The best way to make it through a long, cold winter is to bundle up and embrace the outdoors, and Alberta has plenty of great winter hikes in its beautiful backyard.
No matter which area of the province you find yourself exploring, there are snowy trails, deep caves and even ice fields to fill your days with frosty fun.
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So put on a toque, grab those ice cleats, and check out one of these 10 incredible Alberta winter hikes near Calgary.
Best winter hikes near Canmore and Kananaskis:
At just two miles out-and-back, the easy Troll Falls hike near the Nakiska Ski Area in Kananaskis is a great option for all ages. The trail leads to a waterfall making it popular year round, including in the winter when it’s frozen over and turns into a spectacular display of ice crystals.
Follow the signs through the thick, evergreen forest, past Marmot Creek towards Troll Falls. Those who bring cleats along will be able to scamper right behind the frozen falls, which makes for some amazing photo ops.
You can either head back the same way (which takes about 90 minutes round trip) or take the Hay Meadows Loop back which adds only a bit of extra distance and allows hikers to see the Kananaskis River.
Grotto Canyon Trail
Dramatic canyon walls, ice slides and ancient pictographs are just some of the highlights of the Grotto Canyon ice walk, located in the shadow of Grotto Mountain by scenic Bow Valley Provincial Park near Canmore.
Another family-friendly option, the hike is mostly flat and only takes about two hours round trip. However, the ice canyon gets incredibly slick (even more than a skating rink), so make sure you bring along those ice cleats.
Frozen conditions during the winter months create the enchanting Grotto Canyon icewalk, which twists and turns past limestone walls for about a kilometre before arriving at a set of frozen waterfalls that’s a favourite of climbers. The spectacle is one of the best Alberta ice caves, which makes this spot particularly popular in winter and one of the best easy hikes in Canmore.
If you love snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, head out to Chester Lake in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park which has great routes through a mix of tree cover and wide-open valleys. The trailhead (shared with Burstall Pass) starts across from the scenic Smith-Dorrien Trail, and has stunning mountain views.
The snowshoe trail is steep for the first bit while you navigate the woods, then levels out by the time you reach a wide open alpine meadow and continues that way until Chester Lake.
At the end of your adventure, head to the nearby Mt Engadine Lodge for tea paired with their famous charcuterie board. There are also some charming glamping tents if you want to stay overnight, which are cozy even in the middle of winter thanks to a wood burning stove.
Alberta winter hikes in Banff National Park:
One of the best Banff winter hiking trails for families is the Marsh Loop Trail, which is right in town just a couple of minutes from Banff Avenue. The easy, two kilometre pathway starts from the parking lot of the Cave and Basin National Historic Site and passes through a forest.
You might be lucky enough to see deer grazing, before arriving at a tranquil marsh habitat frequented by birds. From there you’ll have views of the jewel-toned Bow River and towering Mt. Norquay before circling back to the parking lot.
After your hike, be sure to check out Cave and Basin which is the birthplace of Canada’s national park system. After rail workers discovered bubbling thermal springs in the area back in the 1800s, it sparked the creation of the parks program which protects the country’s most pristine areas.
There’s an interpretive centre with information about the naturally occurring, emerald mineral springs found inside the cave, but beware of the smell—it turns out sulphate can be rather pungent!
Lake Louise in winter is absolutely magical, when the gem-toned water is completely frozen over and transformed into a snowy wonderland. This pristine place draws visitors from around the world in droves, who come for snowshoe tours, horse-drawn sleigh rides, cross-country skiing along the Fairview Trail, the annual Ice Magic festival, or to skate around the ice castle.
Take it easy and stick to exploring the flat Lake Louise Shoreline Trail where you’ll find a towering, frozen waterfall, or tackle one of the Lake Louise hikes that can be done in winter, like Mirror Lake or Fairview Lookout which has gorgeous views of the luxe Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.
It’s a bit of a trek to get to Abraham Lake which is a 3 ½ hour drive northwest of Calgary, but the effort pays off for the chance to see an incredible phenomenon that’s beloved by photographers.
