Hiking in Alberta is incredible. We’re spoiled here with an abundance of outstanding day hikes to choose from. These 16 hikes described below give you but a taste of what is out there. With three national parks and the Rocky Mountains you can expect plenty of world-class mountain views, gorgeous high alpine lakes and with a little luck some wildlife sightings.
Crypt Lake Trail, Waterton Lakes National Park
Unless you hit a weekday in the shoulder season, expect company on this hike. The boat runs until Thanksgiving weekend in October.
Distance: 17.4 km round-trip with a 690 metre elevation gain
Difficultly: Moderate Time needed: 5 -7 hours
Highlights: A boat ride to the trailhead, waterfalls, a gnarly section that includes a ladder, tunnel and chains, beautiful alpine lake with a beach at the end of the hike
Turtle Mountain, Crowsnest Pass Area
The one hike where you may feel a wee bit of tension at the summit as it is predicted that there will be another rock slide.
Distance: 6.2 km round-trip with 780 metres of elevation gain
Difficulty: Challenging Time needed: 3 – 6 hours
Highlights: At the top you can see where Turtle Mountain broke off to cause the Frank Slide in 1903. Superb views off the Frank Slide itself. Great view of the town of Blairmore and up and down the Crowsnest Valley. There is the option to scramble to the South Peak (where monitoring equipment is in place to detect movement) but it’s about an hour each way even though the distance isn’t great.
Prairie Mountain, Kananaskis Country (Bragg Creek area)
I only do this hike in the winter or the shoulder season as there are definitely prettier hikes out there to do. But you can’t beat it for a work-out or to get your mountain fix as the trailhead is just 45 minutes from Calgary. It can be bloody cold and windy on top and ice-cleats are recommended in winter. It’s dog friendly.
Distance: 7.6 km with 726 metres of elevation gain
Difficulty: Moderate to difficult because of the steepness Time needed: 3 – 5 hours unless you’re superhuman
Highlights: Prairie and mountain views; you can see Calgary on a clear day
Buller Pass, Kananaskis Country
This is a great hike off the Smith-Dorrien Road in Kananaskis Country. In fall, larches provide a blast of colour. From Buller Pass you can see Guinn Pass and Ribbon Lake.
Distance: 13 km round-trip with a 671 metre elevation gain
Difficulty: Moderate to hard Time needed: 6 hours
Highlights: Waterfalls, great views from Buller Pass, option to continue to Ribbon Lake where there’s a campsite but would be a long day hike
Burstall Pass, Kananaskis Country
Bring a pair of water shoes if you’re not good at jumping streams as there’s a long wet area you have to get through to get to the good stuff. Also a great trail to do in the fall with some larches.
Distance: 16.4 km round-trip with a 667 metre elevation gain
Difficulty: Moderate Time needed: 5 hours
Highlights: Stunning valley, beautiful meadows and terrific views up high. Options to continue from the pass or bag a peak. Great for a family hike too.
Wasootch Ridge, Kananaskis Country (off of Highway 40)
A steep hike gets you onto an undulating ridge with expansive views.
Distance: 11.7 km round-trip with 750 metres of elevation gain
Difficulty: Moderate Time needed: 5-6 hours
Highlights: Well-defined trail along the ridge line offers views of Wasootch Creek and the Nakiska Ski Hill; becomes a scramble near the end and most people turn around when the going gets tough
Opal Ridge, Kananaskis Country
More of a scramble at times than a hike so you’re less likely to see people on this one. Lots of variety and a high possibility of wildlife.
Distance: 6.3 km round-trip with 900 metres of elevation gain
Difficulty: Hard Time needed: 5 – 6 hours
Highlights: A varied hike with lots of surprises; rock pillars near the ridge line are unexpected; views into a valley you almost never see are fantastic as are views across to Fortress Mountain
Grizzly Peak, Kananaskis Country from Highwood Pass
It shares a trailhead at the Highwood Pass parking area with the Pocaterra Ridge hike but the hiking experience is completely different. This one rewards with a tiny summit via a short ridge and a bit of easy scrambling. One of the best hikes in Kananaskis Country.
