10 Best Easy Hikes in Kananaskis
Some of the best easy hikes in Kananaskis lead to waterfalls, mountaintops and glistening lakes. Kananaskis is a year-round outdoor paradise that runs along the edge of Banff National Park and includes some of the prettiest scenery in the Canadian Rockies. It is a vast recreation area with many incredible hiking trails, so it was difficult to pick a top ten list. There’s a hike for every level of hiker in Kananaskis County and everyone has his or her own idea of what classifies as an “easy hike.” We’ve included some amazing family-friendly hikes on this list – everything from a stroller-friendly lake loop to a short and steep summit hike. If you have suggestions or comments about any of these hikes or any other easy hikes in Kananaskis, we’d love to hear from you!
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About Kananaskis Country
The name “Kananaskis” was taken from the Kananaskis River, which runs through this region of Alberta. John Palliser named the river in 1858 after a Cree acquaintance. Kananaskis Country is a multi-use recreation area situated west and southwest of Calgary. It runs along the edge of Banff National Park and contains more than 4,000 square kilometres of beautiful mountains and foothills. There are six provincial parks, four wildland provincial parks, one ecological reserve and several provincial recreation areas in Kananaskis. Included in the provincial parks, is Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park, site of many of the Nordic events for the 1988 winter Olympics. Nakiska Ski Area and Fortress Mountain Resort are two alpine ski resorts in Kananaskis. Nakiska was specially designed to host the alpine events at the 1988 winter Olympics. There are many easy hikes in Kananaskis as well as a large number of moderate and difficult hikes. This region has something for everyone and there’s no fee to get in.
Grassi Lakes is one of my favourite easy hikes in Kananaskis. It only takes a couple of hours to complete the 4 km Grassi Lakes hike. The trailhead is located about 15-minutes southwest of Canmore past the Canmore Nordic Centre. It is one of the prettiest family-friendly hikes in the Canadian Rockies. There is a difficult trail and an easy trail. Both trail choices lead to the same final destination: a pair of beautiful turquoise blue lakes. There are also some shallow caves that are fun to explore. The easy route on the Grassi Lakes hike goes up an old gravel service road so the grade is gentle and even young children can handle it. I’ve even seen people pushing heavy duty strollers up the gravel road in summer. In winter, we pulled our young grandchildren up the easy route on a sled. The easy route is recommended in winter. In summer, I’d recommend taking the difficult path up and the easy route down. There’s a nice waterfall view you miss completely if you take the easy route both ways. Either way, the final destination is a pair of beautiful greenish-blue lakes that are surrounded by mountains.
Related: For more detailed information on this hike, read our post, Grassi Lakes Hike – Family Fun Near Canmore.
Troll Falls is an easy 3.4-km round-trip hike in Kananaskis Country. It’s about a 45-minute drive from Canmore to the Stoney Trail Day Use Area where the hike begins This hike is fun in every season and has a great reward at the end – beautiful Troll Falls. There’s very little elevation change and that makes it fun for all ages. It’s particularly beautiful in winter when the falls are frozen. If you’re careful, you can climb up near the frozen falls and get a picture from the rocks nearby. Some trails above the falls are currently blocked off for safety reasons. At this time, it is not considered safe to hike to the troll rock formation above the falls.
Related: For more information on this hike, read our detailed post, Hiking to Troll Falls.
Prairie Mountain – One of the Best Easy Summit Hikes in Kananaskis
Prairie Mountain is one of the best easy summit hikes in Kananaskis. The trailhead is located less than an hour’s drive southwest of Calgary. Prairie Mountain is a short, steep hike that offers a great workout that’s even better than a Stairmaster. The hike is 7.6 km return with about a 700 metre elevation gain. It’s popular in every season – even in winter – and some people do it regularly just for the exercise. The views are fantastic from the top. It’s one of the few peaks you can summit in just a few hours. It’s an all-season hike, so poles and microspikes/ice cleats are really helpful on the steeper sections during the winter months.
Related: For more information on this hike, read our detailed post, Prairie Mountain – Hike a Mountain Before Lunch!
Ptarmigan Cirque is a 4.5 km loop trail that is located off Highwood Pass, the highest paved road in Canada. This trail is particularly popular during larch season (mid-September to mid-October) when the larches turn golden. This is a steeper hike with 210 metres of elevation gain, but the views are worth it. The highlight is a beautiful alpine meadow surrounded by mountains. The trailhead is located at Highwood Meadows Day Use area, which is near the top of the pass. Follow Highwood Meadows Interpretive Trail prior to crossing Highway 40 to begin the ascent. If the steep trail is too much for your group of hikers, you could just do the 0.6 km Highwood Meadows Trail and forgo the steeper part. If you can handle a little uphill climb, you’ll enjoy some beautiful views.
Arethusa Cirque – One of the Best Easy Larch Hikes in Kananaskis
Just down the road from the very popular Ptarmigan Cirque, Arethusa Cirque is a bit of a hidden gem. Arethusa Cirque is one of the best easy larch hikes in Kananaskis. In larch season, you’ll actually see more golden larches on this hike than you will on the more crowded Ptarmigan Cirque. Arethusa Cirque is a 4.5 km loop with about 450 metres of elevation gain. I recommend doing the loop clockwise when the trail is slippery, so that you climb up the steeper part rather than going down it. In hot dry weather, you may prefer to do the loop counterclockwise instead. With the elevation gain, it’s a steep hike, but it doesn’t take too long to do it and that’s why it made our list of easy hikes in Kananaskis. The highlight is a gorgeous meadow surrounded by mountains. There’s a fun little creek crossing at the meadow. Kids and adults alike will enjoy looking for fossils in the rocks.
