 86 km. Take exit 105 (Lac des Arcs) and turn left.   Continue straight to the Heart Creek Parking Lot.

This is a fun hike to do on the way to or from Canmore as it's quick and easy!

What's your favorite short hike in Bow Valley Provincial Park?

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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Winter Backpacking Part 1: Keeping Warm

My famous last words before our backpacking trip were, "If you don't hear from us Monday, we probably died." That may have been a bit melodramatic given the fact that we're bonafide snow lovers and experienced backpackers, but it was our first winter backpacking trip as a family and it was expected to drop to -16C (3.2F) in the night. A little colder than what we usually camp in, and with kids in tow, we didn't want to take any chances. We packed everything on our list, then packed some more, but in the end, keeping warm was the easy part! (Lucky for us, it never went below -10C.)

In this installment of Winter Backcountry Camping, I'll cover what gear we brought to keep warm. Part two will discuss safe gear transport, part three will discuss cold weather backpacking food and hydration, and part four will cover where to go winter camping. Are you ready? Let's go winter camping!

Keeping Warm When Winter Backpacking / Camping 

The essential items you need to keep warm are good clothes, protection from the elements (shelter), insulation from the cold ground, a warm sleeping bag, and proper nutrition and hydration levels. If I can hack cold weather camping with Raynaud's Syndrome (weird autoimmune problem that shuts off circulation to my extremities in the cold), you can too - with the right gear!


Keeping dry and warm are critical to winter backpacking (and hiking) comfort and safety. Base layers made of merino wool or technical fabrics will wick moisture away from your skin to keep you dry. If it's cold enough for mid layers, put them on as soon as you cool down and take them off as soon as you heat up. It's better to stop for a minute to remove a layer before you get sweaty,as it's extremely dangerous to have wet clothes in subzero temperatures.

What We Wore: Base layers, a mid layer (fleece/down sweater), shell jackets, wool socks, winter hiking boots, and snow pants for the hike to camp.

What We Packed: 1 extra set of base layers, 1 set of fleece base layers for sleeping in, 2 pairs of socks, 1 thick pair of sleeping socks, underwear, and 1 parka/puffy down jacket per person PLUS extra snowpants for the kids, buffs (neck gaiters), extra toques and extra mitts. We used almost everything (Little POG dropped her hat on the way in, yay for extras!) and only regret leaving our down booties at home! We also packed a case of hand and foot warmers, but didn't need them (they're great for -15 and colder).

For more details on keeping warm, please see these posts:
It's all about technical gear and layers!


I had a bit of anxiety about not having a 4-season tent, until I realized that our friend sleeps under a tarp year round. A 3-season dome tent works fine if it's sturdy (an ultralight tent may not be the best choice), pegged out properly, and there isn't heavy snow - provided you double up your sleeping pads and have a good sleeping bag.

Our home away from home was our MEC Wanderer 3-season dome tent. This rugged tent kept the wind out, heat in, and didn't allow much condensation to build up. We have camped in this tent (and others) in -10C very comfortably, so we probably won't invest in a heavier 4-season tent unless we become cold junkies and start camping regularly in -20 or below.

  • Keep vents partway open to prevent condensation buildup. 
  • Use a footprint / ground tarp to provide snow melt from going in to your tent. 
  • Peg your tent out well to allow snow to slide off. I recommend Y pegs for hard ground, and deadman anchors for camping on snow (saves you trying to pry snow stakes out of the snow). 
  • Low Gravity Ascents has a good writeup on setting up your tent in the snow which includes deadman anchors, windbreaks and cold air trenches. Since we were camping below treeline, on a tent pad, in moderate weather, we did not make a windbreak or cold air trench and were able to use our Y pegs. 
For tips on what to look for when buying a tent, please see this post: How to Choose a Tent Q&A.

MEC Wanderer Tent (note the fly is not up yet so we can load bedding) 


Our regular backpacking gear is suitable for -7C (or -10C if wearing fleece layers), but since the forecast was calling for -16C, we doubled up on sleeping bags and sleeping pads. No matter how amazing your sleeping bag, if you are not shielded from the cold ground, you will have a chilly night. Best to use 2 sleeping pads!

