Feeling the need to unplug? Get grounded? Breathe deeply? Time to take a hike.
Alberta is one of the most stunning places in the world with open blue skies and varied terrain, featuring both mountains and lakes. Whether you’re looking for a hike within a short drive, or something near your favourite vacation spot, it’s easy to pick a trail and experience what nature has to offer.
The Pure team highly recommends hiking activities and these are our top six favourite hikes in Alberta:
1. Grotto Canyon
Park at the turn just before the Grotto lake parking lot and follow the trail markers, making your way behind the Baymag Plant. The first 10-15 minutes of trail are a bit noisy, but it’s worth it to endure; when you turn the corner toward the canyon you will be surrounded by stunning beauty.
This hike is very family friendly. It does require some scrambling over rock, but overall isn’t too tricky. There are some natural worn rocks that are really fun to slide down as an added nature built playground bonus. As you make your way along the rocky trail you will enter the canyon that has a small stream, easily crossable, and walls that curve with the trail and offer new stunning views at each turn. You’ll eventually reach a rock wall where you’ll have to turn, and if you look to the right you’ll see a series of little waterfalls making their way to the stream. When the trail turns to the left (in the winter you’ll find a huge ice waterfall frequently used by ice climbers), you’ll see pictographs painted long ago on the cliffs on the left hand side. Keep going to be treated to more canyon views, and experience an old cave. The trail continues, just be mindful that you’ll be heading back the way you came and your return trip will be roughly the same amount of time, so plan accordingly. This is typically a 4-7km hike.
There’s something majestic about a canyon hike that makes you connect differently with the space around you than a typical elevated Mountain hike; it is definitely worth experiencing.
- Location: Trailhead begins in the Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park on Hwy 1A, ESE of Canmore
- Elevation Change: 225 m
- Duration: 2-3 hrs (return time to hydroglyphs)
2. Grassi Lakes
With two trails available for hikers, you get to choose which best suits your level of fitness on the Grassi Lakes Trail.
Just outside of Canmore, Alberta this walk is very family friendly and opens up to some of the most stunning turquoise blue/green water lakes that you’ll ever see. You’ll also see some creeks, falls, and will enjoy amazing views of the Bow Valley. It is a nice couple hour day trip hike that lets you meander around the lakes, have a picnic, and even check out rock climbers who often frequent the mountainside above the lakes. Take time to breathe in the forest and listen to the sounds around you while you reconnect with nature in one of the most beautiful spots in our world.
This is about a 3.8 km round trip hike. Not as well advertised is the rock art panel that is above the second lake (red-ochre pictographs), which show off some local First Nation history.
- Location: Trailhead begins on Spray Lakes Road, just 2kms past the Nordic Centre.
- Elevation Change: 200 m
- Duration: 1-2 hours
3. Mt. Lady Macdonald
This mountain, frequently admired from the town of Canmore, provides a challenging day hike that most locals rate as moderate difficulty. This elevated dirt/rocky trail, some large rock scrambling and inspiring views will push you and leave you feeling like you had an amazing adventure.
There are multiple points where you can choose your turn around point, but we highly recommend making it to the abandoned helipad so you can take in the sights of the entire town of Canmore in the Bow Valley below, the opposing Ha Ling Peak, and Mt. Rundle. You’ll also get a great view of Cougar Creek canyon. The trail is very easy to follow until you reach the rocky part, then it becomes a bit of a guessing game. Fortunately someone has put up arrows in trees and tape flags along the rock garden to help guide you on your way. To the helipad is 3.3 km up the mountain and will take about 2.5-3.5 hours to reach. If you choose to keep going you can head towards the summit. Turn around once the obvious trail ends, or go for the gusto and scramble carefully through the scree to the summit. This is definitely for those with a greater sense of adventure and fitness.
Note: Dr. Michael and Rayna’s family made it to the helipad with kids aged 7-14, but it is not recommended for small children.
- Location: Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park NE of Canmore
- Elevation Change: 1015 m to the Helipad
- Duration: 4.5-7 hrs (return time to Helipad)
Don’t let crossing a small creek dissuade you from heading up the moderately challenging Coliseum Mountain Trail in Alberta’s West Country near Nordegg. At the fork in the trail you can turn right for an easier path, or go left to significantly up the challenge level.
This forested trail is full of switch backs, which helps take the edge off most of the elevation gain and provides fresh pine scented air for hikers to breath in deeply. Take the obvious heavily used trail and you will be treated to an 12.2 km out and back trail featuring beautiful wild flowers and a top view that is worth experiencing. 360 Degree panoramic views of the foot hills and Rocky Mountains make this David Thompson Country hike one worth taking a day trip for. You may even spot some wildlife along the way.
Note: There is some scrambling required to summit and this is not recommended for small children.
- Location: Located in the Nordegg North subdividion. From Hwy 11 follow Shunda Creek Road and keep right onto Baldy Mtn. Road. Take the next right on Eagle Drive; the trailhead parking lot is at the end of this street.
- Elevation Change: 808 m
- Duration: 4-6 hrs round trip.
5. Siffleur Falls
Nessled in David Thompson Country, this is a 9.7 km heavily trafficked out and back trail that is suitable for all skill levels. The hike features a beautiful canyon, breathtaking suspension bridge and, of course, impressive waterfalls. There are no rails on this trail and extreme caution is advised when traveling along the trail edge, especially if you’re hiking with small children. You’ll be treated to pretty scenery along the whole trail and can choose to stop at the first set of falls or continue on and see all three.
- Location: A short drive SW from the entrance to Cavalcade Group Campground at Kootenay Plains along the David Thompson Highway (Hwy 11) between Sask. River Crossing and Nordegg.
- Elevation Change: 200 m
- Duration: 2-3 hours
6. Johnston Canyon
Step on to this walkway that guides you up past the upper and lower cascading waterfalls. Along the paved trail there are interpretive signs that are worth stopping to read, letting you learn more about the area. We highly recommend packing water and a lunch so that you can enjoy the full 5.4 km return hike experience.
Seeing the falls and feeling the spray as you witness the beautiful cascade of water is definitely worth the day trip. As a bonus, you can keep trekking past the upper falls to the beyond stunning ink pots. This increases the distance to a 12km round trip, and allows you to leave the larger crowds and paved trail behind, experience a mountain meadow, and see the stunning colours of the ink pots. Both of these hikes can be done as a family, as it is a relatively easy hike with lots to entertain the little ones along the way.
This gets very busy in the summer months, as it’s one of Banff National Parks gems, so we recommend going early in the morning or later in the afternoon, or even better, in the off season. It is also very beautiful in the winter; shoe spikes are recommended if it’s icy.
- Location: Bow Valley Highway, Trailhead signage is very easy to follow
- Elevation Change: 236 m to the Upper Falls 608 m to the Ink Pots
- Duration: 2.5hrs to Upper Falls and back or 5-6 hours round trip to the Ink Pots