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  • Writer's pictureKristin

Kananaskis Country | Kid-Friendly Hikes for Young Children

While Banff National Park tends to get all the hype, especially by out of towners, Kananaskis Country in the Canadian Rockies offers equally amazing hikes and views. Plus the advantage of Kananaskis, is that you don't need a National Park Pass to go there; as the area is divided into several provincial parks which provide free admission. These are some of the hikes we have done and enjoyed with kids under 5 years old in Kananaskis Country (see map).

In no particular order, here they are:

1. Ptarmigan Cirque – Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

This is a 4.2 km loop in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park in Kananaskis Country. Once you cross the highway, all the elevation gain (271 m.) happens once you start hiking up. Our daughter was 4.5 years old at the time we did this hike last, and while she made it up mostly on her own, we did have to take a few breaks to help break it up for her little legs. However, once you reach the top, it opens up and only has rolling hills in the cirque. She enjoyed exploring the trails and coming across the meadow flowers. There are tons of little areas for the kids to explore and climb around; and it makes for a picturesque lunch or snack spot. It was a great hike with a view without needing all day to hike – probably took us about 2-3 hours. You can definitely spend more time at the top exploring as well. This hike is past where Hwy. 40 closes Dec. 1-June 14, so it's only accessible outside that time period.

August 2018

2. Cat Creek Waterfall - Kananaskis Improvement Area

Cat Creek Waterfall is a 2.4 km out & back trail in the Kananaskis Improvement Area off of Hwy. 40. It has a slight elevation gain of 146 meters. This trail was one our 4-year-old daughter had no problems powering through. It offers some views of the surrounding mountains, but at the end of the trail the main reward is the waterfall with a bridge to cross. We went on this hike in August, so the waterfall had been dried up a bit, but earlier in the summer it should be bigger.

August 2018

3. Troll Falls – Near Nakiska Ski Resort

Troll Falls is a 3.4 km out & back hike in Kananaskis. There are only slight hills, so it’s a relatively flat trail if coming from the Trailhead Parking Lot which is right on the way to Nakiska Ski Area. This hike only takes about 60-90 minutes. This trail is super kid friendly as people have hidden small trolls along the trail to the waterfall. It provides some great entertainment for the kids to try to find trolls as they hike along. Once you reach the Falls there are even more trolls hidden in the rockface. We’ve done this hike both in the summer and winter and they offer very different experiences – the frozen falls are equally spectacular. In the winter, you can also use a sled to help pull little ones along the trail. For more details about our winter hike, check it out here.

June 2018 & Jan. 2021

4. Black Prince Cirque/Warspite Lake – Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

Black Prince Cirque is a 4.8 km loop with only 178 m. elevation. It is located along the Smith-Dorien Highway and takes about 2 hours round trip. The trail starts off on an old logging road, but then goes through a forested area. The summer that we hiked it was a wet summer, so there were tons of mushrooms we saw along the way. We reached Warspite Lake, which when we went in September was dried up, but the big rocks made it a climbing playground for the kids. The highlights for the kids were the huge mushrooms, discovering the tree with a face and exploring around the lake on the huge rocks.

September 2019

5. Grassi Lakes – Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park

This was the very first hike we took our daughter on, and is a super family friendly trail. It’s also one that we have utilized for the kids’ first hikes partially out of the carrier. It is a 4.3 km loop and has 233 m. in elevation gain. There are actually two pathways up to the lakes at the top. From the trailhead parking lot, off Three Sisters Parkway & up the mountain from Canmore, you can either take the wide gravel pathway to the right or the dirt trail to the left. The wide pathway is great for those that might be using jogging strollers, whereas the one to the left offers more of a traditional hiking path with dirt, rocks and roots. However, the latter also offers some great views of the valley below as you hike up (whereas the other path is more treed in) and you get a great viewpoint of the waterfall. However, there are some drop offs along this path. Nothing super dangerous, but if you have a toddler that doesn’t listen well, just make sure to hold their hand or keep them close. Our favorite way is to go up the more traditional pathway and then down the wide gravel pathway back to the parking lot.

Up at the top of Grassi Lakes you get some amazing views of the lakes, which offer the most spectacular hues of blues and greens as well as a mirror image of the mountain tips surrounding the lakes. There are also lots of rock climbers that come up here, so that can be interesting to watch as well. With kids probably allow a couple of hours, and depending how much time you spend up top to explore.

September 2015 | September 2019

6. Beaver Flats – Bragg Creek/Elbow River

This is a super short and easily accessible trail from Calgary. It is just a 2.8 km round trip hike along the little ponds where beavers have made their homes and built a series of beaver dams. While we didn’t come across any beavers, we did find a freshly chewed tree stump that was jagged and pointed from the beaver using his sharp teeth. It was a fun discovery, especially after we had learned about beavers earlier that week in our COVID homeschooling lessons. The hike is just beyond where Hwy. 40 is closed from Dec. 1 to June 14, so we had to park and then walk along the closed highway to access the trail. Someone could easily do this hike within 45-90 minutes just depending on how much time you take to explore.

