When it comes to backyards, Calgary’s is hard to beat. With postcard-perfect mountains in one direction and terra cotta-hued badlands in the other, there is no shortage of fodder to fuel a hiker’s fire - and not just in Banff.
If you’re looking for something off the beaten (and often crowded) path, we’ve compiled a list of our favourite hikes in the Calgary-area (that aren’t just in Banff) to get you started. One caveat: you'll need a car; so round up your best hiking buddies and hit the road.
Trail length: 14 km
Elevation gain: 500 m
Why it’s awesome: Great views, classic Rockies terrain and the possibility of meeting a fire ranger at the top.
Description: Follow the trail up through the trees, across alpine meadows, and finally, up classic Rockies scree to the top, where a fire lookout has made its home. Enjoy the stunning scenery from the comfort of a heli pad picnic spot.
Directions to the Moose Mountain trailhead: trailpeak.com/trail-Moose-Mountain-Fire-Road-Summit-near-Kananaskis-AB
Distance from Calgary: 65 km
Trail length: 4 km round-trip
Elevation gain: 50 m
Why it’s awesome: A waterfall, pictographs and a cave.
Description: This trail has something for everyone, from ancient pictographs, to sandcastle-like hoodoos. Follow the creek bed to a waterfall, along a narrow corridor with towering canyon walls, and past a big cave, to where it eventually opens into a wide valley.
Directions to the Grotto Canyon trailhead: tourismcanmore.com/grotto-canyon-hike
Distance from Calgary: 92 km
Mount Lady Macdonald
Flickr/Lee O'Mara (CCby2.0)
Trail length: 6 km round-trip
Elevation gain: 1200 m
Why it’s awesome: Beautiful alpine meadows, panoramic scenery and a helipad near the top is great for suntanning.
Description: If you like variety, this hike is for you. Starting in the trees near Cougar Creek, the trail climbs steeply (as they do in the Rockies) out of the forest and into alpine meadows, becoming a rocky scramble as you continue past the helipad towards the summit. It’s a great workout with an even better view for a reward.
Directions to the Lady Macdonald trailhead: summitpost.org/mount-lady-macdonald
Distance from Calgary: 106 km
Ha Ling Peak
Trail length: 6 km round-trip
Difficulty: Moderate difficult
Elevation gain: 700 m
Why it’s awesome: An epic view of the Bow Valley and an adventurous scramble at the top. You might just find a fossil.
Description: A very short drive from the mountain lover’s mecca of Canmore, Ha Ling Trail is a classic hike and scramble to the top of Ha Ling Peak. Ascend steeply through the trees, and continue on loose rock and scree. Keep an eye out for climbers making their way up the face, and for fossils underfoot.
Directions to the Ha Ling Peak trailhead: tourismcanmore.com/ha-ling-peak
Distance from Calgary: 109 km
Flickr/Adam Kahtava (CCby2.0)
Trail length: 3 km one-way
Elevation gain: 457 m
Why it’s awesome: Stunning views of the Rockies, a great workout and backcountry campsites at either end.
Description: Starting either at Ribbon Lake Campground or Lillian Lake Campground, this trail climbs steeply up to the pass, where the reward is a panorama of gorgeous rocky mountain scenery. Whichever direction you choose, a clear alpine lake awaits you when you finish.
Directions to Guinn's Pass trailhead: albertaparks.ca/kananaskis-country/guinns-pass
Distance from Calgary: 126 km
Chester Lake Trail
Peter Lougheed Provincial Park
Trail length: 9.2 km round-trip
Elevation gain: 300 m
Why it’s awesome: Views of Burstall Pass, a pristine alpine lake and a boulder field for the kids.
Description: With its stunning views, alpine meadows and towering rocky peaks, Chester Lake Trail is worth the scenic drive into Peter Lougheed Park. Cool off in the ice-cold lake or venture a little further to explore Elephant Rocks.
Directions to Chester Lake Trail trailhead: tourismcanmore.com/chester-lake-hike
Distance from Calgary: 127 km
Plain of the Six Glaciers
Banff National Park
Banff Lake Louise Tourism / Paul Zizka Photography
Trail length: 11 km
Elevation gain: 370 m
Why it’s awesome: Close-up glacier viewing, beautiful mountain scenery and a teahouse .
Description: This hike is one of Banff’s classics and we couldn’t resist including it. Starting at Lake Louise, quickly lose the crowds as you reach the far end of the lake, and ascend towards the Plain of Six Glaciers tea house. Take in the views of the surrounding glaciers and Lake Louise from above.
Directions to the Plain of the Six Glaciers trailhead: This hike begins at the Lake Louise parking lot. A detailed route description can be found here: banffandbeyond.com/plain-of-six-glaciers-the-other-tea-house-at-lake-louise/
Distance from Calgary: 181 km
Dinosaur Provincial Park
Trail length: 1.3 km loop
Why it’s awesome: Hoodoos, bentonite clay formations and well...dinosaur bones.
Description: This short-but-sweet trail is a crash course in the beauty and geology of the badlands. Pass hoodoos and sandstone ridges as you learn how the area was formed from interpretive signs — and where those dinosaur bones came from.
Directions to the Badlands Trail trailhead: albertaparks.ca/badlands
Distance to Calgary: 217 km
Bow Glacier Falls
Banff National Park
Trail length: 9 km
Elevation gain: 150 m
Why it’s awesome: An impressive waterfall, glacier views and great trout fishing.
Description: Not content to look out at Bow Lake from the comfort of Num-Ti-Jah Lodge? Follow this gentle trail along the lakeshore and beyond, until you reach the base of the not-so-gentle Bow Glacier Falls.
Directions to Bow Glacier Falls trailhead: albertawow.com/bow_falls
Distance from Calgary: 220 km
Road Trip: Hoodoo Trail
Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park
Trail length: 4.4 km
Why it’s awesome: Hoodoos! Beautiful sandstone layers and classic badlands scenery
Description: This well-maintained interpretive trail showcases the best that Alberta’s badlands have to offer. From hoodoos to rock art, grasslands to valleys, Hoodoo Trail has something that will appeal to everyone.
Directions to the Hoodoo Trail trailhead: albertaparks.ca/trails/hoodoo
Distance from Calgary: 340 km
Want to see where these rank against Canada's greatest hikes?
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