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Wildflower Hikes in the Canadian Rockies

by Karen Ung
July is the month to see wildflowers in the Canadian Rockies. Mid to late July is the best time to see them in Banff and Kananaskis. If you want to get a head start on wildflowers, head to Bow Valley Provincial Park in early June or Waterton in mid to late June.
Here are some family-friendly flower power destinations within a couple hours of Calgary.
Sunshine Meadows – Banff: 3.6 km from bus drop-off, 150 m elevation gain
You could hike up to the meadows, but it is recommended you take the bus up as the 4.5 km ascent is steep. This way you have lots of energy to explore this stunning area. Even if the flowers aren’t in full bloom, the scenery is spectacular! This area is also full of larches and makes a beautiful fall hike. Hike to Rock Isle Lake or beyond and be sure to bring a lunch as you will want to linger. Shuttle bus information is available here.
Red and pink paintbrush, smooth blue asters, and arnica

Healy Pass – Banff: 18 km return, 655 m elevation gain

If you’re up for a long hike and don’t relish spending $27 on the bus, the wildflowers at Healy Pass are just as amazing as what you will see at Sunshine Meadows’ bus drop off. Allow 6 hours for this moderate, but long hike so you have plenty of time for lunch, snack breaks, and photos.

For more information on Healy Pass, please see this post.

Healy Pass in Fall
Ptarmigan Cirque Interpretive Trail – Kananaskis: 4.5 km, 250 m elevation gain
Ptarmigan Cirque should be on every family’s bucket list. With meadows, forest, a sculpted cirque, stream, and waterfalls, there is a lot to see over a short distance. The meadows were bursting with color even though the snow just recently melted. I expect the flower situation will only improve over the next two weeks.
While you may read that this is a “strenuous” or “difficult” hike, keep in mind that it is an interpretive trail. Unless you have an injury or are unaccustomed to hiking at high elevations (the trailhead is at Highwood Pass, the highest paved point in Canada at 2206 m), you should be able to complete this lovely hike in 1.5 hours. Allow 2-3 hours if hiking with young children. On our recent trip, my friend’s 3 year old niece easily completed the hike without assistance!
For a complete trail writeup, see this post.
Ptarmigan Cirque
Indian paintbrush (red), Arnica (yellow), and Western Anemones (furry) decorated the meadow
Helen Lake – Icefields Parkway: 12 km, 455 m elevation gain
Helen Lake is one of my favorite hikes for a two reasons: the flowers and Cirque Peak. Cirque Peak may be a bit much for most families, but Helen Lake is a great destination on its own. Enjoy shade on the way up to the meadows, take in the grand sight of Dolomite Peak, photograph reflections in mirror-like tarns, and cool your feet in a sparkling stream, all before reaching the lake.
Helen Lake

Bow Valley Provincial Park trails: 1.5-2.5 km, minimal elevation gain
For shorter wildflower hikes and a much shorter drive, check out the Many Springs, Montane, Flowing Water, or Middle Lake trails in Bow Valley Provincial Park. All of the trails are 2.5 km or less and have minimal elevation gain.
Since Bow Valley Provincial Park is at a much lower elevation than the other locations mentioned, the flower season starts and ends earlier (late May to late June is usually good).
More information on Bow Valley Provincial Park is available in this post.
Blue Rock Clematis on Many Springs Trail
Middle Lake, Bow Valley Provincial Park

More Wildflower Hikes

More flower hikes include the following:
  • Bow Summit Lookout, Icefields Parkway: 5.8 km, 245 m elevation gain
  • Centennial Ridge, Kananaskis: As soon as you get above treeline (approximately 3.2 km from parking lot), you will enter a meadow of wildflowers.
  • Johnson Lake, Banff: 3.1 km, no elevation gain
  • Marl Lake Interpretive Trail, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park: 3.1 km round trip from Elkwood Campground Amphitheatre parking lot, 25 m elevation gain
  • Parker Ridge, Jasper: 5.4 km, 250 m elevation gain

Wildflower season in the Rockies is short, so don’t delay! Check with local Visitor Information Centres to discover the best wildflower hikes in the area you are visiting.

What is your favorite wildflower hike?

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