What we slept on/in:
  • We layered self-inflating sleeping pads (Therm-a-rest Trail Pro) on top of foam sleeping pads (Therm-a-rest Z Lite Sol or Ridgerest) to be super comfy and warm. Besides being light and affordable, foam pads never, ever leak. They also make great camping/hiking chairs! Attach these to the outside of your pack to make room for extra sleeping bags/quilts and clothes.
    • My setup was *special* and I used a Therm-a-rest Luxurylight Ultralight cot with a Trailpro self-inflating mattress. So amazing!
  • We brought 7 sleeping bags and 2 down quilts:
    • Each kid had a kids' MEC 0C sleeping bag inside a MEC Raven -7C down bag;
    • I had a -12 Western Mountaineering down sleeping bag;
    • My husband had a -7C MEC Aquila down sleeping bag and +15 sleeping bag.
    • We used the down quilts as over and underquilts. 
I don't recommend doing what we did. Our setup was bulky and heavy! 

  • If you can afford it, get lightweight winter sleeping bags.
    • Down is highly compressible and warm. The new hydrophobic down bags are great as the down will maintain loft when wet to keep you warm.
    • Hybrid bags are great for warmth, but bulky. They have down on top for warmth and compressibility and synthetic fill on the bottom that doesn't compress as much as down (so you stay warmer).
  • A less costly option than 850 fill down bags or double sleeping bags, is to purchase/make an overbag or overquilt to use with your 3-season sleeping bag. We plan to make our $27 ($20 US) down quilts into overquilts. Thanks Coldbike for telling me about the Costco quilts (and how to adapt them), and Rockiesgirl for letting me know they were in stock!
  • Spread outerwear out around your sleeping pads to prevent cold from seeping in from the floor (also makes it less of a shock if you roll off your sleeping pad in the night). If you use a cot, stuff empty stuff sacks and extra clothes under your cot to prevent cold air from flowing through.
For more information on choosing camp bedding (sleeping bags, cots, sleeping pads, travel cribs), please see: Camping Sleep System 411.

Sleep like a baby, cozy warm!


Keeping fueled and hydrated helps you keep warm. Did you know that being hydrated helps you balance your temperature? So carry warm drinks and sip often! A hearty soup makes a good meal too, to get extra fluids down (many people don't want to drink cool liquids on a cold day and don't drink enough).

We found staying hydrated to be a challenge on our trip as we had forgotten a water filter/purifier and it took forever to boil water. 

Stay tuned for Winter Backpacking With Kids Part 3: Camp Food & Hydration to learn what we would do next time to alleviate this problem.

Don't forget your water purifier or filter!


We packed for -20, but only had to sleep in -6, so it was a good trial run for family winter camping. Would we do it again? Absolutely, but we need to make a few changes to our sleep system to get our pack/Chariot weight down if we want to go further than Elbow Lake.

If you're well prepared, winter camping can be a lot of fun! It's even better if you go with friends! My kids' favorite moments were sledding, stargazing, roasting marshmallows, and dancing under the stars with Rockieschick's and Coldbike's kids. I hope you will be inspired to try it as we'd love to see more kids at camp!

What would you like to learn about winter camping?

Little backpackers

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Thursday, November 17, 2016

Play Outside Holiday Gift Guide And Giveaways

I love everything about Christmas except shopping, so I shop early and do it mostly online after the kids have gone to bed. By getting gifts throughout the year, I save money and save weekends for what we love most: playing outside!  I hope our outdoor-themed holiday gift guide and giveaways will help you get outside more too!

A HUGE thank you to our sponsors for all the great prizes! There are 8 prizes up for grabs this year! Good luck!!

Disclosure: This post includes Amazon affiliate links. I receive a tiny commission for items purchased through these links, at no extra cost to you. Thank you in advance for supporting Play Outside Guide!  I have also received some of these products for free to review, but as always, all opinions are my own. 

For Outdoor Kids 

Grandma is a Slowpoke is one of the sweetest books I've read all year! It's the tale of a girl and her Grandma who go on a pokey, but amazing, nature walk together.

