Friday, October 18, 2019

The Best Ice Hikes in Kananaskis and Banff

Hike through a canyon on a solid ice creek bed to view large towering frozen waterfalls. Crawl behind curtains of ice, climb around on the ice, or even bring your skates when conditions are right. These are the top four ice walks near Calgary and they are all family-friendly.

Discover magical Troll Falls this winter in Kananaskis 

Jura Creek, Kananaskis

While there are other good hikes in Kananaskis that can be done in winter, Jura Creek is something special because it's a hike that can not really be done in summer.  The canyon through Jura Creek can only be tackled in winter when the water is well frozen under a layer of ice and snow.

The Jura Creek Canyon is also one of the tightest canyons in the area. 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.

Magical ice walk through the Jura Creek Canyon 

Add ice slides and a frozen creek bed if the ground isn't covered with snow, and you have a magical adventure for kids. Best of all, this is a short half-day outing and less than an hour away from the west side of Calgary.

And NOTE - there is now an official parking lot for Jura Creek with an outhouse.

Hiking through the narrow Jura Creek canyon in Kananaskis

Read: Jura Creek - The Best Winter Hike in Kananaskis

Read: Ice, Ice, Baby - Winter Canyon Hiking 

Read: The Wildest Winter Family Hike in Kananaskis 

Family-friendly hiking in the Jura Creek canyon 

Troll Falls and beyond to the Upper Falls, Kananaskis

Troll Falls at Kananaskis Village just might be the best winter hike near Calgary for families. It's one of the easiest winter hiking options for our area, and is a guaranteed crowd pleaser for all ages. We've done this outing dozens of times, and have never had a bad day.

Troll Falls, Kananaskis 

Troll Falls is blessedly short with less than a 4 km round trip distance if you start from the Stoney Trailhead near Kananaskis Village.

Read: Five Reasons Families LOVE Visiting Troll Falls in the Winter 

Playing behind curtains of ice at Troll Falls

Want to go further with older kids and have a solid spirit of adventure? Try going beyond Troll Falls to the Upper Falls. Along the way you'll pass several different ice falls and you can even walk behind frozen Marmot Falls.

Marmot Falls above Troll Falls en route to the Upper Falls 

Disclaimer: As of 2021 there is now a barricade in front of Troll Falls and you can no longer approach the falls as seen in photos here. To get up close to frozen falls continue up to Marmot Falls which you can still walk behind.

The Upper Falls above Troll Falls 

Grotto Canyon, Kananaskis 

Families will love hiking on the solid ice creek bed here with ice slides everywhere and a natural skating rink if you time your visit right.

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.

One of the frozen waterfalls on the Grotto Canyon hike

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.)

Playing on natural ice slides in Grotto Creek

Read: Grotto Canyon Ice Walk - 5 Reasons We LOVE this Hike

I timed my visit perfectly once to skate a part of the canyon

Kananaskis Falls, Kananaskis Village

When people think of frozen waterfalls near Kananaskis Village they always think of Troll Falls, but there's a new kid on the block and it's locally known as "Kananaskis Falls."

The coolest thing about this hike is that you get to crawl behind a frozen waterfall into an "ice cave" hiding behind the large curtain of ice.

Hiding in the cave behind Kananaskis Falls

The waterfall is located off the trail to Wasootch Peak, an unofficial trail located very close to the turnoff for Kananaskis Village off Highway 40. Note it is not the same trail as Wasootch Ridge further down the road.

The hike is only 2-3 km round trip so it's a great half day adventure with school aged kids or older youth. It is not suitable for young children or toddlers.

Kananaskis Falls and the cave behind the ice curtain

Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park 

There must be photos of Banff's Johnston Canyon hiking trail on billboards across the world advertising the Canadian Rockies.  Come summer, you'd be hard pressed to get a photo on this popular trail without at least two dozen tourists in the shot, and you could be parking a mile down  the road in order to get near the place.

Hike Johnston Canyon in winter though and you'll find solitude in abundance, you'll get your quiet moments on the trail, and you might even have the whole place to yourself if you visit on a cold day.

Christmas hiking at Johnston Canyon in Banff

The highlight of this hike is the Lower and the Upper Falls which can both be reached in a return hike of 5.4 km. In the past we've also enjoyed descending down into the canyon near the upper falls where there's a fun cave and a beautiful frozen waterfall (shown in the photo above)

There is a restriction against leaving the official trail to drop down into the canyon in the summer but it is lifted for the winter. Check for important closures and restrictions here before you visit. 

Frozen waterfall from inside the cave off the official trail

Read: The Most Popular Hike in Banff without the Crowds 

Read: Ice Caves and Frozen Waterfalls in Banff National Park 

Upper Falls at Johnston Canyon 

Recommended Gear and Safety Tips for Ice Hiking 

Please know that hiking in icy canyons can be very dangerous and you'll want to be sufficiently prepared should you decide to take your family on an ice hike.


