Tuesday, May 07, 2024

Canyon Creek Ice Cave - Spring Hiking in Kananaskis

This has become my new favourite spring hike, and while it would be a great hike any time of the year, spring is magical when there is actual ICE in the ice cave. Visit later in the season, and it's just a cave (still cool, but not exactly an "ice" cave.)

There's no better spring adventure than biking and hiking to an ice cave!

When the trail is dry, the hike is generally family-friendly for experienced youth who have done intermediate/advanced hikes with some easy scrambling. I wouldn't recommend it with babies or young children (for rock fall hazard alone,) and to fully enjoy every aspect of the trip, you're going to need bikes to access the trailhead.

Canyon Creek Ice Cave Adventure in Kananaskis

Stats for the Hike

Distance: You'll bike or hike 5.5 km on a gravel road. After that, you'll hike ~1.5 km to reach the cave. All added up, your adventure will come to roughly 14 km round trip.

Height gain: 450 metres including the height gained/lost on the gravel access road. The road gains about 75 metres and the rest is gained on the steep hiking trail.

Time it takes to complete the hike: It really depends on whether you hike or bike the gravel road, and how much exploring you do in the cave. At a fast pace (with a bike) you could complete the hike in 3 hours. Most people will spend significantly longer on the adventure though.

Rating: The actual hiking trail is steep and scrambly at the top. Hiking inside the cave is very rough (and slippery when there's ice.) For these reasons, I'd rate this as an intermediate/advanced adventure.

Most fit adults (or youth) should have few problems getting to the cave if they are with a strong group of hikers, and this trip is definitely a "crowd favourite" if wanting to introduce friends to hiking. Everybody loves a good adventure, and caves are fun to explore (even if novice hikers have to slide down a few sections at the top on their bums to descend the steep trail.)

The entrance to the Canyon Creek Cave is pretty spectacular!

Best Guide BookKananaskis Country Trail Guide, Volume 2, Gillean Daffern - Amazon affiliate link 

All Trails Link: Canyon Creek Ice Cave

* All hiking distances are approximate

Visit the cave in spring when there's actual ICE

Trailhead Information 

The trail starts from the Ing's Mine parking lot off Highway 66 in the Elbow Valley west of Bragg Creek.

You can see the Google Maps link here.

The Canyon Creek Road is open as far as the parking lot. Beyond that, there is a gate, and I highly recommend bikes for the next 5.5 kilometres of distance to reach the true trailhead for the cave hike.

The Canyon Creek Road is accessible year round, and is located before Elbow Falls where there is a highway gate that doesn't open until May 15th. 

Such a fun adventure for a group of friends

Hiking or Biking the Canyon Creek Road to the Ice Cave Trailhead 

The gravel road portion of the trip would be mind numbingly boring to walk, and is therefore best done with bikes. If hiking, make sure you bring a lively group to chat with.

With bikes, there are a couple of hills that children or novice riders may need to walk. I walked a couple myself since it was one of my first rides of the season and my lungs weren't in biking shape yet. The road is generally easy to bike though, and is just a wide gravel road. This isn't mountain biking, and you'll do fine with a simple gravel bike or mountain bike if you prefer.

Even if you end up walking a hill or two with your bike, it's still preferable to walking the entire 11 km round trip distance (on a road!!)

Bring a bike, and the trip out is very FAST because it's relatively downhill coasting on the way back to the parking lot.

When you reach the end of the gravel road, lock your bikes up, and switch to hiking mode. There are no bike racks, but we just locked our bikes to trees beside the road where there was a nice clearing beside the trailhead.

Biking the Canyon Creek Road (not something I want to hike for 11 km round trip!)

Hiking to the Canyon Creek Ice Cave

There's a decent trail that you can follow all the way to the cave, but I do recommend downloading the map if you have a premium subscription to All Trails, just for the peace of mind as the trail is braided in a few spots closer to the cave.

The ending is steep but manageable on a good trail

The trail has a few steep spots, but is generally quite pleasant to follow through the trees until you reach the scree slope below the cave. Once you reach the final section, it becomes much steeper, more scrambly, and there are a few blocky steps to climb up. (On the way down I had to lower myself from my bum a few times.)