Book Available on Amazon
Looking for a water bottle that won't leak? The Camelbak Podium Water Bottle works great with the added bonus that the top is easy enough for kids to open and close (but doesn't slide open and leak in your pack). We all have one!

Camelbak available on Amazon
Zippyrooz Biking Gloves are perfect for young cyclists. They're easy to put on and take off (thanks to loops on the fingers), are super comfortable, and come in cool designs. We've been testing the Flowers Full Finger Gloves since August and love them! There is padding where needed, soft fabric on the thumbs, and the kids hands are fully ptoected. I have to mention, they feel like pro cyclists too! Full finger and half finger gloves available for children up to age 6. Enter to win a pair below (Canada & US)!

Available from (Canada) or Amazon (US)
Little music lovers will adore Rocky Mountain Fairy Tales & More Rocky Mountain Fairy Tales. A young girl's Rocky Mountain adventures with fairies are set to classical music in the first album and jazz in the second. Each album has original stories and songs that will appeal to children and parents alike. We loved hearing stories about places we'd been to like Heart Creek and Castle Mountain. It was also cool to listen for the different fairies' sounds; the Red Fire Fairies, Green Forest Fairies, Yellow Wind Fairies, Blue Water Fairies and Purple Mist Fairies are all represented by different instrument families. Listen to a sample here. Enter to win both awesome albums below (Canada only)!

Available online at CD Baby and in store at select retailers.
MSR Tyker Snowshoes are our top pick for little kids' snowshoes as they are light, provide excellent traction, and have great bindings. Of the three brands we've tried for 3-8 year olds, the Tykers are #1! For a detailed review of kids' snowshoes, please see this post. All Out Kids Gear has generously provided one pair of MSR Tyker Snowshoes to give away to a lucky Play Outside Guide reader. Enter to win the MSR Tyker Snowshoes below (Canada only)!

MSR Tyker Snowshoes - Available at
Good quality outer layers are essential to having fun outside, but it helps if the pieces have a bit of style (so the kids will actually wear them). Oakiwear's matching rain jackets, umbrellas, and rain boots in bold, solid colors, or fun prints like owls, dinosaurs, space ships and mermaids are sure to be a hit! We've tested Oakiwear rain boots and rain gear and been really impressed with the materials used and attention to details. Check out our Oakiwear rain boot review here and Oakiwear Trail Rain Gear review here. Enter to win a super cute Oakiwear polyurethane rain jacket and umbrella below (Canada & US)!

Oakiwear Kid's Outer Space Rain Jacket
Available from Oakiwear (US) or Amazon (Canada)
Skiing is so much more fun with cool ski goggles. We love these Spy+ Cadet Kids' Goggles as they have anti-fog and anti-scratch protection, provide 100% UV protection, and look great because they fit little faces well.

Spy+ Cadet Goggles available at MEC
Technical base layers are a must for our climate! We love the Terramar Sports Power Play 1.0 two-piece set for hiking and cross country skiing. On colder days, we wear Terramar's Cloud Nine base layers. The base layers breathe well, do not pill, and come in all sorts of fun patterns. My girls like them so much, they often wear them as normal clothes!

Terramar Sports Cloud Nine Top (left)
Available from Terramar Sports (US) and Amazon (Canada)
Get a high quality 17.5" stuffie, help animals at risk, and get a $30 donation receipt all at the same time with World Wildlife Fund Wildlife Adoptions.  The stuffie comes with a poster and pamphlet explaining what project your donation will support, gift bag of your choice, and adoption certificate which you can personalize. A great gift for the kid who has everything!

Narwhal available at WWF

Gifts For Her / For Him 

For a unique, made in America gift, you can't go wrong with a Stormy Kromer cap! Stormy Kromer's legendary caps are still made by hand in Michigan, just like they were back in 1903. Choose from wool, waxed cotton, Harris Tweed, denim or canvas in a variety of styles and patterns to suit your look. I lived in the Ida's Infielder all summer and wear the Button-Up in stormy weather. They make high quality apparel and bags as well! For more details on the company and its products, please see my writeup here. Enter to win a sweet Stormy Kromer cap below (Canada & US)!

