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Day Hikes in Alberta's Rockies
A WorldWeb.com feature travel article.
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Day Hikes in Alberta's Rockies
from WorldWeb.com Travel Guide

Alberta's Rockies - Click for Larger Version  

It's hard to think of Alberta without conjuring images of this diverse province's most amazing and powerful sight—the Rocky Mountains, which tower over prairies and foothills as one moves west through the province. The Rocky Mountains are a huge tourist draw, particularly to popular ski areas like Banff, Lake Louise, Kananaskis and Jasper. But how does one enjoy the majesty of these humbling giants when there's no snow on the ground? A great way is by hiking through the lush wilderness of the Rockies, an activity that allows one to gain intimate and firsthand knowledge of the mountains in all their glory, from creeks and cliffs right down to trees and insects.

Hiking isn't just for a seasoned outdoorsperson—a number of hikes throughout Alberta's Rockies can be done in a day, a half a day, or even a mere few hours. So grab a pair of sturdy, comfy shoes and head to one of these amazing, not-to-be-missed spots.

JASPER AREA HIKES

Maligne Canyon Trail
Hikers on the Maligne Canyon Trail will be treated to the best view of the famous Limestone Gorges, which Jasper is known for. This trail, which lasts for 2.1 km (1.3 mi) one way, 4.2 km (2.6 mi) return, follows running water and crosses it with a suspension bridge, all with the guidance of interpretive signage along the route. The trail gains an elevation of about 100 m (328 ft), but the views are worth the climb, as the many tourists who make the hike each year can attest to. The trail is accessed via the Fifth Bridge, which is 8 km (5 mi) east of Jasper via Highway 16 and the Maligne Road.

Valley of the Five Lakes Trail
This hiking route is a mere 4.2-km (2.6-mi) return trip, so it only takes about two or three hours to complete. Popular with families, this trail leads hikers in and around five lakes, each of which is a unique shade of bluey-green. There are picnic facilities, and the fifth lake even offers boat rentals. Also, keep an eye out for loons and diving ducks in the waters of the lakes. The trailhead is located 9 km (5.5 mi) south of Jasper on Highway 93 at a marked rest stop with signs, pit toilets and a parking lot.

  Snow Coach on Athabasca Glacier near Banff
  The Athabasca Glacier 1

Athabasca Glacier Hike
The Athabasca Glacier is more commonly referred to as the Columbia Icefield. Located along Highway 93, also known as the Icefields Parkway, this hike up one of the Rockies' most well-known glaciers is only 1 km (0.6 mi), but it can be dangerous, as glaciers are wrought with deep ice crevasses that many un-experienced hikers could easily fall into. What's more, once a hiker falls in, they often die of hypothermia before they can be rescued. Experts have marked a portion of the glacier that is free of crevasses, and it's extremely important to follow these signs. Even so, ice is slippery and hikers should exercise caution. Taking a guided hike is probably the best option for hikers. This glacier is probably the most popular glacier viewing spot in Alberta, so it's common to see lots of tourists, but most take the snow-coach up the mountain.

LAKE LOUISE AREA HIKES

Plains of Six Glaciers Trail
The popular trail begins at the Chateau Lake Louise and follows the shore of idyllic Lake Louise. After strolling lakeside for a while, the trail gains significant elevation as it winds in between steep mountain peaks, passing beside several glaciers, including Victoria Glacier, along the way, and offering views of turquoise lakes. The path is rocky and can be dangerous if caution is not employed while hiking. When hikers reach their destination—the teahouse—they can enjoy a well-deserved cup of coffee or tea before heading back to the Chateau. The trail is 5.5 km (3.4 mi) and approximately two hours each way.

Moraine Lake
Canoeing on Moraine Lake 2  

Consolation Lake Trail
Beginning at Moraine Lake and ending at Consolation Lake, this trail is easy and scenic, lined with lush vegetation and beautiful mountain views. Be sure to cross the boulder field to reach the lake shore—the scenery is worth it. The 6-km (4-mi) hike has a small elevation gain (90 m or 300 ft) and takes about two hours, making it a relaxing way for the whole family to spend a day. To get to the trail, take Moraine Lake Road to the Moraine Lake parking lot.

BANFF AREA HIKES

Bow Falls Trail
Bow Falls is conveniently located below the Banff Springs Hotel, allowing for easy access from the Banff townsite. One of the easiest in the area, there is plenty of time to stop and smell the flowers on this 3-km (1.9-mi) hike. Accessible via the Bow River Bridge in Banff, green signs lead the way to the falls. The trail is also available for cyclists and cross country skiers, but they must take a slightly different route—signs will guide the way. Once at the falls, visitors can take in the view, which includes famous peaks like Mount Rundle. There's also a picnic area and a set of stairs leading up to the famed hotel.

Tunnel Mountain
Tunnel Mountain doesn't actually have any tunnels—it was proposed that the CPR blast several tunnels into the side of the mountain in the late 19th century, and though this plan was quickly discarded, the name has stuck around. Despite the lack of tunnels, however, Tunnel Mountain is a great place for a day hike. The easy 4.3-km (2.7-mi) journey starts just off of St. Julien Road in Banff and offers panoramic views of the townsite and mountains. With an elevation gain of 300 m (948 ft), Tunnel Mountain is a very popular hike in Banff—so popular, in fact, that one woman, Anne Ness, has completed the hike an astounding 8,000 times!

