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Keeping it Short and Sweet

Copyright (c) 2007-2021 Travel Alberta, All Rights Reserved
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Here they are, 13 trails that represent a good cross-section of sights throughout the Rocky Mountains of Alberta. Whether you're in Banff, Jasper, Kananaskis or Waterton, you'll find a quick and even family-friendly hike that shows the Rockies in their best light. Just remember, they may be technically easier, but every trail deserves respect. Always keep to the posted trail, stay within guard rails and be weather-wise.

Heart Creek Trail - Banff
3 kilometres (almost two mils) - 2 hours

To find the trailhead for the Heart Creek Trail, just look for a lot of cars parked along the south side of the Trans-Canada Highway (#1) 14 km east of Canmore at Lac Des Arcs and about a 45-minute drive west of Calgary. About 400 metres (yards) in from where people pull off the highway, the trail begins. From here, the creek trail is an easy stroll with several easy crossings, ending at a small waterfall at the end of the canyon. You'll see many other adventurous types along the way, since this is also the starting point for more difficult scrambles up Heart Mountain as well as rock climbs on sheer cliff faces. A great place to watch extreme climbers.

Wilcox Pass - Banff/Jasper
12 kilometres (7 miles) - 3 hours

Although this hike is slightly longer than our 10 km limit for this review, the effort you need to expend is minimal for the amazing payoffs along the route, making it a true short hike. Just 20 minutes in, you're treated to views of the Columbia Icefields and major mountain peaks. This stunning mostly-flat hike lets you experience real backcountry hiking with a fraction of the effort normally required for these views. Rocky Mountain Long Horn Sheep are often spotted here, adding to the unique charm. It's even easy to get to. Driving north from Banff on the Icefield Parkway, turn off at the Wilcox Creek Campground Road just after entering Jasper National Park. The trailhead is less than 50 metres (yards) in.

Mistaya Canyon - Banff
1 kilometre (just under a mile) - 1 hour

Less than a kilometre along, an old logging road separates the Icefields Parkway (between Banff and Jasper) from the cascading Mistaya River. At Mistaya Canyon, you'll discover a spectacular slot canyon, where the river has cut a series of rounded pockets, or slots, in the rock. It's deep and steep and very impressive, and yet it doesn't get nearly the number of spectators that the much bigger Maligne Canyon gets. To get there, park on the west side of the Icefields Parkway, 5.5 km south of Saskatchewan River Crossing. The trailhead is at the north end of the parking area. If you park at, or near the south end, and see multiple trails heading off into the bush, don't follow them. They end shortly afterward.

Lorraine and Mona Lakes - Jasper
5 kilometres (3. 5 miles) - 2 hours

Want to avoid the crowds at the super-popular Maligne Lake? Take the short trail through the forest to Lorraine and Mona lakes. The trail meanders through a forest for 2 km before opening up at Lorraine Lake, a small but charming mountain lake. Continue down the trail 400 metres (yards) to the much larger Mona Lake, which offers a beautiful view down the Maligne Valley. To get to the trailhead, drive east from Jasper on Highway 16, turn onto the Maligne Lake Road and drive for another 47 km to the road's end. The trailhead across the paved road from the parking lot is the same one you use for the Skyline Trail.

Sulphur Creek - Jasper
1 kilometre (a little more than 1/2 mile) - 1 hour

The short trail along Sulphur Creek to one of the natural sources of the Miette Hot Springs is a must for all visitors to Jasper National Park. After a 44 km drive east of Jasper on Hwy 16, you'll arrive at Fiddle Road. Follow it for 17 km to the Miette Hot Springs, drive through the parking lot and park by the picnic area. From here, hike the paved trail down to and through the abandoned aquacourt. Beyond the ruin a boardwalk leads the rest of the way to a bridge across Sulphur Creek. On the other side of the bridge is a hot spring flowing from a hole in the mountain. There is not enough water to bathe in, and besides, with a temperature over 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) it is too hot for a relaxing soak.

Wabasso Lake - Jasper
6 kilometres (just under 4 miles) - 2 hours

Only 14 km (9 miles) south of Jasper on Hwy 93 is the Wabasso Lake trail. You'll find the trailhead at the parking lot, on the left side of the road. As the trail crosses the floor of the Athabasca Valley it climbs over a series of parallel ridges left behind by the glaciers of the Late Wisconsin Ice Age. Most of the hills are short and sweet and there is plenty of shade to keep you cool. The one long hill provides fine views back across the Valley of the Five Lakes. Wabasso is the Stoney Indian word for rabbit, but horses are a more common sight here, since a horse trail connects with it. Once you reach the lake at the 3 km mark, look for an old camp and firebox along the shore that makes an excellent picnic site.