Stormy Kromer Ida's Infielder Cap
Available at Stormy Kromer and select retailers
For the person who has everything, get them a KEEN gift card! KEEN makes amazing footwear from hiking boots, winter hikers, backpacking boots, and sports sandals to casual shoes and boots. I love my Durand Waterproof Hiking Boots, Riesen Zip Full-Grain Waterproof boots, and Versatrails! The waterproof boots are actually waterproof and the Versatrails are so light and.. well, versatile! I hike, walk, and run in them. Enter to win a pair of KEENs below (Canada only)!

KEEN Reisens Available from KEEN Canada, MEC, and select retailers
Terramar Sports Technical Base Layers are what I live in most of the year. I've been fortunate to try several different items from the fall/winter lines and spring/summer lines and love them all! The Cloud Nine pieces are so soft and comfy, I wear the leggings as pants! They breathe well too! When it's cold out, I wear my Thermawool top (my fav!). Wool on the outside and fleece on the inside keeps me warm and cozy without irritating my sensitive skin. Another cool thing I tried this year was Terramar's Microcool tops. The fabric actually feels cool to the touch and stays cooler than regular technical gear, even when it's really hot out. I don't know how it works, but my long sleeved Microcool hoodie kept me cool and dry backpacking in 28C weather! Enter to win a set of cozy men's/women's Cloud Nine Base Layers from Terramar below (US Only)!

Terramar Sports Thermawool Top and Cloud Nine Leggings (right)
Available from Terramar Sports (US) and Amazon (Canada)
A hammock is a great gift to share! The Sequioa Hammock by Serac Hammocks is an extra large double hammock that fits two adults or a whole bunch of kids. We love that the hammock is light, super easy to hang, and comfortable. You can easily lie flat in it, so it would be great for camping in a warm place. Another great thing about this hammock is that it comes with everything (no extra charge for stuff sack, tree straps and carabieners). It's well made and reasonably priced. See my full review here. Enter to win a super Sequoia hammock from Serac Hammocks below! 

Serac Hammock available at Amazon (US Only)
If you know someone who loves to fish, you can't go wrong with a fishing store gift card. In Calgary, visit the Iron Bow Fly Fishing Shop (Dalhousie), Hanson's Fishing Outfitters (downtown), The Fishing Hole, Cabela's, or Bass Pro. I'm hoping Santa brings me a sweet pair of Simm's Goretex Waders!

Gifts of Experience 

For the person who has everything, give him/her the gift of experience!

Some ideas for Calgary & area include:

Ski Resort Loyalty Cards (RCR Rockies Card, Lake Louise Plus Ski Card, Sunshine Card, Big Drop Card)
Gift cards for Winsport - Luge, Skiing, Mountain Biking, or Zipline
Calgary Zoo, Heritage Park, Calaway Park, or Telus Spark day/annual passes
Canmore Cave Tours
Snowy Owl Sled Dog Tours

Giveaway Prizes

 Now is your chance to win some great prizes! Prizes available include:
  • 1 set of Cloud Nine Technical Base Layers from Terramar SportsOpen to Residents of US only
  • 1 pair of shoes/boots from KEEN CanadaOpen to Residents of Canada only
  • 1 Stormy Kromer Cap - Open to Residents of Canada & US 
  • 1 pair of MSR Tyker Snowshoes from All Out KidsOpen to Residents of Canada only
  • 1 Oakiwear polyurethane rain jacket and 1 umbrella - Open to Residents of Canada & US
  • 1 hammock from Serac Hammocks. Hammock comes with carrying bag, 2 tree friendly straps and 2 carabieners. - Open to Residents of Canada & US
  • Rocky Mountain Fairy Tales CDs (Rocky Mountain Fairy Tales & More Rocky Mountain Fairy Tales)- Open to Residents of Canada only
  • 1 pair of Zippyrooz biking gloves - Open to Residents of Canada & US

Giveaway Rules

The giveaways end at midnight on Sunday, November 27, 2016. Winners will be selected at random, via the Rafflecopter app, and notified via email. Winners must respond within 48 hours of notification to claim their prize.

This giveaway is not affiliated with Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Google+ or any other social media.

Good luck!

