I was reminded last weekend of how amazing Grotto Canyon is, of how much fun kids have playing on the ice, and of why it really is a MUST hike winter trail near Calgary.
For complete directions and location of the trailhead, scroll down to the bottom of this story where you'll also find links to other great ice hikes and walks.
|Grotto Canyon Ice Walk, Kananaskis|
5 Reasons We Love the Grotto Canyon Ice Walk
1. The Solid Ice Creek Bed
Grotto Creek is a solid sheet of ice in winter and it actually feels like you're hiking up a frozen river. The ice is so smooth you could skate it, so thick you'll need spikes or crampons to walk on it, and so slippery that the kids will amuse themselves by simply lying on their bellies and wiggling around on the ground.
Imagine a twisty winding skating rink that snakes its way through an interesting canyon - and that's the Grotto Canyon Ice Walk.
|Hiking along frozen Grotto Creek|
2. An incredible natural skating rink
The photo below should say everything. I hiked my skates up the canyon, changed out of my hiking boots, and actually enjoyed a little bit of ice-skating. I didn't skate far, but it doesn't take much to find a small rink you can call your own in the canyon. (note, helmets would be a really good idea for this too!)
|Skating Grotto Canyon|
3. Ice slides everywhere!
Kids will find tons of small ice slides, bigger ones cascading off the canyon walls, and then the big one at the waterfalls that my son likes to climb up and slide down at alarmingly fast speeds. (And I recommend a helmet if the kids are going to be sliding down any ice!)
|Ice Slides in Grotto Creek Canyon|
4. The frozen waterfalls
It's approximately a 2 km hike to reach the set of twin waterfalls at the end of the "fun part" of the Grotto Canyon hike. After this point, the canyon opens up and it's more just flat walking up a creek bed.
At the waterfalls you can watch ice climbers putting on a show and kids will have fun on the giant ice slide. Note that if you hike up the ice slide (with spikes,) you'll find a third hidden waterfall (usually with more climbers on it.)
|Twin Ice Falls of Grotto Canyon|
5. Maximum enjoyment in a short hike
I find a lot of hikes to be less than exciting until you reach your destination, be it frozen waterfalls or an alpine lake. Rawson Lake or Chester Lake for example. You hike for a long distance through the trees with minimal views before you finally see anything or reach a spot where the kids can play.
|The hike is interesting the entire time! No boring parts|
Grotto Canyon however is FUN the entire time. From the moment you enter the canyon it's ice, more ice, and then more ice! This is one of those rare hikes where you likely won't hear the dreaded "are we there yet?" Or, "How much further...?
|Hiking up small ice hills in the canyon (ice spikes recommended)|
To make the hike shorter, you can park at the actual trailhead for the canyon rather than parking at the Grotto Mountain day use area. (More on this below under trailhead information and route finding.)
|Hiking through a narrow part of Grotto Canyon|
Trailhead Directions and Route Finding
I always park at the Grotto Mountain day use area which adds a good kilometre to the hike. Start right at the canyon though and the hike will be much shorter. (without the boring walk through the trees from Grotto Pond.)
|The beginning of the canyon (rock and ice mix)|
To access the shortest (secret) parking lot, drive up the Hwy 1A about 1 minute past the Grotto Mountain day use area. This is assuming you're coming from the Exshaw direction. If you were coming from Canmore, you'd come across this parking lot before reaching the official day use area.
To see the parking area, go to Google maps, where I've dropped a pin on the link here. You'll see "Grotto Trail" marked with a road leading into it. That's the parking lot you want. Otherwise, you can clearly see the dotted line (the hiking trail) connecting it with the Grotto Canyon parking lot (and the blue square which is Grotto Pond.)
|Playing on the big ice slide by the waterfalls in Grotto Creek|
Ice Safety Notes
Please invest in a GOOD pair of micro spikes or ice cleats if attempting to venture into this canyon in winter. A cheap pair of department store cleats will "help" but you'll still be slipping on any uphill sections of ice.
We like the Kahtoola Microspikes and swear by them for all ice hiking. You can buy them from either MEC or Campers Village in Calgary along with many other outdoor stores. My son has a pair of XS spikes which have been discontinued for this size. If you act quickly though, Switching Gear in Canmore has been selling some XS microspikes though. They've just ordered in a second batch.
|Microspikes for ultimate traction on ice walks|
I've also mentioned a couple times that I highly recommend putting a helmet on your kids' heads. It doesn't take much to slip and bonk your head while playing on the ice!
|The secret set of ice falls that you'll need spikes to climb up to|
Other Recommended Reading for Family Ice Hikes
Jura Creek, Kananaskis:
Jura Creek - The Best Winter Hike in Kananaskis
Ice, Ice, Baby - Winter Canyon Hiking)
The Wildest Winter Family Hike in Kananaskis
Johnston Canyon, Banff:
The Most Popular Hike in Banff without the Crowds
Ice Caves and Frozen Waterfalls in Banff National Park
Maligne Canyon, Jasper:
The Wildest Winter Canyon Hike in the Canadian Rockies
Winter Road Trip to Jasper National Park
Hamilton Falls, Yoho National Park:
Family Weekend at Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park
|Parting shot of the Ice Falls in Grotto Canyon|