We visited the Canadian Rockies in the summer of 2011 and will be returning for a short visit this summer. This time we'll only have five days to spend in the area, en route to Alaska, and we'd like to squeeze in at least two or three hikes during that time. With that in mind, I put together a list of 42 family hikes in the four parks of Alberta's Rockies, and the two sibling parks in British Columbia.
What kind of family hikes are we talking about?
I asked several people what the term "family hike" meant to them and the answers varied. To be fair, families vary too. Babies, toddlers, children or teenagers? And if babies, are you looking for a stroller-accessible trail or maybe the plan is to strap the baby on your back in a carrier? Also, how fit are you? That goes for kids AND parents.
Confession time: I'm the worse hiker in our family of four. My boys are aged 13 and 15 and - not surprisingly - are far more athletic and fit than their 45-year-old Momma. As for their Dadda, he's an unstoppable hiking mule. He recently returned from Nepal where he trekked to the Everest Basecamp and then added a couple of other trails. 25 miles uphill is his idea of fun - heavy backpack included in the deal.
I'm going to be a bit self-centered here and focus on our family's standards because, well, we're going to hike in the Canadian Rockies this summer and I need a good practical list of hiking trails. The trails in this list all have to match the abilities of this family's weakest link - in this case yours truly. The title of this post could also be "Best day hikes in the Canadian Rockies that Anne Moss can manage."
What are the actual objective criteria for inclusion in this list?
- 1-5 miles in length, or roughly 2-8 kilometers. That's either for a loop or the return distance.
- Elevation gain of no more than 50 meters per kilometer (roughly 250 feet to the mile).
- Easy to moderate trail. Traversing huge boulders is out of the question.
- Loop trails - preferred.
- Stunning views - must.
I'm not a stickler though. If a trail has special significance or is very popular, I included it even if it's a little bit shorter or longer or steeper than what we're looking for.
Where are these trails located? I'm sticking to national parks here. Looking at the four Alberta national parks that constitute the Canadian Rockies World Heritage site - Banff National Park, Yoho National Park, Jasper National Park and Kootenai National Park - as well as two national parks in neighboring British Columbia: Canadian Glacier National Park and Mount Revelstoke National Park. Strictly speaking, they're "sorta Rockies" as they're considered part of the Columbia mountains. I looked it up. That's a subsidiary of the Canadian Rockies and for our purposes, it's included in this post.
The links in the titles will get you to the trail description at the official park site. Please use that to confirm all details and as always, check the website and consult with a ranger if possible to see what current trail conditions are. Especially when hiking with kids.
5 Best Family Day Hikes in Kootenai National Park
Length: 6 km / Elevation: 260 m / Highlights: Views of the Columbia Valley and Sinclair Canyon falls.
Length: 5.4 km / Elevation: 40 m / Highlights: A small lake in the forest.
Length: 5.2 km / Elevation: 40 m / Highlights: Two suspension bridges over the Kootenay River, a beautiful lake and lots of wildlife.
Length: 1.6 km / Elevation: 25 m / Highlights: Culturally significant ochre deposits used by local native people.
Length: 1.6 km / Elevation: 25 m / Highlights: Popular trail along a deep rocky gorge with bridges that cross over the ravine.
13 Best Family Hikes in Banff National Park
Trails in the Banff Area:
Length: 3 km loop / Elevation gain: minimal / Loop / Highlights: Views of Johnson lake and Cascade Mountain. Some of Alberta's oldest Douglas Fir trees.
Length: 2.1 km / Elevation gain: minimal / Loop / Highlights: Interpretive trail in an old-growth spruce forest.
Length: 2 km / Elevation gain: 60 m / Highlights: Trail ends at the base of a waterfall that cascades over a series of narrow ledges surrounded by forest.
Length: 2.4km to the Lower Falls, 4.8 to the Upper Falls / Elevation gain: 30 m to the Lower Falls, 120 m to Upper Falls / Highlights: Great trail made of bridges and catwalks hanging along the canyon walls! I mentioned it here as one of the top four natural wonders of Banff National Park.
Length: 3 km / Elevation gain: none / Highlights: Views from the bridge across Stewart Canyon.
Length: 2.8 km / Elevation gain: none / Highlights: Boardwalk above pristine marshland and bubbling thermal waters.
Length: 3.6 km / Elevation gain: 105 m / Highlights: Considered one of the best views in the Canadian Rockies. Highly recommended area for hiking, accessed by fee-based shuttle.
Trails in the Lake Louise Area:
Length: 4 km / Elevation gain: minimal / Highlights: Lake Louise! I blogged about our experiences there in my post about the natural wonders of Banff National Park. This trail is an easy stroll along the lakeshore. Fully accessible and you can really turn back at any point.
