Hiking in Alberta’s Canadian Rockies for the first time? You’re in for a treat — the mountains here have all of the spectacle and grandeur of their southern American cousins, and in most places they only have a fraction of the foot traffic. Flights to Calgary from most cities in the Mountain West are cheap and quick, and from that homebase you’re only a short drive from some of the most incredible hiking in the world.
If you don’t know where to get started … or if you’re looking for some inspiration to book your own trip ASAP, here are 6 stunning day hikes in Wild Rose Country.
This 11-mile adventure was voted Canada’s Best Hike back in 1981, and rated as one of the World’s Most Thrilling Trails by National Geographic in 2014. You will surely agree when you experience this unforgettable full-day adventure, which has you starting on a boat, then trekking past a series of waterfalls, crawling through a natural tunnel, and climbing up an exposed section of chain-trail to a mirror-perfect alpine lake where you can walk across the border from Canada into the United States. Absolutely unforgettable in every way and a must-hike if you’re visiting Waterton Lakes National Park. Be sure to check out our recommendations for food in Waterton Village, and if you’ve got extra time, consider driving along the Cowboy Trail on your way down or back!
Mount Yamnuska (Mount John Laurie)
Just west of Calgary, Kananaskas Country is not short on stunning scenery. This is where the Rocky Mountains meet the Great Plains, and few trails embody the drama of that meeting like Yamnuska (officially known as Mount John Laurie). As you approach from Calgary, you’ll be driving through gently undulating plains … and then you see a wall of stone as you head west. The face of Yamnuska rises at what seems like a 90-degree angle, and the mountain itself is covered with routes for rock climbers and scramblers of all abilities. Hikers can enjoy a mostly non-technical route to the summit (you’ll need a bit of scrambling ability and the nerves for an exposed chain section) and a fun and fast scree ski back down toward the trailhead.
Near the gateway town of Canmore, the Tent Ridge Track offers up a panoramic sawtooth ridge view of jagged, rocky peaks and deep, glaciated valleys filled with rushing rivers and otherworldly blue lakes. This is the interior of Kanasakas, where the prairies and plains are but a memory of your drive in. This 7.2 mile loop gets you some jaw-dropping views of that landscape, but it’ll make you earn those views, too. Relax your tired legs and refill your stomach at nearby Mount Engadine Lodge — or stay a night for a truly unforgettable experience.
Plain of Six Glaciers
Let’s face it, if you’re heading through Banff National Park on the Icefields Parkway, you’re at least going to stop for a snapshot at the achingly photogenic Lake Louise. But if all you do is visit the lakeshore and leave, you’re missing the real fun – a 9.4 mile hike into the stunning glacial valley behind the lake. Here, you’ll climb above and along the Victoria, Aberdeen, and Lefroy Glaciers to a storybook Swiss chalet stocked with custom blended teas and freshly-baked chocolate cake. Hike a bit farther, past the maintained trail’s end to a spot where you can watch (and listen to) the glacier below Mount Victoria grind and growl over the terrain in real time.
If you’re looking for spectacular scenery in Banff National Park but prefer to keep your hiking boots on solid ground, head to Sunshine Meadows. This ski area turns into an incredible hiking destination, with postcard-perfect alpine meadows and lakes and towering peaks in every direction. A 7.4 mile loop trail crosses the Continental Divide into British Columbia and huge groves of larch trees put on a brilliant foliage display in the fall.
In the summer, the Sulphur Skyline Trail just east of Jasper Townsite is a spectacular gateway to long distance backcountry destinations. In the fall, you can hike through clouds to a winter wonderland, where rugged wilderness surrounds you. After a moderate climb to a ridge, you can descend down to the historic Miette Hot Springs, where you can soothe your hiking muscles in some of the hottest hot springs in the Canadian Rockies.