Enter Giveaways Here

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More Holiday Gift Guides & Giveaways! 

Please check out my fellow Outdoor Families bloggers' holiday gift guides for even more great gift ideas and giveaways!

Born to be Adventurous - Gift Ideas for Babies and Toddlers
Brave Ski Mom - The Brave Ski Mom Holiday Gift Guide, 2016 (Giveaway)
Currently Wandering - 25 Gift Ideas for Adventurers, RVers, & Families
Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies - Holiday Gift Guide for Outdoor Families (With Giveaways) 
Go Adventure Mom - Holiday Gift Guide 2016 - Companies that Give Back Gift Guide 2016
Little Family Adventure - Gift Guide for Outdoor Families

Monday, November 14, 2016

Support CPAWS' Week For The Wild!

It's time to channel your inner animal and go wild for Week For The Wild! Week For The Wild is a week-long fundraiser for CPAWS, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. Through a series of fun challenges, four teams sponsored by KEEN Canada will compete to raise the most donations for CPAWS. I am super excited to be heading up Team Paw (CPAWS BC & CPAWS Yukon) and am counting on your support. 

What is CPAWS?

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) is an environmental charitable organization working hard to protect half of Canada's public lands and waters from development. By keeping large, connected areas of Canada wild, wildlife corridors in critical wildlife habitat are maintained, and we humans have cool places to explore. It's a win-win!

Protect wild spaces

KEEN's Role in Week For The Wild

As a big nature and wildlife lover, KEEN Canada is proud to sponsor Week For The Wild. In addition to offering financial support and prizes, KEEN Ambassadors have stepped up to participate in three team challenges promoting Week For The Wild. I am stoked to be involved with this initiative and will be leading Team Paw (CPAWS BC & CPAWS Yukon)! Watch for my #Wk4Wild #GoTeamPaw posts all week! 

Love my KEEN Durand Boots!

How You Can Help (and what's in it for you)

When you make a donation during Week for the Wild (November 14-20), you are automatically entered to win a pair of sweet new kicks (boots or shoes) from KEEN! As a KEEN Ambassador, I own several pairs of KEENS from casual footwear to hiking boots, and must say I love them all. 

---> Donate to CPAWS here: <---

Not able to donate right now? That's ok! You can share the buzz by liking, commenting, and sharing #Wk4Wild #GoTeamPaw posts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram! The more people hear about Week for the Wild, the more we can raise to help CPAWS! 

If you'd like to join in the challenges, tag your photos #Wk4Wild #GoTeamPaw and I'll be sure to share them on Facebook and Twitter! Even better, join me for Calgary's Biggest Bear Hug! Details below.

KEEN Canada - CPAWS Challenge

Be a Week For The Wild hero and "Stand Out and Stand Up for Wildlife!" Win a pair of KEENs for best animal costume! 

What: KEEN Canada - CPAWS Challenge
Where: Prince's Island Park (north side of Jaipur Bridge)
When:  Friday, November 18th at 11:30 am SHARP

Please bring your work friends or kids! The more the merrier! :) 

Meet here (across the bridge from Eau Claire Market)
Look for me in my bear suit!

For More Information

Please visit CPAWS.

Happy Marmot at Cavell Meadows, Jasper

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Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Best Shoulder Season Hikes in Kananaskis

Shoulder season (late fall/spring) is a wonderful time of year to explore Kananaskis. As the mercury drops, so do the number of people in the parks. As we don toques, mountain peaks put on pretty caps of snow, and hiking gives way to snowshoeing, ice walks, and cross country skiing. It can seem tricky to know where to go when conditions are always changing, but there are lots of options! Here are our favorite in-between season trails, and tips on what what to wear and what to bring.


Located in the front ranges, Bow Valley Provincial Park tends to get less snow and lose snow quickly, so it's a great place to hike year round!

Flowing Water Trail is a fun, short (2.4 km return) trail in Bow Valley Park that takes you on stairs, boardwalk, wetlands, and along the Kananaskis River. For a fun half day outing, stop at Middle Lake before or after your hike for a picture perfect picnic spot (there's also a nice trail there). Just across the lake, you get the best view of Mount Yamnuska! For more information on both trails, see Family Fun in Bow Valley Provincial Park.

