Picture this: youâ€™re standing the base of a mountain. You look up and think, â€œSo people really just climb these things?â€ Itâ€™s a fair question. And the simple answer is: â€œYes, some people, not all people and not all mountains.â€
The truth is that Albertaâ€™s Rocky Mountains really do offer up trails for everyone, with the majority of experiences tailored towards beginners. But with thousands of opportunities, where should those beginners, wellâ€¦ begin? It definitely depends on what youâ€™re looking to see and how much time you have to see them. But if youâ€™re looking to get the picture perfect view, maybe see some wildlife and not break too much of a sweat, here are some suggestions to get even the most nervous trekker past their trepidations.
People will tell you that no trip to Banff National Park is complete without a visit to Moraine Lake. And theyâ€™d be right. The glacially-fed lake is absolutely stunning. The only problem? Depending on the day you go, youâ€™ll feel like youâ€™re there with the rest of the country. Itâ€™s one of Canadaâ€™s most popular tourist destinations for a reason, after all.
If you find yourself overwhelmed by the crowds at Moraine Lake, remember, thereâ€™s nothing wrong with a consolation lake, in this case, literally. The trail to Consolation Lake starts in the same parking lot, yet remains one of the provinceâ€™s best kept secrets. Itâ€™s an incredibly easy 6 km hike that, like Moraine Lake, offers a gorgeous view of lakes, glaciers and mountains, but without the crowds. Here, itâ€™s easy to carve out your own little corner around the edge of the lake to take in the incredible views. Considering how easy the Consolation Lakes hike is, itâ€™s ridiculously rewarding.
Parking: At Morraine Lake parking lot
Washrooms: Public washrooms at Morraine Lake parking lot
Trailhead: Start at the bridge near the rock pile at Moraine Lake.
Elevation Gain: 65m
Approximate Time: 2 hours
Located pretty much in the middle of Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, youâ€™ll find Chester Lake. This is another family-friendly trail, but it offers up options for those looking for a little more adventure. This is one of those hikes that has everything you might be looking from a hike in Alberta. The first part of the trail has a totally manageable incline, but soon youâ€™ll be treated to stunning views of valleys, mountains peaks for as far as the eye can see and of course, the beautiful lake itself. Chester Lake is incredibly popular on weekends, but one of the reasons I love it is there are so many other places to explore once you get to the lake, like Upper Chester Creek, Three Lakes Valley and Rummel Lake.
This is also one of the provinceâ€™s best year-round hikes. During the fall, the trail offers spectacular views of the golden larches, and itâ€™s also a popular destination for snowshoeing once the snow starts falling.
Parking: Chester Day Use Parking Lot
Washrooms: Public washrooms at trailhead.
Trailhead: Located 37 kms past the Canmore Nordic Centre on Smith Dorrien Highway / Spray Lakes Rd, and 2 kilometres past the Mt. Shark Turnoff.
Elevation Gain: 300m
Approximate Time: 4 hours
Hiking to Galatea Lake in Kananaskis is actually sort of like killing two birds with one stone, because you actually get to see two incredible alpine lakes, At the beginning of this hike, youâ€™ll cross a handful of bridges, then youâ€™ll really start the hike (16 kms return). The first part has a gradual incline that takes you up to Lillian Lake, a popular destination for those looking to do some backcountry camping. Youâ€™ll probably think, â€œOh good, we made it to a lake, seems like good place to stop.â€ Donâ€™t. Keep going, because even though the trail is slightly steeper and rockier, making it to Galatea Lake is more than worth the extra effortand the views from the top are truly unforgettable. This is another place that offers lots of nooks and crannies for the more adventurous folks who want to keep exploring. Parking: GalateaÂ Day Use Area Washrooms: Public washrooms in parking lot. Trailhead: GalateaÂ Day Use Area, located off of Highway 40. Classification: Difficult Distance: 6.3km to Lillian Lake. 1.5km more to Upper Galatea Lake. 15.8km return. Elevation Gain: 457m Approximate Time: 5 hours Map
