Don’t shy away from winter hiking! Here are 10 hikes near Calgary, Alberta that will captivate you with their stellar views and snowy vibes.

     

For a long time, I was a fair-weather hiker, choosing to hunker down indoors for the snowy months of the year. Since moving to Calgary, the winters here feel just a bit too long and my need to be in the mountains is just a bit too strong. Therefore, here are my top recommendations for winter hikes that can be undertaken on a day trip from Calgary.

The hikes below range from difficult (with some steeper sections and/or easy scrambling) to family-friendly. The distances listed are all round-trip and the elevation gain is approximate. I have not included any hikes in this list that venture into avalanche terrain, but it is always a good idea to check out the avalanche forecast before heading out into the mountains during this time of year. I hike in the winter with plenty of merino wool and down layers as well as a Gore-Tex coat and, occasionally, Gore-Tex pants. I also always pack an extra base layer in case I get sweaty, as well as an emergency poncho. Microspikes, a good set of collapsible poles and an insulated, lightweight hiking pad will also set you up for success. Finally, I never leave home without my Garmin InReach as the two-way texting allows me to communicate with my family even if there is no service, and the SOS capability is useful in case of an emergency. Always leave a trip plan and take the 10 essentials.

      

Prairie Mountain

Jennifer Malloy

Length: 8.4 km
Elevation gain: 700 m
Difficulty: Moderate

Why it’s worth braving the cold: This newly overhauled trail is a popular pick for locals, and for good reason. Small hints of the expansive views waiting for you above the tree line are sprinkled throughout the trail, and once you strike out on the ridgeline, the sight of snowcapped mountains to the west and the Calgary city skyline to the east is unparalleled. No longer a choose-your-own-adventure hike, the trailhead is an easy and quick drive from Calgary and the amount of tree coverage (until you hit the ridge) means there is very little snow on the now clearly demarcated trail. When you do pop out onto the ridge, the intense winds (make sure you pack a windproof coat) and the popularity of the trail mean the snow is always packed down or nonexistent. My one-year-old was able to walk part of the ridge last winter so this hike is family-friendly. Pack warm layers and a hot beverage to keep the little ones toasty above the tree line.

Fun fact: You will see hikers going up and down this trail multiple times. If you’re up for a challenge, see how many times you can do it before your legs give out!

Driving time from Calgary: 67 km

       

Prairie View/Yates Mountain

Thom Hill

Length: 11 km (and another kilometre for Yates Mountain)
Elevation gain: 550 m (and another 150 m of elevation gain for Yates Mountain)
Difficulty: Easy to the first viewpoint, moderate-to-hard up to the rocky outcropping and Yates Mountain.

Why it’s worth braving the cold:  Another top pick for locals, this beautiful area in Kananaskis is one of my favourite places to hike in winter. There are a plethora of options depending on your ability and energy levels, from a casual stroll around the lake to a slick scramble up to a rocky outcropping—there is something for everyone. The wide trail switchbacks through the trees for about five kilometres until you happen upon a wide and open viewpoint. This is a great place to stop if you don’t have poles or microspikes as the views are comparable to those at the informal end of the Prairie View Trail. The last half kilometre can be muddy and icy, but it is always steep. The trail to Yates Mountain is unmaintained so be aware of this if attempting to go farther, as well as the loop of Jewell Pass, as an alternative way back down to the lake usually requires snowshoes until the Spring thaw.

Fun fact: The wind was so intense by the dam last winter that my child carrier behaved like a sail. I had to walk backwards until my son and I were safely ensconced in the trees. (Hot tip: use the rain cover as another layer of insulation but be careful of strong gusts if you don’t want to take an unintended flight in the air.) The good news is that this section is short-lived, and the majority of the trail is protected from the wind.

Driving time from Calgary: 84 km

      

Troll/Marmot/Upper Falls 

Seamus Malloy

Length: 5 km
Elevation gain: 220 m
Difficulty: Easy

Why it’s worth braving the cold: Troll Falls is an easy and lovely hike at all times of the year, but it really is something special in the winter. Marmot Falls, a short and steep hike from Troll Falls (take the trail for the Upper Falls, and take the first path you see on the hiker’s left to access these falls) freezes over a rocky outcropping so it is possible to walk behind the waterfall for a taste of a true winter wonderland that can’t (safely) be found anywhere else. Microspikes are helpful if you choose to venture into this icy paradise or to continue along the trail to the Upper Falls. Along the initial wide trail to Troll Falls, there are wooden structures that are a playful stop for children (or your childlike self), and I highly recommend taking a wander through Hay Meadow as an alternative to returning to the parking lot.

