Thursday, January 24, 2019

Chasing Frozen Waterfalls in Kananaskis! Troll Falls and beyond to the Upper Falls

Troll Falls is one of the most popular winter hiking destinations in all of Kananaskis near Calgary. Cross the creek for the Upper Falls though, and you'll leave the crowds behind as you explore a magical world of frozen waterfalls (one that you can even walk behind.)

The Upper Falls above Troll Falls

Destination 1: Troll Falls 

Troll Falls
For trailhead directions and a general overview of this hike please visit the Alberta Parks website where you can read all about the Troll Falls Hike.

We usually start at the Stoney Trailhead below Kananaskis Village.

From the Stoney Trailhead, the Alberta Parks website says it is a short 1.7 km hike (one way) to reach the falls. You'll be following wide multi-use trails (designated for cross-country skiing, hiking, and fat biking) and there are signs at every junction.

Note that while the trail is open to hikers and bikers, it's still appreciated if you stay off the ski tracks and that you give the right of way to skiers coming downhill towards you (since it's often hard to stop on steep hills.)

What to expect from this part of the hike:

This part of the hike is extremely family-friendly and you can even pull children in sleds.The trail is relatively flat with gentle hills that walkers will not find challenging. It's an excellent beginner hike, and most of the time you will be fine in your winter boots without snowshoes or ice cleats. 

When you arrive at Troll Falls though, you may appreciate having some ice cleats if you want to climb up beside the falls or if you want to play around at all.

Troll Falls is magical in winter

Exploring Above Troll Falls 

If you visit the Alberta Parks website, you'll notice a warning:

"This trail is only maintained to Troll Falls itself and not the areas beyond.
Significant fall hazards exist beyond the maintained trail and travel beyond the sanctioned trail is not advised due to the potential for serious injury. "

Troll Falls is an excellent destination for beginner hikers

What you need to understand about the warning for hiking above Troll Falls:

  • It's true that the trail is not maintained past Troll Falls. If this bothers you, please turn around. "Not maintained" though does not mean "closed" or "dangerous." It just means nobody is checking it regularly for safety, removing fallen trees, or putting signs up to ensure you stay on an official trail.

    The majority of trails in Kananaskis are unofficial and unmaintained. If you want an official trail to hike with signs at every junction, please stop in at the Barrier Lake Visitor Centre where they can give you suggestions.

  • There is significant fall hazard if you try to climb above Troll Falls, climbing the bank directly to the left of the falls. This is NOT what you are doing however.

    The trail to Marmot Falls and the Upper Falls goes nowhere near the top of Troll Falls. You'll be hiking away from Troll Falls and will be visiting different waterfalls.

  • With common sense, there is no fall hazard. Stay away from the canyon near Marmot Falls. I also recommend stopping at the Upper Falls rather than going further up the valley if you have young children. If you only go to the Upper Falls you'll avoid the big canyon further above.

    The trail I'm writing about is also a "NEW" trail that has just been built (and was designed to keep hikers away from dangerous cliffs and ledges.)

  • I recommend this hike for experienced adult hikers or for families with school-aged children or teenagers. If you are new to hiking, it's probably best you stop at Troll Falls. If your children are not experienced at hiking, you may also want to stop at the end of the official trail.

  • As with all hiking, keep young kids at an arm's length reach, use common sense, and test out the trail with another adult friend before taking the kids if you are at all uncertain.

Troll Falls is a fun place to explore! 

Destination 2: Marmot Falls 

From Troll Falls, hike back a short distance until you see a sign that says "Route to Upper Falls."
Cross the creek on a bridge and follow the trail on the other side as it starts to climb. You do NOT want to climb above Troll Falls itself. You will be hiking away from Troll Falls and you'll be on a good trail through the trees that avoids all danger.

The new sign that guides hikers to the Upper Falls 

The trail climbs steeply (ice cleats or spikes are recommended here) and you should be able to follow blue markers that were put in for this new trail in the summer of 2018. There was also lots of orange flagging we found helpful.

Frozen Marmot Falls (where you can walk behind the falls)

Finding Marmot Falls can be a bit of a challenge if you haven't been here before because the falls are off the side of the trail and you can't see them from the trail.

