The Grotto Canyon hike in the Canadian Rockies near Canmore is enjoyable at any time of year, but is particularly fun to do in the winter. It is a short, family-friendly hike with only 226 meters elevation gain and a round trip distance of about 4 km (2.5 mi.). It is a satisfying hike for the effort put in and can be completed in a couple of hours.
Related: Check out our post about the Prairie Mountain hike.
Getting to the Trailhead
Getting to the Grotto Canyon hike trailhead involves travelling on Bow Valley Trail (Highway 1A) just east of Canmore, Alberta. There is plenty of good signage so if you look for the signs it should be easy to find the parking lot. It is not far from the Exshaw Plant and Baymag Mineral Plant. The parking lot is quite large and also has bathrooms for use before you start the hike.
Follow the Map
Be sure to dress warmly if you’re doing this hike in winter. We did not use ice cleats when we did this hike, but we would recommend that you use them. We have since purchased some for winter hiking. We tried them out on a winter hike in Banff National Park and they really made a difference.
Getting Started on the Grotto Canyon Hike
There may be some tracks left from snowshoers leaving the parking lot at different places, but the main trail for the Grotto Canyon hike is marked by a large sign. It is quite wide and well-traveled. The start of the hike winds through some trees and past the Baymag Mineral Processing Facility. This facility manufactures Magnesium Oxide, which is used for fertilizers and industrial applications. Unfortunately, the facility is quite loud and a bit of an eyesore for the early part of the hike, but things improve dramatically as you continue.
Stick to the Main Trail
Occasionally, you may see tracks leaving the main trail to the right. The main trail has very good signage so make sure to not leave and follow any of these tracks as they are likely left by snowshoers wandering in the trees.
After a short while, you will reach Grotto Creek. There is a small bench here where you can relax for a minute and enjoy the view down the creek. When you are ready, the hike continues to the right up the creek. There will be lots of ice so be sure to watch your footing, especially if you do not have any ice cleats!
Grotto Creek Canyon
The hike starts to get really interesting once you reach the creek. 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.
Further down the canyon, as you approach the falls, you will find some ancient Hopi pictographs painted on the canyon walls. These are really cool to look at and are estimated to be between 500 to 1300 years old. Some of them get covered by the ice buildup throughout the winter but some should still be visible in red paint on the left canyon wall.
Frozen Waterfalls and Ice Climbers
The frozen falls are a beautiful sight on the Grotto Canyon hike in the winter. There will be ice climbers scaling the ice columns near the falls. It is fun to sit and watch them ascend the sheets of ice and practice their sport.
Reaching the Cave on the Grotto Canyon hike
You can continue from the falls to the left where the river continues to weave through the canyon for a short while. Soon, it opens up into a large valley.
A few minutes down the creek in the valley, there will be some hoodoos and a small cave up on top of a hill on the left. It was pretty slippery climbing up to the cave with the snow and ice but was really cool to see. With how steep it is, be sure to watch your footing as a slip may turn into a bit of a slide and tumble. After climbing up to the cave I slid down on my butt and got going pretty fast before reaching the bottom.
The Grotto Canyon hike is a great hike in any season, but it’s particularly fun in winter. You’ll see frozen waterfalls, pictographs, high canyon walls and a stunning snow covered landscape. You’ll even get to visit a cave. It’s a great adventure and it only takes a couple of hours to complete.
- The Wild Wanderers