It’s mid-April and our family has officially transitioned to biking, hiking, and even bagging small summits here in the Canadian Rockies. We even went as far as to put our skis away for the season and started moving winter clothing to a secondary closet for summer. Snowshoes however are a different story and they don’t get packed away until May. While there may not be a lot of snow left in the front ranges here near Calgary, the Icefields Parkway beyond Lake Louise is in full on winter mode for at least another month – and it’s glorious out there in spring!
The Icefields Parkway is a magnificent stretch of Highway 93 that connects the Village of Lake Louise in Banff National Park with the town of Jasper further to the North in Jasper National Park. We’ve been camping, playing, and snowshoeing on the Icefields Parkway all winter based out of cozy wilderness hostels that have kept us warm and dry. We just had one final hostel we had to visit before we could wrap up the season and it is our favourite of all the wilderness hostels in the Rockies here.
HI Hilda Creek is a very small wilderness hostel on the border of Banff and Jasper that only sleeps six people. This is good news for families, small groups of close friends, or for anybody that doesn’t want to share a cabin with a bunch of strangers. We always book the full hostel for ourselves and another family, and make at least one trip per year to play on the glacier moraines above our private wilderness retreat.
We spent Easter weekend at Hilda Creek and lucked out with perfect blue skies, warm days with spring sun that actually has bit of strength behind it, and snow that was so stable that the kids barely had to wear snowshoes for our hikes. Stable snow also meant we could feel safe with low to moderate avalanche conditions. A few outings were taken by adults who wanted to do some backcountry skiing on the slopes above the hostel. We gave the children plenty of opportunities to ski down the small hill behind the hostel too but go figure, they wanted to go sledding instead – which we were happy to encourage.
Snowshoeing from Hilda Creek
There are two options for snowshoeing at the Hilda Creek Hostel and both take you up into alpine terrain with minimal to no avalanche danger if you are careful. It is recommended that you have avalanche training and the proper gear if you are going to go hiking above the hostel, but we were able to safely take children on our hikes with the training our group had. Experienced winter backcountry enthusiasts in our group knew how far we could safely travel, where we could play without being in a slide path, and which areas we should avoid above the hostel.
We hiked above the hostel towards the Hilda Glacier on our first day and went sledding on the first set of glacier moraines. We didn’t go any further beyond this point (which would have required avalanche gear) but the children had a blast playing the fluffy powder, sliding down the snowy hills, and practicing their skills with kicking steps up the steep hills over and over. I have no doubt that we are training future mountaineers in our group and that these kids will be hiking or skiing some impressive stuff when they are older!
On our second day at the hostel we hiked straight up behind the hostel towards the ridge and stopped at tree line. Again, any further would have put us in avalanche risk. The views got more and more spectacular the further we went and we had a lot of fun sledding back down, dodging trees, and trying to stay out of tree wells.
For families or adults who don’t feel comfortable tromping around in backcountry terrain, there is still a lot to do at the hostel from building snow caves to exploring the nearby Columbia Icefield Centre further down the highway.
Winter Hiking at the Columbia Icefield Centre – and an Ice Cave!
A short drive down the road from the Hilda Creek hostel in the Jasper direction, you will find the Columbia Icefield Centre where in summer you can take bus tours up onto the Athabasca Glacier and walk around on the ice. We weren’t able to do this on our Easter trip but we did hike up to the toe of the glacier on a well maintained trail. We started hiking on the summer road that’s closed to vehicles in winter, and then made our way across the snowy moraines and rock towards the glacier.
We also investigated the new ice cave that has formed near the toe of the glacier this year. While I wouldn’t let my son go inside the cave itself, I did go in myself for a quick peak and it has to be one of my highlights for this winter season. The cave is very easy to see from the parking lot and many tourists were hiking up to check it out.
We love this hike to the toe of the Athabasca Glacier because it is safe, family-friendly, and very short. There is no avalanche danger and you can feel 100% confident hiking here year round. We didn’t need snowshoes on this trip because the snow was very stable. Earlier in the season though they would be a good idea to at least have along.
More Information and Recommended Reading
For more information on the Columbia Icefield Centre and Glacier Tours, visit the Brewster Travel Canada website.
Finally, for more information on the hike we did to the Athabasca Glacier, follow this link to the Parks Canada website where you’ll find a detailed description of the hike for the “Toe of the Athabasca Glacier.” You can also find a map of the Icefields on the Icefields Parkway Travel Guide.