They say that art imitates life, but in my experience it’s more often the other way around. As I stood at the fork of two divergent paths on the Grassi Lakes hike near Canmore, I couldn’t help but think of Robert Frost. I had a choice between two paths, but unlike Frost in his famous poem The Road Not Taken, I had a sign indicating what lay ahead. If I took one route the sign said it would be “easy.” If I took the other route, the path ahead promised to be “more difficult.” After briefly pondering my choices and consulting with my daughter and husband, we struck out on the more challenging of the two Grassi Lakes trails.
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Related: If you’re looking for more easy family-friendly hikes, check out our post about the Siffleur Falls and Meadow Hike.
Family Friendly Hiking in the Canadian Rockies
It only takes a couple of hours to complete the 4 km Grassi Lakes hike southwest of Canmore. It is one of the prettiest family-friendly hikes in the Canadian Rockies. 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.
Recommendation – Take the Road Less Traveled
As in the poem, taking the less travelled path makes all the difference. 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. If you have a stroller or mobility issues, this is the route for you. The downside is that it’s not very scenic. The more difficult route on the Grassi Lakes hike takes you along a wooded trail to a rocky viewpoint with a great view of the Grassi Lakes Waterfall and the Town of Canmore – something you completely miss if you take the easy way out.
Don’t Miss the Waterfall on the Grassi Lakes Hike
When we reached the waterfall, we paused to enjoy a snack and the incredible view before climbing up the steep trail to the Grassi Lakes. I had read that there were some ancient pictographs near this trail, but finding them proved to be somewhat difficult. There were no signs indicating where they were and all of the other people on the trail who I stopped to ask had no idea what I was talking about. When I reached the top of the lakes, I discovered that I had cellphone service, so I searched the Internet to find the exact location of the pictographs.
Finding Ancient Pictographs on the Grassi Lakes Hike
From the top of the lakes we climbed up a rough pathway that was beyond the official trail and discovered the pictographs on a large boulder. While my daughter and husband climbed higher up an even steeper trail that led to a small lake, I relaxed on a rock and watched the climbers inching their way up the cliffs above Grassi Lakes. It was a great place to take some time to sit and ponder.
This is a super easy hike, so you just need a comfortable pair of hiking shoes and a small day pack to hold snacks and water. You’ll also want to bring your camera or smartphone for getting photos. One useful tool we use for getting great photos while hiking is a mini tripod. It’s easy to throw in a backpack and works for a phone or an SLR camera. You can also use it to take great pictures of yourself when you’re hiking on your own. Just put your phone or camera in the tripod and set a timer or use a remote to take the picture. The one below is inexpensive, flexible and easily fits in a day pack.
How the Grassi Lakes Hike Got its Name
The Grassi Lakes, the Mount Lawrence Grassi and the Grassi Trail were named in honour of Lawrence Grassi. The Canmore resident was an Italian immigrant miner who built the original Grassi Lakes Trail. He also built other trails in the Canadian Rockies. Grassi worked in the Canmore coal mines and climbed mountains and worked as a climbing guide in his spare time. Today he is remembered as a trail blazer who spent his life building trails so others could more easily enjoy nature.
Recommendation – Take the Easy Way Home
When we finished exploring the caves and enjoying the spectacular view, we began climbing down and were faced with the same fork in the road. This time the decision was easy. Since we had already experienced the scenery along the more difficult path, we opted to save our knees some stress and take the easy way back. Regardless of how you choose to get there, the Grassi Lakes are well worth the effort.
Where to Stay
There are plenty of great accommodations in Canmore and they tend to be a little less costly than those in nearby Banff. On this particular trip, we stayed at the Paintbox Lodge. This lovely boutique hotel is right in downtown Canmore next to restaurants and shopping. The beds were comfortable and the included breakfast was delicious.