Shoulder season (late fall / spring) is a wonderful time of year to explore Kananaskis. In autumn, 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. Spring time can mean icy trails in the morning and slushy, mucky trails in the afternoon, but it’s worth getting out for the glorious sunshine.
When conditions are always changing, it can be tough to pick the right trail, but there are lots of options! Here are our favorite spring and fall hiking trails in Kananaskis, plus tips on what what to wear and what to bring.
Bow Valley Provincial Park
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! Trails to explore in Bow Valley Provincial Park:
Flowing Water Trail is a fun, short trail in Bow Valley Park that takes you on stairs, boardwalk, wetlands, and along the Kananaskis River. 2.4 km loop.
Middle Lake Day Use Area has a picnic area and interpretive trail. Enjoy the view of Mount Yamnuska from across the water. 2 km loop.
Heart Creek Bunker is an unofficial trail to the site of a would-be Cold War bunker (was never used). Bring headlamps to explore the 80’x25′ caverns. Note that the bunker is on an avalanche slope, so you should avoid this hike if the slope is snow covered. 3.8 km round trip.
For a longer hike, try Raven’s End (east shoulder of Mount Yamnuska). 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. Read Hiking Mount Yamnuska: Choose Your Own Adventure for a detailed route description. 7 km return, 500 m elevation gain.
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.
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!).
Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park
Canmore Nordic Centre is a world class nordic skiing facility that also has an ice rink, snowshoeing trails, and fat biking trails. When the snow melts, enjoy mountain biking the trails and bike skills park, orienteering, and disc golf course. To see all the activities the park has to offer, see Cross Country Skiing at the Canmore Nordic Centre. Note that trail fees are in effect for cross country skiing.
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 (only visible from the “difficult” trail), two small, perfectly green lakes, and pictographs! Note: The “difficult” route is usually closed from late fall to early spring due to ice flows but the “easy” trail is open year round.Check the Alberta Parks Trail Reports before you go!
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 The Best Short Hikes in Kananaskis. Please note that Hwy 66 is closed from Dec 1 – May 14, but you can ride your bike to the trailhead when the road is closed! Details at Biking Highway 66 from Elbow Falls to Forgetmenot Pond.
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 (4.8 km to ridge, 6.9 km to summit). For more information, see Sunrise Hill (aka Rainy Ridge Summit) and Powder Puff, Kananaskis. Please note that Hwy 66 is closed from Dec 1 – May 14. If you would like to bike to the trailhead, read Biking Highway 66 from Elbow Falls to Forgetmenot Pond.
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.
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.
Jumpingpound Loop is a good shoulder season objective when there’s avalanche danger in other areas. This rolling 8 km loop (450 m elevation gain) takes you through aspen forest and mixed forest on the north side of Sibbald Creek Trail with occasional views of Moose Mountain, and along the river and through a large meadow on the south side. Start at Pine Top Recreation Area just past the cattle guard on Hwy 68 / Sibbald Creek Trail (where the road goes from pavement to gravel). The trail is on the right hand side of the road.
Deer Ridge is a short, but interesting trail offering views of Moose Mountain and the beaver ponds in Sibbald Creek. Don’t miss the old Sun Lodge in the meadow! Distance: 6.6 km return, Elevation gain: 300 m. Not stroller friendly.
Directions to Deer Ridge Trailhead: 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. I recommend going up the ridge and returning the way you came as the second half of the loop is overgrown.
Peter Lougheed Provincial Park and Spray Valley Provincial Park
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.
Black Prince Cirque / Warspite Lake is a fun hike to an intermittent pond. 4.3 km loop with 90 m elevation gain. Note that this is avalanche terrain, so it is best to avoid this trail from late fall through early spring. Check with the parks visitor centre before heading out.
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 over 1 metre of snow until late spring. Please note that Chester Lake Trail is closed from May 1 – June 29 each year.
Rawson Lake is 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.*
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.
What to Bring
Carry the Ten Essential Systems, and bring or wear traction devices and gaiters. If you’re not sure whether you need microspikes 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”!
Before you head out, read our 10 Tips for Fall Hiking in Alberta to stay safe.
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.
What are your favorite fall and spring hikes in Kananaskis?
- Four Spring & Fall Hikes in Banff
- Winter Fun in Calgary, Kanananskis & Banff
- Why You Need Avalanche Skills Training
- Pond and Lake Ice Safety