Winter recreation doesn’t have to be expensive, and you don’t have to invest in skis or snowshoes to get out for an easy family-friendly hike. Many trails are well packed down and straightforward to follow all winter long. Bring a sled along (and bring the helmets), stop to build a snowman and don’t forget to make at least a few snow angels along the way. You might find the kids actually prefer hiking during the winter!
1. Paddy’s Flat Interpretive Trail, Kananaskis. You’ll begin by hiking through the Paddy’s Flat Campground in the Elbow Valley off of Highway 66. Park at the closed campground gate, and hike down the road to the C loop. You’ll find the entrance to the hiking trail near the playground (which is fun even in the winter) and from there, it’s straight forward hiking along the river. The interpretive trail is 2.2 kilometres in length, but allow for another 2 kilometres of hiking through the campground.
2. Beaver Flats Interpretive Trail, Kananaskis. This is another winter gem in the Elbow Valley off of Highway 66. To access the trail in winter, you must park at the winter highway gate at the entrance to Elbow Falls. Park alongside the highway and walk around the gate to start your hike. Hike along the highway for 400 metres until you see the sign for the Beaver Lodge pullout. An arrow directs you down off the highway and onto the trail. Total hiking distance is roughly a 4-kilometre return including the portion on the closed highway. The trail is straightforward to follow and passes by several beaver ponds as you hike toward the Beaver Flats Campground.
3. Troll Falls and Hay Meadows, Kananaskis. This hike is conveniently located below Kananaskis Village for families spending the weekend at the Delta Lodge. The 4-kilometre loop hike follows the Troll Falls and Hay Meadows Trails. These multi-use winter trails permit cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and hiking. Please be respectful of the ski tracks and do not walk on top of them. It’s also expected you get over to the side of the trail when skiers are coming down a hill toward you. Access to the trails is from the Ribbon Creek Parking lot or from the Stoney Parking lot (the first parking lot on your right-hand side as you head up to Nakiska from Highway 40).
4. Fenland Loop, Banff. This short 2.1-kilometre loop trail starts from the Fenland trail parking lot on Mt. Norquay Road at the edge of the Banff town site. It’s a great hike with toddlers and preschoolers, always well packed down and wide enough for sleds.
5. Johnson Lake, Banff. This hike is accessed via the Lake Minnewanka loop road just outside the town of Banff. When frozen, one can hike right across the middle of the lake or you can follow the trail that circles the lake through the trees. The loop is 2.8 kilometres in distance and great for small children.
6. Stewart Canyon and Lake Minnewanka, Banff. This is another great hike when in the Lake Minnewanka area. The hike is a 3-kilometre round trip to the canyon and the trail follows the lake shoreline to an old wooden bridge over Stewart Canyon. (Note: You will want to watch small children on a few narrow spots, and sleds might not be appropriate for the entire distance along the lakeshore.)
7. Tunnel Mountain Summit, Banff.This is a more advanced winter hike, but a lot of fun for families with school-aged kids looking for a winter adventure. You’ll gain approximately 300 metres of height as you climb to the top of Tunnel Mountain in the Banff town site. The hike is 4.8 kilometres round trip, and ice cleats are highly recommended for all members in your group. (Ice cleats can be purchased from most outdoor stores, and most children should fit a pair of small cleats if their feet are at least size 12 to 1.)
8. Sundance Trail to Sundance Canyon, Banff.This is another multi-use trail for cross-country skiing and hiking. The wide width of the trail makes it ideal for sleds, and it is a great choice for young kids needing a trail that is well packed down. The trail starts from the Cave and Basin National Historic Site in the Banff town site and is 6.4 kilometres round trip. Again, stay off the ski tracks and give priority to skiers coming down the hills toward you. (Note: If you want to continue into Sundance Canyon, you will need ice cleats, and it is not highly recommended to access the canyon in winter due to slippery stairs and steep climbs.)
9. Johnston Canyon, Banff. This trail is located 22 kilometres west of Banff on The Bow Valley Parkway (Highway 1A.) It is a 2.2-kilometre return hike to the Lower Falls and a 5.4-kilometre return hike to the Upper Falls. Ice cleats are highly recommended and parents will want to keep a close eye on small children so they don’t fall over the low railings into the canyon below. This is one of our favorite winter hikes, and with proper caution will be a highlight for your family this winter.
10. Lake Louise Shoreline Trail, Lake Louise. This 4-kilometre return trail starts in front of the Chateau Lake Louise and takes you to the back of the lake where you can see a 100 metre tall frozen waterfall. You can either follow the trail through the trees or hike on the lake when frozen. If hiking on the lake, please stay off of the cross-country ski tracks. (Note: There is an avalanche hazard if you hike past the end of the lake, so make sure you stop at the waterfall.)
For more information on winter hiking in Banff and Kananaskis, please consult a local visitor centre or check the appropriate website for trail reports.
For more information on snowshoeing and hiking in Banff, visit pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/ab/banff/activ/raquette-snowshoeing.aspx. For more information on trail condition reports, visit pc.gc.ca/apps/tcond/cond_e.asp?opark=100092.
For Kananaskis trail condition reports, visit albertaparks.ca/kananaskis-country/advisories-public-safety/trail-reports.aspx.
Tanya is a freelance writer, and mom to a spunky seven-year-old. She loves hiking, camping, skiing and all things mountain-related. She is the author of the blog, Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies, rockiesfamilyadventures.com.
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