Over the course of our month in Canmore we did a lot of hiking. Short hikes, long hikes, larch hikes, you name it. Plus, this isn’t the first time we’ve been in the area, just the longest. So, we already had a few to choose from. While we also compiled a list of the Best Hikes Near Canmore – note the missing “easy” – for those strange kindred spirits who think it’s reasonable to spend an entire day climbing to the very top of big hills, this list is for those with more moderate goals.
So if you are looking for a nice walk, some beautiful scenery, sure, but nothing that might leave you crying in the fetal position realizing your exhausted legs no longer have the power to get you to the bathroom, here is a list of easy hikes in Canmore and the surrounding area. And even though they aren’t the hardest, some of them are still among the best the Canadian Rocky Mountains have to offer.
Most of these walks can be completed in a couple hours or less, which should leave plenty of time to get to other fun Canmore activities, like drinking beer on decks, eating happy hour chicken wings and shopping for just the right flannel shirt for every occasion.
Obviously, all lists like this are extremely subjective and I’m sure there are avid hiking locals that could easily add to it, especially considering my pre-trip research yielded a total of close to 100 hikes in the area. Needless to say, we haven’t hit them all just yet. There’s always next year.
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Easy Hikes – Kananaskis Country
8km / 2.5 hrs (including lunch) / 400m elevation gain
This one is also listed in the “best hikes” post because if you add Sarrail Ridge it gets even better, and a lot tougher. But going at least as far as Rawson Lake is highly recommended. The views of Sarrail are amazing and since it is in a sheltered bowl, both times I’ve been there the lake has been absolutely calm, providing some outstandingly picturesque reflections.
Yes, it is a bit of a climb but on our last visit we actually passed a tiny wiener dog with 2-inch legs. If he can do it, you can, too. It’s a dog friendly hike but make sure to keep your dogs on a leash.
10km, 2.5 hrs, 400m (probably 1-2 km shorter if you stop at closest point on lake)
Very beautiful, and very popular. We did this easy Kananaskis hike in the Spray Valley Provincial Park on the spur of the moment on a Saturday morning and, oh boy, that was a lot of people. Even though it was snowing pretty hard (the first of the season) it still seemed to be the hike of choice for people who don’t do a lot of hiking, as we saw everyone from teenage girls in short shorts to families with toddlers bumbling along to elderly folks with canes instead of walking sticks.
Which was a bit strange because although it is not overly strenuous, it certainly isn’t that easy. I guess people really will go to great lengths to experience one of the better larch hikes around. Oh, yeah, did I forget to mention? Yellow larches, white snow, blue water, grey mountains.
Need I say more? How about “reflection”. Definitely check it out, just get there early or, even better, on a weekday. You can also avoid some of the crowds looking for a easy hike near Calgary by taking the slight detour trail showing on the AllTrails map.
4km / 1.5 hrs / 270 m gain
This one was a pleasant surprise as a last-minute add-on after hiking to Rawson Lake. We were there right at the beginning of larch season and most places they had yet to change. However, with Ptarmigan Cirque being a couple hundred metres elevation higher than most in the area, the larches there were already a pleasingly fluorescent yellow, quite exciting for our first real larch foray.
It is still a great hike, though, even if you’re not there for larch season. A pretty, lush valley, imposing cliff faces on both sides and some rugged rockfall at the top, but the best part is the ability to get expansive views of neighbouring mountains with a relatively easy climb making it a great easy Kananaskis hike.
Although the trail is steep, it is fairly short, providing impressive views to effort ratio. I actually continued on up the rockpile at the end of the valley for another 500 metres (and maybe 100m elevation gain) to see the lake at the top. It was mostly dry with just a couple patches of dirty snow in September but probably has its moments earlier in the season.
Easy Hikes – Banff National Park
Lake Louise – Lake Agnes
7.5 km / 2.5 hrs / 430m
This one shows up as part of two of the hikes in our overall “best of” list, the Devil’s Thumb and Big Beehive. However, it is also possible, and strongly recommended, to go at least this far even if you aren’t up to those big climbs as this is the best of the easy hikes in Banff National Park.
The walk is steadily uphill but relatively gradual and shaded. Partway up you get some partial views of oh-so-blue Lake Louise, then pass a small waterfall and soon after reach the quaint little Lake Agnes teahouse.
The lake itself is calm and gorgeous, with steep slopes on three sides and a wide variety of flora surrounding its shores. It is definitely worth walking to the far end to get the very different views and the full effect of the reflections from that side.