There are hundreds of mountains in Alberta, but funnily enough, the first one youâ€™ll likely see is also one of the best. If youâ€™re driving to the mountains from Calgary, Yamnuska looks like a wall of rock guarding the entrance to the mountains. Youâ€™ll find lots of things named after it, but it still remains a localsâ€™ secret since most people, in their eagerness to get to the National Park ,drive right by it. Parts of the 11km hike can be challenging, but mostly itâ€™s just a matter of getting used to the elevation gain, which can be pretty sudden at the beginning. Once you rise above the treeline, though, the long switchbacks make it a moderately easy hike. Really, thereâ€™s no rush, so take your time as you take in the amazing views of Albertaâ€™s impressive mountain landscapes. Once you reach the top, you can spend hours exploring the mountainâ€™s ridge. Be sure to watch your step around steep slopes, though. Yamnuskaâ€™s face is remarkably vertical, which makes it a favourite for rock climbers, but the views down arenâ€™t for the faint of heart. Parking: Yamnuska Public Parking lot Washrooms: Washrooms in parking lot. Trailhead: Trail starts in parking lot. Classification: Difficult Distance: 11km Elevation Gain: 900m Approximate Time: 6 hours DirectionsÂ
#ptarmigancirque A photo posted by Adrian Huysman (@adrianhuysman) on
If youâ€™re new to hiking, youâ€™ve probably never seen a mountain bowl, nor do you even know what it is, but trust me, youâ€™ll want to see one. The Ptarmigan Cirque is located in Kananaskis Country, and itâ€™s a five-kilometer hike, with the first kilometer being the hardest. But once youâ€™re past it youâ€™re handsomely rewarded with stunning views and the humility that comes with standing in the middle of a mountain bowl. In terms of beginner hikes, this one offers great reward for minimal outputbecause before you even step onto the trail, youâ€™re already at an incredibly high elevation. This means that by the time you make it to the bowl youâ€™re at an altitude normally reserved for full-day hikes. This areaalso happens to be a haven for wildflowers. So grab your camera, set it to macro and get ready to relish every moment!
Parking: Highwood Pass parking area
Trailhead: Across the highway from the parking area
Elevation Gain: 755m
Approximate Time: 3 hours.
Valley of the Five Lakes
If youâ€™re up in Jasper National Park, and you should definitely leave yourself lots of time to explore the park, the Valley of the Five Lakes hike is a great choice because it gives you five, stunning, turquoise-blue alpine lakes for the price of one. The trail is an incredibly easy 5 km loop and will take you less than two hours to complete. Thereâ€™s also a longer loop if you have more time on your hands, but you could easily spend the day on the shorter loop taking in the lakes and enjoying the trails. If you only have time for one hike, this one gives you the payoff of five and and all the requisite photos that will impress your friends back home. Parking: There is a public parking lot. Washrooms: Public washroom in the parking lot Trailhead: Drive south of Jasper on Highwy 93 for 9km. Classification: Moderate Distance: 5km Elevation Gain: 66m Approximate Time: 1.5 to 2 hours Directions Â Â
Alberta isnâ€™t necessarily known for its lush forests, but thatâ€™s exactly what youâ€™ll see on this hike that also includes stops at the lower and upper Mina Lakes. The entire loop is nine kilometers and will take about three hours to complete. This is another easy hike, but itâ€™s definitely not boring. The trail weaves through the dense trees, has its uphill and downhill sections and includes a quick detour to Riley Lake. An added bonus? On the way down, youâ€™ll get a postcard-worthy view of the Town of Jasper.
Parking: Public parking lot
Washrooms:. Washrooms available in the Jasper Activity Centre
Trailhead: The trailhead starts from the Jasper Activity Centre Parking Lot
Elevation Gain: 172m
Approximate Time: 3 hours
I’m always surprised by how many people have never visited Waterton. I say it’s like Banff, if the tourists had never discovered it. Â Waterton is a very small town, total population: 88 people. Â But it’s home to a slew of great hikes. Perhaps the best one for beginners is a short one called Bears Hump. It’s technically rated as difficult, but I’ve seen people of all ages doing it and it’s so short, with such an unbelievable pay off, I really think it’s a perfect hike. Once you get to the top, you’re treated to beautiful mountain and lake views, not to mention bird’s eye view of the perfect little town. Â I love this one so much. And as for the name, I haven’t bear’s hump up there, but I have seen bears, so be aware!
Parking: Visitor’s Centre in Waterton Lakes National Park
Washrooms: Visitor’s Centre in Waterton Lakes National Park
Trailhead:Â Â Visitor’s Centre in Waterton Lakes National Park.
Elevation Gain:Â 240
Approximate Time: 1 hours
Update from comments below: “Mt. Indefatigable is no longer a maintained trail. It is prime grizzly habitat, and as a result, the official trail was decommissioned a number of years ago. Travel on this trail is discouraged.”