Flowing Water Trail, Bow Valley Provincial Park
Mount Yamnuska seen from Middle Lake, Bow Valley Provincial Park
For a longer hike, go to the shoulder of Yamnuska (also known as Raven's End). Beautiful alders line the trail and as you get higher, there are great views to the south and west. From the end of the parking lot, take the trail on the right. When you get to a signed fork, take the hiking/scrambling trail on the right to reach the east shoulder of Mount Yamnuska. Return the way you came. 7 km return, 500 m elevation gain.

Turn right here!
Mount Yamnuska
Prairie View Trail to McConnell Ridge or Barrier Lake Fire Lookout is a good hike to do when it's super windy, as the trees provide shelter from the wind. When you finally break out of the trees at McConnell Ridge, you are rewarded with views of Barrier Lake, Mount Baldy and beyond. There's a fun little scramble to a higher viewpoint (not recommended if icy), as well as the option to hike up to Barrier Lake Fire Lookout offering 360 views. Return the way you came for the quickest way down. 13.2 km return, 421 m elevation gain. Add on 0.7 km, 100 m elevation gain to the Fire Lookout.

McConnell Ridge, Prairieview Trail
Prairieview Lookout
Barrier Lake Fire Lookout
One of the best things about the colder weather is the chance to go on a canyon ice walk! By late November or early December, you can usually walk the frozen creekbeds of Jura Canyon and Grotto Canyon! Jura Canyon's narrow canyon walls make for a unique experience, but our favorite is Grotto Canyon is with its towering ice falls and 500 year old pictographs. For more information, please see DIY Ice Walks Near Calgary. Usually doable from December until March (but warm weather will melt the ice, so save ice hikes for when it's cold!).

Jura Canyon
Grotto Canyon


Canmore Nordic Centre is a world class nordic skiing facility that also has a mountain biking skills park, ice rink, snowshoeing trails, and fat biking trails. To see all the activities the park has to offer, see Cross Country Skiing at the Canmore Nordic Centre. Note that fees are in effect for cross country skiing.

Canmore Nordic Centre
If you're looking for a great, short hike near Canmore, try Grassi Lakes. In only 3.2 km round trip, you see a waterfall, two small, perfectly green lakes, and pictographs! For more information, see The Best Short Hikes Near Calgary. Get dinner at Rocky Mountain Flatbread after, or go for Canmore's best coffee at Mountain Mercato! Note: The "easy" route makes a great fall hike, but can be treacherous in early spring with melting and freezing. Check the Alberta Parks Trail Report before you go!

Grassi Lakes, Canmore


The Elbow Valley is a wonderful place to hike in fall. For the best road trip, check out Elbow Falls after your hike (a 2 minute walk from the parking lot), then grab a treat in Bragg Creek.

Beautiful Forgetmenot Pond is a popular picnic spot, but also makes a great walk with young children as the trail is flat and only 2 km long. Enjoy the view and watch for Arctic Grayling (catch & release only) in the emerald green pond. For more information, see More Best Short Hikes Near Calgary - Kananaskis Edition. Please note that Hwy 66 is closed from Dec 1 - May 14.

Forgetmenot Pond, Elbow Valley
Powder Puff & Sunrise Hill are two fantastic viewpoints you can visit on one short hike. Whether you stop at the first "summit" or second, the views are amazing! 3 km return to Powder Puff or 5 km return to Sunrise Hill. For a longer hike, carry on to Powderface Ridge (14 km return from trailhead). For more information, see Sunrise Hill (aka Rainy Ridge Summit) and Powder Puff, KananaskisPlease note that Hwy 66 is closed from Dec 1 - May 14.

View on the way up Powder Puff
View from Sunrise Hill
Fullerton Loop is moderate family hike that takes you through meadows, forest, and along a ridge with mountain views on the west side of the loop. 8 km round trip, 365 m elevation gain. Follow the orange trail markers and maps to make a loop.