Length: 7.1 km / Elevation gain: minimal / Loop / Highlights: Interpretive trail along the river.
Length: 3 km / Elevation gain: minimal / Highlights: Views of the iconic Moraine Lake and the mountains and glaciers around it.
Length: 6 km / Elevation gain: 65 m / Highlights: Alpine meadows views above Moraine Lake.
Trails in the Icefields Highway Area:
Length: 6 km / Elevation gain: 245 m / Highlights: Nature trail with stunning views of Lake Peyto below.
Length: 5.4 km / Elevation gain: 250 m / Highlights: Views of the Saskatchewan Glacier from the top of the ridge.
6 Best Family Hikes in Yoho National Park
Length: 4.6 km / Elevation: 30 m / Highlights: Trail takes you to the base of the largest waterfall on the Kicking Horse River (30 m waterfall) .
Length: 5.2 km / Elevation: minimal / Highlights: Stunning views on this lakeshore trail (we've visited Emerald Lake so I can attest to that!)
Length: 1.6 km / Elevation: minimal / Highlights: A stroll to a pleasant small waterfall.
Length: 2.5 km / Elevation: minimal / Highlights: River views, wild flowers and wildlife (watch for mountain goats above.)
Length: 6 km / Elevation: minimal / Highlights: The confluence of three valleys and a local mineral lick means an abundance of wildlife.
Length: 6 km / Elevation: minimal / Highlights: Historic archway marking the location of the Continental Divide.
12 Best Family Hikes in Jasper National Park
There's a trail system that goes around the town of Jasper. You can hike part of the Jasper Discovery loop trail (8.3km if you wish to complete the entire loop) or one of several other trails in the system.
Length: 3.8 km / Elevation: 130 / Highlights: Crossing the Athabasca river on an old iron bridge. Views of the Old Fort rock formation.
Length: 4.2 km / Elevation: minimal / Highlights: Bridges across a gorgeous deep ravine. We hiked Maligne Canyon with the kids when they were 11 and 9. Highly recommended!
Length: 2.4 km / Elevation: none / Highlights: Views of serene Lake Annette. Wheelchair (and stroller!) accessible interpretive trail.
Length: 2.7 km / Elevation: 60 m / Highlights: Views of prehistoric landslide debris (i.e. boulders and small lakes).
Length: 3.2 km / Elevation: none / Highlights: An easy stroll along the shores of Lake Maligne.
Length: 5.2 km / Elevation: 80 m / Highlights: Hiking along the skyline trail to see two lakes formed by prehistoric landslide.
Length: 5/1 km / Elevation: 60 m / Highlights: Old-growth forest, a view of the town of Jasper and of Pyramid Lake.
Length: 4.5 km / Elevation: 75 m / Highlights: Views of Patricia Lake and the wildlife that inhabits the lake, including beavers and moose.
Length: km 4.5 / Elevation: 66 m / Loop / Highlights: Popular hike with views of five small lakes.
Length: 1.6 km / Elevation: 70 m / Highlights: Unique views include the Cavell pond. We hiked this trail in 2011 and the pond was full of icebergs.
Length: 6-7 km km / Elevation: 500 m / Highlights: Alpine flowers in bloom during summer months.
3 Best Family Hikes in Canadian Glacier National Park
The best list of trails I could find on their website came from the brochure. You can download it here for more information about these trails.
The 1885 Trail
Length: 7.2 km / Elevation: minimal / Highlights: Interpretive trail along the original Canadian Rail grade.
Length: 2.8 km / Elevation: minimal / Highlights: Interpretive trail along the original Canadian Rail grade. (Yes, I know it's the same description as the previous trail. That's what the brochure says though and the locations seem different).
Length: 6.4 km / Elevation: 321 m / Highlights: Getting close to the Illecillewaet Glacier.
3 Best Family Hikes in Mount Revelstoke National Park
Length: 2.5 km / Elevation: 133m / Highlights: Wet forest habitat of small creeks, lichen and moss.
Length: km2 or 5km / Elevation: 21 m or 63 m / Highlights: A pleasant walk through the forest. You can choose one of the two loops, the shorter or the longer.
There are seven short trails listed in this area, a few hundreds meters each. I don't consider any of them to be an actual "hike" in its own right but I think they could be a good option for families with younger children, or possible weaved together into a day of hiking, so I'm listing them here as one item. You can read all about them here. There are also a couple of shorter trails in a different area of the park: The Giant Cedars Boardwalk and the Skunk Cabbage Boardwalk trails.
So, there you have it. Six parks and 42 trails. This means some tough choices to make for our coming visit, considering there are so many other things to see and do in these beautiful areas! I hope this list helps other families make the best of their visit to the magnificent Canadian Rockies!