Maybe you don’t have hiking poles, mountaineering boots or magical pants that turn into shorts with the flick of a zipper—you can still be a hiker. Calgary is handy for several stunning trails that are as accessible as they are rewarding, making them ideal for hiking newbies who want to get outside (but not in a patio way) this weekend. Here are 5 good starter hikes for beginners.
Kananaskis: Find the trailhead at the north end of the Highwood Pass summit parking lot, a scenic one hour, 40-minute drive from Calgary (this section of highway is closed during winter). This spectacular trail is only 4.5 km, making it one of the most rewarding short hikes anywhere. The trail weaves through a meadow and crosses Highway 40 before leading you up switchbacks to Ptarmigan Meadows, an expanse of wildflowers made even more glorious by a gurgling stream and a series of small waterfalls. At the end of the meadow is Ptarmigan Cirque, a big scree bowl carved by ancient glaciers. Look for bighorn sheep and marmots.
Who should hike it? Hike-curious folks open to a long-term love affair with the mountains.
Lake Minnewanka Trail to Stewart Canyon
Banff National Park: Follow the signs for Cascade Pond/Two Jack Lake/Lake Minnewanka near Banff on Highway 1 and look for the trail along the pebbly lakeshore at the Lake Minnewanka day use area. This hill-free starter hike traces a mountain lakeshore, so take the selfie stick and limber up your stone-skipping arm. Follow the lakeshore trail and turn around at the bridge over the Cascade River (Marilyn Monroe kissed Robert Mitchum here when they shot River of No Return), about 1.5 km from the trailhead. Stewart Canyon shares its trail with the 20-km Minnewanka Loop, but you might want to save that one for another day.
Who should hike it? The friend who’s totally game to hike but won’t change out of flip-flops.
Kananaskis: Find the trailhead just off the Stoney Trail Day Use Area parking lot on the Kananaskis Village turnoff just off highway 40, just over an hour from Calgary.
This 3.5-km out-and-back forest trail leads to a waterfall… but those in the know can continue on to find secret, off-the-beaten-trail waterfalls. At the main waterfall at the end of the trail, look left to find the dirt path to the top of the cliff. From there, follow Marmot Creek to find another two waterfalls (this path is considerably less travelled than the main trail, so use your common sense). The main section of Troll Falls trail sometimes has actual troll dolls hidden along the way, so keep your eyes peeled for garish little tufts of hair in the surrounding flora.
Who should hike it? Anyone tired of the rivers and the lakes that they’re used to.
Canmore: Look for the Grassi Lakes sign just past the Canmore Nordic Centre on Dorrien-Spray Lakes Road, about an hour and 20 minutes from Calgary.
This beloved 4-km trail ascends gently through a forest and up a series of stone steps, offering soaring views of Ha Ling Peak and the Bow Valley. At the top are two emerald-green lakes (they’re not grassy; the hike is named for its creator, Lawrence Grassi) as well as little wooden bridges, rock climbers and cheeky chipmunks — it’s a great picnic spot. Head back to the parking lot the easy way down a gravel service road.
Who should hike it? People with kids, dogs and a backpack full of snacks.
Kananaskis: Find the Elbow Falls parking lot 22 km west of Bragg Creek on Highway 66. Cross the highway and look for the dirt trail heading up into the trees (if you reach the Prairie Creek sign you’ve gone too far).
This one is steep, gaining 726 m (that’s about three Bow buildings stacked on top of each other) in only 3.8 km, but it’s doable for a fit person… and at the end you get to say you summited a mountain. The full 7.6-km round trip takes four to five hours including frequent stops to admire the view and drink a lot of water. Wear layers — it’s windy at the summit, and you’re going to spend some time there taking wobbly smartphone panoramas of the jaw-dropping 360-degree view.
Who should hike it? Gym-goers who want to see if their squat-rep muscles can conquer a mountain.
By Julia Williams; Photo courtesy of Banff & Lake Louise Tourism / Paul Zizka Photography