The Grotto Canyon ice walk (near Canmore) takes you through a frozen creekbed to pictographs and stunning icefalls!
Grotto Canyon is one of the best ice walks near Calgary. Where else can you hike on a frozen creek to ancient pictographs and ice falls? With a short approach, this easy trail is sure to become a family favorite. Expect to walk one kilometre on a dirt trail and 900 metres on a frozen creek to reach His & Hers ice falls.
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. The bench is a good place to put on traction devices (we recommend microspikes for this trail).
Once you are geared up, head down into the creekbed. There is a big rock at the start of the ice hike that you can easily climb over (see above), or you can go around to the right. After that, it’s easy going with traction devices on your feet! 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.
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).
The twin ice falls, “His” and “Hers,” are just past the pictographs. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to watch ice climbers in action!
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 a few months a year!
Grotto Canyon Ice Walk at a Glance
Distance: 3.8 km round trip
Elevation Gain: ~100 metres
Trailhead: Grotto Lake Parking Lot (on Highway 1A)
Stroller Friendly? The first part of the trail is doable with a sports stroller. It would be tough to get the stroller into the canyon.
Required Equipment: Traction devices are required. Trekking poles recommended.
There are larger ice falls up the slope to the east (right), 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 (a fellow hiker wearing ice cleats slipped there and needed 6 stitches).
If you continue upstream (left), there is a big cave on the west side of the trail.
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.
Walton, Dawn. (2001, June 29) The Globe and Mail. Alberta Drawings Support Ancient Myth. Retrieved from www.theglobeandmail.com/technology/science/alberta-drawings-support-ancient-myth/article534019/.