Hikes for non-hikers
Where: Bragg Creek, 45 min drive west of Calgary
Length: 0.5 km to main falls, 30 min – 1 hour hike
Difficulty: Very Easy
Elbow falls is located near Bragg Creek, just off of Highway 66, and is a perfect choice if you’re more interested in sightseeing than any real hiking. There are several viewpoints available to check out the falls from different angles, and you can get down to the riverbed for a closer look at the fast flowing water. The trek to the main falls is only about half a kilometre, though a short climb leads to a trail that follows the cliff-side and intrepid adventurers can continue their journey along the Elbow River. This hike is a great choice for those who want to get in multiple stops in one day, and could be a good place to take a rest and cool off in the spray of the waterfall.
Where: Canmore, 1 hour drive west of Calgary
Length: 5 km, 2-3 hour hike
Located just off of Highway 1A near Canmore, Grotto Canyon takes hikers through a narrow canyon eventually leading to a fork in the creek bed that displays a waterfall to the right and a set of hoodoo rock formations to the left. This relaxed walk over flat ground has almost no vertical climb, with an option to continue through the high canyon walls before taking a break at the waterfall. There are plenty of nooks and crannies for the intrepid adventurer to explore, and observant hikers will notice the bright-red remnants of pictographs made by the Hopi Indigenous tribe. The high walls of the canyon really give a sense of how massive the Rockies are, and the wide mouth of the canyon towards the end of the trail is a great place to sit and soak up the sun after a shady walk along the creek bed. Though the Grotto Canyon hike is a bit different than a traditional stroll up a mountainside, and is a great choice for those who aren’t looking for much uphill walking.
Where: Canmore, 1 hour drive west of Calgary
Length: 3-4 km, 1-2 hour hike
Difficulty: Moderate – Easy
Grassi Lakes is a beginner hike, comprised of two routes with varying difficulty. The trail marked “easy” climbs through trees with a very gentle slope, and the “moderate” trail follows a cliff-side before ascending a short but steep set of stone stairs set into the mountain. Both routes lead to the same location, but the view of the waterfall from the cliff-side trail is well worth the extra effort. The main attraction of the hike is the turquoise lakes the trail takes its name from. At the end of the hike, the trail wraps around two bright blue lakes surrounded by lush forest and towering peaks. The color of the water looks like something you would see in a painting or a cartoon, and is really quite a sight to see. This hike can easily be done in an afternoon with the whole family, providing plenty of photo opportunities and amazing views of the Kananaskis wilderness.
Where: Banff, 90 minute drive west of Calgary
Length: 3-6 km, 2-3 hour hike
Johnston Canyon is a popular hiking spot that is open year-round and offers guided ice-walking tours throughout the winter. The highlights of Johnston’s Canyon are the two sets of waterfalls along the trail, one near the beginning and another about three kilometers into the canyon. The high canyon walls tower over the trail for much of the hike, funnelling a cool breeze through the shady pathways. You can also walk down near the water during the summer to get a closer view of the falls and relax near the river. Part of the pathway is paved to make the trek easier, and there are raised platforms scattered across the trail that provide excellent viewpoints. There is a restaurant and gift shop nearby as well, a good place to end a day of hiking with a hearty meal, or to pick up a souvenir to remember the trip.
Elbow Falls, which is located just 20 minutes outside of Bragg Creek, is a very easy walking trail, but offers spectacular views. Photo by Jodi Brak
Adventurous hikers can make their way below Elbow Falls for a different perspective of the beautiful scene, and continue along the riverbed for great views of the cliffs surrounding the area. Photo by Jodi Brak
Explorers of Elbow Falls can continue their trek at elevated trails along the riverbed, or bring a picnic for lunch beside the falls. Photo by Jodi Brak
Located just off Highway 1A near Canmore, the Grotto Canyon pathway offers hikers an easy 5 km with almost no vertical climb. Photos by Jodi Brak (left/right) and Deanna Tucker (center)
A fork in the trail gives hikers the option to meander to the right of the creek bed, towards a waterfall, or the left, to take in the sight of hoodoo rock formations. Either way, the view is sure to be spectacular. Photo by Jodi Brak
Intrepid hikers are bound to notice the red remnants of pictographs made by the Hopi Indigenous peoples, which decorate the canyon walls of the higher trails. Photo by Deanna Tucker
A great hike for beginners, Grassi Lake is an easy to moderate one to two hour hike located in Canmore. A large waterfall and surreal lake are just a few of the sights to be seen along this trail. Photo by Deanna Tucker
Grassi Lakes offers hikers the choice between an easy route, and one of more moderate difficulty. Both pathways lead to the same stunning endgame: a pristine waterfall. Photo by Jodi Brak
The Johnston Canyon creeks (left) compared against the towering peaks and mystic stone steps of Grassi Lakes (right). The most difficult, though still moderate, of the hikes we explored, both paths offer hikers a breathtaking experience in their own unique way. Photos by Deanna Tucker and Jodi Brak
Johnston Canyon, a moderate hike located 90 minutes west of Calgary, boasts multiple waterfalls and places to rest along the way. Photo by Deanna Tucker
The canyon takes about two or three hours to hike one way, depending on skill level. The first of the falls is located about an hour in, with the second falls (pictured above) about three kilometers into the hike. Photo by Deanna Tucker
The close quarters of the canyon setting and numerous falls combine to funnel a cool breeze along the pathway for much of the trek, making for a refreshing jaunt even on the hottest summer days. Photo by Deanna Tucker
Part of the pathway at Johnston is paved to make the trek easier, with long stretches of the walkway jutting out directly over the creek below, offering both excellent views, and a bit of a thrill if you don't like heights. Photo by Deanna Tucker