Approaching the cave after a short 45 minute hike from the end of the road

As far as "scrambling" goes, this is a very easy scramble. There is no loose scree and you'll never feel like your feet are going to skitter out from underneath you. 

If the trail is snow covered, ice cleats or spikes would be imperative.

Arriving at the cave after a bike and hike adventure

Exploring Inside the Cave

I recommend helmets for exploring inside the cave, and you should have them on as you approach the cave as well because people can knock rocks down from above. I visited mid-week with friends when we had the cave to ourselves so it was less of a worry. On a weekend though it could be a different story. - And in a pinch, just wear your bike helmets if you rode up (no need to bring two helmets.) Or, bike in a climbing helmet.

There are no shortage of fun photos you can take inside the cave

We enjoyed seeing so much ice in the cave!

You'll also need good headlamps for this adventure. There's lots of light near the cave entrance, but as you go further, it becomes very dark. 

Ice pillars and giant icicles inside the cave 
And a final word of caution about hiking in the cave: Exercise extreme caution when walking around. Many of the rocks are covered in ice and are also polished from thousands of boots walking over them.

This is where that headlamp becomes super important so you can see the ice covered floor sections of the cave.

Bring headlamps to explore the cave!

Spring is a great time to visit this ice cave

Hike as far back into the main chamber of the cave as you want, and then if you're feeling brave, you can crawl into a few other smaller chambers. For this, I really do recommend helmets. (Ignore our bad example in the photos below.)

Crawling around at the back of the main chamber

This is definitely my new favourite spring hike

The Hike and Bike Out from the Cave 

On descent, I found the trail to be much trickier near the cave entrance, but a pair of poles and slow maneuvering got us down safely.

The descent from the cave is steep so take your time

The descent starts off steep but the angle eases as you descend

The bike ride on the way out was exceptionally fast! We just had to climb up the first hill from the end of the road, and then it was a beautiful ride back down to the parking lot. I can't even imagine hiking back down the road.

Our happy group at the Canyon Creek Ice Cave 

We enjoyed a fast bike ride back down the road 

Returning for the Family Version 

I visited the cave mid-week with girl friends, but my son was ticked when he looked through my photos, and I knew there would be no forgiveness until he'd had the chance to visit the cave too.

My son HAD to visit the cave himself after seeing my photos!

I wasn't quite up for a second cave adventure in the same week, so my husband happily took him on the weekend. They got a very early start, biked up the road, and beat the weekend crowds.

Safe to say most kids will LOVE this adventure.

Every child's dream hike!

Other Recommended Reading for Spring Hikes

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Bed and Breakfast Cross-Country Ski Getaway at Lake Louise

Lake Louise is always a safe bet for a cross-country ski weekend from mid-November through early April. The Moraine Lake Road and the Great Divide Road are usually trackset by the third weekend of November (earlier if we're lucky) and you can safely plan a spring break trip to Lake Louise, knowing you'll still have great snow to ski on. (Often we're even able to ski at Louise for Easter!)

Spring Skiing on the Moraine Lake Road

Table of Contents for this Guide:

1. Early Season Skiing on the Moraine Lake Road

2. Early Season Skiing on the Great Divide Road

3. Our Favourite Ski Trails at Lake Louise

4. Other Ski Trails from the Great Divide Parking Lot

5. Skiing the Pipestone Trail Network at Lake Louise

6. Bed and Breakfast Accommodations at the Mountaineer Lodge

Lake Louise is a magical location for a family cross-country ski getaway

Family bonding is always special in the mountains

Cross-country Skiing on the Moraine Lake Road

The Moraine Lake Road is not plowed or open to vehicles in winter. Instead, it is usually groomed and track-set by mid-November and is a popular ski trail throughout the winter until early spring.

The Moraine Lake Road is double trackset for classic skiing (with a skating lane and an extra track for passing on the way up) for 9 km to a viewpoint where you can see the peaks that surround Moraine Lake. You can't see the lake, and proceeding past this point puts you into avalanche terrain. Regardless, it's a great workout even if you can't reach the lake, and it's an easy intermediate level trail with no big hills to climb or descend.

