Go cross-country skiing in Alberta if you want to make the long, cold winters fun and bearable. I love the fact that there are so many choices for cross-country skiing within a couple of hours of any of Alberta’s major cities.
If there’s fresh snow in Calgary some of the golf courses (Shaganappi, Maple Ridge and Confederation Park) and parks (Weaselhead, Edworthy, Fish Creek Provincial and North and South Glenmore Park) are also excellent destinations.
And in Edmonton, there are also excellent choices including William Hawrelak Park, Gold Bar Park, Kinsmen Park and Gold Stock Park. Nearby Elk Island National Park has lots to offer the cross-country skier as does the Strathcona Wilderness Centre.
This post focuses on the best places for cross country skiing in Alberta – and most are with a few hours of the major cities.
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Cross-country skiing in Alberta summary
Up to date ski reports: From on the ground skiers, I highly recommend checking out Skier Roger’s website.
Cross-country skiing in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park
Peter Lougheed Provincial Park is home to some of the best Nordic skiing in western Canada. An extensive trail system with over 75 km of mostly beginner to intermediate trails caters to people of all ages and abilities.
Snow conditions can vary widely across the trails so it’s always helpful to know before you visit what state the trails are in.
I usually visit Chester Lake on snowshoes but it’s an equally beautiful area to explore on skis. Chester Lake is located in Kananaskis Country along the Smith Dorrien – Spray Lakes Road, so it’s a solid two hour drive each way from Calgary.
But it’s worth it, especially on a brilliant, sunny day. All told you’ll cross-country ski 10 kilometres round-trip to Chester Lake. The bulk of the climbing happens in the first 30 minutes. And when you’re finished you can’t beat the afternoon charcuterie plate offered at nearby Mount Engadine Lodge.
Cross-country skiing Moraine Lake Road in Alberta
Head to the Lake Louise area for consistently great early season snow. Snow stays a long time up here – usually into April. The Moraine Lake Road is an ideal destination if you don’t have a lot of time or you’re scared of getting lost. You never veer off the road.
It’s 16 kilometres round trip if you go up as far as the lookout and 22 kilometres round-trip if you go to Moraine Lake itself. If you do that you should have avalanche gear and be knowledgeable about crossing avalanche zones.
Although it never feels like you’re gaining a lot of elevation (250 metres to the viewpoint), you’ll be amazed at just how quickly you get back to the parking lot.
Fairview and Tramline trails near Lake Louise
The Fairview Trail is a 7.5 kilometre loop starting from the furthest parking lot from Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. It’s a pretty track-set trail that takes you through the forest, filled with snow-covered trees – but also through meadows where there are excellent mountain views.
The trail doesn’t involve any big elevation gain, simply lots of small hillocks with a total elevation gain of just 50 metres. Allow two hours to knock it off. It combines well the the Tramline Trail or the Moraine Lake Road.
Canmore Nordic Centre, Canmore
If you like to ski where all sorts of facilities are at your fingertips (warm lodges, waxing rooms, rental gear) as well as up to 65 kilometres of groomed trails then the Canmore Nordic Centre is definitely the place to be.
There are trails for all levels, none with more than 100 metres of elevation gain. Night skiing until 9 PM is available on the Banff Trail. You must pay to access any of these trails. If you plan to ski here a lot, it would be worth investing in a season’s pass.
Pipestone Trails, Lake Louise area
The Pipestone Trails cross-country ski area is located just west of the Lake Louise turnoff. The area is well signed from the highway (and on the trails) and there’s plenty of parking.
All told there are 21 km of trails – and most are easy. There is one intermediate loop but the total elevation gained is only 120 metres. Although much of the skiing is in the trees, there are several places where you get superb mountain vistas. It’s consistently one of my favourite places to ski, though I wish it was closer to Calgary.
Skogan Pass from Ribbon Creek off Highway 40 in Kananaskis
Skogan Pass is easily accessed from the road that heads up to the Nakiska Ski Resort in Kananaskis Country. When the snow is good this is a fantastic ski – especially the downhill back from the pass. The trail starts off flat and then climbs 625 metres over 12.9 km to reach the pass. The grade is very manageable.
You won’t have any trouble following the trail despite the maze of trails at lower elevations. At every junction there is a sign with mileage markers so you know exactly how far you have to go. You can rent gear at nearby Kananaskis Outfitters.
The Cascade Fire Road is exactly that – a fire road that takes you from the Lake Minnewanka parking lot to the Cascade Bridge and ultimately to the Stoney Creek Ranger Cabin.
Most people turn around at Cascade Bridge for a return outing of 14.8 km. If you ski all the way to the ranger cabin you’ve got another 8.4 km to go ONE WAY. The fire road gets great early season snow and it’s one of the first in the park to be track set.
Cave and Basin Trail in Banff National Park
Starting behind the Cave and Basin Visitor Centre, there are some easy trails that are perfect for the beginner skier. This is also one of the trails you ski to get to Sundance Lodge– one of my all-time favourite places in the winter to spend the night (and one of the few that doesn’t always have a two night minimum).
There are several options along the trail if you want to lengthen the time outside. Explore Sundance Canyon, ski loop trails if it’s not too icy through the marshland, or ski the full length of the trail all the way to the Sunshine Road. This is pretty – and easy cross-country skiing in Alberta.
The trail can get icy and covered in pine needles but I find the views are always enchanting and you can make it a quick outing if you only have a few hours.
Boom Lake, Banff National Park
It’s a delight to cross-country ski the Boom Lake Trail. Located in Banff National Park near the boundary of Kootenay National Park, it’s an easy 5 km ski in to Boom Lake.
The total elevation gain is only 180 m. Once you get to Boom Lake you can ski in either direction BUT make sure the ice is safe and be aware of avalanche slopes that come down to the lake.
You can knock off the trail in about two hours if you really move, but don’t rush it. There are giant icicles part way down the lake that make a great lunch time destination. I’d count on spending a solid half day or more here.