Distance: 9.6 km round-trip with an elevation gain of 518 metres to the col plus an additional 165 metres to the summit
Difficulty: Moderate to difficult (only at the very end) Time needed: 4-6 hours to the summit
Highlights: Larches in the fall; stunning views in the Highwood Pass area; fun watching people scramble on Mt. Tyrwhitt
Pocaterra Ridge, Kananaskis Country from Highwood Pass
Plan a car shuttle as this hike is best done as a one way affair starting at Highwood Pass. I’d recommend larch season for the intense blast of yellow. Outstanding.
Distance: 8.9 km one way (and only do it as a one-way hike) with a 950 metre elevation gain and a 640 metre loss
Difficulty: Moderate Time needed: 6 hours
Highlights: Phenomenal hike in larch season. Once you gain the ridge the views are some of the best in the Rockies.
Ha Ling Peak near Canmore
One of the early season hikes that will get you into shape for summer hiking. Heavily trafficked. Reopening in spring 2019.
Distance: 5.6 km round-trip with 762 metres of elevation gain
Difficulty: Moderate Time needed: 4 – 5 hours
Highlights: Steep trail delivers you at the edge of the mountain overlooking the city of Canmore. Great views also of the east end of Mt Rundle.
Aylmer Lookout, Banff National Park
Count on a long day but most of it offers view of Lake Minnewanka. From the lookout it feels like you can see forever. This is prime grizzly country (we saw mama bear and her three cubs) so go prepared.
Distance: 23.4 km return to the lookout with 570 metres of elevation gain; add 230 metres and 3.6 km round-trip for the pass
Difficulty: Moderate because of the length Time needed: 7 -8 hours
Highlights: Superb views up and down the entire length of Lake Minnewanka
Fairview Mountain, Banff National Park
It’s a steep climb to the top but the view is worth the effort. Lake Louise looks puny 1000 metres below. The early part of the hike is superlative during larch season.
Distance: 10.6 km round-trip and 1014 metres elevation gain
Difficulty: Moderate Time needed: 4- 6 hours
Highlights: The highest trail in the Rockies; interesting and unusual perspective of Lake Louise: in-your-face mountain views of Mt. Temple
Parker Ridge, Banff National Park
A popular family-friendly hike with zero route-finding issues. Quick access to the high alpine along with superb views. If you’re heading for the Columbia Icefields a great hike to stretch your legs.
Distance: 4 km round-trip to the saddle with 272 metres of elevation gain, 11 km round-trip to the ridgecrest and 593 metres of elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy Time needed: 1-2 hours for the saddle; 4-5 hours for the ridgecrest
Highlights: Views start within 15 minutes of hiking; great views of the Saskatchewan Glacier; option to hike to the ridgecrest – which few people do
Helen Lake and Cirque Peak, Banff National Park
Big effort reward ratio on this hike. Nothing like amazing glacier views within a short time of starting the trail!
Distance: 14 km return for the ridge above the lake and 550 metres of elevation gain. Add another 493 metres to summit Cirque Peak.
Difficulty: Easy to the ridge but moderate for the peak Time needed: 4 hours for the ridge, 6 – 7 hours for the peak
Highlights: Gorgeous summer wildflowers, mostly above treeline; mountain and glacier views
Wilcox Pass, Jasper National Park
Once you clear the trees after a steep start you’re rewarded with some of the finest scenery in the Rockies.
Distance: 9.8 km round-trip with 409 metres of elevation gain
Difficulty: Moderate to the meadow, then easy Time needed: 3-4 hours
Highlights: Bighorn sheep sightings are almost guaranteed; meadows are gorgeous; scenic red chair views over to the Columbia Icefields; side trails offer even better Icefields views; option to scramble up Mt. Wilcox
Path of the Glacier Trail at Mount Edith Cavell, Jasper National Park
After a winding drive up a mountain road you land in a world of glaciers, mountains and wildflowers. Follow the paved path to Cavell Pond but the loop that includes Cavell Meadows is recommended
Distance: 1.6 km return with 70 metres of elevation gain BUT there is an option to do a longer loop that includes Cavell Meadows
Difficulty: Easy Time needed: 1 hour, but more if you want to do longer loops
Highlights: Wildflower filled meadows if you go beyond Cavell Pond, glaciers, mini icebergs and towering cliffs
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Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta
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