Wapta icefields, Banff National Park
Usually, hiking for miles across glaciers is an activity reserved for rugged mountaineers. But in Banff National Park, just north of Lake Louise, the Wapta icefields are accessible for the average fit hiker with the aid of a certified ACMG guide. Strap on crampons and a harness and secure yourselves with ropes while you pass by crevasses and gape at towering jagged peaks poking out of the ice. Multi-day trips are available and you overnight in fully-equipped alpine huts.
Crypt Lake, Waterton National Park
The Crypt Lake hiking trail is considered one of the best in Canada. A local ferry provides access to the trailhead from Waterton Village Marina to the far shore on Upper Waterton Lake. From there it’s an 8.7-kilometre hike one way and rises up to 1,981 metres (elevation gain of 695 metres). The hike includes a crawl through a 100-foot-long natural mountain tunnel, a scramble along a cliff-edge (with a steel cable for support), and waterfalls. Be prepared to see grizzly and black bears, bighorn sheep, moose, mountain goats, and deer.
Horsethief Canyon, Alberta Badlands Drumheller
While most hikes in Alberta take you through forests and up mountains, this particular trail offers a steep, yet short descent into Horsethief Canyon past millions of years of geological layers. You’re in dinosaur land here, literally. Dinosaur fossils dating back approximately 70 million years were uncovered here, one of the most notable being a horned dinosaur given the name Pachyrhinosaurus canadensis. The canyon floor itself is lush with grasses and bush and nearly dry riverbeds. Only two hours out of Calgary, you can find yourself in a landscape that is seen in very few places in the world.
Skyline Trail, Jasper National Park
Due to the lofty heights of this trail (it’s the highest in Jasper), it’s best done late in the season to avoid snow. Much of the Skyline Trail is an alpine route – over half of its 45 kilometres are above treeline, meandering through meadows of wildflowers and offering 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. (It has an elevation gain of about 820 metres.) It’s recommended to plan three or four days for this hike.
Centennial Ridge, Kananaskis/Canmore
With an elevation gain of 1,350 metres over a distance of 13.8 kilometres (return) the Centennial Ridge hike is rated as “very difficult.” Built in 1967 to celebrate Canada’s 100th birthday, it has the distinction of being the highest maintained trail in the country. It’s a physically demanding day-hike but the views, unusual rock formations, and the sense of accomplishment at the top make for a very rewarding experience. Note that the trail is closed April 1 to June 21 for wildlife management.
Eiffel Lake Trail, Banff National Park
The jewel in the Valley of the Ten Peaks is Moraine Lake, a glacially-fed body of water that reflects a stunning blue hue. It’s a popular spot with the tourists but to get away from the crowds, hike the Eiffel Lake Trail. It’s a 10-kilometre round-trip moderate trail that takes in fabulous views of the valley floor and the ten surrounding peaks, each one over 10,000 feet high. Be aware that, depending on grizzly bear activity, a group-hike rule may be enforced. From Moraine Lake it takes about three hours to reach Eiffel Lake, but if you want to continue, you can add a few more hours to the hike and reach Wenkchemna Pass.
Mount Northover Ridge, Kananaskis
Not a trail for beginners, the Mount Northover Ridge hike crosses exposed and steep ridgelines as it reaches a summit of 3,048 metres. It’s a three-day hike over 23 kilometres culminating in spectacular views of Northover Lakes, Northover Glacier, Palliser River, Three Isle Lake, and Mount Lyautey.
Lake Agnes and the Big Beehive, Lake Louise
This popular hike leads to the Lake Agnes Teahouse and beyond. It’s about 11 kilometres round-trip and gradually climbs 500 metres. Along the way you’ll pass Mirror Lake, with the Big Beehive rock formation towering above it, while below you’ll have vantage points over the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. Most people refresh themselves at the Teahouse and head back down, but a couple of options exist to continue on the Little and Big Beehive trails. For a full-on experience, you can do a day-hike (14 kilometres round trip) to the Plain-of-Six-Glaciers from the Teahouse.
Ribbon Falls & Ribbon Lake, Kananaskis
If you’ve brought your family, this may be the one for you. At 22 kilometres return it may sound long, but the elevation gain is only 311 metres over the 6-hour hike. Along the way you’ll pass through a deep canyon with lots of waterfalls, as well as pass by an abandoned logging camp. Be ready for crowds at Ribbon Falls, though. For the more adventurous, continue for another two kilometers to Ribbon Lake. It sounds short, but the catch is that you have to scale a cliff. Luckily there are chains on the two sections of the cliff to keep you secure.
Tonquin Valley, Jasper
The Tonquin Valley trail is a combination of five smaller trails: Astoria River, Maccarib Pass, Eremite Valley, Moat Lake, and the ACC Chrome Lake Trail. It was listed among the “15 best hikes in the world” by National Geographic. It takes three to five days to complete the 70-kilometre distance through backcountry terrain smack in the middle of the Rockies. It should be noted that the Tonquin Valley attracted famed landscape photographer, Ansel Adams, who made it his first visit as a Sierra Club photographer.