The road climbs ~ 275 metres at a gentle angle and you can usually climb/descend much of it by staying in the tracks. Newer skiers may feel more comfortable getting out of the tracks on a few steeper sections to descend.

Dogs are not allowed on this trail, but it is shared with hikers and cyclists on fat tire bikes who are requested to stay off the ski tracks.

Mount Temple as seen from the Moraine Lake Road 

Moraine Lake Road Parking:

There is a small parking lot at the entry to the Moraine Lake Road. If it's full, you can park above at Lake Louise and ski down the Upper Tramline Trail. This adds 2 km (one way) with just under 100 metres of height loss as you ski down the trail to the Moraine Lake Road. The challenge comes at the end of the ski when at least one person has to ski back up for the vehicle.

If you have children with you, send one adult back for the vehicle while a second adult skis the Lower Tramline Trail with the kids down to the old train station beside the Bow River. It's fun to get picked up at the bottom and it's downhill the entire distance for ~ 3 km.

** See the resources after the Great Divide section below for map and trail conditions links.

Early season skiing on the Moraine Lake Road 

Cross-country Skiing on the Great Divide Road

The Great Divide is also normally groomed and track-set by mid to late November and is another early-season favourite. Being an old road, it doesn't take much to cover up the pavement for skiing (as is the same with the Moraine Lake Road.)

Unlike the Moraine Lake Road, the Great Divide Road is not open to vehicle traffic at any time of the year. It's always a hiking, biking, or ski trail.

Ski from the trailhead at Lake Louise to the Divide where you'll see the big arch on the Alberta / British Columbia border. It is a 7 km ski to the Divide. You can also continue for an additional 3 km to the Lake O'Hara parking lot in Yoho National Park. 

The trail is double trackset for classic skiing with a skating lane. Expect to see dogsled teams along the one side of the trail and the occasional hiker.

The Great Divide Trail is relatively flat with one large hill down to the arch. The trail does trend downhill though as you head towards the BC border so you may feel like you're slowly climbing most of the way back. The trail loses 100 metres of height heading towards BC.

Dogs are not allowed on the trail (other than the ones that belong to the guided dog sled operation.)

The Great Divide on the AB / BC Border 

Ski the Great Divide Trail One-Way Alberta to BC:

If you have two vehicles, consider setting up a shuttle and skiing one-way from Lake Louise to the Lake O'Hara trailhead. You want to start at Lake Louise to enjoy more downhill skiing and less climbing.

Alternately, start at the Lake O'Hara parking lot and ski out and back as far as you want. This way it will definitely feel more downhill on the way back to the  car. (And as a bonus, it's usually easier to find parking on the BC side when the Lake Louise parking lot is full.)

Skiing this trail with children:

With young children, ski out and back from the Lake O'Hara parking lot to the arch at the AB border for a pleasant 6 km return ski. It's relatively flat and easy skiing. 

Another fun option with two adults and kids: Start out with the kids + a parent at Lake Louise and start skiing towards O'Hara one-way. The second adult will drive to the O'Hara parking lot and ski back to meet you. This allows the kids to ski the full 10 km distance one-way in the downhill direction. Parents can fight over who gets to ski with the kids. (I always win in our family.)

Early season skiing on the Great Divide Road


Current Trail Conditions for Banff and Lake Louise

Parks Canada Trail Brochure for Lake Louise - scroll down to find the "Winter Trails at Lake Louise Brochure." You can pick up a hard copy at the Lake Louise Visitor Centre in the Village too.

Cross-country skiing at Lake Louise

Our Favourite Ski Trails at Lake Louise

Skiing the Tramline Trail 

This is the absolute BEST ski trail for families with young children because you can ski it one-way from the lake down to the village, and it's relatively all downhill. And except for one hill, it's all very gentle, double polling, stay in the tracks, skiing. You won't be descending crazy hills or having to snow plow for kilometres on end. The entire trail is basically rail grade and perfect for teaching kick and glide with a bit of gravity in your favor.

