Best Toddler/Preschooler Hikes

Some of these trails are Chariot Friendly and will be marked as such below.   There are many more trails not on this list but I have chosen my top favourites to help you make the most of your Summer.

Most of the trails are under 5km but for the few that are over, a child carrier might come in handy for the return trip or for uphill portions of the trail.  I also focused primarily on hikes within driving distance of Calgary.  For information on trails in Jasper National Park, please see the story I wrote on our last trip there, Spring Adventures in Jasper.  For information on Waterton Lakes National Park, please see my recent story, Family Fun in Waterton Lakes National Park

When choosing hikes for this list, I chose hikes that would be interesting to most small children.  Trees and stunning views don't do as much for kids as  they do for us.  Kids want to have fun when they go hiking and for my preschooler, that means there needs to be water, a creek, rocks to climb on, stairs to climb, boardwalks, or other interesting trail features.  Most of these trails will be interesting for school-aged children as well and they will certainly find them easier than a 2 year old would.

For more detailed trail descriptions, driving directions, and trailhead locations, go to the bottom of this page.


Paddy's Flat Interpretive Trail and Riverview Trail, Elbow Valley, Kananaskis
Great if you're camping at Paddy's Flat Campground.  4km one way.  Hike as far as you want and return the same way. It's possible as well to do a 2km loop with the Interpretive trail.  Trail is Chariot friendly, bike friendly, and has secret little pocket beaches. 

Paddy's Flat Interpretive Trail along the Elbow River
Beach on the Paddy's Flat Trail

Beaver Flats Interpretive Trail, Elbow Valley, Kananaskis
This is a great trail if you are camped at the Beaver Flats Campground.  At 2.6km return most small children should have no problems with this easy hike.  It's well maintained, Chariot friendly and Bike friendly.  On the walk you'll have plenty of opportunities to look for beavers as you pass a series of  beaver ponds along a creek. 

Beaver Flats Interpretive Trail

Nihahi Ridge, Elbow Valley, Kananaskis
Great trail if you're camped at the Little Elbow Campground. 5km return.  Good hike for school-aged kids.  Smaller kids may need some assistance.  You'll reach the shoulder of the ridge.  Further hiking requires skills with off trail scrambling.

Nihahi Ridge near the end of the hiking trail

Big Elbow Trail, Elbow Valley, Kananaskis
This is a Chariot Hike and that's the only reason it's on this list.  It's really hard to find good Chariot hiking trails and this is one of my favourites.  The trail isn't very exciting as you follow an old gravel road but you can go as far as you want on the trail until you get to an opening beside the Elbow River.  This makes a nice turn-around spot where we always have lunch and play beside the river.  The trail is quite bumpy so I wouldn't bring babies on this one.  It can also  be very hot so don't go on a day when it's 30 degrees Celsius.  If you are looking for a backcountry campground accessible by Chariot or Bike, you can continue on to the Big Elbow Backcountry Campground.  It's 9km from the trailhead at Little Elbow Day Use Area.

Having lunch beside the Elbow River on the Big Elbow Trail
Chariot hiking on the Big Elbow Trail


Fullerton Loop, Elbow Valley, Kananaskis
Great trail if you are having a picnic at the Allen Bill Pond Day Use Area.  It's a 7km loop with 200m of height gain.This is hands down my favourite Chariot Hike though extreme caution needs to be exercised on the steep parts.  A second set of hands or a wheel break will come in handy.  If you aren't up for a strenuous work-out, just hike it and carry your child if need be.  Most preschoolers should be able to hike the trail on their own with a bit of assistance.

Chariot hiking on the Fullerton Loop
Taking a break on the Fullerton Trail


Many Springs Interpretive Trail, Bow Valley Provincial Park, Kananaskis
1.6km loop great for families staying at the Bow Valley Campground.  Hands down one of the most interesting trails for small children in the Rockies! For photographers or flower lovers, go early July and marvel in the unique orchids you will see.  Boardwalk and viewing platform over the pond is the highlight.  The trail is Chariot friendly.  To read about our adventures in Bow Valley this spring, follow this link to Bow Valley Provincial Park - Where the Wild Winds Blow.

Boardwalk on the Many Spring's Trail

Flowing Water Interpretive Trail, Bow Valley Provincial Park, Kananaskis
Another great hike if you are camped at the Bow Valley Campground or Willow Rock Campground.  2km return, easy, interesting for children, and absolutely perfect in its diversity.  You'll get access to the Bow River, climb up to a view point over the river, walk through beaver habitat, and then finish with a section of boardwalk.  It has everything for a hike small kids will love.