Troll Falls, Kananaskis 

  • You'll want a good pair of ice cleats or micro spikes for each member of your family. We use Kahtoola Microspikes which can be purchased at most outdoor stores. 

  • Spikes work much better than snowshoes, but in a pinch, you could use snowshoes if hiking trails like Jura Creek.

  • We've often used helmets for the children when hiking on ice. We compare it to ice skating and like to be extra cautious.

  • Exercise caution when hiking underneath ice, inside ice caves, or when  trying to climb on ice. Ice breaks and you don't want to be on or underneath a waterfall if a big chunk falls off.

  • Be very careful with children who like "sliding" on ice. I've seen kids try to slide down frozen waterfalls, only to pick up speed and end up nearly landing on their heads. 

Thursday, October 03, 2019

The Newest Family Adventure Base Camp in the Town of Jasper

Just in time for ski season, we've found you the perfect family adventure base camp in the Northern Canadian Rockies. Hostelling International has opened a brand new property and the HI Jasper Hostel is located a short 5 minute walk from the heart of downtown Jasper.

The HI Jasper Hostel, Hostelling International's newest property in the Canadian Rockies

Top 5 reasons you'll want to stay at the brand new HI Jasper Hostel 

  1. Private rooms and small shared rooms for 4 people!

    This is the ideal hostel for families not wanting to share large crowded dorm rooms with strangers. Either book a private room (with your own ensuite bathroom) or book all four spots in one of the shared 4-bed rooms (with a shared bathroom.)

  2. Close proximity to downtown Jasper!

    As much as I love the other hostels around Jasper, you'll have to drive to get anywhere if you stay at any of the wilderness properties in Jasper National Park. This is the first hostel in the park with an urban vibe - and where you can walk to restaurants and coffee shops without ever having to hop in your car.

  3. The hostel is practically on top of the town bike trails!

    My family loves biking and we always do a loop around the town on the Jasper easy trail network - something that was incredibly easy from the HI Jasper Hostel. We could have spent the whole day on our bikes without ever having to drive to a trailhead.

  4. Cook your own meals and save money.
    I love hotels and resorts, but you end up spending a fortune on meals when you have to eat out three times a day. The hostel has a gigantic kitchen and dining area making it easy to cook and eat right on site. - and if you want a good cup of coffee, there's a small cafe on site so we skipped making coffee in the morning.

  5. Lots of common areas to "hang out" in

    I can't count the number of times I've put my son to bed at night and then had to sit in the hallway outside my hotel room reading (because who wants to go to bed at 8:00 when traveling?)

    Staying at the HI Jasper hostel is ideal for families who have to put kids to bed early. My husband would stick around until our son was safely asleep, and then he'd come downstairs to find me in one of the common rooms. Down there we could play pool, play a board game, read, or just enjoy a glass of wine together. (Bring baby monitors if you have little ones)
Bike out the hostel door onto fabulous trails around Jasper 

Not your typical "hostelling experience" at the HI Jasper Hostel

I'm not sure what a "typical" hostelling experience would be, but I'm sure this new hostel is far too posh to be considered "normal."

We've stayed in a lot of rustic wilderness hostels where we had to snowshoe in, melt snow for water, and make use of outdoor toilets. Other wilderness hostels we've stayed at have had electricity and indoor plumbing, but still had a definite "rustic" feel to them.

This was the first hostel we've stayed at where I actually felt like I was walking into a modern urban hotel. From the professional looking lobby to the modern furniture and art work, down to the on site coffee shop, travelers definitely won't feel like they're roughing it when they stay here.

A look at one of the common areas at the HI Jasper Hostel

A look inside the HI Jasper Hostel 

As much as I love the HI Lake Louise Hostel, the layout always drives me crazy with the rooms located up at least a flight or two of stairs (with no elevator,) the kitchen located in the basement, and the common area located in a loft area above the lobby. You can easily get your 10 000 steps in staying at this property without even going out for a hike.

The HI Jasper Hostel however has a fabulous layout!! The lobby, the kitchen and dining room, the common areas, and the cafe are all on the main floor! The bedrooms are located on the second and third floors but there is an elevator to get you (and your giant hockey bag, backpacks, suitcases) up to the rooms. 

Shared kitchen at the HI Jasper Hostel 

It was so simple checking in and then immediately being able to carry our cooler over to the kitchen without having to go downstairs. And I'll happily use the stairs in a hotel, but not when I've packed for a ski weekend and have "Big Bertha," our giant hockey bag, to carry up two flights of stairs! 