The trail is single trackset for classic skiing. Expect to see the occasional hiker on the trail as well but they are requested to stay off the ski tracks. Dogs are not allowed on the trail.

Our fav. scenic bridge on the Tramline Trail at Lake Louise

My family always skis this as a shuttle. My husband drops us off at the top and then drives down to the old train station parking lot in the Village. He skis up to meet us (getting a good workout) and we benefit from a family-friendly outing that my son loves.

Tramline is only 4.8 km one way and you'll lose 195 metres of height on your descent down to the Village. 

See the Tramline Trail on the Parks Canada Trail Brochure for Lake Louise- scroll down to find the "Winter Trails at Lake Louise" Brochure. You can pick up a hard copy at the Lake Louise Visitor Centre in the Village too.

And you'll want to have this map open as you look at the extensions below.

The only intermediate section on the Tramline Trail at Lake Louise

Tramline extensions for a longer outing:

  • Tramline + Lakeshore Loop - Start at the bottom and ski up to the lake for a good workout. Then turn around and enjoy coasting back down. While you're at the lake, add on the Lakeshore Loop for an additional 4 km distance. Tramline + Lakeshore Loop total distance would be approx. 14 km. - Note you'll have to remove your skis to walk from the top of the Tramline Trail over to the lakeshore trailhead, but it's a short walk.

  • Tramline + Fairview Loop - Start at the bottom and ski up to the lake. On your descent, ski around the Fairview Loop before hopping back on the Lower Tramline Trail. The Fairview Loop starts at the lake and ends on the Moraine Lake Road, a short distance up from the Tramline junction. (Check out the map before completing this one so you know where you're going.)  The Fairview Loop is ~ 6 km in distance and more intermediate in nature than the easier Tramline Trail. Total distance for both Tramline + Fairview Loop would be approximately 10 km. 

    Families not wanting to climb Tramline can start at the top, ski the Fairview Loop, and then one adult would descend Lower Tramline with the kids while the other adult climbs back up the lake. Meet up at the old train station. We've definitely done this and it's a lot of fun.

  • Tramline + Bow River Loop - Add on the Bow River Loop from the bottom of the Tramline Trail. The loop is ~ 7 km long and relatively flat, so it's a great extension. We always add on this loop after skiing down the Tramline Trail.

Once you get comfortable with the map and the trails around Lake Louise, you can continue adding trails to make bigger loops. Tramline from the bottom up to the lake + the Lake Louise Loop + the Fairview Loop + Lower Tramline down + the Bow River Loop would be a great ski day! 

Easy skiing on the Tramline Trail at Lake Louise 

Skiing The Bow River Loop

This is one of my favourite beginner-friendly trails for scenery, diversity, and general easy skiing with no hills to speak of.

The complete loop is ~ 7 km with shorter options possible. It is single trackset only which creates a more natural "classic" experience. There is no skating lane. Expect to meet up with the occasional hiker as well. 

** And this is one of the rare trails at Lake Louise where dogs are allowed (on leash.) **

We always start at the old train station parking lot in the Village where there's ample space for parking. From here we follow the trail along the village-side of the river (not crossing the bridge from the parking lot.) You have a couple of unpleasant road crossings near the Village Centre (take your skis off and carefully cross the roads) but then you get into the Lake Louise campground area where there are no more road crossings.

Powder day on the Bow River Loop 

Follow the river through the trailer campground until you reach two beautiful bridges at the far end. This is your turnaround spot as you ski back on the other side of the river, skiing through the tenting campground. One more road crossing returns you to the first section of trail (on the other side of the river.) Cross the final bridge and you're back at your car.

For a shorter ski, you can start in the campground, and just loop the campground (trail 10 on the map) or do the Bow River Loop on the east side (skipping the west side beyond the village.) If you check the trail brochure, you'll find that there are a couple of small parking lots in the campground for skiers. - And this would eliminate the need to cross any roads.

See the Bow River Loop on the Parks Canada Trail Brochure for Lake Louise- scroll down to find the "Winter Trails at Lake Louise" Brochure. You can pick up a hard copy at the Lake Louise Visitor Centre in the Village too.

