3 Easy to Advanced Fall Hikes in the Canadian Rockies

There is no better way to explore the beautiful country of Canada than getting outdoors. The Canadian Rockies are arguably among Canada’s most beautiful landscapes. To fully appreciate them, one must get out and hike.

Fall is the perfect weather for hiking, not too hot or cold. This season offers spectacular colors as the leaves change from green to shades of orange, yellow, and red. It was with great joy that I had the chance to hike some of the most incredible mountains in all of Canada. By hike, I mean rock climb up straight shale while piggybacking my 7-year-old and getting lost about 15 times.

Below are my three incredible fall hiking experiences in the Canadian Rockies, which I highly recommend for those looking to step into adventure this season.

person overlooking view from mountain summit with fall color trees in the background

Hiking the Canadian Rockies during the fall season offers great weather and beautiful colors! Photo: Lindsay MacNevin

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1. Grassi Lakes, Canmore – Easy or Moderate Routes

Family hiking should be fun, right? At least, that was the plan when we decided to honor the tradition of a Thanksgiving hike in the Rockies. Growing up, my sister and I had been bundled up every Thanksgiving weekend by our mom and taken out for a hike, making it a long-lasting memory. Now, having our children who are old enough to walk independently (or so we thought), we decided to introduce this tradition to them.


The perfect family hike we decided on was Grassi Lakes in the Canmore area, which is a short, non-technical hike that leads you past breathtaking waterfalls and two incredible-looking lakes. Arming ourselves with enough food and water for a small army, we set out to the mountains.

Read More: How To Plan a Snowshoe or Hiking Outing With Kids

family in front of a lake with trees

Grassi Lakes is a great family-friendly hike with an easy or moderate route to choose from to get there. Photo: Lindsay MacNevin

The Trail

It only took five minutes for one of our kids to sit down on the well-marked path and exclaim that they needed to be carried because they were tired. 5 MINUTES! Squashing that notion, we carried on. About 10 minutes into the hike from the parking lot, you come to a fork in the trail with a sign. The fork pointing either way showed us that going left was the more difficult way and right was the easy way.

At this point, one would have thought to take the easy way, but we wanted an adventure with the kids! Taking the left path, we climbed gradually through forested terrain, taking pit stops every ten minutes. Being Thanksgiving weekend, this trail was extremely busy with families, dogs, and climbers.

Emerging from the forest, we came to an incredibly steep area. This area offered incredible views of the waterfall and the town of Canmore, with a steep set of slippery stairs leading us up higher until we reached the lakes! Did I mention that both kids have complained enough times that we are now piggybacking them?

Grassi Lakes are two small, shallow, pristine aquamarine lakes amid mountain peaks. A figure-eight trail led us around them as we stopped every other moment to capture the water’s color.

The water was clearer than any lake water I had ever seen before in my life. When the sun hit the water, it turned unique colors of green and blue. There are many things to do at the lakes with the kids. There are shallow caves to climb into, ancient rock paintings, rock climbers to watch, and plenty of squirrels and chipmunks looking for food. Spending an hour at the top was easy; convincing the kids to get in for a photo, on the other hand, was the tricky part.

When it was time to go, the kids begged to stay longer, seemingly forgetting that they were complaining that their legs hurt just an hour ago. We decided to take the easy route. This route is a fire road that leads pretty much straight down the side, devoid of any of the epic scenery we saw on the way up. A true family-friendly hike, whether the kids want to or not, this is one place we will be returning to for many years to come.

Read More: 10 Tips for Making Snowshoeing FUN With Kids

side by side: L child posing next to a waterfall R woman posing next to a colorful lake

The sights in Grassi Lake are beautiful, including the L: waterfalls and R: incredible colors of the lake. Photos: Lindsay MacNevin

2. Nihahi Ridge, Kananaskis – Moderate to Advanced

“Don’t forget the bear spray,” my partner yelled as I hurried out the door at 8 a.m. en route to a moderate fall hike in the Rockies. I laughed at him as I shook my head, thinking he was the last person on earth to give me any advice, judging by the fact that I had never seen him in hiking boots. I was off to meet my sister, my partner in crime, my hiking buddy who yells at me when I want to quit, brings all the good snacks, and brings workout fashion gear to a whole new level. She also happens to be a pretty rad photographer.

Driving out to Kananaskis Country from Calgary is relatively uninteresting; that is, until you see the towering Rockies in front of you. We are off to tackle Nihahi Ridge, a hike recommended to us, which was only supposed to take three hours. The last stop along the way is a gas station where my sister agreed we should probably get some bear spray. After all, we are in grizzly bear country. After signing our lives away on a waiver, stating we couldn’t spray people with the bear spray and wouldn’t sue if the bear ate us instead of running away once we had sprayed, it was off to the mountain.


