|Snowshoeing around Elbow Lake, Kananaskis|
It's very easy on the budget for a whole family to get into snowshoeing. You can easily buy snowshoes second hand and you likely won't need lessons. There are no lift or trail fees. The only additional cost you'll need in addition to your snowshoes is gas. If you choose trails that are well packed down you won't even need snowshoes.
You also don't need to buy a pricey ski sled or Chariot to pull young children. Child carriers that you likely already use for hiking will work in the winter as well. The challenge will be keeping small hands and feet warm while dangling in a pack. I am no expert on winter hiking with an infant or small toddler but check out the other blogs on my blog roll if you want to know what other baby wearing moms and dads are using. If you are one of those baby wearing parents, please leave a comment on this blog with your recommendations.
|Snowshoeing around Upper Kananaskis Lake|
Low learning curve
As mentioned above, you don't need to invest in lessons and kids as young as 2 or 3 can learn to snowshoe or at least hike on hard packed trails.
|Learning to snow shoe at 2 and a half (Suzi Smart Photography)|
Length of season
Snowshoeing season starts late November and goes all the way into April. Sometimes you can still ski in April but the trails aren't very good by then. We often don't even start snowshoeing in fact until April when we've had our fill of skiing and want to get a head start on spring hiking. Many trails are so hard packed in April that you won't need snowshoes either. Cleats or yak trax suffice in most places. Most of the photos featured in this story were either taken early or late season when it's warmer out and very pleasant snowshoe weather with small kids.
|Spring hiking on the Prairie View Trail, Kananaskis|
Finally, there are some places that just aren't accessible on skis. Narrow trails, tight trees and sharp corners are not something a skier looks for on their outings. Many beautiful places are best accessed on snowshoes. (why we have both skis and snowshoes) If you are a novice skier or prefer groomed track-set trails, you'll also prefer snowshoeing in to many places that would be considered a ski touring destination. The majority of xc skiers prefer to stick to the official ski trails and leave the natural trails to snowshoers.
|The Boom Lake Trail in Banff (very popular ski tour or snowshoe)|
I'll break the Rockies down by area below with my picks for best winter hikes and snowshoe trips. I'm also going to quickly explain the difference between winter hiking and snowshoeing so that you can choose the trail that is best for your family.
Hiking trails are those that will most likely be packed down and that you should be able to do without snowshoes. Cleats or yak trax might be necessary in icy conditions but snowshoes would normally be overkill for these popular hard packed trails. These trails are awesome for young children that can't wade through deep snow yet and need a more solid surface.
Bragg Creek and the Elbow Valley, Kananaskis
This area usually doesn't have enough snow to warrant snowshoe use. Great for hiking.
- Allen Bill Pond Day use area, Fullerton Loop and trails along the Elbow River
- The Riverview Trail at Paddy's Flats
- West Bragg Creek official snowshoe trails (look for snowshoe signs and please stay off the official signed ski trails)
|Hiking at the Allen Bill Day use area|
Kananaskis Village, Ribbon Creek and the Kananaskis Valley
This area usually doesn't have enough snow to warrant snowshoe use. Great for hiking and awesome for families. The Village has a skating rink, hockey rink, toboggan hill, cafe and restaurants.
- Troll Falls via The Hay Meadow Trail, Ribbon Creek (see Village link above)
- Official snowshoe trails at the Village
- Evan Thomas Bike Trail from Ribbon Creek to the Village (see Village link above)
- Prairie View Trail and Barrier Lake Lookout
- Evan Thomas Creek
|Learning to snowshoe on the Hay Meadows Trail (Suzi Smart Photography)|
Great snowshoe trails and you can now stay off the ski trails because as you see, there are lots of other options!
- Official Snowshoe trails (Canyon Trail, Pentstock Loop, Lower Kananaskis Lake and Marsh loop, Elkwood Loop, Elk Pass Trail, Wintour Loop)
- Rawson Lake trail
- Upper Kananaskis Lake Circuit (very long loop but you can hike to the Point Campground and back)
- Elbow Lake, Highwood Pass (road closes December 1st)
- Ptarmigan Cirque, Highwood Pass (road closes December 1st)
|Lower Lake snowshoe trail|
|Elk Pass Trail|
Spray Lakes Valley, Kananaskis
Fabulous trails that will definitely warrant bringing the snowshoes
- Hogarth Lakes official snowshoe trail
- Warspite Lake
- Sawmill official snowshoe trails
- Rummel Lake
- Chester Lake official snowshoe trail
Bow Valley and Canmore
These trails don't see enough snow for snowshoeing but make for great winter hikes.
- Trails in Bow Valley Provincial Park (park at Middle Lake when the campground is closed)
- Grotto Canyon (bring cleats or yak trax for walking through the canyon)
- Jura Creek (bring cleats or yak trax and hike right through the canyon when the water is frozen)
- Canmore town trails (my favorite is the riverside trail that goes from downtown to the Three Sister's Resort)
|Hiking through the Jura Creek Canyon|
Banff townsite and Lake Minewanka
The trails in the town of Banff don't get enough snow for snowshoeing but are great for winter hiking and close to the amenities of town. Trails on the Norquay Road or Lake Minewanka Road will probably have enough snow for snowshoeing.
- Fenland Nature Trail
- Sundance Canyon Trail (take cleats or yak trax if you plan to hike through the actual canyon)
- Bow River Bridge to the Cave and Basin trail head with marsh loop
- Tunnel Mountain
- Johnson Lake, Lake Minewanka
- Stewart Canyon, Lake Minewanka
- Stony Squaw Trail, Mt. Norquay Road
|Fenland Trail in November|
|Sundance Canyon in November|
|On top of Tunnel Mountain in November|
Other great snowshoeing trails in Banff National Park
Snowshoes are usually necessary for all trails in this area unless it's late Spring and you are hiking around Lake Louise on hard packed snow.
- Lake Louise shoreline trail
- Mirror Lake
- Bow River loop hike (usually packed down so snowshoes not necessary)
- Fairview lookout
- Highline Trail to Paradise Creek
- Taylor Lake
- Skoki Lodge overnight trip
- Peyto Lake
- Bow Lake Meadows
|Snowshoeing into Skoki Lodge|
Great snowshoe trails can be found in this park.
Kootenay National Park
More great snowshoe trails can be found in this park.
Here are some great links for additional reading with interesting stories and photos on snowshoeing in the Canadian Rockies: