Put these awesome ice walks near Calgary on your bucket list: Johnston Canyon, Grotto Canyon, and Jura Canyon.
What do you do when it isn’t snowy enough to snowshoe or ski, and it’s too icy to hike? Go for a canyon ice walk! While there are many tour companies offering ice walks, with traction devices, you can do it yourself. The experience of walking on a frozen creek is unique as you can only do it in the winter. I love the perspective of being in the creekbed as opposed to looking down on it. Best of all, you get to see ice falls!
Where to Go
Jura Canyon is the closest ice walk to Calgary, located near Exshaw. The canyon is so narrow, you can reach out and touch both sides of it! We loved exploring this cool slot canyon. Expect to walk about 800 metres on dirt trail and 500 metres on ice (one way). It is possible to do a 7 km round trip hike, but you need to climb over logs to go further up the canyon. For more details, read our story: Jura Canyon Ice Walk, Exshaw. ***Note that the water is over a metre deep in some parts of Jura Canyon, so you should wait until mid-winter when the ice is thick before hiking here.***
Grotto Canyon takes you through a frozen creekbed to pictographs and stunning icefalls! Walk one kilometre on a dirt trail and 900 metres on a frozen creek to reach His & Hers ice falls. Continue upstream (left of the falls) to see a large cave. For more details, read our story: Grotto Canyon, a beautiful canyon ice walk near Canmore. This trail is extremely popular, so go early or midweek to get parking. Parking on the side of Highway 1A is NOT permitted, and may result in your vehicle being towed!
Johnston Canyon, located in Banff National Park, is stunning any time of year, but we love it best in winter when the falls are frozen. Hike the catwalk to Lower Falls and Upper Falls. ***Please note that there is no vehicle access to Johnston Canyon until further notice.***
It is 2.2 kilometres round trip to the Lower Falls or 5.4 kilometres round trip to the Upper Falls. Lower Falls has a viewing platform and small tunnel with another viewpoint close enough to feel the spray of the falls. At Upper Falls, you can often see ice climbers in action. En route, keep an eye out for smaller ice falls like Stella Falls. Note that it is is a ticketable offense to go off trail with penalties of up to $25,000 (endangered black swifts nest in the canyon).
Since the catwalks are narrow, the best mode of transport for little ones would be a child carrier. If your children are hiking without assistance, keep them close, as the catwalks are very high!
Directions: To get to Johnston Canyon from Calgary, take Highway 1 westbound to Castle Junction (about 157 km). Take the exit to Bow Valley Parkway East / Hwy AB 1A East. Continue east on Bow Valley Parkway for 6.2 kilometres to the Johnston Canyon parking lot (on the left side of the street). The other option is to take the Bow Valley Parkway/Johnston Canyon turnoff just past Banff, but be warned that the road is extremely icy in the winter and the speed limit (if you can go that fast) is only 60 km/hr.
What To Bring
- Wear microspikes or snowshoes with crampons to prevent slips and falls. For more details on suitable traction devices, please read our story: Traction Devices for Winter Hiking. Ice cleats are NOT recommended as they do not provide good traction on uneven terrain (they are made for sidewalks).
- Trekking poles are recommended if you are carrying children in carriers/backpacks.
- Helmets are recommended for kids, especially if they do not have good traction devices.
- Footwear – Wear warm socks and winter boots are a must.
- Extra mitts and socks are good to carry all winter long.
- Warm beverages and snacks
- First Aid Kit, hand warmers, foot warmers
- Optional items: A foam pad to sit upon (diaper change pads work well!); hand and foot warmers.
When to Go
Mid December until March is usually the best time to go on an ice walk in the Alberta Rockies. Be prepared for slush or patches of open water if the weather has been unseasonably warm.
General Ice Walk Safety Tips
- Wear traction devices.
- Walk, don’t run!
- Let an adult lead the way to ensure the ice is frozen.
- Be on the lookout for open water, obstacles (logs/boulders), and falling ice.
- Stay on level ground. The steeper or bumpier the ice, the more likely someone will slip and fall.
- Don’t stand too close to ice falls – chunks of ice can fall on you and hurt you!
An ice walk is a wonderful way to experience winter, especially if there isn’t enough snow for skiing and snowshoeing. If you gear up appropriately, you can do it safely and inexpensively. Have fun and let me know which ice walk was your favorite!