May 2020

7. Fullerton Loop – Bragg Creek/Elbow River

This is a 6.9 km loop trail just outside of Bragg Creek with a 239 m. elevation gain. This hike takes you through some forested areas, through a little bit of a meadow and along the ridge to offer you views of the mountains in the distance and the Elbow River below. We did this hike with another set of friends who had kids the same ages as ours and it was great that they had little friends to keep them entertained throughout the hike. Otherwise I think if we had been on our own, we would have heard a lot more complaining about the distance. There may or may not have been some bribery with stopping for ice cream when we were done….ha ha! We’ve done this hike now twice and the cool part about it is that if you start the loop in a different direction it adds a little bit of a different feel to it. To be honest, I’m not even sure how long this hike took us, as we took a long break for lunch and several other beaks, but probably close to 3 hours.

Summer 2016 & June 2020

8. Canadian Mt. Everest – Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

This trail is located right off the Upper Kananaskis Lake. It is a 2.3 km trail with 120 m. elevation gain. Although there is some good elevation gain, it’s pretty short, so it’s not bad for the kids. The hike is mostly through a forested area, but once you get to the top you get views of the Upper Kananaskis Lake below. Although it does open up at the top, the view is a bit obstructed by the trees. However, it’s a pretty quick one to do – probably about 60-90 mins. Round trip depending on your speed.

August 2018 & June 2020

9. Upper Kananaskis Lake – Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

If you were to do the full loop around Upper Kananaskis Lake this would be way too much for kids (around 15 km). However, I included this hike as a family friendly option because you can still go for a portion of the hike either on the north or south side and it offers lots of fun exploration for the kids. On the North side it has a forest feel to it; however, on the south side it seems to be more wet so it offered a different look and feel. On the south side (in June) there were little creeks running along side and under the trail into the lake. There is also the Turret Waterfall. On both sides there are rock beaches you can access from the hiking path as well and either side offers incredible views.

North Side:

South Side:

June 2020

10. Heart Creek Canyon – Bow Valley Provincial Park

This 4.7 km hike follows Heart Creek through the mountain canyon with an elevation gain of 302 meters. It is also conveniently located right off of Hwy. 1 on the way to Canmore from Calgary. There are a series of bridges that you cross as you go up the canyon. Our kids did lots of rock collecting and throwing rocks into the water on this hike. We went in June, so there was plenty of water still in the creek. When you get to the end of the trail, there is a waterfall, but you have to climb up a pretty big rock to get a glimpse of it; so it was just something that Alex did while the kids and I stayed back.

June 2020

11. Grotto Canyon – Bow Valley Provincial Park

This is a popular 7.1 km in Bow Valley just off Hwy 1 via the Exshaw exit. This is one of those hikes while the official hike says it will be over 5 km you could just explore until you can’t go any further and still feel like you’ve seen something spectacular.

We went to the canyon different times in the year and it offered some different experiences. In June, there was a fair bit of water that ran through the canyon - although still definitely doable. We had put the kids in rubber boots for the hike, as we figured there would be lots of playing near the water. However, the thing that we didn’t come prepared for was our daughter losing her balance on the way into the canyon and falling in the creek. We had to do a bit of an emergency change. However, other that experience, it was so fun for them with throwing rocks into the water, navigating rocks to rocks to cross the creek and even using some of the flat rock faces as slides. When we went again in September, the creek was much smaller and there was less navigating through and around the creek.

June 2020

September 2020

12. Pocaterra Cirque – Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

The Pocaterra Cirque is a 6.9 km trail, located in Highwood Pass and has a 432 m elevation gain. It actually shares the same parking lot as Ptarmigan Cirque, but for Ptarmigan you cross across the highway to start the ascent up. You can hike up to the Pocaterra Summit, but there is also a Cirque trail that takes you to the bowl where you can explore there before heading back down. Because it is on the portion of Hwy. 40 that closes down from Dec. 1 to June 14, it is only accessible by vehicle the outside that timeframe.

We headed to Pocaterra during Larch season. There are typically about 2 weeks towards end of September when the larches are in their full splendor and everything looks bright yellow – it’s pretty amazing! You have to hike through some treed areas to get to the open cirque and there are actually quite a few random trails through this treed area. We stayed on the one or two bottom paths and that seemed to work out well. The cirque is fun area for the kids to explore and the views are pretty great as well; although we were there on a little bit of a cloudy day…even got a few flurries. It took us a couple of hours to get there and back.

September 2020

13. Marl Lake – Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

This is a 3.2 km hike located just off the C & D Loops of the Elkwood provincial campground, although there are pathways to lead to the trailhead from all four loops. While I don’t know if I’d recommend driving out to the mountains specifically for this hike, if you’re staying at the campgrounds it was a quick one to do. It ended up being a hike that we easily did one afternoon when we needed to kill some time before dinner; and it is definitely one you can do in less than an hour.

14. Jura Creek – Bow Valley Provincial Park

Jura Creek is a 6.9 km out & back trail with relatively little elevation hike just up the road from Grotto Canyon. It does have a very similar feel to it as Grotto, but was another fun canyon hike for the kids. We have just done this hike in the winter, but I’m sure that during the summer it would be equally as entertaining for the kids & we hope to try it again with no snow. We definitely didn’t hike for 6.9 km, but the canyon hikes are great because you can still see and explore lots of cool things without doing the complete hike.

February 2021

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