Spring is around the corner in the Canadian Rockies and it gets challenging to find good snow for hiking or skiing. Mornings are icy, afternoons are slushy, and you can start to expect some serious postholing conditions (even in snowshoes) as you plunge your way through soft, sticky, unstable snow up to your mid-calves.
Avoid the misery of hiking through unpredictable spring snow with some fun ice walks and a pair of spikes or cleats. I personally prefer Kahtoola microspikes over any other brand of traction device (they are worth every penny) and find I can easily hike down a frozen creek bed without slipping.
The Best Canyon Hike in Banff
Johnston Canyon is hands down, one of the most popular hikes in Banff National Park but you’ll avoid most of the crowds by visiting this beautiful location now before summer arrives. While you’ll be hiking above the canyon on cat walks and narrow walkways most of the time, there are opportunities to drop down into the canyon near the Upper Falls.
The hike is 1.7 miles long (one way) to the Upper Falls or 1.1 miles if you just want to go to the Lower Falls. Both sets of waterfalls are extremely beautiful (especially when frozen) and you get to crawl through a cave to view the first set of falls. Make the return trip to the upper falls though and you can watch ice climbers in action.
To read about my family’s winter adventures in Johnston Canyon, you can read my personal blog story: Ice Caves and Frozen Waterfalls in Banff National Park or The Most Popular Hike in Banff – Without the Crowds
Recommended gear: A pair of hiking boots and some spikes or ice cleats in case the trail is slippery. This trail is open year-round and safe even in spring when ice starts to melt. There is no avalanche hazard on this trail and it is family-friendly.
Frozen Waterfalls at Lake Louise
For an easy 1.2 mile outing (one way,) you can hike or snowshoe across Lake Louise to the far end where a 300 foot tall frozen waterfall awaits you. If the lake is starting to melt, you can still hike around the shoreline on the summer trail which is safe year round.
Note it is not safe to go beyond the waterfall on the lake as there is avalanche danger. It is possible though to hike further up towards Mirror Lake via the Lake Agnes Hiking Trail. It is 3.4 miles return to Mirror Lake and Parks Canada does not recommend travel beyond this lake in winter due to avalanche hazard below Lake Agnes.
Recommended gear: A pair of winter boots or waterproof hiking boots, snowshoes if traveling on the lake (or if hiking up towards Mirror Lake,) and ice cleats if hiking the shore line trail.
Extend your Adventures into Kananaskis Country
The mountain Town of Canmore is only a 10 minute drive east from the Town of Banff and is the gateway to multiple provincial parks and recreation areas in Kananaskis Country. Nearby Grotto Canyon is a favorite local hike and is popular in winter for its frozen creek bed and ice falls. A set of frozen waterfalls can be reached in roughly 1.2 miles of hiking (one way) and if you time your visit right, the entire canyon floor will be a giant sheet of ice.
To read about my family’s winter adventures in Grotto Canyon, you can read my personal blog story: Grotto Canyon Ice Walk (5 reasons we love this hike.)
Recommended gear: A pair of waterproof hiking boots and some spikes or ice cleats. This trail can be enjoyed year-round (with no avalanche hazard) but expect to find ankle to calf deep water in the canyon once the creek begins to melt late spring. (By summer the creek bed will be dry again.) It’s always a good idea to check a trail report before deciding to venture into the canyon in spring.
Winter Trails in Banff National Park – Parks Canada
Banff Lake Louise Tourism website