Get Your Kids to Ditch Their iPod and Xbox With These 5 Family Outdoor Activities Around Canmore


It’s hard to imagine a bigger concentration of Olympic athletes, accomplished mountaineers and mountain guides than the one you find in Canmore. Situated at 1309 metres/4296 feet above sea level, Canmore is conveniently located one hour west of Calgary and only 15 min away from Banff, on the outskirts of Banff National Park.

Once a coal-mining town, Canmore is now home to 12,300 permanent residents and 6000 non-permanent residents, which makes Canmore the largest community in the Alberta Rockies.
The amount of outdoor activities you can find around here is overwhelming – it seems that every resident is very active throughout the year. And that is how we are raising our kids as well. There is plenty to do with your little (or not-so-little anymore!) one.

Check the list below and have fun while exploring this incredible region.

Grassi Lakes

This is one of my favorite trails around Canmore and it gets you to the beautiful Grassi Lakes, two small turquoise blue spring-fed lakes nestled in the middle of a gorge. Because this is a very popular hike and sport climb area and it is located in a Wildlife Corridor, travel in this area is restricted to designated trails.

From the parking lot, follow the service road to the first signage, indicating an easier route and a more difficult one. Take the more difficult one and come down using the easier one, an old road through the forest.

The more difficult is also more scenic, offering great views of the town, the valley, Ha Ling Peak and a waterfall when you reach a very steep section with a series of stairs. This is also a more exposed trail so keep an eye on your little ones – they will find more things to entertain themselves as they hike up the hill. Please note that this trail is closed during the winter due to icy conditions.

Signage along this route tells the history of Lawrence Grassi who built the original Grassi Lakes Trail. The trails that access the climbing routes above the lakes lead to some unique pictographs.  

Directions: The trailhead is located 4.7 km south of Canmore on the Smith-Dorrien-Spray Lakes Road (Highway 742). To get there from the west or far end of Canmore's Main Street (8th St.), follow the signs for the Canmore Nordic Centre, which will take you south of town. When you reach the end of the pavement just past the Nordic Centre, turn left at the Grassi Lakes sign. Follow this descending road for 500 metres and you will see the trailhead on your right.
Trailhead:    Grassi Lakes Day Use Area
Distance:    4 km return
Time:          45 min to 1 hour to the lakes, less back down
Difficulty:    easy

Policeman’s Creek Boardwalk - Mountain biking or hiking

Policeman’s creek is a gentle stroll following the creek through trees and some wildlife. It is situated in the middle of the town of Canmore and it is perfect for hot summer days.

If you want to make it more ‘adventurous’, follow the blue trail all the way from Cougar Creek Trailhead (parking lot) to Elk Island View (by the Bow River ~50 meters from Millennium Park), for a total of 9.8 km.

Those are the features you will see/cross along the way: Cougar Creek Pedestrian Bridge, Old Coal Mine Cars (entrance way), Policeman’s Creek, old Recreation Centre, Canmore Golf Course, Larch Island Loop, Engine Bridge, and Pedestrian Bridge and then finishes along the Bow River at Elk Island View.

Views include Lady Macdonald, Rundle Ridge, Lawrence Grassi Ridge and the Bow River. This trail is almost all gravel and is suitable for hiking or biking.

Rat’s Nest Cave

Your kids should be 10 years or older to go in the cave and you can choose some pretty cool programs with Canmore Cave Tours. Rat’s Nest Cave is in its natural state (no interior lighting, no handrails and no walkways) and you will see how caves are formed, examine stalactites, stalagmites, animal bones and fossils.

Rat’s Nest Cave is a constant 5°C (41°F) all year. So, like most alpine caves, it is cool in summer, mild in winter. In 1987, the cave was designated a Provincial Historic Site. With over 4 km of explored passage, the Rat’s Nest Cave lies under Grotto Mountain, and access is restricted to protect the delicate environment.

Canmore Museum & Geoscience Centre

The Canmore Museum & Geoscience Centre is a fun day out for kids and adults, especially if you register for some of their programs. For adults, I would highly recommend a walk with Ben Gadd.

For kids, check the following programs:

Geokidz – Earth Science Kid’s Camp – 4 to 6 year olds, every Wednesday from 10am to 12noon in July and August. $15.75 per child (inc. GST). Pre-registration is required. Please contact the Canmore Museum & Geoscience Center on 403.678.2462.

Market Day Crafts and Experiments – free drop-in craft and experiment sessions, every Thursday from June till August from 11am to 1pm.

Grotto Canyon

From the trailhead, go west along the powerline past the Baymag Plant and go right where the sign points into the woods. About 30 min after the parking area, you will start seeing climbing bolts, and up ahead, near a 90o corner to the left, look for petroglyphs – they are not easy to find so look carefully.  

Keep walking until you reach a fork at the end of the trail. If you go to the right, up just 50 metres are Grotto Falls, and if you go to the left, continue up the creek bed to a wide valley with a ‘high mountain’ feel. Don’t forget to give yourself extra time for this journey, perhaps another 1.5 hours. There are some hoodoos in here with a large cave at about the 3km mark, but don’t forget to bring bear spray and travel in groups. Don’t forget to bring your water bottle and if you plan in using the water sources, bring a filter as well.  

On winter, come explore the canyon hiking on the icy creek. The surroundings are magic and you may see some ice climbing going on.

Directions: From Calgary take the 1A though Cochrane and Exshaw, or for faster & safer drive, go West on TC #1 to the Seebe exit, go North then turn left on 1A for 10.9km. The Grotto Mountain Day Use area is on the North side of the highway, very close to Baymag Plant. Trailhead is in the parking lot with an information board at the start.
Trailhead: From Canmore, drive 10 km east on Highway 1A towards Calgary and the Grotto Mountain trailhead is on the left side – Baymag Plant.
Distance: 3 km return to the waterfall.
Time: 1.5 hours return.
Difficulty: easy

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