Mary Schaffer Loop - Jasper
3 kilometres (just under 2 miles) - 1 hour

The Mary Schäffer Loop is an easy stroll along the shore of Maligne Lake to a beautiful viewpoint. Two kilometres east of Jasper on Hwy 16, you turn right and follow Maligne Lake Road for 46 km. From the parking lot just before Maligne Lake Chalet, head down to the shore and turn left. Pass a boathouse, a picnic area, a viewpoint and head into the woods. Near the end of the trail you will pass two junctions on your right. The first is the trail to the Opal Hills and the second leads to the upper parking lot. Keep left and follow the trail back down to the shore near a boathouse. The boathouse, built by legendary Jasper guide Donald "Curly" Phillips in 1929, has boats, canoes, fishing gear and guides for rent.

Path of the Glacier Loop - Jasper
2 kilometres (just over a mile) - 2 hours

The Path of the Glacier Loop is an excellent place to learn about glaciers and the power of a mountain more than 3,300 metres (yards) high. First, drive south of Jasper on the Icefields Parkway, passing the park gate at 7 km and turning right on 93A. Follow 93A for 5.5 km and turn right on the Edith Cavell Road. Drive 15 km to the parking lot at the end of the road. Start the loop by climbing the stairs above the parking lot. Ahead of you the trail runs through a wasteland of glacial debris left behind by the retreating Cavell Glacier. Always remember, glaciers with their often-tumbling ice are dangerous, so always obey the "Do Not Go Past This Point" signs. Also, since the trail, tucked under the north face of the mountain, it can be chilly even on a summer day, so a light jacket is a good thing to bring along.

Athabasca Falls - Jasper
1 kilometre (almost 1/2 mile) - 1 hour

The impressive Athabasca Falls, where the Athabasca River funnels into a three-metre (yard) wide gap, are the most powerful falls in the Canadian Rockies. Drive south of Jasper on The Icefields Parkway for 30 km and turn right on Hwy 93A. Follow the signs and turn left into the parking lot. From the parking lot it is a short walk to the trail next to the river. The picnic area is to the left and the falls are to the right. There are viewpoints to take in the waterfall from both sides of the river, including the bridge that spans the canyon downstream of the cataract. But be careful! The guard rails are there for your safety. The rocks just past them can be deadly slippery.

Terrace Trail - Kananaskis
8 kilometres (about five miles) - 2 hours

Terrace Trail is an easy hiking trail which starts at Kananaskis Village and ends (or begins) at the junction with the Galatea Creek Trail. The trail follows a terrace at the base of Mt. Kidd, above the Kananaskis River, as it winds through the 5-star Kananaskis Golf Course. For mountain bikers, this trail can become a loop by crossing the Kananaskis River at the Galatea Creek Trail and returning to the village via the highway. The trailhead is easy to find, starting by the hockey rink at Kananaskis Village. From there, you simply follow the signs.

Ribbon Falls - Kananaskis
8 kilometres (about five miles) - 3 hours

The trail to Ribbon Falls is popular due largely to its very gentle grade. It is an easy, enjoyable hike, passing through a deep canyon with several waterfalls, and is suitable for families with small children. This tends to make it a busy path, especially on weekends. It is also the first leg of the trail to Ribbon Lake, Guinn's Pass and Buller Pass. Keep your eyes open for bikes on the trail. Although they are only permitted on the first 3.5 km, there are some who bike all the way to the falls.

The falls are worth enduring the crowds. Along the way you will find numerous waterfalls and an abandoned logging camp. To access this trail, start at the Ribbon Creek parking area, just off the road to Kananaskis Village.

Troll Falls - Kananaskis
3 kilometres (just under two miles) - 2 hours

The Troll Falls trail is part of a network of cross-country ski trails which double as hiking trails in the summer. They are located in Kananaskis Country near the base of the Nakiska downhill ski hill which was built for the 1988 Olympic Winter Games (about 75 minutes from Calgary). The Troll Falls trail is an easy trail, with minor elevation gain, to a nice waterfall. You can return the same way or keep left at the first fork (returning) and follow the trail along the Kananaskis River. The trailhead is located just off (right) of the Nakiska road about a half mile from Hwy 40 in Kananaskis. Look for the 'Stoney Trailhead' sign.

Crandell Lake - Waterton
2 kilometres (just over a mile) - 1 hour

Want an easy trail you can take the whole family on? This one runs from the Akamina Parkway (Cameron Lake Road) to the Red Rock Parkway with Crandell Lake about halfway. The terrain is mostly level to moderately steep. At the lake there is a picnic shelter with a wood stove. The small lake is in a very picturesque setting, at the base of Mount Crandell. To get there, use either the Crandell Lake trailhead on the Akamina Parkway or the trailhead behind the Canyon Church Camp (use the camp turnoff) off the Redrock Parkway. The camp road is about 1 km past the entrance to Crandell Campground.

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