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Family Hikes less Traveled

Summer is here and if we lived out East, we’d be packing up to head for the family cottage or beach house. Warm lakes not being plentiful here, we do what we can to escape the city, and we head for the hills or the Rockies as the case may be. Our favorite thing to do as a family is hiking, and I’ve been exploring the local trails since I moved to Calgary 12 years ago.

It’s safe to say that there are few popular trails I haven’t done, and I always offer the same advice to anybody who asks: Stay clear of the ‘tourist’ trails if you want any solitude or quality family time. There’s nothing worse than watching an entire bus of hikers get out at your trail head, knowing that you’ll be following on their heels the whole way up the trail. I get cranky when my hiking trail is too busy and find great satisfaction in finding secret gems that are less known to the masses.

When it comes to choosing a hiking trail in summer, the best piece of advice I can give you is to avoid the National Parks on the weekend. The scenery in Banff is unparalleled and I support our parks 100 per cent, but you won’t find solitude on any of the popular trails in the middle of summer. Go on a weekend and you will most definitely be joining a parade of other hikers from the parking lot.

If you want to do the popular park trails, my suggestion is to start early (camping nearby helps with this one). Go during the week when it’s slightly less busy, or go in the pre/post summer months. September is a gorgeous month for hiking and most trails will see significant reductions in traffic. Just don’t try to go into Larch Valley on the third weekend of September when the trees are at their most golden.

Below, in my opinion, are the top most popular trails in Banff due to their beauty, easy access and family-friendly hiking:


  • Johnston Canyon, Highway 1A
  • The Lake Agnes Tea House, Lake Louise
  • The Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House and Shoreline Trail, Lake Louise
  • Larch Valley to Sentinel Pass, Moraine Lake
  • Sulphur Mountain Trail, Banff Town-site

Each of these hiking trails is stunning with awe-inspiring scenery. Two of them take you to remote tea houses and one takes you to the top of a mountain where you can take a gondola down after your hike up. Waterfalls, majestic mountains, glaciers and alpine lakes - it’s no surprise that every guide book lists these hikes on their ‘do not miss’ list of things to do when on vacation in the Canadian Rockies.

Since we, as Calgarians, are not included in the ‘once-in-a-lifetime vacation’ category, we can spread these popular hikes out over the years and choose less busy times to do them. Why not choose a hike in Kananaskis Country next weekend instead? Kananaskis has its share of beauty, and you’ll actually find solitude on the hiking trails. You won’t be alone on the popular trails, but you will have many moments where there is no other person as far as the eye can see. You’ll be able to take family photos without cropping strangers out of them. Most importantly, the trails will be relatively quiet; there will be no tour buses and no crowds.

Below are my five favorite hikes in Kananaskis for families - again, same as above, due to their beauty, easy access and family-friendly hiking:

1. Grassi Lakes, Canmore - 4-kilometre return, waterfalls, two picturesque lakes and a small beach area. Stop by Quarry Lake on your way home for some beach time and a picnic.

2. Heart Creek, Highway 1 -
4-kilometre return, interesting canyon following a creek with many bridge crossings. Lots of rocks to scramble over for young children.

3. Rawson Lake, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park - 8-kilometre return, waterfall, lovely walk along Upper Kananaskis Lake to reach the Rawson Lake cirque. Picnic day-use area at the trail head with fire pits.

4. Cat Creek, Highway 40 - 4-kilometre return through a canyon to a lovely pool containing a waterfall. Picnic day-use area at the trail head with fire pits and river access.

5. Nihahi Ridge, Elbow Valley - 6-kilometre return to the viewpoint at the end of the official hiking trail. Competent hikers can go further but expect a scramble to the ridge top.

For trail information on these and other hikes in Kananaskis, go to the Government of Alberta’s website for Kananaskis at

Another great resource is Tourism Canmore & Kananaskis, or contact 1-403-678-1295.

Alternately, contact a Kananaskis Country information centre: 403-678-0760

Tanya loves hiking, camping, skiing and all things mountain-related. Tanya is the author of the blog, Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies, and the creator of the Calgary Family Adventure Community on Facebook.

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