Another quick, easy option while you are at Lake Louise is the short hike up to Fairview Lookout (2.5 km / 165m) – nice views of the lake and hotel for very little effort. Or you can walk along the flat path on one side of Lake Louise.
Moraine Lake – Larch Valley
7.5 km / 3 hrs / 430m
Another one that was also part of our “best hikes” list, Larch Valley, a Moraine Lake hike, is right on the way Sentinel Pass. And, while the view from up there is something to behold, if taking on hikes with the ominous “pass” in their names isn’t your thing or the skies aren’t clear enough to make it worth the effort, you should still head up to Larch Valley.
First of all, yes, there are definitely larches everywhere, so if you happen to be visiting in larch season this one is practically non-negotiable. But even if you’re not, the views of Moraine on the way up, of Sentinel Pass in the distance, and the lush valley itself are still worth doing.
There is also an even easier path along Lake Moraine that is mostly flat and allows great views of the lake and mountains.
Lake Minnewanka Lakeside Trail
16 km / 5 hrs / 500m
Sure, this is a bit long and hilly to be called “easy”, but since it just runs alongside this beautiful lake and turns around at the first campsite you can make it as long or short as you want.
Even heading out a few kilometres and coming back will net you some great views and get you away from the crowds near the parking lot making it a great choice of a easy hike near Banff. The full Lake Minnewanka trail (to the very end of this long, skinny lake) runs a robust 57 km.
5 km / 1.5 hrs / 250m
This easy jaunt up to the lookout point atop Tunnel Mountain is very popular thanks in part to its handy location just on the edge of Banff townsite making it the best Banff short hike.
And rest assured, it is okay to be winded climbing 250m in such a short distance, so don’t feel bad about it even if you notice a surprising number of toddlers also making their way to the top. Hopefully you are at least a little less cranky about it, though.
5km, 1.5 hrs, 250m gain (to Upper Falls)
One of the most popular trails in the entire Banff area, “2020: Year of COVID-19 and Everything Being Completely Weird” meant that the Bow Valley Parkway was (and remains) closed to vehicles (other than those staying at the Johnston Canyon resort) and one of the only ways to visit was by walking or biking in. We opted for wheels and it was a very smooth, easy 6.5 km each way bike ride.
Cruising along all by ourselves on a perfectly paved and practically deserted highway felt a bit like a very tame, very dull apocalypse movie.
Plus, we got to visit the falls without all the crowds (the whole point of the policy, I guess). A nice, easy hike along a nice, quiet river to some nice, pretty waterfalls. What’s not to like? If you’re feeling energetic you can also add on another 5km to the “Ink Pots”.
Easy Hikes – Canmore & Area
4 km / 1.5hrs / 230m
The Grassi Lakes trail is very popular due to both its close proximity to Canmore and the view of the startingly coloured lakes that can be achieved with very little effort. The two Canmore lakes are the most photogenic in the area.
There are a few alternatives to make the trail harder if you choose, but even the basic circuit offers beautiful scenery and a wilderness feel making Grassi Lakes the best of the easy Canmore hikes. It also seems to be the gathering point for the small handful of Canmore residents who are just starting to work themselves back into shape.
7km / 2.5 hrs / 400m elevation gain
For something very different and unique close to Canmore, you can’t go wrong with the Grotto Canyon hiking trail. The 7 km is a rough number since you can simply go up into the canyon as far as you choose and turn around at any point. The surprising part was how often the canyon changed – from narrow slot canyon to wide boulder plain to rugged dry creek bed.
Sunny/shaded, trees/cliffs, windy/calm. The path gets off to a bit of an inauspicious start alongside a loud, dusty mineral processing plant but as soon as you turn up into the canyon that will seem a world away. Keep in mind that you are constantly walking on rocks so it will be more tiring than the specific distance and gain numbers would lead you to believe.
Another cool feature of the Grotto Canyon hike is that it can be done year-round and is actually one of the best things to do in Canmore in winter. While the footing can get a bit slippery and you’ll need to bundle up, the chance to get up close and personal with some frozen waterfalls add even more drama to this impressive canyon.
Policeman Creek Boardwalk
4 km / 1 hr / flat
This one barely qualifies as a hike but should still be mentioned as it is fairly unique, even among the many nice easy walks in Canmore city limits.
This highly photogenic boardwalk runs right down the middle of the creek and is at its best in the soft, late-day light. This was our favourite of the easy Canmore hikes when we wanted to go for a walk without driving first.