A few hints I can give you for finding them: 

  • On your way up from Troll Falls, look for a small tipi in the forest. The trail down to the falls is close to the tipi.

  • Look for a faint steep trail leading down to the creek (on your left) before you reach Boulder Falls mentioned next.

  • When we were here, one of the blue sign posts on the main trail was knocked over. The trail down to Marmot Falls was right at the knocked over sign post. (I can't guarantee this will always be the case.)

Standing behind Marmot Falls 

You might have to search around a bit to find them, but you'll definitely be heading left off the main trail and going down to the creek. It's a short walk down, so if you don't see the falls in 2 minutes, you're not on the correct trail.

From Troll Falls, it shouldn't take more than half an hour to reach Marmot Falls.

Our gaggle of kids behind Marmot Falls 

Destination 3: Boulder Falls 

Boulder Falls are located right on the trail, and thus are easy to find. They are also close to Marmot Falls, so you'll only be hiking another 10 minutes up the steep trail.

We had a lot of fun playing around on these falls and my boys climbed them.

Playing around on Boulder Falls 

Note, if you plan on climbing any of the falls, you may want to bring helmets for the kids. Spikes are also imperative. (My son has XS Kahtoola Microspikes which we love.) - and if you want some for your children, Switching Gear in Canmore sells them.

And obviously, wait until they are well frozen before you go playing around on them! The same should be said for the creek.

Boulder Falls were fun to climb

Destination 4: The Double Falls or the "Upper Falls"

The final set of waterfalls is really two sets, the "lower" and the "upper" falls, or collectively is known as "Double Falls."

The kids had fun playing on the lower falls

This gorgeous multi-tiered waterfall is fun to play around on (if you're careful,) and when frozen, the creek is fun to explore.

The creek was just starting to freeze when we were here

Hike up beside the frozen creek and the waterfalls until you reach the final one, the "Upper Falls." Here, it's possible to walk out on a ledge half way up.

Walking out on a ledge in the middle of the Upper Falls 

This is where the "official" trail ends - yes, I know it's an unofficial trail, but there's a sign here telling you that you've reached the end of the trail.

We did proceed past this point and continued hiking up the canyon, but I expect most families would turn around at this point.

So far, you've hiked roughly an hour (with plenty of stops to play) from Troll Falls. Returning to Troll Falls could take as little as half an hour without stops.

If you continue to go further, you'll see the canyon in the photo below. And obviously you'll want to stay well away from the edge!!

The final canyon above the Upper Falls 

It's so much fun exploring behind waterfalls
Those familiar with the ski trails in the area can continue to the top of the canyon where you'll end up on the Skogan Pass Trail at the intersection with the old Marmot Trail. We hiked out this way to make a big loop of roughly 9 km.

Recommended Reading for more Information on this Hike 

The NEW Hiking Trail to Troll Falls and the Upper Falls, Kananaskis - the summer version of this hike

Five Reasons Families LOVE Visiting Troll Falls in the Winter - previous blog story

Gillean Daffern's Kananaskis Country Trail Guide, Volume 1 (Amazon affiliate link to a guide book I highly recommend!) 

Playing around on Boulder Falls

Need a Place to Stay nearby?

We spent the weekend at the HI Kananaskis Wilderness Hostel and it was an amazing basecamp for hiking to Troll Falls. We were able to hike right out the front door of the hostel for our hike, and then return later in the afternoon - without ever having to drive anywhere!

HI Kananaskis Wilderness Hostel 

The hostel has private rooms for families along with two dorm rooms separated by gender for adults (or for families with older children.) We always stay in one of the private rooms. 

Note that the private rooms sleep 3 people comfortably in a single over double bunk bed, but you can put a child on the floor of your room, and the hostel will give you an extra mattress if you need.

Bathrooms are shared in the hostel, but there is indoor plumbing, showers, and electricity, so you won't be roughing it too much when you stay here.

We also appreciate being able to cook our own meals in the large shared kitchen, and we enjoy the cozy fireside room that we can retreat to after putting the kids to bed.

Read more on our previous adventures at the HI Kananaskis Hostel below:

Playing games in the fireside room of the Kananaskis Hostel

Interested in Other Ice Hikes near Calgary?

Check out these awesome hikes and the stories I've written on them:

Frozen icefalls in Grotto Canyon 

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