Johnston Canyon
Johnston Canyon's popular trail begins with a paved walkway that continues for 1.1 km (0.7 mi) to the Lower Falls, a 10-m (33-ft) waterfall that offers a great picnic spot. If necessary, street shoes can be worn for this portion of the hike but those who wish to carry on should know that the trail gets more rugged for the remainder of the 4.7 km (2.9 mi.) It's worth it though—hikers will first reach the picturesque Upper Falls, which cascade down a 30 m (100 ft) ledge, and then they will come to the Ink Pots. These six green-blue spring-fed pools of water are situated in a spot that offers great mountain views.

KANANASKIS AREA HIKES

Barrier Lake Trail
The bright green-blue waters of Barrier Lake are surrounded by lush-green wilderness, making it a great place to spend the day hiking or learning about the topography of the area. At 2.3 km (1.4 mi) return with an elevation gain of only 10 m (33 ft), this trail is an easy way to spend a day, and is located off Highway 1 on Highway 40, 12.3 km (7.6 mi) south at the U of C Kananaskis Field station parking lot.

Heart Creek Trail
Heart Creek is a popular hiking trail, and at only an hour and a half return in duration, it is a pleasant way to spend half a day. Steeped in wilderness, the trail follows the gushing creek, crossing over a number of log bridges along the way until sweeping views of the canyon and mountain signify arrival at the waterfall, the hike's zenith. Find the trailhead by following the signs on Highway 1 in between Canmore and Seebe. The Heart Creek day hike should not be confused with the Heart Mountain hike, which is 20 very difficult kilometres (12.43 mi) in duration.

  Wildflowers and Mountains in KCountry
  Wildflowers in Kananaskis Country 3

Wedge Pond Loop Trail
For an even more relaxed hike than Heart Creek, try the Wedge Pond Loop, which, at 1 km (0.62 mi), only takes half an hour to complete and follows the shoreline of this picturesque body of water, providing pleasant views and a perfect place for a picnic. The trail is located off Highway 40, which can be accessed from Highway 1.

Eau Claire Interpretive Trail
Like the Wedge Pond Loop, Eau Claire is an easy hike that should take less than an hour to complete. This trail has a number of interpretive signs that help explain the human and geographical history of the area. The pathway follows the river along the bottom of this serene valley, and is accessible via Highway 40.

PETER LOUGHEED PROVINCIAL PARK HIKES

Ptarmigan Cirque
Peter Lougheed Provincial Park is one of Alberta's lesser-known Rockies wilderness areas, making it a great place to explore without crowds. For this particular hike, it's best to bring a walking stick on this mountain bowl trail, which takes three hours to complete, as the first of the 5 km (3 mi) is quite steep. However, interpretive signs lead the way to the peak bowl, and the views from the top make the hike worthwhile. The trail is accessibly via Highway 40, approximately 50 km (31 mi) south of Highway 1.

Boulton Creek Trail
Interpretive signs lead the way along this 3-km (1.9-mi) hike, which takes approximately an hour to complete. Along the trail, hikers will come across a number of historic sites, including a log cabin from the early 20th century. The elevation gain is only 20 m (66 ft), making this an easy way to pass a half day in the mountains. The trailhead can be reached via the Kananaskis Lakes Trail off of Highway 40.

Canadian Mt. Everest Expedition Trail
Don't let the title be daunting—this trail is hardly anything like the original Everest climb. For one thing, it's only 3 km (1.9 mi) long, and should take no longer than an hour for hikers to complete. And with an elevation of a mere 100 m (328 ft), there's no need to pack those oxygen tanks. Named to honour the heroic 1982 expedition made by Canadians at the actual Everest, this trail offers interpretive signage and good views of the Kananaskis Lakes. To get there, take Kananaskis Lakes Trail off Highway 40.

WATERTON NATIONAL PARK HIKES

Waterton's Cameron Lake
Waterton's Cameron Lake 4  

Red Rock Canyon Trail
At less than a kilometre in duration with little elevation gain, the Red Rock Canyon Trail is more of a stroll than a hike, but access to amazing scenery and rich geological history makes this a popular spot for daytrippers who wish to experience the grand majesty of the Waterton Lakes National Park, which is known worldwide for its opulent backdrop and remarkable heritage.

Carthew-Alderson Trail
This trail, which begins at beautiful Cameron Lake, is 19 km (11 mi) in length and experiences a 650 m (2132 ft) gain in elevation, making it one of the more challenging day hikes in Alberta's Rockies. The trail usually takes between six and eight hours to complete and traverses meadows, rocky ridges and creek beds before coming to the final destination, Cameron Falls. Hikers end up in a different spot than they began, so it's important to plan for transportation either back to the trailhead or the townsite. A shuttle bus from town takes hikers to and from the trailhead for $8 per person.


PHOTOS COURTESY OF:

  1. Jasper Chamber of Commerce; Snow coaches take visitors across the Athabasca Glacier, but there's also a hiking trail; Jasper, Alberta, Canada
  2. John Sharpe; c/o Sharpeshots Photography; Canoeing on Moraine Lake; Calgary, Alberta, Canada
  3. John Sharpe; c/o Sharpeshots Photography; Wildflowers in Kananaskis Country; Calgary, Alberta, Canada
  4. Bob Pisko; Wateron's Cameron Lake; Blairmore, Alberta, Canada