Scenic bridge crossing on the Bow River Loop

There's no better scenery than a bluebird day on the Bow River Loop

Skiing The Lake Louise Loop

Skiing could not get any easier than this one! You'll be skiing straight across Lake Louise, on the frozen lake itself. There is absolutely no height gain, not a single hill, and you'll enjoy grooming with tracks to ski in.

The loop is classic trackset (no skating lane.) Follow the ski tracks across the lake until you reach Louise Falls, a beautiful set of frozen waterfalls, approximately 2 km down the lake. There is also a snowshoe trail that crosses the lake but the two trails should be separate.

Skiing across frozen Lake Louise is high on scenery and easy for novice skiers

For your return trip, either retrace your steps and ski back across the lake, or climb up to the forested trail above the lake to complete a 4 km loop. The forest trail starts by the waterfall.

The forest trail is not overly technical,  but it is narrower than the wide open lake. Regardless, it is definitely considered a beginner trail.

Save this outing for a sunny day for the best experience! And to extend your outing, bring sleds and skates for the Lake Louise skating rink and sledding hill (both located at the lakeshore.)

** Dogs are allowed on this loop (on leash.) **

Frozen Louise Falls at the end of the lake

Skiing The Fairview Loop 

This is a more intermediate trail and you'll definitely have to be comfortable at descending a few steep twisty hills. The reward is beautiful meadows that you'll traverse through. One year we even found a sofa built out of snow in the middle of one meadow.

The Fairview Trail traverses beautiful meadows 

The full loop is 7.5 km if you start at the lake, ski the Fairview Trail to the Moraine Lake Road, ski down the road back to the beginning, and then climb the Upper Tramline Trail back to Lake Louise. There is ~150 metres of climbing overall. 

The loop is best done counter clockwise so that you climb the Tramline Trail at the end. This allows you to enjoy the steepest hills on the Fairview Trail in the downhill direction. 

The Fairview Trail is double trackset for classic skiing. Dogs are not allowed on the trail. And you should not see hikers on the trail. This is a ski-only trail.

When we ski the trail as a family, my son and I continue down the Lower Tramline Trail to the Village rather than climbing back to the lake at the end. My husband climbs the Upper Tramline Trail to get the vehicle, and then meets us at the Village. 

See the Fairview Loop on the Parks Canada Trail Brochure for Lake Louise - scroll down to find the "Winter Trails at Lake Louise" Brochure. You can pick up a hard copy at the Lake Louise Visitor Centre in the Village too.

"Snowfa" in the middle of the Fairview Trail

Other Ski Trails from the Great Divide Parking Lot

If you've parked at the Great Divide Trailhead at Lake Louise, there are a few options for additional loops you can ski.

Lower Telemark Trail - As per the Parks Canada trail description: "Park at Great Divide trailhead, ski 700 metres, and turn right at the #8 trail sign. After 4.0 km of twists and turns, exit back onto the Great Divide trail, and turn left to return to your vehicle." The full loop will be approx. 8 km. 

This is an easy beginner-friendly trail. It is double trackset for classic skiing, is a ski-only trail, and dogs are not allowed.

Beautiful skiing near the Great Divide along Upper Telemark and Peyto

Upper Telemark and Peyto - Starting at the Great Divide, ski 700 metres on the groomed road until you come to the junction with both the Lower and Upper Telemark Trails. Turn left and follow trail # 7 up to the lake. It's easiest to take the "green" bypass trail up.

The trail ends by the Chateau if you want to do a lap around the Lake Louise Loop.

Starting up the Upper Telemark Trail from the Chateau Lake Louise

On the way down, the trail is divided into green, blue, and black sections. We always descend the black section but it is very steep with twisty winding hills. The Upper Telemark Trail is also a narrow trail (even though it is double trackset) so beginners will find the hills intimidating.

Take whichever division of the Upper Telemark Trail you want to take back down towards the Divide Trail. Add on a short section of the Peyto Trail if you want heading west (left) for a longer ski back along the Great Divide. If you follow Peyto to the right, you'll end up back closer to the lake and nowhere near your car.

