By Jenice Seto
While chatting with some classmates this year, I was stunned to hear that they had never made a trip out to the mountains! I myself never make it out to the mountains nearly as much as I should, but it got me thinking, what could be holding people back from starting these new adventures?
When I had asked these classmates why they haven’t been out to the Rockies, they simply expressed that they never really had the time. And that’s totally fair. A trip to the mountains requires a little extra planning and having the right equipment, especially if you’re a newbie to hiking culture.
But I am here to tell you that a trip to the mountains doesn’t need to take as much energy as you may think. So whether you’re looking to start hiking, or hoping to re-ignite your adventurous spirit, I will be sharing my top 3 hikes that are perfect for exploring the Canadian Rockies of Alberta.
My go-to recommendation for people visiting Calgary or Banff is Ptarmigan Cirque. Located about an hour and a half outside of Calgary, at the Highwood Pass in Kananaskis Country, Ptarmigan Cirque is nice and close to the city. As you walk along the trail, you’ll discover unique biomes, ranging from the grassy taiga, to the boreal forest, ending at the barren rocky slopes of Mount Arethusa. The main hike is a lasso, and takes about 2.5 hours to complete. This trail is perfect for beginners and for families, requiring just some dexterity to navigate tree roots, rocks, and boulders.
Ptarmigan Cirque’s beauty really shines through in the Autumn months of September and October, during the Larch season. As you traverse to the peak of the trail, you’ll watch as the evergreen forests transition into the orange and yellow Larch trees. Perfect for that next portrait shot.
At the trail summit, there are lots of boulders you and your little ones can clamber on, along with waterfalls and streams. And if you’re feeling up to it, you can continue your adventure on additional steeper trails adjacent to the mountain slope. Watch your step! This is the best place to spot some wildlife. Keep your eyes peeled for little ptarmigans, whiskey jacks, grouse and chipmunks!
-bring a lunch to eat when you have a rest at the trail’s lasso loop, surrounded by Mount Arethusa’s peaks.
-arrive early for good parking, especially during Larch season
-perfect location for family portraits, so bring a nice camera. Bonus points if you bring another family along too.
-stay on designated trails! Do your part to protect the surrounding wildlife.
Located 5 minutes from Downtown Banff, Tunnel Mountain Hike is an easy find. Once you’re a little more well acquainted with hiking, this trail is great if you’re looking to push yourself a little further. Tunnel Mountain has a sharper incline, so make sure you take a friend for some extra motivation.
Tunnel Mountain Trail takes about an hour and a half to reach the summit (at least that’s how long it took me) but it could vary depending on your pace. At the peak, you’ll get a lovely view overlooking downtown Banff. There are also other viewpoints scattered throughout that look out onto the surrounding mountains.
Tunnel Mountain is best hiked with close friends, and is best suited for older kids in the family. And after you return to the trailhead, you can treat yourself to a well-deserved Beavertail back in Banff’s Center!
-drink LOTS especially if it’s a hot day. You’ll be exerting yourself quite a bit
-stop to catch your breath often! Lots of little nooks to stop for a break on the trail
-bring hiking buddies, so that you can all encourage each other!
Johnston Canyon is a popular trail for families, and those with young ones. I myself was just a tyke when my parents first took me there. The trails are relatively flat, usually made of gravel, and require just a bit of dexterity to navigate some slippery rocks. Johnston Canyon is a “choose your own adventure” kind of trail. With your choice of the Lower Falls or the Upper Falls, there are loads of discovery opportunities to look at the waterfalls from many different angles.
Located about two hours outside of Calgary, it’s a bit of a further journey to get there, however, I recommend making a whole day of it. If you’re looking to extend your adventure, consider checking out the Ink Pots, located just 5 km via Johnston Canyon. And if you’re still looking for more, it’s 12 km to Lake Louise, so feel free to stop by for more stunning sights!
Though most travelers visit Johnston Canyon in the warmer months, it’s worth stopping by in the winter months to marvel at all the ice pillars formed by the falls.
-even in the warm months, the spray from the falls paired with the shade the canyons make, can be a little cold, so bring a hoodie or a light jacket
-take your time! There will be lots of other visitors, so respect everyone’s space.
With the mountains this close, you owe it to yourself to experience their beauty, and the stunning nature that surrounds it. Make some time for yourself to check some of these places out! Even if you make it to just one of these sites. I hope you found this guide helpful, and I encourage you to share it with your friends!