Looking for beavers on the Flowing Water Trail

Heart Creek, Bow Valley Provincial Park, Kananaskis
4km return, the trail follows a narrow canyon crossing a creek over 7 bridges.  You likely won't see the waterfall at the end without a bit of scrambling but it doesn't matter because this trail has everything a child needs on a hike - plenty of water, a fascinating creek they can get close to, bridges, and lots of rocks for climbing on.  You'll also get to watch climbers high up on the walls around you.

Playing in Heart Creek


Troll Falls, Ribbon Creek, Kananaskis
4km loop with the Hay Meadow Trail and you'll pass by the Kananaskis River.  Great hike that is bike and chariot friendly with a pretty waterfall at the end.  Trails are wide with gradual hills. See the Hike Alberta website for best trailhead description.

Troll Falls Hike
Bike Trails en route to Troll Falls

Rawson Lake, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis
8km return with 300m height gain.  Lovely trail that follows Upper Kananaskis Lake past some waterfalls  to an alpine lake and meadows.  Smaller children might need assistance on the way up but should be able to run all the way down.

Rawson Lake (Photo:  G. Duncan)

Elbow Lake, Highwood Pass, Kananaskis
Chariot hike!  Chariot Backpack!  Or just really short hike for small kids to a beautiful backcountry lake.
2.8km return on a gravel road.  Elbow Lake Backcountry Campground was our first big backcountry adventure with our son when he was a baby.

Elbow Lake


Ptarmigan Cirque, Highwood Pass, Kananaskis
4.5km loop with 200m height gain.  Small children may need assistance on the uphill portion into the cirque but will be able to hike around the cirque by themselves and have a lot of fun running around the meadows.  It's one of the shortest and easiest ways to get into the alpine due to the fact that you are starting from Highwood Pass at 2200m. In my personal opinion, This is the BEST hike for families in Kananaskis and one of the most interesting by far.  It's breathtakingly beautiful and there are plenty of opportunities for kids to scramble, climb, and explore!

Ptarmigan Cirque

Ptarmigan Cirque

Cat Creek Interpretive Trail, Cat Creek Provincial Recreation Area, Kananaskis
 Beautiful hike to Cat Creek Falls from the Cat Creek Day Use Area on Hwy 40 over Highwood Pass.  4km return on an easy trail that most children will find interesting.  Go on a hot day and you might be able to play in the pool below the waterfall.

Cat Creek Falls


Grassi Lakes, Canmore
Take the trail marked "easiest" for a great Chariot Hike.  Take the harder trail if you plan to hike rather than follow a road.  The easy trail is a gravel road.  The "harder" trail is the real trail.  Clear?   I always see families here on the "easy" trail probably scared of what they'd find on the harder trail.  What they would find is waterfalls, gorgeous views, and a fun hiking trail with steps carved right out of the rock.  It's 4km return with height gain of 300m.  School aged kids will love this hike.

Whichever way you choose to hike to the lakes, you'll arrive at the first lake together and then after you've tucked the Chariot behind a tree, you'll hike around the two lakes to a small beach area at the base of some serious cliffs popular with climbers. 

Upper Grassi Lake


Sundance Canyon, Banff
Chariot/ Hike Combo:  8km return hike on a paved trail followed by a 1km loop through a narrow canyon with bridges, waterfalls, and a creek.  There's a picnic area complete with bathrooms at the end of the paved trail.  Note, this trail is also bike friendly.


Hiking into Sundance Canyon late Fall


Fenland Trail, Banff
2km loop following 40 Mile Creek right in the townsite of Banff.  Great for those times when you're passing by and need to let the kids out to run around.  We love this trail and do it multiple times each year.  It is Chariot and Bike friendly.

Resting on the Fenland Trail
Biking on the Fenland Trail
Tunnel Mountain, Banff
Most children 4+ should be able to do this hike with no assistance.  Younger children may need to be carried for portions of the trail (especially on the way up).  The trail is on the steep side but it's quick and relatively painless at 2.4 km one way and 260 m elevation gain.  The views from the top are breathtaking for such a small summit and your children will be able to boast that they've bagged their first peak.

Climbing up the Mighty Tunnel Mountain Trail

Tunnel Mountain Summit
Stewart Canyon, Lake Minnewanka, Banff
3km round trip to a bridge crossing Stewart Canyon on the shores of Lake Minnewanka.  It's Chariot and bike friendly as well as very well maintained.  Great short day hike option from Banff or if you are camping in the Lake Minnewanka area.