Access to Nihahi Ridge is only available from June to December, as the road closes during the winter because of the risks of an avalanche. Getting to the trailhead takes about 30 minutes from where you park.

When trekking through the campsite to reach the trailhead, you have a stunning view of the peaks. We really had no idea of which peak we were climbing. On a side note, fall in the Rockies is a cold time of year, and this particular morning was a cool 5 degrees Celsius (41 degrees Fahrenheit). We were bundled up to the max, with plenty of layers, hats, and mitts.

person admiring mountain views under blue sky

Halfway there with gorgeous views! Photo by Jenny MacNevin

The Trail

As we spotted the sign for the trail, we soon realized that this hike would be steep and unforgiving. Fast-forward twenty minutes; if this were a movie, it would look like this. The camera swings to Lindsay, “I can’t breathe, must take off layers.” The camera turns to Jenny, “I need food. How long have we been walking? Do you think we are almost there yet?”

We chose this moderate hike because we are in reasonably good shape and do a lot of hiking. However, we were both dying twenty minutes in, which should have been our first warning sign.

However, if you’d like to avoid the challenging hike, you can enjoy the gorgeous Nihahi Ridge view via helicopter tour at Mountain View Helicopters.

Read More: 7 Basic Tips To Train the Mountaineer in You

beautiful view of the mountains under blue sky

Though a challenging hike, you’re rewarded along the way with beautiful views. Photo: Jenny MacNevin

The Ascent

In the ascent, a steep trail through the woods is gorgeous, silent, and empty of other hikers. Thankfully, the trail levels off about an hour in as you walk through the high meadow and sparse trees. The only sound is the beating of the wings of the birds above. Then you realize just how far away you are from the summit.

Once you have crossed the meadow, it’s time for a pit stop, a chance to refuel, get your energy back, and admire the scenery. Unfortunately, we had already stopped about five times and got right on marching through.

Welcome to the hard part of this hike. Nihahi Ridge is made up of shale, small, slippery pieces seemingly waiting for you to take a wrong step and send you tumbling down the mountain. This is also where the absolute epic scenery begins to emerge. However, it’s hard to appreciate as you carefully walk along the skinny, shale-free path. It is here that you are truly in the middle of the mountains. As far as the eye can see, there is nothing but lakes and peaks.

Walking this steep uphill required me to dig deep inside as my legs screamed at me to stop. It was taking all my focus not to fall. It feels as though you are going to circle the entire mountain. The path seems endless in front of you. However, that is until it abruptly stops, and you face an uphill rock-climbing battle.

My sister and I looked at one another with worried expressions on our faces. Then, we looked around for an alternative route. We were thinking desperately we made a mistake or a wrong turn. As the wind howled around us and the air temperature dropped, I began to climb, praying that I would remember everything I learned in rock climbing lessons I took almost 20 years ago.

As we inched our way to the top, I felt a sense of pride and satisfaction that we were conquering this mountain. That is until we came to the top. We saw that it was not the top at all but a mere obstacle on the way to the top. What awaited us for the next 30 minutes was a steep ascend through the slippery shale to an even steeper ridge that looked impossible to cross. The summit looked impassable, far out of reach, yet other hikers were up there.

So, without thinking twice, we slowly shuffled across the ridge. With room for only one person at a time, it was a slow process, part walking, part crawling, and desperately trying not to look down. And then we were there.

Read More: How a Difficult Snowshoe Hike Makes You More Resilient

two women on rocky mountain summit with striking views in the background

We made it to the summit! Photo: Lindsay MacNevin

The Descent

On top of the world, or at least that’s what it felt like. After three tiring hours, plenty of laughs, bruises, and a couple of wrong turns, we reached the top. “We did it!” I yelled as I posed for a picture, quietly muttering curse words under my breath about how much harder it was than I thought.

For the way down, I will let the pictures here speak for themselves. The descent is steep, unforgiving, and almost as brutal as going up. The views on the way down are incredible, though. Going up, you are far too focused on what lies ahead, not what is behind.

It is a long hour down to the start of the trailhead. Then, you have the grueling half-hour hike through the campsite to reach the car. As you pull out of the parking lot and look back at the ridge, it becomes pretty clear that although many call this a moderate hike, it should be put into the “less moderate, more difficult” category, in our opinion.

Read More: Escape to Snow Paradise in Kananaskis, Alberta

side by side: L woman ascending a steep rocky trail R: woman descending a trail from far away

L: The difficult ascent followed by the R: steep descent. Photos: Lindsay MacNevin

3. Yamnuska, Kananaskis/Canmore – Moderate to Advanced

“Let’s go,” I yell, honking the horn impatiently in the driveway. I watch my hiking buddy scramble to grab everything we need for the moderate hike we are about to embark on. Yamnuska, also known as Mount John Laurie, is the destination, a classic Bow Valley hike for hikers and climbers.

