Winter is here, and while it would be easy to stay inside and hibernate, you’d be missing out on some beautiful hiking. In winter, say goodbye to mosquitoes and crowds, and say hello to snow-capped peaks and ice falls! They’re worth bundling up for, I promise (don’t forget to pack your camera and a hot drink). Here are the best winter hikes near Calgary.
Grotto Canyon, Exshaw
Grotto Canyon is a classic winter hike near Calgary that takes you through a frozen creekbed to pictographs and stunning ice falls. Pack microspikes for this trail as you will be walking on solid ice (unless it has been covered with snow). For more details, please read Grotto Canyon Ice Hike. Distance: 4.2 km round trip
Lake Louise Shoreline Trail, Banff National Park
Walk across Lake Louise (avoiding the avalanche slopes on the boathouse side of the lake), or take the Shoreline Trail, to Louise Falls. These spectacular ice falls are popular with ice climbers and over one hundred metres tall! Read Skate, Ski, Walk, and Snowshoe on World Famous Lake Louise for details on hiking, snowshoeing, or cross country skiing to the falls. Distance: 5 km return
Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park
Johnston Canyon is best visited in winter, when all the falls are frozen. Cross the catwalk, go through a small tunnel to the Lower Falls Lookout, then carry on to Upper Falls. The trail gets packed down and icy, so bring ice cleats or microspikes (especially for the section between Lower Falls and Upper Falls). Distance: 2.2 kilometres round trip to the Lower Falls or 5.4 kilometres round trip to the Upper Falls. (NO VEHICLE ACCESS UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE – see Banff National Park November 28, 2020 Bulletin.)
Grassi Lakes, Canmore
Grassi Lakes is one of the best short hikes near Calgary. Follow the old gravel road to two azure ponds. Chariot friendly! For more information, read Hiking Grassi Lakes Trail, Canmore. Distance: 3.8 km round trip.
Jura Canyon, Exshaw
For a unique hike through a slot canyon, head to Jura Canyon. As of 2019, there is a parking lot for this trail (marked Jura Creek when heading west on Highway 1A). Head west to the creekbed, then hike north through the narrow, sculpted canyon. Microspikes required as you will be hiking on ice! We recommend waiting until after a long cold snap to do this trail as some of the plunge pools are several feet deep. Please read our story Jura Canyon Ice Walk for details on this cool hike near Canmore. Distance: 3 km return for the ice walk (including 800 metre walk to the canyon), with the option to continue further for a 7 km return hike.
Tunnel Mountain, Banff
With its short approach and lovely views, Tunnel Mountain makes a great first summit. Don’t miss the red chairs, and viewpoints off the back side of the mountain. For more information, read our story: Tunnel Mountain, Banff. Distance: 4.6 km round trip.
Big Hill Springs Provincial Park has all the elements of a fun family hike – bridges, water, and a forest trail – over a short distance even preschoolers can manage. 40 minutes from Calgary or 15 minutes from Cochrane. Distance: 2.3 km loop. (August 2020 Update: Big Hills Springs is closed until Summer 2021.)
Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park‘s 30+ kilometres of trails offer foothills and mountain views just minutes from Cochrane. Try Tiger Lily Loop (1.4 km) to take shelter from the wind, then take Glenbow Trail to the old Glenbow Store. Read more in our story: Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park – So Close to Calgary, So Much to Do!
Explore Marmot Creek’s cascades and waterfalls beyond Troll Falls on the new trail to Upper Falls. November is the ideal time to go when the plunge pool is not frozen yet, but the ice falls are stunning all winter. Read more in our story: Hiking Marmot Creek’s Waterfalls (Beyond Troll Falls). Distance: 5.4 km round trip.
Johnson Lake’s highlights include great views of Mount Rundle and Cascade mountain, a swing, hermit cabin, and hoodoos viewpoint. The swing and hermit cabin are slightly off the main trail, but we have directions in our story: Exploring Johnson Lake so you don’t miss out. Inner loop: 2.8 km, outer loop: 3.5 km.
Know Before You Go
- The weather can change quickly in the mountains, so be prepared with extra layers, extra mitts and socks (especially for kids!), warm beverages, and headlamps. Ideally, you should carry the Ten Essential Systems on every hike. Hiking with kids? See our story: The best winter gear for kids for recommendations on what to wear.
- Traction devices such as ice cleats or microspikes are highly recommended for winter hiking.
- Getting an early start ensures you won’t be caught out after dark.