Fullerton Loop
Fullerton Loop, Elbow Valley Provincial Park
For more of a challenge and amazing views, try Prairie Mountain. You can do this hike almost year round as the top is usually windswept minimizing avalanche danger. It's quite a grind, but well worth the effort! See our trip report here: Hiking Prairie Mountain, Bragg Creek.

Prairie Mountain, Elbow Valley


Deer Ridge is a short, but scenic trail offering views of Moose Mountain and the beaver ponds in Sibbald Creek. Distance: 6.6 km return, Elevation gain: 300 m. Not stroller friendly.

Directions: Travel west on Hwy 1, take the Sibbald Creek Trail (Hwy 68) turnoff. Continue 22 km on the paved and gravel road, to the Sibbald Lake turnoff. At the 4-way junction on Sibbald Lake access road, turn left and park in the west parking lot. The trail starts to the left of the washrooms at the large "Sibbald Flat Trail" sign.
Deer Ridge, Sibbald Flats
Image Credit: Margaret Meisner, Calgary Outdoor Club


Peter Lougheed Provincial Park and the Spray Valley get a ton of snow, so check trail and avalanche conditions every time you go. You can usually snowshoe these trails from mid to late November.

Although official winter trails in the park are in Class 1 (lowest risk) Avalanche Terrain, you should educate yourself on where the risks exist so you can avoid them. For example, it is Class 1 terrain to the near shore of Rawson Lake or Warspite Lake, but there is considerable avalanche danger at the other side of the lakes (avalanche slopes). When in doubt, confirm your route with Visitor Information before hitting the trail.

For fishing and first time backcountry camping, Elbow Lake is ideal. The hike to the pretty alpine lake is only 2.6 km return, with 150 m elevation gain. Backcountry camping permits are required to camp. If you plan on fishing, please check and follow Alberta Fishing Regulations.
Note: The winter gate on Highway 40 is closed from December 1 - June 14. 

Elbow Lake, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park
Black Prince Cirque / Warspite Lake is a popular ski and snowshoe trail in late fall and winter as it gets tons of snow! The 4.3 km loop with 90 m elevation gain is perfect for families as it's not too long or tough.

Black Prince Cirque in spring
Chester Lake is a snow lovers' paradise. You can ski, hike or snowshoe here. Hike on the packed snow or snowshoe in the fluffy stuff a little off trail. 9.2 km round trip, 300 m elevation gain. If you have time and energy, the Elephant Rocks are a worthwhile detour (add 1 km return). *Although you can often hike this trail when the snow is packed down, on warm spring days, you will posthole in the afternoon. Carry snowshoes just in case - this area holds up to 1 metre of snow until late spring.*

Please note that the trail is closed from May 1 - June 29 each year.

Chester Lake Trail
Rawson Lake is one of my favorite summer trails, but it's also a great fall/winter trail. You can hike or snowshoe here depending on how many people have been on the trail before you and how recently it has snowed. Start at Upper Kananaskis Lake parking lot, take the lakeshore trail until the first turnoff (there's a map at the junction), turn left and head uphill to Rawson Lake. 8 km return, 300 m elevation gain. *If there is snow on the mountains, do not cross the lake; significant avalanche danger exists.*
Rawson Lake on a moody day

What to Wear

Base layers and mid layers made of synthetic fabrics or wool, wool socks, a hat and gloves/mitts are the way to go for temperature control. Bring a breathable shell jacket to keep the wind out. Soft shell pants or wind pants are also nice to have in colder weather as well as gaiters to keep snow/mud out of your boots.

For more information on keeping warm, please see Keeping Kids Warm in Winter and Keeping Warm in Spring (or Fall)

What to Bring

We use our day trip pack list, which includes the Ten Essential Systems, and also carry ice cleats or microspikes, and gaiters. More information can be found in 5 Tips for Fall (or Spring) Hiking in Alberta.

If you're not sure whether you need ice cleats or snowshoes, bring both and assess at the trailhead. It's the time of year where you can't go wrong bringing "all the things"!

Did you know bears only "hibernate" from late January until March? Cougars and wolves do not hibernate, so you should carry bear spray year round. Read my bear safety tips here.

Kahtoola Microspikes and Outdoor Research Crocodiles Gaiters for the win!

What are your favorite fall hikes in Kananaskis?

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