Other features at the hostel include:

  • Secure storage for bikes or skis

  • A sauna on the third floor

  •  A TV/media room

  • Free parking on site

  • Free WiFi

  • A BBQ outside the kitchen and dining area

  • Lockers in all dorm rooms to secure your valuables

  • Laundry facilities

  • A meeting room

  • Key card access to the kitchen/dining area and to each bedroom for security and safety

Part of the dining room at the HI Jasper Hostel

Room Options at the HI Jasper Hostel

Guests have four options for accommodations at the hostel. Each option includes bed linens and towels so leave the sleeping bags at home.

4-Bed Shared Dorm rooms - These rooms have two bunks with options for women, men, or mixed gender. Book an entire room if you have a family. Bathrooms are shared with another dorm room. 

Premium Private Room ensuites - These rooms for 2 have a queen bed, ensuite bathroom, and a flat-screen TV.

Private Quad ensuites - These rooms are similar to the 4-bed shared rooms except you'll have your own bathroom inside your room.

Family Ensuite rooms - These rooms are exactly the same as the private quad ensuite rooms except that one of the bottom bunks is a double so you can fit 5 people in these rooms. (This is the kind of room we had.)

Cozy bunk beds in the Family Ensuite Rooms

Finding the HI Jasper Hostel 

Note, this is NOT the "Jasper downtown hostel" if you are looking up "Jasper Hostel" on Google Maps. This is the HI Jasper Hostel and it's located on Sleepy Hollow Road. (You'll want to be very clear on the location with any pizza deliveries as well because the hostel is very new and if you don't specify that you're on Sleepy Hollow Road, you won't see your pizza anytime soon.)

And make sure the person driving knows where they're going! My husband was convinced we were going downtown and thought I was crazy when I started directing him to the HI hostel just south of main street (his Google research had led him to a completely different hostel.)

The brand new HI Jasper Hostel on Sleepy Hollow Road 

Biking the Town Loop from the HI Jasper Hostel 

Below is a description of the Town Loop, a collection of beginner-friendly mountain bike trails that you can do from the hostel door. (with links from Trail Forks) 

This loop takes you to Old Fort Point for a gorgeous hike, over to the Jasper Park Lodge Resort, over to Lake Annette (Jasper's beach,) and then through the downtown area where you'll find lots of restaurants, shopping, and coffee shops.

And yes, you can hike it as well. It's a multi-use trail.

Biking across the bridge to Old Fort Point

- Sleepy Hollow Trail (we didn't bike this, but it gives you a reference for where you are on the Trail Forks map. The trail is across a ravine from the hostel.) 

- Wapiti Trail (heading south) - we were on this trail for all of 2 minutes.

- Red Squirrel  (820 meters in distance to Old Fort Point) - We rode this fun trail to the Old Fort Point Road, crossed the bridge, and then we hiked up to the viewpoint on the Old Fort Point Trail. If you want to do this hike, just make your way up the staircase at the parking lot after locking up your bikes. Head straight up to the viewpoint and return the same way. It's a short 40 minute distraction from your bike ride. 

Old Fort Point viewpoint 

- Trail 7 from Old Fort Point to Jasper Park Lodge (The entire trail is 2.5 km but we exit before that on 7C to get us around the golf course at the Jasper Park Lodge.) - And a big highlight of this trail is the unofficial "Jasper bike park" where you'll find some small jumps and a rough pump track.

- 7C cut off and Old Lodge Road - The Old Lodge Road is 1.5 km long and is a paved road closed to vehicles. It's an easy way to get through the resort property and to stay away from horse trails.

Playing around at the "Jasper bike park" at the junction of Trail 7 and Trail 7C

- The Woodpecker Trail (Make your way over here on a service road.) - This trail is 2 km in distance and has some fun downhill sections. It takes you to Lake Annette

- Big Horn Alley (Trail 13 from Lake Annette back into town) - This trail is 4 km long and it's the first trail that might have you feeling like you're actually mountain  biking with a few climbs and some fun downhill sections. Take this trail to get you back to town.

Biking across a meadow on Big Horn Alley

- Trail 11 (The Town Trail) - This 4 km long paved trail follows the train tracks along the main street and is a nice flat ride through town. We always stop for coffee and baked goods at the Bear's Paw Bakery from this trail. 

- Wapiti Trail back to the hostel - Cross the train tracks and you're back at the hostel

In total, you've ridden approximately 13-14 km on mostly double track trails or easy wide singletrack with some pavement thrown in for a good mixture. 

Depending on the season you can stop at Lake Annette for a swim as well.

Download a printable mountain biking guide here. 

Biking the Town Trail through Jasper 

Looking for more ideas for family-fun while staying at the HI Jasper Hostel? 

Check out these resources below, all stories I've written after previous trips:

Stay at the HI Jasper Hostel and Ski Marmot Basin this winter 

We'll definitely be back to this hostel next time we travel north to Jasper. It's the perfect base camp for summer biking, winter skiing, or any adventure getaway in the Northern Rockies. 

Disclaimer: Our stay was provided for us in exchange for this review. As always, all opinions and words are my own.