See the Great Divide Trails on the Parks Canada Trail Brochure for Lake Louise - scroll down to find the "Winter Trails at Lake Louise" Brochure. You can pick up a hard copy at the Lake Louise Visitor Centre in the Village too.

Starting the descent down the Upper Telemark Trail where snow plow skills are imperative

Skiing the Pipestone Trail Network at Lake Louise

The Pipestone Trail Network is located across the TransCanada Highway from the Village of Lake Louise. You can see it here on this Google Map link

There are several trails here but the largest loop is the Pipestone Loop, an intermediate 13 km loop that is very hilly and requires a strong ability to climb and descend hills. The loop is typically skied counter clockwise. 

The Pipestone Trail Network is great for intermediate skiers

For an easier loop start on the Pipestone Trail (#20) going counter clockwise and then turn off onto trail #22 (Drummond.) This relatively flat trail takes you to Pipestone Pond where you can connect to trail #21 (Hector) to return to the parking lot.

Drummond is 2.7 km one way and is a beginner-friendly trail. Hector is 3 km one way and is also beginner-friendly though it does descend 95 metres from Pipestone Pond back to the parking lot (so don't choose it as your first ever ski trail.)

One final trail that has proven useful for us on occasion is the beginner-friendly Merlin Trail (#23) which works as a good shortcut trail off the top of the Pipestone Loop, heading down towards Pipestone Pond. Merlin is 2.3 km and it descends gently from the top of the Pipestone Loop. Watch out for the old cabin along the trail.

All trails in this network are single trackset classic. There is no skating lane and the trails are designated for skiing only so you should not meet hikers. 

** Dogs are permitted on these trails (on leash.) **

See the Pipestone Trails on the Parks Canada Trail Brochure for Lake Louise - scroll down to find the "Winter Trails at Lake Louise" Brochure. You can pick up a hard copy at the Lake Louise Visitor Centre in the Village too.

Climbing skills are imperative for the intermediate Pipestone Loop 

Bed and Breakfast Accommodations at the Mountaineer Lodge

It's always hard finding affordable family lodging at Louise, but it's such a treat to stay in the area, skipping the 4 hours of driving round trip from Calgary. - and as a bonus, you get 2 days of skiing when you spend the weekend!

On our most recent visit, we stayed at the Mountaineer Lodge in an extremely comfortable Mountaineer Suite which had a separate bedroom with two queen beds, a cozy living room complete with sofa and chairs, and came equipped with mini fridge, microwave, coffee maker, and a kettle! We could have happily stayed for several days.

Cozy Family Suite at the Mountaineer Lodge 

Free breakfasts included in every stay at the Mountaineer Lodge

The lodge has a variety of rooms and suites but all stays include:

  • A mini fridge + microwave in every room/suite

  • A free hot breakfast (waffles, eggs, bacon or sausages, hashbrowns, fruit and yogurt, cereals, and pastries) - and awesome coffee!!

  • Free Wi-Fi, free parking, and use of the lodge indoor hot tub. There's laundry facilities on site as well for longer stays.
Breakfast of champions before a big ski day!

No lounging on hotel beds when you have a suite!

It should be mentioned too that this lodge has some of the friendliest staff I've found at a resort including the housekeeping, breakfast staff, and front desk clerks!

You'll also enjoy super comfy beds and pillows, and extremely quiet rooms! - Seriously, we heard nothing from our neighbors or people in the hallways. (Just a few trains going by, but it's Lake Louise and the train goes through the village.)

Our private bedroom with separate living area!

We spent our weekend skiing the trails around the lake + village and appreciated the convenient location of the lodge. It was a short 2 minute drive to the lake, but you could access all trails around the village by just walking out the front door, skis or hiking boots in hand. 

For downhill skiers there is a convenient shuttle bus to the ski hill, and you'll be able to skip the 6am wake up call in Calgary! 

This is one of those hotels that quickly becomes a family favourite, and that you know you'll visit regularly.

We spent the day skiing around the Lake Louise trail system from our lodge

Additional Resources

Disclaimer: Our recent stay at the Mountaineer Lodge was hosted. As always, all opinions are my own and I wasn't paid to write this story.