If you love a good waterfall hike, then put the Ribbon Falls hike in Kananaskis…
The Troll Falls hike is a standout as a year-round family-friendly outing. It’s only 3.4 km round-trip and it climbs just 60 m to end at the falls. It’s especially lovely in winter when the waterfall becomes an icefall. Unfortunately, perhaps because of COVID, it’s getting very busy at the parking lot, particularly on weekends. Go early or late in the day so you can get a parking spot. Or park up by the Pomeroy Kananaskis Lodge in Kananaskis Village and take a longer hike via the network of trails that leads to the falls.
You can do the Troll Falls hike on foot, snowshoes or even by fat tire bike which you can rent from Kananaskis Outfitters. You could also do the short spur to the falls either before of after skiing to Skogan Pass – a cross-country ski outing I highly recommend.
Troll Falls – How to get there
There are actually several ways to get to the falls, all of them easy. I really enjoy the loop that takes you for a stretch along the Kananaskis River via the Hay Meadow Trail. Along this section you just might spot a couple of birders counting raptors, especially in spring or fall when the migration is on. In March, the migration of golden eagles starts so don’t forget to look way up in the sky.
The hike is easily accessible from Calgary via a one-hour dramatic drive on Highway 40, accessed from the Trans-Canada Highway.
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The trip to the falls is a perennial favourite. Despite the short distance there’s quite a lot of variety in the terrain – and the trail is easy to find even with the web of trails in the area.
Start the hike from the Stoney Trailhead near the outhouse. Head up the signed trail on an easy grade to reach a section through dense evergreen forest. Once you’ve dispatched with that, you’ll reach a scenic open area filled with aspens. From there, check the map at the intersection. You’ll next head along a narrow trail that hugs the left bank of Marmot Creek. You can’t miss the sight of the debris left over from the 2013 floods.
There is also a side trail that will take you to the Upper Falls. You reach it before you reach the falls – but it was closed because of icy trail conditions when I last visited. Elevation gain is still minimal, but be sure to exercise caution anywhere near the falls.
You’re practically on top of the falls before you get a really good view. Icers used to come in handy because you could explore around the icefall. Now, you get the sanitized, safe version which is fine but not as much fun. If you like to play on ice, I highly recommend one of the three ice walks in Alberta. Jura Creek also has a short section that is fun for kids.
Shop: These are the icers I like the best – and have been using for some time. They never fall off.
It will take fast hikers about an hour to do the return hike. Families with young kids might need a couple of hours especially if you want to play along the way or if you do the return loop along the Kananaskis River.
Retrace your steps to return to the Stoney Trail parking lot. The hike to Troll Falls can be done in any season but I personally think it’s best in winter.
Loop option to the falls and back via Hay Meadow
On my most recent visit, we opted to do a 4 km loop – heading up to the falls on the main trail but returning via the Hay Meadow Trail. There are maps at every intersection so you can figure out the way. If you don’t see Hay Meadow marked, look for the trail heading under the powerline at the first intersection you reach on the way back to the cat after visiting the falls. (It is east or on your left as you’re heading back to the trailhead.) It takes you to the Hay Meadow Trail that starts off in open woods but ends up beside the Kananaskis River.
The 1.5 km Hay Meadow trail takes you right back to the parking lot.
Looking for raptors on the Hay Meadow Trail
I had no idea when we started back to the car on the Hay Meadow Trail that we would run into volunteers counting raptors. There is a great spot halfway along the trail beside the Kananaskis River that is ideal, as it offers 360 degree views. To the east you can look for raptors soaring over Mount Kidd in Spray Valley Provincial Park and Mount Allan along with other mountains in Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park. To the west, you might see them soaring over Wasootch Ridge.
Volunteers sign up for a full day. They bring in spotting scopes, warm clothes, drinks and a lunch – and count birds rain, shine or snow. The ones we met said the sunny days might be nicer for them from the comfort level, but you don’t tend to see as many raptors.
If you hike the trail, particularly during the spring and fall migration, don’t hesitate to speak to these volunteers. They are a wealth of information – and at the very least can point you to any raptors flying high on the thermals.
I highly recommend the loop instead of an up and back on the Troll Falls trail as its prettier and its fun and educational to look for raptors.
Take Highway 40 South to the Kananaskis Village turnoff also called Mt. Allan Drive. Follow the road past the first junction and then turn right into the Stoney Trail parking lot. If you’ve reached Nakiska Ski Resort you’ve gone way too far. There is signage pointing to the trailhead. Note that there is no parking along the road.
For an up to date trail report check out the Kananaskis Parks link here.
Nearby accommodation options
There are a couple of places to stay nearby. The Kananaskis Wilderness Hostel is a great choice if you’re looking for something affordable. But if you want to splurge – and perhaps visit the Kananaskis Spa as well, choose Kananaskis Mountain Lodge.
In the summer you can stay in tipis and trappers tents at nearby Sundance Lodges.
Other winter hikes in Alberta you might enjoy
- Hiking the Spray River Loop Trail, Banff National Park
- A Winter Hike in the Canadian Badlands of Alberta
- Tunnel Mountain: Banff’s Must-Do Hike
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