Grotto Canyon Hike in Winter

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 Grotto Canyon Hike 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

A map of the area near Grotto Canyon near Canmore, Alberta - Grotto Canyon hike

Helpful Equipment

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. Check out the picture below. 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.

An image of the early part of the trail on the Grotto Canyon hike near Canmore, Alberta
The early part of the hike follows the power lines through the trees towards the Baymag Processing Plant.

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.

An image of a man hiking through the woods on the Grotto Canyon hike near Canmore, Alberta
After passing the Baymag Plant on the left, the hike continues in the trees for a little while.

Grotto Creek

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!

An image of the view looking down Grotto Creek - Grotto Canyon Hike
View down Grotto Creek to the left.
An image of the view along the creek of the Grotto Canyon hike near Canmore, Alberta
The hike continues up the creek to the right.

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.

An image of the view along the creek of the Grotto Canyon hike near Canmore, Alberta
The ice on Grotto Creek continually rises throughout the winter. On warmer days it can get a little slippery!
An image of the high canyonwalls  along the creek of the Grotto Canyon hike near Canmore, Alberta
The canyon walls and snow make for great winter views!

Pictographs

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.

An image of the pictographs on the Grotto Canyon hike near Canmore, Alberta
Ancient pictographs can be seen in red on the canyon walls.

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.  

An image of frozen waterfalls and ice climbers on the Grotto Canyon hike near Canmore, Alberta
The frozen falls are a beautiful sight in the winter. You will usually see ice climbers in this area as well!

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.

An image of a hiker walking through the frozen Grotto Canyon near Canmore, Alberta - Grotto Canyon Hike
The Canyon continues to the left of the falls.
An image of a hiker walking through the frozen Grotto Canyon hike near Canmore, Alberta.
The canyon will start to widen before opening out into a 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.

An image of a hiker climbing up a snowy hill to a cave on the Grotto Canyon hike near Canmore, Alberta
I climbed up to the small cave. It was tricky with the steep slippery terrain but was really cool!

Grotto Canyon Hike Summary

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

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