Its sheer 500-foot face can be seen from the TransCanada Highway, and the peak is often in the clouds. Most of us locals refer to it simply as “the dinosaur.”

The Trail

There are many routes up this limestone mountain to the 2,240m (7,350 ft.) summit. Although an abundance of climbers summits this popular peak, we were told even hikers could make it to the summit without special equipment. This is a challenging fall hike, though, as this “dinosaur” in the Canadian Rockies is approximately a 9.8 km hike (6 miles), with about 887 m (2,900 ft) of elevation gain.

With our coffees, backpacks, and silly grins, we set out from the parking lot to conquer this dinosaur. However, not before looking around at the serious-looking climbers who had invaded the parking lot with their trekking poles. Perhaps we were less prepared than we thought.

Read More: What To Bring When Snowshoeing: Top Accessories for the Day Hiker

woman holding coffee in front of trees and mountains

Coffee in hand! I’m not prepared enough for this hike. Photo: Lindsay MacNevin

The Ascent

Although steep at times, the first 3km (1.86 miles) was through a mixed forest. There was a wide variety of wildlife, including birds and a forest grouse, which we thought was a bear. I had laughed at the thought of carrying bear spray. However, after nearly having a heart attack hearing the grouse take off, I regretted not buying any.

The trail is tricky as it leads you away from the mountain and back towards it, always making you wonder if you are lost. There are numerous branches off the trail, which offer incredible views and rest stops. It is well worth stopping to snap some photos here.

With my legs burning and fueled up on coffee and granola bars, we finally reached the Chimney. This area is a tight wedge in the eastern edge of the rock that opens you out to the backside of the mountain. As we ascended the face of the mountain, our true hiking/scrambling skills were put to the test.

We thought we had hit the summit after squeezing our way through and dodging falling rocks from above. But oh no, this mountain offers plenty of false summits, which get your hopes up and pull them straight back down. Although the views were incredible, and there were a couple of pillars to stand on to have a picture taken, we wanted to see the summit. So we pushed on.

However, the fabled Yamnuska traverse awaited us next. We had been warned about this section, which causes many people to turn around in fear. Luckily for us, a chain has been fastened to the cliff in recent years. You can now go hand over hand as you make your way around the narrow ledge. At times, the ledge seemingly disappears, which causes me to pause in fright before sidestepping to the next foothold.

Arriving at the backside of the mountain, there was no clear trail up to the actual summit that we saw high above us. So it’s time to get scrambling again. We made our way slowly to the top, up steep, loose slopes that one misstep would result in absolute death.

As always, though, the view from the summit was stunning, almost awe-inspiring, as we looked on for miles. We could see the Seebe Dam and the Bow River below, the prairies that open towards the east, and the Rocky Mountains that rise west.

side by side L person traversing a cliff with a chain R person admiring a view from a mountain summit with blue sky above

L: The traverse which causes many to turn around and on which you must be careful! R: The view from the mountaintop. Photos: Lindsay MacNevin

The Descent

Getting down seemed to be our worst nightmare. It starts with a quick run/fall down the back of the western face, in scree, of course. As we flew through, other trekkers were using their poles to successfully navigate their way down in a poised and careful manner. It did again run through my head that perhaps we weren’t as well prepared as we thought.

The Western edge is where knowing how to get down is tricky. There are so many ways both up and down this mountain, and the trails veer in all sorts of directions. There is a choice. Head down more rocks on the right, which is supposedly faster. Or you can take the well-worn trail that turns left and descends along the left side.

Let me be clear and state that I did not want to go down any more scree. I chose the left path as we hung to the main trail and worked our way along the bottom of the cliff face. Eventually, the trail hooked us back up to the prominent path seen from the parking lot. After descending the small gravel slope, we were back on flat land!


Three fall hikes in the Canadian Rockies: Three things checked off my bucket list. If you can get to the Canadian Rockies and squeeze in some hikes before the snow falls, check these three out! Also, make sure you are prepared for your hikes, especially the moderate to advanced mountain climbs.

This article was first published on November 25, 2015, and was most recently updated on September 7, 2023. 

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About the author

Lindsay MacNevin

First a mom… then a writer… then an avid traveler… then an outdoor enthusiast. Graduating from the University of Guelph with a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology, Lindsay’s love for writing, travel and the outdoors sparked a full-time career as a freelancer. In addition to writing for Snowshoe Magazine and its sister publication, River Sports Magazine, Lindsay is also a correspondent for Concourse Media’s EscapeHere.com. Beyond freelancing, Lindsay partnered with her sister, Jenny, to create 2HipMoms.com—a blog that combines their love for travel, adventure and motherhood.

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