Late Spring Snow on the Stewart Canyon Trail

Sunshine Meadows to Rock Isle Lake, Sunshine Village Ski Hill, Banff 
This one is a bit more tricky because you have to take a bus to get up to the base of the ski hill before you can start your hike.  The advantage to taking the bus though - very little height gain to reach beautiful alpine meadows that you can lose yourself in. The meadows explode in colour every summer with wildflowers as far as the eye can see.  There is a reason that this hike gets ranked as the best hike in the Canadian Rockies every year by tourist magazines.  White Mountain Adventures runs the bus operation so contact them for schedules and current rates. It's 4km return to Rock Isle Lake but if you have older children there's a myriad of trails you can spend all day hiking on.  You'll get a good map when you get on the bus so that you can plot out your day.

Rock Isle Lake, Sunshine Meadows

Rock Isle Lake, Sunshine Meadows

Rock Isle Lake, Sunshine Meadows

Lake Agnes, Lake Louise
At 7km return with almost 400m height gain this barely qualifies as a hike for small kids but the trail is pretty gradual with awesome switchbacks so if you carry smaller children up parts of the trail, they will definitely be able to run down the whole thing.  They will also find the tea house at the lake fascinating along with the boulders and bridge over a little creek that flows down to a waterfall below the lake.  It's a very pretty setting.  Be warned though that this hike is very very very busy so I can only recommend that you go early or go mid-week.

If you don't have the energy to trek all the way up to the lake, at least walk a short ways along the Lake Louise Lakeshore Trail.  It's 4km return to the back of the lake and easy walking.  You could push a stroller along the trail in fact.

High above Lake Agnes and Lake Louise at the Big Beehive

The Lake Agnes Tea House in fall (much quieter)


Larch Valley, Moraine Lake, Lake Louise
This is another hike that is well beyond the ability of most toddlers and preschoolers but it's so beautiful I can't leave it out.  If you have the means to get your child up into the Valley - go, go, go!  Give them candy, bribe them, carry them, whatever.  It's worth it.  It's 4.3km one way to the Minnestimma Lakes below Sentinel Pass with 535m of height gain but you don't have to go that far.  Take the trail up the switch backs until you enter the valley.  You'll come to a little bridge and a boulder where you'll get your first glimpse of the Ten Peaks this hike is famous for.  If that's as far as you want to go it will still have been worth it.  It's a meadow worthy of a memory card full of photos.  It's past here that the trail gets more interesting though and smaller kids will likely enjoy walking.  It's still uphill but it's breathtakingly beautiful and even small children will likely be motivated to see what's around the next corner.

Larch Valley in Autumn with the golden larches
Upper Larch Valley below Sentinel Pass in Summer (and I was pregnant here so no jokes about the shorts)

Opabin Plateau and Basin, Lake O'Hara,Yoho National Park
I'm just going to copy the link here to Lake O'Hara and you can read the process for getting into Lake O'Hara.   It involves a bus reservation that you'll likely have to make 3 months in advance of the exact day you plan to go in for the day.  If you are just reading this now and thinking you'd like to visit the area this summer, don't despair.  They do take a certain amount of last minute reservations and if you are able to go mid-week you will have a better shot of getting space on the bus.

Why the bus reservation?  There is a quota on how many people can be hiking in this fragile area at one time.  Therefore, limiting access to the 11km road seriously reduces the amount of traffic the meadows will see.  If you are willing to hike the road - good news - there are no restrictions and you are free to do so anytime you want.  And you can take the bus out.

Is it worth the hassle to get into Lake O'Hara?  Yes!  And I could have written that word a thousand times.   It is the most beautiful place in the Canadian Rockies without a doubt.  We try to go in every year at least once and even ski in during the winter.

If you manage to get spots on the bus, the best short hike in the area is the Opabin Plateau and Basin.  The trails up to it are fairly steep so small kids will most likely have to be carried.  Once they are up in the Basin though, they'll be able to hike on their own with no problems.  It's a 6km circuit around the Plateau or Basin with about 250m of height gain.

The Opabin Plateau in Autumn
And this is Summer on Opabin Prospect


Little Yoho Valley to Laughing Falls, Yoho National Park
You can day hike this or backpack it with a Chariot as we did last summer.  It's 4km one way with very little height gain.  There is one steep rocky section that will challenge your skills pushing a Chariot but especially if you take the kids out and push it up empty, it's not that bad and is feasible.  We got two singles and a double up to Laughing Falls Backcountry Campground.  En route to Laughing Falls you'll pass giant Takakkaw Falls (second highest in Western Canada), Point Lace Falls, Angel's Staircase Falls and finally arrive at the Falls that the campground is named for.  There's no other hike that passes this many waterfalls on so easy of a trail.   

