The sunny mountain town of Canmore boasts a wealth of jaw-dropping mountain scenery and an extensive network of stunning hiking trails for all levels of interest. Here’s a rundown of our top picks!
While neighbouring Banff National Park often steals the limelight when it comes to Alberta hiking, true outdoor enthusiasts shouldn’t overlook the Canmore area. Canmore hiking is a great way to experience the outdoors and see some incredible scenery.
Hundreds of kilometres of hiking trails twist through the Canmore area’s rugged terrain, providing hikers with a wide range of options. Take a simple valley bottom stroll or test your legs on a grueling incline. This area provides plenty of trails to choose from.
Gentle strolls right in town
If you prefer more mellow hikes that can be done with the entire family, you don’t have to leave the community of Canmore to find them.
The municipality has developed more than 70 kilometres of trails used by cyclists, joggers and hikers practically year-round. That means you can enjoy a quick and easy stroll without having to hop in the car and drive to your route.
The Riverside Loop, for example, meanders along the Bow River offering some incredible scenery along the way. It’s partially paved and very level, so almost anyone can hike here.
Steep climbs in the wilderness
If you’re looking for something a little more challenging, head outside of town and put your legs to the test.
The big one to tackle is the Ha Ling trail, which serves up spell-binding views from the summit. This is a popular one with locals in the early summer, since it’s among the first routes to be snow-free. You can also take on the 1,200 metres of elevation gain at Lady MacDonald – experienced trekkers will love the scramble near the top.
Whether you’re a fan of sheer treks or gentles strolls, pretty much every trail in Canmore provides an amazing way to watch for wildlife while soaking up the mountain landscape. Here’s a list of some of our favourites:
LEVEL: EASY | ROUND TRIP: 4.6KM
Grotto Canyon is a unique hike that allows you to see ancient native pictographs that have been preserved on the canyon walls for hundreds of years. As a result, it is a fun, physical adventure and a real-life history class all in one journey!
This hike leads you up a river bed to the beautiful Grotto Falls (which are used for ice climbing in the winter). On your way, you pass the ancient Hopi pictographs created by native people from the Arizona region who travelled north to the land of “rock and ice” (the Canadian Rockies). Their full Native name is Hopitu, which means “the Peaceful People”.
The pictographs found at Grotto Canyon depict animals and humans and appear to be between 500 to 1300 years old. One of the pictographs on the limestone wall is the flute player, known as the Kokapelli. Kokapelli is said to be the symbol of the traveller, as well as the symbol of fertility.
The first kilometre of the trail is through a forest and leads you past a magnesium-carbonate processing plant. You then walk up the creek bed to Grotto Falls. You will either need to hop from boulder to boulder or simply step over small streams, depending on the season and how high the creek is. In Spring, snow melts and water uses this narrow canyon as an outlet, making this hike more challenging and potentially dangerous. In the winter, ice walking on the frozen creek is a fun adventure that’s family-friendly.
Driving from Canmore, head east on Bow Valley Trail for about 10 kilometres. Look for the Grotto Pond Day Use Area and pull into the parking lot.
LEVEL: MODERATE | ROUND TRIP: 5KM LOOP
The Grassi Lakes trail is a versatile hike that is great for those looking for a family activity or a more physical endeavour. Shortly into the trail, travellers will come across an intersection where they can choose to either take an easier route or one that features a moderate incline up a staircase.
The more challenging route travels by a beautiful waterfall and over to a viewpoint where panoramic views of Canmore and the Bow Valley can be seen. For groups with small children or dogs (leash required), the easy route provides a simple hike that still rewards visitors with the turquoise blue lakes found at the end of the trail, which sit at the bottom of an ancient coral reef. Although there is no swimming in the lakes, it’s still a beautiful spot to pack a lunch to enjoy a picnic in the shade.
Grassi Canyon is a popular place for rock climbers, too. Take a moment to watch these admirable athletes practice their sport. Above the lakes, it’s possible to climb up and view native pictographs although they are not particularly well-marked.
Drive through downtown Canmore, then take the route to the Nordic Center and follow the signs to the Grassi Lake parking lot (at the base of the Smith-Dorrien/Spray Trail).
