Welcome to the wonderful world of winter hiking! Just because there’s snow on the ground doesn’t mean you can’t hike. Winter is often preferable due to fewer crowds. And, let’s be honest, freshly fallen snow on the mountains and trees is undeniably magical. Alberta contains a portion of the Canadian Rocky Mountains with breathtaking trails to be explored (almost) year-round. We want to help you find them.
The 17 amazing winter hikes we’ve listed range in distance, time, and difficulty. We want to offer everyone choices, from families wanting a quick loop to hardy keeners looking for a winter workout. You can either hike with microspikes or snowshoe many of these trails, depending on how recently significant snow has fallen.
Before we jump into the list of winter hikes, here are a few tips on exploring in the winter:
- Hike with a buddy and bring a satellite messenger as cell service is sporadic or non-existent
- National park roads generally well-maintained, but there can be ice patches
- Driving conditions deteriorate during and following a snowstorm
- Drive slowly and make sure you have snow tires
- Many hikes go through avalanche terrain—always check the avalanche report before exploring
Keep in mind that you will need a Parks Canada pass to visit Banff and Jasper National Parks. To help you prepare for your adventure, we have a recommended packing list at the end of the article.
Are you ready for the hikes?! Check out these 17 breathtaking winter trails in Alberta.
Best Winter Hikes around Calgary
You don’t have to travel far from the city to refill your nature cup. Reach the winter hikes listed here in about an hour or less driving from Calgary.
Mesa Butte Trail
Time: 1–2 hours
What we love about the Mesa Butte Trail is its funky fire pit at the top (which you can use if there are no fire bans in place—check Alberta Parks first). This would be a lovely hike for a weekend date or an after-work jaunt away from the city. Pack a hot drink in your thermos, and if fires are permitted and you have the skills, light up a campfire in this unique spot with awesome views (just make sure it’s completely put out when you leave!).
The trail can be a little tricky to find when some snow has fallen, so check our guide on the Mesa Butte trail and download the GPS map to make sure you find the proper trail. This quick hike will bring you through open meadows with views of Kananaskis Country in the distance and a look back at Calgary to the east.
Prairie Mountain Hike
Time: 3–4 hours
Nature’s Stairmaster! This is much more than a casual walk in the park—prepare to work up a sweat on the Prairie Mountain Trail. Starting from the Elbow Falls parking lot on Highway 66, you’ll hike up, up, up to summit Prairie Mountain. Avalanche risk is non-existent on this hike, so it’s ready to attempt when you are.
Most of the route stays in the trees on the way up, which can be really pleasant when they’re capped with snow. Near the top, you’ll emerge from the forest and walk along the ridge offering incredible views of the Kananaskis peaks to the west and the prairies to the east. Once you’re exposed, the elements can be relentless, so bring some layers to block the wind. Download our route map of the Prairie Mountain hike to help you find your way.
Troll Falls Hike
Time: 1–2 hours
Frozen waterfalls are a common theme in this list, but that’s what happens when you see waterfalls in winter. This is a family-friendly route with magical views along the Kananaskis River, ending at the icy, frozen Troll Falls. Walking through the meadows, you’ll be among jagged, snowy peaks, making a lovely backdrop from some winter family pics.
You don’t gain much elevation on this trail, so don’t worry about breaking a sweat. There’s a new trail addition that you can use to create a loop rather than walking out-and-back (we always prefer loops). Read the guide on the Troll Falls hike for details about this route. Keep your eyes out for Troll dolls hidden in the trees, adding a bit of magic to your hike and a fun game for the kids.
West Fish Creek Hike
Time: 2–3 hours
Want something close to home? No problem! Fish Creek Provincial Park is a preserved area in Calgary where you can escape into nature without leaving the city limits. The West Fish Creek Hike in the western part of the park is one of our favourite ways to reconnect with nature when we don’t have time to drive out of town. Many trails connect through this park, so you have plenty of options to make it as short or as long as you like.
The West Fish Creek Hike leads you over bridges, next to grasslands and ponds, and among lovely forests. Feel the freshness of the winter air as you immerse in nature amid the urban jungle of Calgary. You might even forget for a second that you’re in the city! We have guides for the West Fish Creek hike and the Fish Creek and Parkland Ridge hike, another great option in the trail network.
