The town of Canmore is both the gateway to Banff National Park and an access point to Kananaskis Country. As a result there is an unbelievable amount of truly exceptional hiking within an hour’s drive. I’ve tried to showcase Canmore hikes that offer views within a short distance of the town, with most about a 15 -20 minute drive away. The hike to the Sparrowhawk Tarns is the exception.
Many of these Canmore hikes can be done beginning early in spring – save for the Year of the Virus. Ha Ling in particular can get very busy even in March, depending on the year and snow cover. Always go prepared for a change in weather and don’t forget the bear spray.
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If you plan to do early season hikes, then don’t forget the icers. They can make a huge difference in being able to stay upright and safe on the mountain.
Heart Mountain – one of the early season Canmore hikes
The Heart Mountain hike is part hike but mostly it’s a scramble, albeit not one that is too difficult except for one move described in the blog below.
Its 2.8 kilometres one way with an elevation gain of 745 metres. Count on nothing but up until the homestretch to the summit. It took us just over four hours return including time for lunch on top.
The trailhead is located off of the Lac des Arc exit, 18 kilometres east of Canmore. Park at the Heart Creek Trailhead and follow the detailed instructions in the blog below.
Ha Ling Peak
You can see Ha Ling Peak from all over Canmore. It looks imposing and yet there’s a great hiker’s trail to the summit. Its 3.0 kilometres one way with an elevation gain of 737 metres. It’s very steep right off the bat but moderates slightly when you’re out of the trees.
The trail to Ha Ling Peak was closed for some time but reopened in 2019. Its safer than it was for the huge numbers of people who hike it.
The trailhead is easy to find as it’s across the road from the Goat Creek parking lot.
Mount Lady MacDonald
If you’re looking for an early season hike in the Canmore area then you’d do well to choose Mount Lady MacDonald. What you get is a great workout and some exceptional views of the Canmore area.
There is the option to continue past the heli-pad up a steep scree slope to an airy ridge walk. I have yet to do that but if you’re fleet of foot and fearless you’d get even more incredible views.
All told it’s approximately 6 kilometres round trip with 610 metres of elevation gain to the heli-pad. To get to the summit its 8.6 kilometres return over a gain of 905 metres.
Grassi Lakes – one of the very popular Canmore hikes
One of the most popular trails in the Canmore area is the one to Grassi Lakes. It’s a quick one to knock off as its 4 kilometres return with an elevation gain of 300 metres. Just pick your times to go – either early or late in the day if you want to avoid crowds.
There are two trails that take you to Grassi Lakes. One is marked easy and the other difficult. Choose the difficult one if you’re looking for variety or better yet do them as a loop. I’d recommend taking the difficult one up and the easy one down.
The lakes are also an enjoyable spot to watch the rock climbers or to enjoy a picnic.
EEOR (East End of Rundle)
The hike up EEOR – also called the East End of Rundle – isn’t for everyone. It’s unrelentingly steep climbing – some 875 metres over only 2.9 kilometres. Part of the hike near the cliff band is more scramble than hike and not everyone will feel comfortable doing it.
But the payoff is an incredible view over Canmore, the Bow Valley and south to the mountains along the Smith Dorrien Road.
Wait till the snow has left before you do this hike, some years by early May. You can usually hike it through till October, just as the snow starts to fly. In the summer take lots of water and sunscreen.
Note that a small dog was attacked and killed by a cougar on EEOR in October 2019. So be aware of your surroundings, especially if you’re hiking at non-peak times.
One of the Canmore hikes is right in town
If you’re looking for an easy, scenic family-friendly hike you don’t even need to leave Canmore. Look for over 20 kilometres of well-marked trails that wind through the woods, meander along the Bow River and take you over bridges. Many sections offer truly lovely mountain views.
Sometimes there’s a well-placed bench and even a bit of wildlife like the elk I saw enjoying a drink from the Bow River.
High Rockies Trail
The 80 kilometre High Rockies Trail is part of the Great Trail, also known as the Trans-Canada Trail. This part of the Great Trail is the westernmost section in Alberta. It’s a multi-use trail meant to be shared with mountain bikers and even horseback riders.
There are numerous access points along the Smith Dorrien Road to get to the High Rockies Trail. The closest one to Canmore is the Goat Creek Trailhead and parking lot, 5.6 kilometres up from the Canmore Nordic Centre along Highway 742 (a dirt road).
Don’t expect any services along the trail and be bear aware when you’re hiking. Plan on an out and back hike unless you’ve arranged a car shuttle.
Mount Yamnuska – one of the challenging Canmore hikes
Mount Yamnuska is the first notable mountain you see when driving east from Calgary towards the mountains. So while not in Canmore proper, the trailhead is just 25 minutes from the town.
This is a hike that can be quite challenging for many people and one I wouldn’t recommend if you loathe any exposure or scrambling. There are three parts to it that can be hard for some – getting through the chimney, loads of scree and a short chain section that isn’t as bad as it sounds.
The 11 kilometre hike gains 900 metres and save for a few short sections it’s nothing but up. Take short gaiters for the descent as there’s one heck of a lot of scree to contend with. (Note the scree slopes in the photo below you’ll be descending.)
Sparrowhawk Tarns – one of the quieter Canmore hikes
Do this superb 13.8 kilometre return hike from around the third week of June through to mid-August if you want to catch the tarns full of water. They usually dry up over the course of the summer. The hike is a moderate one with only 720 metres of climbing. The biggest issue is staying on the right trail – all described in the link in the blog below.
The trailhead for the Sparrowhawk Tarns is just 22.5 kilometres from the Canmore Nordic Centre. There is a signed Sparrowhawk Day Use Area on the dusty Smith-Dorrien Road. If it’s full you can park on the road.
Where to stay pre or post hike in Canmore
Inexpensive: The Canmore Clubhouse located 4.5 kilometres out of town is run by the Alpine Club of Canada. It’s only $30/night for members, $40/night for non-members.
Bed & Breakfast: The Howling Wolf B&B is rated as exceptional.
If you’re after lodging that comes with a fully equipped kitchen along with a washer and dryer then the Basecamp Resort is a great choice. Enjoy well-appointed rooms with thoughtful touches like local coffee and Rocky Mountain soap. The downside in my books is the lack of a personal touch as you’re given a code to your room so you don’t have to talk to anybody. Ever. But maybe that’s just me. Prices are reasonable.
Boutique Hotel: The Malcolm Hotel near downtown Canmore is a four star hotel with an outdoor heated pool. It opened in 2019.
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