If you’re in the mood for an easy family-friendly hike but with the option for something more, these five Rocky Mountain hikes – all within a two hour drive of Calgary (and the Calgary airport should you be visiting from out of town) should fit the bill. From Kananaskis Country to Banff National Park, there’s something for every type of hiker. All of these five hikes are popular ones so do expect to be sharing the trail unless you get a really early start.
Before you go, particularly for the Lake Minnewanka and Ptarmigan Cirque hike read: Tips for Staying Safe in Bear Country.
The Ink Pots Hike via Johnston Canyon
Johnston Canyon is wildly popular with tourists and locals alike because of its captivating beauty no matter what the season. The cantilevered catwalks always add a thrill to walking beside the river. While many people stop at the first set of falls, 1.1 kilometres from the trailhead, don’t unless you’re short on time. At the very least head for the upper set of falls (2.7 kilometres from the trailhead) as they put on quite a show. The trail to the Inkpots continues just past the upper falls.
If you continue for roughly another hour you’ll reach five pristine, aquamarine coloured pools formed by mineral springs that maintain a year round temperature of 4°C. In theory you can continue well past the Ink Pots to Mystic Lake – though that is done as a backpacking trip. The total elevation gain is just 355 metres and the round-trip distance is 11.8 kilometres.
Plain of the Six Glaciers Hike
Start at Lake Louise and hike along the shoreline passing rock climbers and horseback riders. Continue up the moraine with views back to the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and even the Lake Louise Ski resort on a well-marked trail, lined in spots with masses of wildflowers come summer. At 5.5 kilometres reach the Lake Louise Tea House. If you hike another 0.5 kilometres or so, enjoy in your face mountain and glacier views. This is a classic hike in the Rockies that gains 400 metres over six kilometres one way. The grade is never tough. For families with active kids it would be a great choice.
Upper Kananaskis Lake hike
There is the option to do the full loop around Upper Kananaskis Lake totaling 15.8 kilometres (which puts it in the moderate category just because of its length) or an out and back hike depending on how ambitious you feel. You’re never more than 60 metres above the lake so though the trail is rolling it’s still an easy one. There are loads of places, especially close to the parking lots where you can hang out by a beach so it’s particularly family-friendly. The hike rewards with beautiful mountain scenery for almost the entire loop along with a couple of waterfalls. Very energetic hikers could add an extension to Rawson Lake.
There is also a fantastic, I hate-to-even-tell-people-about-it because it’s so nice camping spot called the Point Backcountry Campground where lucky campers can nab spots overlooking the lake. Put it on the must-do list.
Lake Minnewanka Shoreline Trail with the option of hiking to Aylmer Lookout
Lake Minnewanka, the largest lake in Banff National Park, hosts a hiking trail along its length with lots of beaches worth stopping at, especially at the start of the trail. It offers easy family-friendly hiking along with a very high probability of seeing big-horned sheep. Do an out and back hike for a couple of hours with a stop for a picnic. Or opt to do several days of hiking to the end of the lake, staying at well-spaced campsites on a backpacking trip (you need backcountry permits and the trail sometimes gets closed because of grizzly activity). If you’re feeling energetic – and you don’t have young kids with you, also consider the hike up to Aylmer Pass which I highly recommend for the incredible view. Along the route you’ll be treated to wildflowers. Come mid-July you must hike as a group of four or more and carry bear spray.
At the bridge over the river there is also the option to do the easy Stewart Canyon hike.
The hike to Ptarmigan Cirque starts from the parking lot of the highest public road in Canada – so it doesn’t take long from there to get into the high alpine. Expect superlative mountain scenery on this short hike with only 210 metres of elevation gain, with most of that in the first kilometre. For a short hike it delivers a tremendous variety of scenery. Hike through coniferous forests; stroll through high alpine meadows and hike higher on scree slopes to get close to the mountains. On the descent pass several pretty waterfalls. It’s the perfect family-friendly hike to take your out of town guests who want a taste of the mountains without spending a full day in them.
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