Not-so-fun fact: The barriers around Troll Falls are there for a reason so please respect them.

Driving time from Calgary: 99 km

      

Wasootch Ridge

Seamus Malloy

Length: 13 km
Elevation gain: 950 m
Difficulty: Moderate

Why it’s worth braving the cold: Wasootch Ridge is the winter hike gift that keeps on giving. After an initial short, steep and icy push, views of the surrounding mountains and valleys will unfurl before you like wrapping paper on Christmas morning. And, like a toddler’s sugar cookie high, they don’t quit. The ridge undulates through light tree cover along rocky slopes that sweep into the river valley below. When the trail is snow-free it is possible to scramble Wasootch Peak and return via the valley, but in the winter, you may find the trail eventually becomes impassable without snowshoes or (as I have personally experienced) significant post-holing. Simply return the way you came at any point during the hike. 

Fun fact: The trailhead can be a bit tricky to locate if it is your first time hiking here. Find the picnic table in the woods behind the information placard at the end of the parking lot and look for an opening in the trees (there are a few options here, but all trails lead to a leg-burning ascent). If you aren’t heading straight up right away, you’re going the wrong way!

Driving time from Calgary: 92 km

     

Rawson Lake

Jennifer Malloy

Length: 7 km
Elevation gain: 425 m
Difficulty: Easy

Why it’s worth braving the cold: The hike to Rawson Lake is a two-for-one package deal as the path meanders the frosted shoreline of Upper Kananaskis Lake before gently switchbacking through dense forest up to Rawson Lake. The lake is ringed by trees and enclosed by steep slopes so it’s a lovely, sheltered spot to have lunch at while drinking in the impressive views of Mount Sarrail. Similar to the Barrier Dam at the beginning of the Prairie View hike, the winds can be fierce along the Upper Lake. Be sure to factor in the wind chill while planning what to wear for your hike. As always, layers are your best friends in winter. 

Not-so-fun fact: Sarrail Ridge, accessed by skirting Rawson Lake, is one of the best hikes in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. However, in the winter and throughout the shoulder season, there is significant avalanche risk beyond the lake.

Driving time from Calgary: 138 km

      

Rummel Lake

Jennifer Malloy

Length: 11 km
Elevation gain: 425 m
Difficulty:
Easy

Why it’s worth braving the cold: I may get some flak for not including Chester Lake on this list and choosing this hike instead, but the two hikes are not only located within a stone’s throw of the other, but they are also quite similar. In my opinion, Rummel Lake just edges out Chester Lake because it is a quieter trail (the crowds tend to cluster on the narrow pathways of Chester Lake). Therefore, a more serene winter hiking experience is found here. The trail also opens up to a stunning view of the Spray Lakes just a few kilometres into the hike, a worthwhile sight for chilly eyes that Chester Lake lacks. There is no parking lot, but the trailhead is located across the road from Engadine Lodge on Spray Lakes Road. 

Fun fact: Late December to the beginning of April is the only time backcountry camping is permitted at Rummel Lake, and it is the only designated winter-only backcountry campground in Kananaskis Provincial Park. Please note that no fires are allowed, and you must book a permit in advance. Tent permits are available on a nightly basis, and the payable rate is $12 a person per night.

Driving time from Calgary: 151 km

       

Grotto Canyon

Jennifer Malloy

Length: 4 km
Elevation gain: 60 m
Difficulty: Easy

Why it’s worth braving the cold: No listicle of winter hikes near Calgary would be complete without an ice walk through a canyon. While the trailhead for the Grotto Canyon hike is not situated in the wildest of places (industry is alive and well at the Exshaw Lafarge Plant), you quickly leave all reminders of civilization behind on this awe-inspiring wander up a frozen canyon. Short, sweet and family-friendly, you will want to be wearing microspikes for this one. There are a few waterfalls near the end of the trail and when they freeze, they become popular with ice climbers. Be respectful of any climbers you encounter and avoid standing too close to the ice. I have personally witnessed a television-sized chunk of ice come tumbling off Grotto Falls while climbing there. A slightly closer photo is not worth the risk.

Fun fact: There are numerous (but faint) pictographs that can be found on the canyon walls prior to arriving at the falls. The ancient rock art is unlike any other pictographs found in this region, and the drawings have been attributed to the Hopi people who generally resided in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

Driving time from Calgary: 93 km

     

Heart Mountain

Brian Cheney

Length: 10 km
Elevation gain: 900 m
Difficulty: Hard (with some sections of easy scrambling)

Why it’s worth braving the cold: Heart Mountain is the perfect winter hiking challenge due to the position of the aptly named heart-shaped route and the frequent Chinook winds that blast the defined ridgeline bare. The steep path is peppered with trail markers, and a slightly easier route can be found by veering left of the ridgeline into the trees. Exercise caution with this approach, however, as traversing too far to the climber’s left has left more inexperienced hikers and scramblers needing a rescue. In the spring and summer, a popular extension of this scramble is to hike southeast to Grant MacEwan Peak. If you attempt this in the winter, snowshoes are a must. While the alpine views are always worthwhile here, the vast, flat expanse of the summit is also an ideal spot to let it all go and build your own perfectly imperfect Olaf (or to pummel your hiking pals with snowballs). 

Fun fact: For an easier (but no less interesting) hike nearby, check out the Heart Creek bunker, a large and abandoned Cold War-era bunker that offers up an interesting exploration of the history of the area as well as an opportunity to admire or bemoan the graffiti on display here. Bring a headlamp or flashlight for this one.  

Driving time from Calgary: 88 km

     

Grassi Knob

Brian Cheney

Length: 8 km (out & back) or 12 km (loop)
Elevation gain: 775 m
Difficulty: Hard

Why it’s worth braving the cold: If there is a view that is worth hiking to in winter, the jaw-dropping sight of the Three Sisters is it. This iconic trio of mountains is world-famous, and in my opinion, even more stunning when the siblings don their snowy coats for the winter season. While the trail is a tough grind at times, the harder the work, the sweeter the views. It can be hiked as an out-and-back or as a loop, and I highly recommend timing your hike with the sunrise, especially as you won’t miss out on any views on this dark and heavily forested slog. This trail may be closed seasonally.

Fun fact: If you’re not up for a hike, The Malcolm Hotel in Canmore offers up the same views, only they are enjoyed from the steaming serenity of their deck-top hot tubs and heated pool. The pools open at 8 am, which is perfectly timed for a mid-winter sunrise, and you may just have them all to yourself.

Driving time from Calgary: 104 km

     

Wapta Falls

Seamus Malloy

Length: 9 km (the length is longer in winter due to the road closure)
Elevation gain: 125 m
Difficulty: Easy  

Description: This winter hike in Yoho National Park has the longest driving time from Calgary but trust me, the distance is worth it. A gentle trail through the woods brings you to the powerful Wapta Falls with spectacular mountain views stretching out above the turgid river that feeds into the valley. The trail drops steeply to the base of the falls, but the falls can also be admired from above at a fenced-off viewpoint if you aren’t comfortable making the descent and subsequent icy ascent of the trail. A massive lump of snow-covered moraine allows hikers to get up close and personal with the tumbling water and ice (depending on the time of year), but if attempting the short climb be sure to pack microspikes to combat how steep and slick this glacial remnant can be.  

Fun fact: Check out the Natural Bridge or if time allows, the easy five-kilometre loop of Emerald Lake when driving to or from the trailhead for Wapta Falls. If the drive feels too far for a day trip, Truffle Pigs in Field offers cozy and affordable accommodation, as well as burgers on the dinner menu that I’m still dreaming about.

Driving time from Calgary: 250 km

        

Know before you go:

Visitors to Kananaskis Provincial Park must first purchase a Kananaskis Conservation Pass. A day pass registers one vehicle and costs $15 while an annual pass registers up to two vehicles and costs $90. Passes can be purchased online or in person at certain locations within the park.

When entering Yoho National Park, visitors must purchase a Parks Canada Discovery Pass. An annual pass grants admission to every national park in Canada. The pass costs $145.25 for a family, $72.25 for a single adult and $61.75 for seniors (and youth under 17 years of age enter for free). Day passes can also be purchased at the entrance to the park.

     

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