Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Ice, Ice, Baby - Winter Canyon Hiking

Jura Creek - location of my favourite little canyon in the Canadian Rockies, and 100% family friendly in winter!  I almost just want to leave the story at this intro, attach a zillion photos, and say "GO!"

Jura Creek's Secret Canyon

Along with the photos though, I will give you 5 reasons why you want to hike the Jura Creek trail with your children this winter. 

One - Proximity of the Canyon to the Highway

Unlike other more popular canyons, Jura Creek's canyon is actually close to the highway.  We love Sundance Canyon in Banff but it's 4km from the nearest parking lot and road.  We've taken our son in there a couple of times but he's always had to ride in his Chariot for 8km of the hike.  Meanwhile, the canyon on the Jura Creek trail is maybe half a kilometre from the highway.  This is much more feasible with young children!  We were fortunate this year to have fresh snow for our hike so we got to do the forested section with a sled.  This was a huge bonus!  Otherwise, be prepared to carry kids if they get tired at the end of the day and can't make it back the final half hour to the car.

Hiking the short distance from the highway to the canyon

Two - You get to Hike INSIDE the Canyon in Winter

If you hike Jura Creek in summer, you have to follow the normal hiking trail which goes above and around the canyon.  There's typically too much water inside the canyon itself to hike inside.  Meanwhile, in winter the water is frozen solid and you can skip the boring summer trail.  It's always a gamble as to when the trail is good to go for ice-walking but by January/February it's definitely frozen and do-able.  We've tried the hike as early as November and it's hit or miss. 

The Jura Creek Canyon is also one of the tightest canyons in the area. I've hiked many of the local canyons from Heart Creek and Grotto in Kananaskis to Johnston Canyon and Sundance in Banff, and Jura is definitely the narrowest one you can walk through.  There are sections where you can place one hand on each side of the canyon wall as you walk.  It's absolutely awesome and perfect for kids chasing each other around the tight twists and turns.

Entering the Canyon
Sled ditched - We set off on foot

Three - Adventure!!

Sliding down frozen waterfalls on your bum, walking on ice with special cleats (and marveling that you don't slip or slide), watching your friends disappear into what looks like a tiny crack in front of you (but really isn't - don't worry), scrambling over logs, under trees, and up short pitches of bare ice... - Adventure!!  We took a four year old and he had no problems so if I've scared you - it's not that bad.  It's fun!  Lots and lots of fun.  - Maybe as much fun as skiing.

Note:  For traction on the ice, small Yak trax will fit a size 10 toddler boot - I've tried.  Also, snowshoes are great for walking on snow covered ice.  Our son wore his half of the time and never slipped once while they were on.  For best purchase on the ice you can't beat MICRO spikes (a miniature version of crampons) and while more expensive than normal ice cleats, they are worth the money for serious winter hikers.

The crux of the trip
Snowshoes helped a lot with grip on the ice
Natural Ice Playground - and even Grandma slid down the slide
Four - No Crowds

Everybody knows about Johnston Canyon in Banff.  In fact, I'm sure this tourist attraction is plastered across billboards around the world!  There are even official guided tours through this popular canyon.  Jura however is a local's secret.  (You're welcome.)  You may run into a few other groups on your outing but that's likely it.  We did the hike on Family Day Monday, an Alberta holiday, and only came across two other groups the whole time we were out.

Solitude in Jura Creek
Quiet Family Outing in Jura Creek

Five - Proximity to Calgary and Length of Trail
We were gone from Calgary on Monday for maybe 4 hours?  It only takes about 45 minutes to reach the trailhead and it's a short hike.  You could hike the Jura Creek trail all day but the most interesting part through the canyon is only a kilometre at most.  In total we probably hiked about 3km round trip.  Jura Creek is the perfect hike for late starts, half day trips, and relaxed days with the family.

Our Half Day Outing in Jura Creek

Make sure you wear good waterproof clothing or ski pants!

 If my 6 reasons for hiking the canyon weren't enough, I hope the photos tell the rest of the story.

Fun, Fun, Fun


Follow the Trans-Canada Hwy to the turnoff for Bow Valley Provincial Park and the town of Exshaw. (This will be just after the turnoff for Hwy 40 and is about 70km from the west end of Calgary.) When you get to Hwy 1A head west towards Exshaw.  Just before the tiny hamlet, you'll see the Graymont Plant entrance.  This is where we always park and I've attached a photo so you know where to park.  Note that you might also see cars parked on the highway a few metres back and you could park there as well.   There's just no way I can accurately describe where to pull off the road.  Parking at the Plant is easier.  

Once you have parked, walk across the highway and up a tiny slope into the trees.  Follow a worn path through the trees until you reach the creek bed.  You'll head right at the creek bed, descending to walk on the rocks, and follow it to the mouth of the canyon.  From there, make your way through the canyon as far as you want to go.   

Parking for Jura Creek



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