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.

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.

Frozen Troll Falls, Kananaskis Village

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 which you can hike behind

Know that this is not a hike to the top of Troll Falls, which is something I don't recommend attempting. You'll be visiting different waterfalls and will go nowhere near the top of Troll Falls. If you follow my directions in the story below, there is very little exposure.


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

Upper Falls above Troll Falls, Kananaskis 


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

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 currently a restriction against leaving the official trail to drop down into the canyon but the latest bulletin says it should end mid-November. Check for important closures and restrictions here before you visit. 

Please read the stories below for more information but obey all signs that you see on the trail. I've mentioned dropping down into the canyon off the official trail in both stories below - something that might not be allowed depending on when you visit.

You used to be able to drop down into the canyon right at the Upper Falls as well for close-up photos, but this might be restricted as well now that new fencing has been placed around the viewpoint.

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.

Recommendations:

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. We've also been lucky to find XS microspikes for children at the Switching Gear store in Canmore.

  • 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. 



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