Chester Lake is one of the best easy hikes in Kananaskis in every season. It’s a great family-friendly larch hike in autumn and a wonderful snowshoe trail in winter. The trailhead is about 75 minutes south of Canmore in Spray Valley Provincial Park. The hike to the lake is about 9.3 km return and takes about 3-4 hours. The trail climbs for the first few kilometres through the woods until you reach a large meadow. It’s a gentle grade the rest of the way to the lake and the mountain views are worth the effort. It’s so pretty. The total elevation gain is 287 metres. Chester Lake is a multi-use winter area and there is a designated snowshoe trail as well as a backcountry ski trail. In summer, you can hike beyond the lake, but in winter, it’s best to stop at the shore, because the steep slopes on the other side are an avalanche zone.
Mount Lorette Ponds – Easy Stroller-Friendly Hike in Kananaskis
When it comes to the best easy hikes in Kananaskis, this one is by far the easiest one on our list. This short 1.1 km paved loop trail around Mt. Lorette Ponds is great for strollers and wheelchairs and has very little elevation gain. The views are lovely and you get some great reflections in the ponds. There are some nice picnic areas with tables and firepits, so you could add this on as a stop before or after one of the other hikes on our list. We even saw people fishing there. The ponds are about a 30-minute drive southeast of Canmore.
There are many trails in Kananaskis, but one of the best easy hikes with one of the greatest payoffs is the Rawson Lake Trail. Stop in at the Peter Lougheed Park Discovery and Information Centre to get the latest information about trail conditions before heading out. The trailhead is about 70 minutes south of Canmore on Highway 40. It’s about 8 km round-trip with a 320 metre (1050 foot) elevation gain. You start out on the Lakeshore trail and walk along the shore of Upper Kananaskis Lake for the first 1.2 km. The views are gorgeous as you walk along the lake. Along the way, you’ll pass Sarrail Falls on a wooden bridge. At the junction, the trail to Rawson Lake climbs for the final 2.7 km. If you’re doing this in winter, wear snowshoes. In late spring or fall, the trail can be slippery and may require microspikes/ice cleats and hiking poles.
Grotto Canyon – One of the Best Icewalk Hikes in Kananaskis
The trailhead for the Grotto Canyon hike is just ten minutes outside Canmore. Grotto Canyon is beautiful in every season, but it is particularly special in winter when you can hike on the creek bed and get a view of the canyon from the bottom up. This short, family-friendly hike has 226 metres (740 feet) of elevation gain and a round trip distance of about 4 km (2.5 mi.). There are bathrooms in the parking lot at the trailhead. As you hike up the creek, the rocky canyon walls will start to rise and get taller on either side. If you look closely, there will be many rock climbing anchors in the canyon walls as this is a popular rock climbing spot in the summer. You’ll also pass some ancient Indigenous pictographs. With all of these features, Grotto Canyon is one of the best easy hikes in Kananaskis.
Related: For detailed information about this hike, check out our post, Grotto Canyon Hike in Winter.
Heart Creek Trail
The Heart Creek Trail is about 2.8 km return and leads to a pretty little creek, a waterfall and a rock climbing area. It’s a lovely walk along the creek and there are several easy crossing spots. Eventually you come to a small waterfall at the end of the canyon. You’ll find the trailhead about 14 km east of Canmore. It’s just off the Trans Canada highway east of Lac Des Arcs. You can follow the highway signs for Heart Creek/Lac des Arcs. This trail connects to the Heart Mountain hike and the Heart Mountain Loop hike, so the parking lot at the trailhead can get busy in summer.
Useful Equipment for the Best Easy Hikes in Kananaskis
Your equipment needs will vary depending on which hike you choose to do. If you’re going on one of the steeper hikes, like Prairie Mountain, hiking poles can be helpful. If you’re hiking in winter or during slippery spring conditions, microspikes for hiking or ice cleats can be helpful. Remember that you’re traveling in bear country, so you should have bear spray with you. Weather is unpredictable in the Canadian Rockies, so dress in layers and bring a light daypack with snacks, extra clothing, water and other supplies.
Where to Stay When Hiking in Kananaskis
There are plenty of excellent local accommodations that make a great base for a greater exploration into the Kananaskis area. One of my favourite properties is the Malcolm Hotel by Clique. It’s one of the newest properties in Canmore and has a lot of wonderful amenities. It’s the only hotel in Canmore with an onsite concierge and underground parking is included in the rates. There’s a highland games room, an outdoor heated pool, two outdoor hot tubs, good onsite restaurants and it’s a five-minute walk to downtown. Rooms are comfortable and have lovely modern décor and amenities. You might also consider the Pomeroy Kananaskis Mountain Lodge, a beautiful property right in Kananaskis Village that has an onsite Nordic Spa. We’ve also stayed at Mount Engadine Lodge, a stunning backcountry lodge with gourmet meals included.