Best Winter Hikes in Banff National Park
Banff National Park, Canada’s first national park, makes your nature dreams a reality. With its imposing serrated peaks, iconic alpine lakes, and a smattering of glaciers, it’s a hikers paradise that can be enjoyed (almost) year-round. Here are our top picks for winter hikes in this stunning national park.
Johnson Lake Trail
Time: 0.75–1.5 hours
Beginner-friendly and efficient are two ways to describe the Johnson Lake Trail. It’s a short, but oh-so-sweet circuit around the stunning Johnson Lake, a common spot for fishers during the summer. Meet up with your favourite hiking buddy and explore this fragrant trail of Douglas firs, and snap some iconic Canadian shots of snow-capped mountains, frosted trees, and frozen waters on the way. Check out our guide on the Johnson Lake trail.
Johnston Canyon Trail
Time: 2–3 hours
If you dislike crowds synonymous with Banff, visit Johnston Canyon in the winter because it’s very popular in the summer. When you venture out during colder months, you’re in for astounding close-up views of frozen waterfalls at the end of this trail. Walk through tunnels, across metal catwalks, and amid tranquillity, discovering many lookouts along the way.
Head to the Upper Falls outlook at the end of a catwalk where you can expect to catch some ice climbers in action on the weekends. You can then turn towards the Waterfall Lookout for a neat perspective overlooking the top of the falls. Choose one of the benches here and stop for a snack. Be careful with icy patches on the way down, but keep your camera out—the views are equally as impressive hiking out. Check out the Johnston Canyon trail guide and take your family on a winter adventure to see frozen waterfalls.
Boom Lake Trail
Time: 3–4 hours
Does your idea of winter wonderland include frozen-over lakes and frosted pine trees? The Boom Lake Trail has it! Since skiers and snowshoers generally pack this well-trafficked trail down enough, you should be able to hike with microspikes. You’ll work up a sweat as you walk a slight incline through the frosted trees, then crest a hill before descending to Boom Lake.
As this trail is a bit more challenging with its distance and slight elevation gain, we recommend taking the young kids on a different journey (like the one above). Watch out for other winter adventurers on the path, and don’t forget to pack a hot drink to sip once you reach the lake. The frozen-lake scenery looks so peaceful, with several jagged snowy peaks above. Check out our guide on the Boom Lake trail.
Tunnel Mountain Hike
Time: 2–3 hours
Here’s a fantastic option if you’re staying in Banff and don’t feel like risking it on the roads—you can walk to this trailhead from Banff Ave. Walk for about a kilometre, and you’ll leave the sounds of the town behind you as you head deeper into the abundant nature in Banff National Park. Expect to earn the view as the ascent is steady via switchbacks with a quick push at the summit. Be careful around the ledge at the top. Stay safe!
Since this is accessible right from Banff proper, you can imagine that it is popular! A weekday morning excursion would be your best bet to beat the crowds. Maybe catch the sunrise? Check out the Tunnel Mountain hike guide and plan a winter getaway in Banff.
Best Winter Hikes in Jasper National Park
Jasper National Park is an absolute gem. We prefer it in the winter when you still get magnificent landscapes but deal with way fewer crowds. Driving there can be challenging, so be careful. The roads are cleared from 7 am to 3:30 pm, but always check the conditions before driving into this no-cell-service area.
This park contains a part of the Icefields Parkway, possibly one of the most jaw-droppingly beautiful stretches of highway in the world, if you’re into ancient glaciers, massive mountains, and frozen glacial lakes—and we have a feeling that you are!
Maligne Canyon Trail
Distance: 3.9km (+ other various routes)
Time: 1–2 hours
When thinking of geological wonders, Jasper National Park springs to mind, and the Maligne Canyon trail jumps to the top of the list. In the winter, the waterfalls in this extraordinary limestone canyon freeze over and create fantastical icicles over the rocks. You can hike right up to them and stand in the almost-enclosed canyon surrounded by magical ice formations. In the right light, the colours pop icy blue against the golden-tan rocks. Photographers, go wild!