Heart Creek Bunker
4 km / 1.5 hrs / 200m
Our friend with an Atlas Obscura fetish picked this one and it turned out to be a pretty fascinating little jaunt to a creepy cave with a strange, sordid history (a storage unit in case of nuclear war…) and some very weird piles of living spiders guaranteed to make your skin crawl.
Even more than the haunting pleas found in the strangely literal graffiti. It also smelled a lot like pot, but that may have been connected to the group of millennials on their way out. It is a good choice of the Canmore short hikes options.
Bow River West Path to Three Sisters Pathway
4 km / 1 hr / flat
This isn’t specifically detailed on AllTrails, although you can find the trail just by looking at their map and it is easy to find. This easy hike in Canmore starts in the town and then follows along the river. You can actually walk as far as you want on this one but you will at least want to take it from Bridge Road south through to the end of West Canmore Park along the Three Sisters Pathway.
You follow the river most of the way, pass some pretty swank houses and get a little different view of the mountains.
Bow River Loop
2 km, 30 min, flat
This is a great little circular route just a few blocks from downtown Canmore, better than you’d usually find right in a city. You go along the river for awhile, cross the very cool Engine Bridge and, if you’re worried about the difficulty level, rest assured you’ll pass more strollers than mountain climbers.
It is easily combined with the Policeman’s Creek Boardwalk and/or the Bow River West Path.
Canmore Hoodoos Loop
5 km / 1.5 hrs / 250m
Across the highway to the north, this one offers a little better workout than the others nearby, as well as some good views back over the town to the mountains behind. The hoodoos themselves barely qualify as plural, but there are, in fact, two hoodoos, so it’s hard to argue.
There are a few variations you choose between, some of which are pretty steep and slippery so, if you’re not really into that, be ready to adjust accordingly.
We recently ventured out to take on the Elbow Lake hike, continuing up the valley to Rae Glacier. With a small glacier at the top, phenomenal views back down and the wonderfully clear and photogenic Elbow Lake waiting for camper and day trippers, this hike is under serious consideration to be added to this list.
The Elbow Lake portion definitely qualifies as “easy”, although the scramble up to Rae Glacier offers the best views and is a bit more challenging. For now it gets an emphatic honourable mention and we’ll see how we feel in hindsight a couple months down the road.
Once again, these are just a portion of all the possibilities in the area, many of which we haven’t yet gotten to. But we have heard good things about these others and you may want to look into them as well if you have time.
Consolation Lakes (Moraine Lake) – We actually drove all the way there a second time to see these but the road was closed for construction. And then the blizzard started, so it probably didn’t matter much either way.
West Wind Pass
Finally, all you amateur photographers out there may want to check out Laynni’s post on great photo ops in the area:
What to Take
It is always important to be prepared when venturing out hiking, especially in the mountains. Obviously, long, challenging hikes require more advance planning and safety gear but even for short hikes you still need to be properly equipped.
Dressing properly will make the experience much more enjoyable and carrying useful safety supplies can ensure you are prepared in case mishaps take place (as they tend to). Here is a quick checklist of items we alway carry, wear or use while hiking:
A good day pack is essential. We have recently become big fans of Gregory packs and would recommend the Gregory Miwok 18 for short hikes or when your gear is split between two people. And the Gregory Optic 48 for longer hikes. I know 48L sounds big but it is a super-light and comfortable pack that cinches down smaller when it isn’t full.
Water is obviously important and we go back and forth between using a Camelbak bladder and just a couple of water bottles. We also keep a few Aquatabs with us at all times just in case we ever run low and want to treat some river or lake water.
They are tiny and every now and then come in quite handy. It is always a good idea to carry some snacks as well. It never hurts and sometimes hikes end up taking longer than planned.
Laynni always hikes in compression leggings that she swears by for the extra knee, hip and muscle support.
Layers, baby! You never know what kind of weather nature will throw at you so it pays to be ready for anything. Obviously, the forecast might change what you carry but if there is any doubt (and there almost always is in the mountains), bring extra.
And just in case we are so impressed by the scenery that we decide it’s worth a photo with both of us in it we always carry the tiny, extremely handy octopus tripod.
Of course, a comprehensive first-aid kit is key to make sure those “mishaps” are simply inconvenient and don’t ruin your whole day.
Other useful items that we sometimes carry and sometimes don’t, depending on the hike:
Well, that probably covers most of it, although somehow we have even more to say on the matter in our Day Hike Packing List post. Check it out if you’re looking for even more detailed info.
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