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

Disclaimer: As of 2021 there have been many changes to the hiking trail described in this story. This story has been updated so that all information below is accurate. 

First, there is now a fence "protecting" visitors from rock fall hazard near Troll Falls. Technically you can not approach the falls anymore but need to stand behind the wooden fence in order to be safe.

I'll leave that to your family's discretion. All photos in this post were taken before the barrier was put in front of Troll Falls.

Second, The trail to the Upper Falls is now much more maintained. There are stairs, signs, bridges, and it's impossible to get lost. There's even an official trail down to Marmot Falls now so that you can find the middle falls and walk behind the waterfall. No more bushwacking or route finding! 

It is still a good idea to bring spikes or ice cleats though as the stairs get very slippery in winter! 

Stairs and an official trail to the Middle and Upper Falls as of 2021

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.

* As of 2021 there is now a barrier in front of the falls to encourage people to appreciate them from afar. 

Troll Falls is magical in winter

Exploring Above Troll Falls 

If you visit the Alberta Parks website, you'll notice the following message:

"Construction at Troll Falls and the upper waterfalls has been completed. The upper falls section remains steep but handrails and staircases have been installed in the steeper areas.
There are exposed cliffs and rockfall hazard locations that the new alignment and barricades have addressed. For safety reasons please stay on the designated trails and obey all the safety signs and barricades. Significant fall hazards exist beyond the maintained trail and travel beyond the sanctioned trail is not advised due to the potential for serious injury.
Random trails around the main waterfall, including walking up to the Troll, have been blocked off due to extreme rockfall hazards. Hikers must stay on the main trails and not climb over or around installed barricades."


This is what awaits you if you go above Troll Falls! This is Marmot Falls (or the middle falls)

Destination 2: Marmot Falls (or the middle falls)

From Troll Falls, hike back a short distance until you see a bridge (in the photo below) or hike further back to a junction with a sign that says "Upper Falls."

Follow the trail on the other side of the creek as it starts to climb. The trails is quite steep but there are stairs and handrails to help you. 

The new bridge to the Upper Falls Trail from Troll Falls 

There is a set of stairs that takes you down to the Middle Falls (known as Marmot Falls) and then another set of stairs that takes you back up afterwards so that you can continue hiking towards the Upper Falls. It's less than a 20 minute hike to reach these waterfalls once you leave Troll Falls.

Standing behind Marmot Falls on the hike above Troll 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. 

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

And because I know Alberta Parks would not approve of going off trail to play on the ice, let me say that you are doing this at your own risk!! There are signs encouraging users to stick to the trail. The last time we played on the ice was back when the trail was much less official. Now we would likely question going off trail.

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. Return the same way you came. On our most recent trip, we returned via the Hay Meadows ski trail for a total distance of 5.3 km and 178 metres of height gain. Our trip took us just under 2 hours. 

The Upper Falls at the end of the official trail above Troll 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 

Happy Ice Hiking! 

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