For this trail, make sure you have microspikes as the path gets super icy. This is a superb choice for kids—it’s a short distance, but you could spend hours in these narrow caves letting imaginations run wild with fantasies of ice princes and princesses! (And, hey, you can do that as an adult too!) If you’re in the Jasper area, we recommend sticking around a few nights to explore some of the other winter hikes. Jasper National Park is a treasure!
Forefield Trail (Icefields Parkway)
Time: 1–1.5 hours
This hike, named after its destination, leads hikers to the forefield of the Athabasca Glacier. The landscape for much of the route takes you through wide-open landscapes, exposed due to glacial melt since the mid-1840s. Make sure you’re bundled up for this hike, as you’ll be out in the open as you make your way to the forefield of the impressive glacier. If you’re interested in going, get more details on the Forefield trail.
With snow dusting the trail in the winter, you’ll get an interesting perspective of this geographically wonderful place. Hike across moraines, next to boulders, and see lots of different rock formations en route. Along the way, you’ll be impressed by the surrounding peaks comprising the Icefields Parkway—a destination people hail to from all over the world.
Wilcox Pass Hike (Icefields Parkway)
Time: 3–4 hours
Get your heart pumping on this out-and-back trail in one of the most magnificent locations in the Rockies: the Columbia Icefield. Your efforts during the ascent will be rewarded with jaw-dropping views of the Athabasca and Dome glaciers and stunning peaks around. Download an offline map for the Wilcox Pass hike to help navigate when you’re out there. This particular trail runs through avalanche terrain, so be careful and prepared to enter this high-risk area.
The trail climbs out of the meadow and past the treeline rather steeply. When you’ve emerged, you might spot some of Park Canada’s Red Chairs along the ridge—excellent for a photo, but perhaps too cold to stick around. Take a moment to appreciate the expanse of this area; it’s breathtaking. Reaching the pass, you can head to Wilcox Pass lookout for unprecedented views of Mount Athabasca, Snow Dome, and the glaciers clinging to them. Resilient adventurers can camp at this trailhead, although the sites are not maintained during winter, so bring a shovel. Check the winter conditions before you go.
Best Winter Hikes in Kananaskis Country
Hikers are spoiled for choice in Kananaskis Country (K-Country) thanks to the slightly lower elevation than the rest of the Rockies. The lakes and views in this area are equally as impressive in winter as in summer, especially when the lakes freeze over, and when now has frosted the trees.
To reach Kananaskis from Calgary, you’ll be in the car for about an hour—but it’s well worth the drive. K-Country comprises several provincial parks, and some of the winter hikes provide more of a challenge than walks you’ll find near the city. This is a great area to check out if you want to improve and maintain your fitness during the colder months. We’ve also included a family-friendly option for the little ones to enjoy.
Galatea Creek and Lillian Lake Trail
Time: 3.5–5 hours
Depending on this area’s most recent snowfall, this trail is suited for snowshoeing or winter hiking with microspikes. Either way, you’re in for a delightful and challenging hike. The trail leads through the forest and climbs steadily, opening to views of the surrounding light-grey striated mountains that comprise the Kananaskis landscape. Get the GPS route and guide for the Galatea Creek and Lillian Lake trail to help navigate while you’re out in the snow.
Cross over Galatea Creek several times, and keep an eye out for frozen falls clinging to small cliffs along the way. Once you reach Lillian Lake, don’t go past it as it’s a high-risk avalanche zone. Instead, find a nice spot to chill by the lake and sip on that hot beverage you remembered to pack. This is a tremendous half-a-day adventure in K-Country; although, people are starting to learn about this gem, so try to visit during a weekday.
Little Lougheed Trail
Time: 3–6 hours
One part snowshoe and one part hike with microspikes, this trail’s distance does not necessarily reflect its difficulty—your blood will be pumping, guaranteed! It’s breathtaking for two reasons: it’s a heck of a workout, and the views of the Spray Lakes Reservoir and the neighbouring snow-capped peaks are, just, wow.