LEVEL: EASY | ROUND TRIP: 2KM LOOP
The Riverside Loop is perfect for the whole family. This trail is partially paved and part compact/smooth gravel, which makes it easy for small children to ride their bikes. It’s also a great path for walking with toddlers or babies in a bike trailer or stroller. The Loop follows the Bow River and presents some of the most spectacular scenery in the area. There are playgrounds along the way providing some diversion for younger children.
LEVEL: CHALLENGING | ROUND TRIP: 6 KM
Mount Lady MacDonald is one of those hikes that can make you fall in love with hiking!
Once you are above tree line (halfway up), the views of Canmore, the valley and the surrounding mountains are incredible. For the average hiker, this is a great first or second hike when visiting Canmore.
This hike starts steep through the forest, then winds through a handful of beautiful meadows where you might even see some bighorn sheep grazing away. After a few switchbacks, you’ll walk out above treeline to find a helicopter landing pad and the remains of an abandoned tea house. A gazebo located to the east of the tea house is a lovely place to enjoy a snack and a rest. Many hikers end their hike here (and many come here to tie the knot!).
If you decide to push on to the summit, you’ll be rewarded with a view across the valley toward the Three Sisters. If you’re feeling like channelling your inner mountain goat, walk the narrow summit ridge, which has a sheer drop on one side and a very steep incline on the other.
The average hiker takes about 5-7 hours to complete this hike, including rest stops at the helicopter pad and at the summit. There is significant sun exposure on this hike and no opportunity to refill your water bottle, so be sure to pack enough for the day.
Drive north over the Trans Canada Highway towards Cougar Creek on Benchlands Trail. You will find the parking lot at the junction with Elk Run Blvd. Try arriving early, as the parking lot fills early in the day. There is extra parking on the roads nearby. From the Cougar Creek parking area, stay on the West side of the creek and follow the wide trail up to the Benchlands trail system. Once you leave the Benchlands, you walk through steep terrain in the forest.
LEVEL: CHALLENGING | ROUND TRIP: 4 TO 5 HRS
This is a super fun hike for fit hikers, as it’s a quick workout that gets your heart pumping and we never get tired of the incredible view from the summit. The first couple of kilometres wind through the forest and then open to loose rock for the final scramble to the top.
Many locals make sure to do this hike once or twice a summer as it’s one of the first of the local trails to be snow free in early summer, giving us a long season on the mountain.
The mountain itself was named after a Chinese cook who worked for the Canadian Pacific Railway. Legend has it that his coworkers bet him $50 he couldn’t make it to the summit in 10hrs. He proved them all wrong by starting at 7am and returning to town in time for lunch at noon, after having placed a flag atop the peak. We recommend packing a hearty snack and taking it a little slower than the Chinese cook did to reach the summit!
Drive from your Canmore condo through downtown towards the Canmore Nordic Centre. Then drive up highway #742, the Smith-Dorrien-Spray Lakes Trail. Continue past the turn-off for the Nordic Centre and park in the Goat Creek Parking Lot. From the parking lot, walk across the road, up the hill and cross over the canal.
Looking for a really unique experience? We also offer a variety of heli-hiking packages in Canmore! Get transported to the cloud-touching peaks and experience new sights accessed by very few. Enjoy a helicopter ride to a pristine alpine meadow, where sweeping mountain vistas surround you… and the best part is you’ll be the only people around for miles (aside from the guide of course!). These heli-hiking tours are fairly customizable and you can choose to enjoy anything from from a nice picnic under a waterfall and a mild walk through the meadow and rubble to a challenging hike into the mountain peaks. The knowledgeable guide will give you commentary on the surrounding geographic region, flora and fauna. Canmore truly is an outdoor adventurer's paradise, where all the locals and visitors love it specifically for the amazing outdoor experiences. These tours generally last from 3-4 hours, and you can find more information about this amazing activity here.
If you’re looking to indulge in the natural settings of Canmore and surrounding area, we have a fantastic array of vacation rentals with stunning mountain views. Check out our list of excellent Canmore accommodations here or give our Destination Experts a call on 1.877.902.1616 – we’re available 7 days a week and can easily assist you with finding the perfect property.