If you are going to camp at Laughing Falls please know that there is a lot of water surrounding the campground!  If you think there's even the remotest chance your child would run into the river were you to turn your head for a second, it's not the campground for you at this time.  Our kids were all fine but we knew their personalities and we watched them carefully at all times.

Point Lace Falls
Laughing Falls Campground

 For more information on the hikes, please visit the following websites:

Kananaskis Trails

Banff National Park Trails

Lake Louise Trails

Yoho National Park Trails

Lake O'Hara Trails

Note:  Because of recent flooding in Banff and Kananaskis, some of these day use areas are currently inaccessible or not recommended. To find current conditions, please visit the Kananaskis parks website. For current conditions in Banff, visit the Parks Canada website




16 comments:

  1. FYI, at least as of two weeks ago, Paint Pots is closed due to water washing out a bridge or trail..

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's right, isn't it. Forgot about that bridge. Seems like we lose a bridge every season due to flooding. Maybe I'll take that hike off the list for the moment.

      Delete
  2. i just came across your blog via pintrest and i'm in love!!!! i'm up in red deer and we have a 21 month old BUSY boy who loves to be outside and move. our problem: he doesn't love his mitts-but we're working on this!! what would you suggest as a toddler friendly walk/hike in the banff-canmore-lake louise "ish" areas for this time of year? (late winter-wishfully thinking early spring). we have a back carrier and a chariot (without the stroller attachment at this point) but another pretty winter friendly stroller-although this is not my son's favourite, as well as a little sled.
    thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Sara.
      Banff - Fenland Loop is always nice. You can use a chariot if you want but it's short. 2km max. It's right in the town if you are staying there.
      The walk up Tunnel Mountain is nice but you'd have to use the back carrier and it could be a bit icy depending on snow.

      Canmore - there are lovely trails right along the river. You could use a Chariot.
      Heart Creek would be do-able too and you could pull a sled if there was enough snow. It's not chariot friendly. It's a bit longer at 4km return but you could use the back-carrier.

      Louise - You'd have to do winter hiking this time of year. You could hike up towards the Lake Agnes Tea house if you wanted. We've done that with our son when he was young in a back carrier. It's more elevation gain though, around 350m gain. Beautiful hike though. Just check with Parks office if you should be concerned with avalanches due to warm weather. Otherwise, you can go as far as Mirror Lake safely.

      Hope that helps.

      Delete
  3. Replies
    1. You're welcome. Let me know where you end up going and if you have a good time.

      Delete
  4. Hello, Your website is amazing and full of excellent information. Can you suggest a hike in the canmore banff area for 4-6 year olds in May. Would like them to walk if possible! Thanks

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hello, Love your site - can you advise on a hike in the banff canmore area for 4-6 year olds in May. Would like them to walk and not ask to be carried! Thanks

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Hemna,
      Banff: Stewart Canyon (Lake Minnewanka Area)
      Tunnel Mountain (Banff townsite)
      Check out my story - Spring Energy Shot written in April for more info on those hikes.

      Canmore area: Heart Creek is a fun choice. (info above on this page for this one)

      Good luck.

      Delete
  6. Thanks for doing this guide. It's so overwhelming to find things to do with little kids outdoors and your postings are very helpful!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks. Glad I can be of help.

      Delete
  7. There are lots of beautiful places to hike around the world. However there are hardly as many articles devoted to trails that young children can manage easily.

    I think that adults also do forget that the things we find interesting may not be as much fun for a toddler. if we look back we will be able to recognize many of the things that were interesting features for us when we were younger. I always enjoyed being able to interact with challenges that were ideal for that stage. These were things that an older person would have taken for granted.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I found your site completely by accident - searching for images of The Rockwall trail map and it displayed a picture of one of your boys looking at the Bow River ‘Hiking along the Bow River in Canmore’. A lucky find!

    My wife and I are from Brisbane, Australia and are visiting Canada in September-October this year with our two girls, age 3 and 6. Your website has been so helpful, giving clear information about the trails and how challenging/interesting they will be for young children!

    We're starting in Vancouver then travelling to Whistler, Wells Gray Park, Jasper, Banff, Golden then back to Vancouver over a month, spending 3-5 days in each place. We're particularly looking forward to exploring Wells Gray Provincial Park, Highway 93A (Athabasca Falls & Mount Edith Cavell), Yoho National Park and Kootenay National Park. Your website has certainly given us plenty of other options to consider - thanks so much for all the effort you've put into your website.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Kris and please let me know if you have any specific questions as you get closer to your trip. Send me an email if you want at koob (dot) tanya (at) gmail (dot) com

      Delete
  9. I like to review your article, very amazing

    ReplyDelete

ShareThis