Every winter the reservoir transforms into a sea of frozen bubbles, the result of methane gas that’s trapped underneath the icy surface. The scene is enchanting, especially when the light hits it just right. Snap a selfie, then strap on some snowshoes and explore the nearby Cline River Canyon that leads through a forest to a pair of massive glaciers.
Globe Guide tip: For a truly unforgettable experience, book this helicopter tour to see Abraham Lake from above, then walk on the ice bubbles.
One of the most popular Banff ice walks is heading up to Johnston Canyon in winter, which is famed for its towering waterfalls that burst out of the cliffside. Located just off the Bow Valley Parkway, this spot is frequented by ice climbers and great for families since the 2.7 km hike has a mild incline–but be sure to bring ice cleats since the snow-covered trail can get incredibly slippery.
It’s only a 20 minute walk through the canyon on a cantilevered catwalk to get to the first attraction called Lower Falls, where there’s also a cave you can duck into to see a different perspective of the frozen waterfall.
Continue down the path following the curves of the creek, and arrive at the spectacular Upper Falls, which is the highlight of the Johnston Canyon ice walk. During cold months the 30-metre high waterfall is completely frozen over with columns of sparkling ice crystals, and if you listen closely you can hear water flowing underneath.
Continue all the way up to the pristine Ink Pots, or book an ice climbing excursion where expert guides will teach you how to scale the frozen falls. Night tours are also available, where you can enjoy a hike under the stars and warm up with a steaming mug of hot cocoa after.
Where to go hiking in Jasper in winter:
A treasured spot of tourists and locals alike, Jasper’s Pyramid Lake is an enchanting spot year round, especially in winter when thick snow blankets the surrounding mountain peaks and the water freezes over and turns to ice. Go snowshoeing, cross-country skiing or fat biking, and explore the flat trails that hug the shoreline and lead toward Pyramid Island.
The Pyramid Island Loop is only about kilometre long with no elevation, which makes this ideal for a leisurely winter stroll. A photogenic wooden bridge leads to the forested island which is beautifully framed by Pyramid Mountain, and it’s also an amazing spot for stargazing as the area is designated as a Dark Sky Preserve.
For a thrilling adventure with spectacular views, head to the iconic Columbia Icefield and walk right on a glacier.
These majestic Alberta ice fields are found near Jasper, and lure visitors from around the world wanting to explore the magnificent Athabasca Glacier in the heart of the Canadian Rockies. Found along the stunningly-scenic Icefields Parkway linking Jasper and Lake Louise, it’s one of the largest non-polar ice fields in the world.
A Columbia icefield tour starts by travelling on a mammoth Ice Explorer which transports guests from the visitor centre onto the glacier, where you can get out and walk on it and even drink the cold, fresh water. Pause to admire the surrounding mountain peaks, cornices and alpine valleys, and keep an eye out for tiny specks in the distance which just might be sure-footed mountain goats clinging to the slippery surface.
If you visit after dark, the scene is just as spectacular up above where a galaxy of stars come to life, making the Columbia Icefield a world-class destination for dark sky viewing and astronomy.
Tours include admission to the glass-bottom Skywalk which juts out 280 metres above the Sunwapta Valley, and has panoramic views of the towering mountain range and waterfalls.
Note: The Columbia Icefield is typically open from May to October, so while you can’t actually visit in the winter months this is a fun outing to make it feel like Christmas in July!
A dazzling display of ice pillars, frozen waterfalls and even fossils await visitors at Maligne Canyon, which is about 10 minutes north of Jasper. Jasper National Park’s deepest accessible ice canyon dates back an astonishing 160 million years, is one of the most popular Alberta ice caves, and frequented by spelunkers and ice climbers.
While self-guided exploration is possible with ice cleats, you’ll likely get more out of the experience by booking a guided tour. They typically last three hours, equipment is provided, and there’s even a chance to see the spectacular scene at night guided only by a headlamp.
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