Hiking in winter is a wonderful and invigorating, if occasionally overlooked, activity. Fresh snow and ice make Alberta’s many scenic hiking trails even more picturesque. Of course, some extra precautions are required when venturing out in the winter wilderness. Dressing appropriately in layers is a must, and on many trails, ice cleats or other traction devices that attach to your boots are recommended. And as with warm-weather hiking, you’ll want to pack sufficient water and snacks, too. Once you’re prepped and ready, head out and explore these charming winter hiking trails throughout Alberta.
GAETZ LAKES SANCTUARY
Embrace the quiet of a cold winter’s day at this Red Deer conservation area. Set on 118 hectares of protected land, Alberta’s oldest federal migratory bird sanctuary does not permit pets, skiing or cycling, in order to protect wildlife. That makes for peaceful surroundings, which you can enjoy on five kilometres of trails. They lead to a bird blind and multiple viewing decks; watch for bohemian waxwings, redpolls and numerous species of woodpeckers.
ELK ISLAND NATIONAL PARK
Drive just 45 minutes east of Edmonton to reach this park’s numerous flat trails of various lengths—plus ample opportunities to see bison. It’s often easier to spot wildlife here in winter: The trees are bare and you can spot tracks in the snow. (Of course, do not approach any animals that you may see.) Trails tailor-made for wildlife viewing include the 11.6-kilometre Hayburger Trail, a moderate hike through open aspen forest and meadows, and the 3.7-kilometre Beaver Pond Trail. Verify trail conditions here before you go.
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TUNNEL MOUNTAIN SUMMIT TRAIL
While Banff is a hiker’s paradise, most of the national park’s trailheads are located away from the townsite. But not Tunnel Mountain, which starts right in town, near the Banff Centre. The 2.4-kilometre mountain ascent involves moderately steep switchbacks, but you’re quickly rewarded with panoramic views of the town and surrounding peaks. Ice cleats and hiking poles are strongly recommended in winter, and check trail conditions here prior to heading out.
This easy, family-friendly hike is in Kananaskis Country, about an hour’s drive from Calgary. Parking, however, is limited, so it’s best to visit on a weekday. The wide out-and-back trail wanders through a dense forest, then narrows and snakes along Marmot Creek. After 1.7 kilometres, you’ll reach the impressive, ice-covered Troll Falls—but stay on the main track around the falls, as the area can be treacherous. After your hike, grab a warm drink and a sweet treat from the nearby Market Café at the Pomeroy Kananaskis Mountain Lodge.
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For a magical winter hike highlighted by frozen waterfalls and unique ice formations, head to Maligne Canyon in Jasper National Park. Several trails run along the top of the canyon, crossing six bridges. You can also explore the canyon’s frozen bottom, though hiring a certified guide is recommended. Check trail conditions here before you go—and be sure to bring ice cleats. Warm up after your hike with soup or chili from the Maligne Canyon Wilderness Kitchen. Located at the trailhead, the popular restaurant is offering a grab-and-go menu this winter.
HOW TO SAVE
AMA members save $10 on Parks Canada Discovery family passes when purchased at an AMA centre.