Begin the journey at a couple of creeks, and then you’ll head up a steep ridge. Take it slow because the trail gains a lot of elevation in a short distance. Pass by cool boulders and notice that the views keep getting better as you ascend. There are sections where snowshoes won’t do the trick, which is why we suggest packing microspikes as well. Always check the avalanche report, especially for this area, and download the Little Lougheed trail’s route guide before you venture out.
Hogarth Lakes Trail
Time: 1–2 hours
How about a chill hike to balance out the challenging ones above? The Hogarth Lakes Trail is a leisurely loop through the forest and along shorelines of frozen lakes. As you hike this trail, you’ll get excellent mountain views. Trees surround the lakes, and there are tons of great spots to have a snack or a hot drink. If you have time to linger, get the kids to build a snowperson!
The trail is generally packed down, so you will be fine hiking with microspikes. But if you feel like exploring off-trail, a set of snowshoes can be freeing on fresh powder. We love this trail on a bluebird day as a fun family outing. If you need some directions, download the route guide for the Hogarth Lakes trail to be prepared.
Best Winter Hikes around Canmore
Canmore, as Banff’s little sibling, has become a dream winter destination for its superb winter recreating opportunities, including pleasant hikes accessible from town. We’ll never tire of the views from the town of Ha Ling Peak and the Three Sisters, especially when they’ve been dusted with snow. Check out these enjoyable winter hikes around Canmore.
Grotto Canyon Hike
Time: 1.5–2.5 hours
With the proper gear and technical skills, the Grotto Canyon Hike can be a fun exploration during winter. You’ll want to have ice cleats for this since you might be walking on a frozen creek! Once you get deeper into the canyon, you’re surrounded by great limestone walls formed from ancient oceans once covering this land.
Rather than hiking up to views like the other winter hikes in this list, get a different experience hiking through a narrow canyon, seeing ice formations clinging to limestone, and admiring the fascinating views of trees and sky above. Make sure to wear waterproof boots, and gaiters would be helpful as some sections can get slushy. Download the route guide for the Grotto Canyon hike if you plan to go.
Quarry Lake Hike
Time: 1 hour
Take a stunning figure-eight hike around Quarry Lake, not far from downtown Canmore. As you poke out of the trees, the views will open up to the mighty Ha Ling and part of Mount Rundle. One of the hike’s viewpoints is a popular spot for photographers trying to capture that iconic mountain, trees, and frozen lake picture. Why not try it out for yourself?
We always come back to this hike—it’s so beautiful! If you live in Canmore, this is a leisurely hike you can fit in after work, and you’ll thank yourself for getting out to enjoy the sun while it’s there. For some variety, choose to connect via different trails; follow your heart! Check out the details and download the guide for the Quarry Lake hike.
Bow River Trail
Time: 1–4 hours
The Bow River Trail is kind of a choose-your-own-adventure. You can hike it as an out-and-back trail, or leave cars parked at either end to drive back once you’ve completed one way. It’s mostly paved, making for a nice walk during the winter. If you’re completing the whole trail and starting from Canmore, driving isn’t necessary, a blessing in the winter.
Head out for a lovely walk through the forest with the Bow River next to you. You’ll hit a series of switchbacks and end up walking through more exposed terrain mixed with some forested areas. Crowds will likely be minimal due to colder weather, so bundle up and take a peaceful walk out of town and rest on one of the many benches to sip a hot beverage and have a chat with your walking buddy. Feel free to download the guide for the Bow River trail before you go.
Recommended Packing List for Winter Hikes
- Trail guide and offline map—you can download route guides from 10Adventures
- Full water bottle or bladder
- Thermos with hot beverage (optional)
- Energy-dense snacks
- Bear spray
- Sunscreen and sunglasses
- First-aid kit
- Headlamp or flashlight
- Toque and gloves
- Hiking poles
- Microspikes or ice cleats
- Warm layers
- Satellite communication device if venturing far from service or in avalanche terrain
Alberta has so many amazing trails to choose from—it would take a lifetime to hike them all! Find which path suits your preferences, and get out there. No matter where you decide to hike this winter, drive carefully, be prepared for rapid weather changes, and stay safe when walking in avalanche terrain. Happy exploring!