This mountain might sound like an evil cartoon characters lair, but locals have a nickname for it thatâ€™s far less sinister: Mt. Fatty. This is probably the most challenging mountain in this guide, but there are a couple of different things to seealong the trail, so depending on how far you feel like climbing, you can decide in advance how far you feel up to going, pick a turnaround point and head for home still feeling satisfied. Weâ€™re not here to judge. The full hike is moderately-difficult and can take up to five hours including the return trip and itâ€™s about eight km to the mountainâ€™s summit. Located in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, the trail up offers fantastic views of Upper and Lower Kananaskis Lakes. You havenâ€™t really lived until youâ€™ve seen these beautiful lakes from a higher elevation. Seriously – theyâ€™re that good. Parking: The Upper Kananaskis Lake north parking lot Trailhead: Starts in parking lot. Cross concrete bridge and look for trail on right hand side. Classification: Moderate Distance: 10 kms Elevation Gain: 920m Approximate Time: 4 hours DirectionsÂ Â
The mountains are so beautiful! #bowlake #bowglacierfalls #hikes #rockiemountians #rockies A photo posted by Justin Kapty (@jkapty) on
If itâ€™s waterfalls youâ€™re after, youâ€™ll probably have a lot of people tell you about Johnston Canyon, which is a wonderful hike in its own right but in the summer time the trails can be so packed with people you could easily mistake yourself for being in a mall. A few other great places to enjoy waterfalls include Bow Glacier Falls, those in the know believe these to be Albertaâ€™s best waterfalls. To access the falls, park at the historic Num-Ti-Jah Lodge off Highway 93 (The Icefields Parkway), which in itself is a stunning experience. From there, this relatively easy 9km return hike takes you along Bow Lake and only requires a little bit of climbing at the end. Itâ€™s there youâ€™ll see the beginnings of the Bow River.
Parking: Johnstone Canyon parking lot
Washrooms: Public washrooms in parking lot.
Trailhead: Starts in parking lot, cross bridge and follow pathway.
Distance: 2.4 kms (one way)
Elevation Gain: 120m
Approximate Time: 2 hours
Bow Glacier Falls
Parking: Num-Ti-Jah Lodge parking lot
Washrooms: Public washrooms available in parking lot.
Trailhead: Follow lakeshore
Elevation Gain: 3 hours
Approximate Time: 3 hours
If youâ€™re short on time, a local secret is Silverton Falls. The entire round-trip is only an hour, with a barely noticeable 60m elevation gain. Park at the Rockbound Lake parking lot and in no time at all, youâ€™ll find yourself at the base of this stunning waterfall. For their relative ease of access, the falls are very rewarding. The same goes for Troll Falls, which are an easy two hour hike (or cross country ski in the winter) away from the trailhead. Youâ€™ll find them in Kananaskis Country (the park system that borders Banff National Park) at the base of Nakiska. Itâ€™s a totally doable three-kilometer stroll along the Kananaskis River, which ends at the waterfalls. If itâ€™s tranquility youâ€™re after, this is the place to find it.
Parking: Rockbound Lake parking lot
Washrooms: Public washrooms
Trailhead: Trail starts in parking lot.
Elevation Gain: 60m
Approximate Time: 1 hour.
Parking: Stoney Day use parking area
Washrooms: Public washrooms
Trailhead: Starts at Stoney Trailhead in parking lot.
Distance: 3 kms
Elevation Gain: 121m
Approximate Time: Two hours.
Actually, youâ€™ll find lots of easy waterfalls in the Kananaskis area. Another one is Cat Creek waterfall. This one should only take you about an hour and is approximately three kilometers long. The waterfall isnâ€™t Niagara Falls by any means, but if you have young kids with you or really are looking for something simple and calm, youâ€™ll really enjoy this one!
Parking: Cat Creek Recreation Area
Washrooms: Public washrooms available.
Trailhead: Starts at the north end of the parking lot.
Distance: 1.3 kms
Elevation Gain: 175m
Approximate Time: 1 hour
Itâ€™s impossible to know exactly what hike in Alberta is right for you until youâ€™ve tried it yourself, but the truth is there are so many great hikes to choose from, and armed with some basic information youâ€™re likely to pick a winner.
As with all things when youâ€™re planning a hiking trip, be sure to check conditions before you go. Youâ€™ll find listings for trail conditions in the National and Provincial Parks on their respective websites. Keep in mind that in the mountains summer starts later (at higher elevations there can still be snow on the trails in late June) and winter comes sooner. and occasionally they will close trails or recommend minimum group sizes if there has been a lot of wildlife activity along the trail. The good news? If one trail is closed, thereâ€™s likely another great one just down the road.
And while youâ€™re out hiking, remember that respect for wildlife along the trails is imperative, and a little preparedness (reading safety brochures, buying a can of bear spray and learning how to use it, understanding how to dispose of waste safely), goes a long way, if only for your own peace of mind.
Alberta is full of unbelievable experiences that are guaranteed to take your breathe away. Hiking gives you the opportunity to see the rocky mountains up close and personal, and thatâ€™s something you will never forget.