Put these awesome ice walks near Calgary on your bucket list: Johnston Canyon, Grotto Canyon, and Jura Canyon.
What do you do when it isn’t snowy enough to snowshoe or ski, and it’s too icy to hike? Go for a canyon ice walk! While there are many tour companies offering ice walks, with traction devices, you can do it yourself. The experience of walking on a frozen creek is unique as you can only do it in the winter. I love the perspective of being in the creekbed as opposed to looking down on it. Best of all, you get to see ice falls!
Jura Canyon, Exshaw
Jura Canyon is the closest ice walk to Calgary, located near Exshaw. The canyon is so narrow, you can reach out and touch both sides of it! We loved exploring this cool slot canyon. Expect to walk about 800 metres on dirt trail and 500 metres on ice (one way). It is possible to do a 7 km round trip hike, but you need to climb over logs to go further up the canyon. For more details, read our story: Jura Canyon Ice Walk, Exshaw. ***Note that the water is over a metre deep in some parts of Jura Canyon, so you should wait until mid-winter when the ice is thick before hiking here.***
Grotto Canyon takes you through a frozen creekbed to pictographs and stunning icefalls! Walk one kilometre on a dirt trail and 900 metres on a frozen creek to reach His & Hers ice falls. Continue upstream (left of the falls) to see a large cave. For more details, read our story: Grotto Canyon, a beautiful canyon ice walk near Canmore. This trail is extremely popular, so go early or midweek to get parking. Parking on the side of Highway 1A is NOT permitted, and may result in your vehicle being towed!
Johnston Canyon, located in Banff National Park, is stunning any time of year, but we love it best in winter when the falls are frozen. Hike the catwalk to Lower Falls and Upper Falls.
It is 2.2 kilometres round trip to the Lower Falls or 5.4 kilometres round trip to the Upper Falls. Lower Falls has a viewing platform and small tunnel with another viewpoint close enough to feel the spray of the falls. At Upper Falls, you can often see ice climbers in action. If you’re up for a longer hike, it is 11.4 km round trip to the Ink Pots, small blue pools in a meadow.
Since the catwalks are narrow, the best mode of transport for little ones would be a child carrier. If your children are hiking without assistance, keep them close, as the catwalks are very high!
NOTE: From May 1 – November 15 each year, you could be fined up to $25,000 for going off trail (endangered black swifts nest in the canyon). For more information, visit Parks Canada.
Directions: To get to Johnston Canyon from Calgary, take Highway 1 westbound to Castle Junction (about 157 km). Take the exit to Bow Valley Parkway East / Hwy AB 1A East. Continue east on Bow Valley Parkway for 6.2 kilometres to the Johnston Canyon parking lot (on the left side of the street). The other option is to take the Bow Valley Parkway/Johnston Canyon turnoff just past Banff, but be warned that the road is extremely icy in the winter and the speed limit (if you can go that fast) is only 60 km/hr.
What to Bring
- Wear microspikes or snowshoes with metal crampons to prevent slips and falls. For more details on suitable traction devices, please read our story: Traction Devices for Winter Hiking.
- Trekking poles are recommended if you are carrying children in carriers/backpacks.
- Helmets are recommended for canyon ice walks due to risk of falling rock and ice. Try the Petzl Boreo Climbing Helmet or Petzl Picchu Kids Climbing Helmet.
- Footwear – Warm socks and winter boots are a must.
- Extra mitts and socks are good to carry all winter long.
- A hot drink in a Hydroflask + snacks
- First Aid Kit
- A foam pad to sit upon (diaper change pads work well!) like the Thermarest Z Lite Sol. It is light and folds up so you can easily attach it to your backpack. Available at MEC and Amazon.
- Hand warmers and toe warmers.
When to Go
Mid December until March is usually the best time to go on an ice walk in the Alberta Rockies. Be prepared for slush or patches of open water if the weather has been unseasonably warm.
General Ice Walk Safety Tips
- Wear traction devices.
- Walk, don’t run!
- Have an adult lead the way to ensure the ice is frozen.
- Be on the lookout for open water, obstacles (logs/boulders), and falling ice.
- Stay on level ground. The steeper or bumpier the ice, the more likely someone will slip and fall.
- Don’t stand too close to ice falls – chunks of ice can fall and hurt you!
An ice walk is a wonderful way to experience winter, especially if there isn’t enough snow for skiing and snowshoeing. If you gear up appropriately, you can do it safely and inexpensively. Have fun and let me know which ice walk was your favorite!