The best short hikes in Kananaskis are scenic and only 2-6 kilometres round trip! For more amazing short trails, including Heart Creek, Troll Falls, Grassi Lakes, and Grotto Canyon, see: The Best Short Hikes Near Calgary (<4 km return, 30-60 minutes from Calgary).
For detailed trip reports, click on the title links.
1. Flowing Water Trail, Bow Valley Provincial Park
Flowing Water Trail is a fun, short hike with stairs, boardwalk, wetlands, and river views. In early summer, there are tons of wildflowers too! 2.4 km, minimal elevation gain.
After your hike, picnic at Middle Lake Day Use and take a quick stroll to the other side of the lake for an awesome view of Yamnuska. There’s a camping store at Bow Valley Campground if you need a snack. Otherwise, Chiniki Village is a good spot to dine or pick up an ice cream bar or slurpee.
For more great, short hikes in this park, please see this post: Family Fun in Bow Valley Provincial Park.
2. Forget-Me-Not Pond, Little Elbow Provincial Recreation Area
Forget-Me-Not Pond is a beautiful spot for a walk and picnic. Arrive early to get a picnic table with a fire pit as this day use area is extremely popular! The trail around the emerald green pond is sports stroller friendly and super scenic. For the perfect day trip, stop at Elbow Falls on the way home, then get an ice cream in Bragg Creek. 2 km loop, no elevation gain.
Directions: Take the Little Elbow Campground turnoff from Hwy 66 then turn left at Forget-me-not Pond Day Use. Please note that there is a seasonal road closure from December 1-May 14 at Elbow Falls, but you can bike in when there isn’t snow on the road.
3. Ptarmigan Cirque, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park
Ptarmigan Cirque begins at Highwood Pass, the highest paved pass in Canada. From Highwood Meadows, you climb to a sculpted cirque (carved by glaciers), alpine meadows, and waterfalls. It’s our favorite short hike in Kananaskis followed closely by West Wind Pass! If the kids need a good job treat, pop in to the gas station at Fortress Junction. They have frozen treats and scoop ice cream with homemade waffle cones! 5 km, 200 m elevation gain.
4. West Wind Pass, Bow Valley Wildland Park
West Wind Pass is the most challenging of these hikes, but if you take it slow and steady and are ok with route-finding on unofficial trails, it’s manageable with strong hikers aged 4 & up. Enjoy views of Wind Tower and Rimwall on the ascent, and panoramic views from the pass. Wind Valley, Spray Valley and Spray Lakes are magnificent to behold. There are lots of fun rock outcroppings to climb too! 4.2 km, 380 m elevation gain.
Rocky Mountain Flatbread and the Old School Bus are excellent places to refuel your bellies in Canmore.
5. Black Prince Cirque, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park
Black Prince Cirque is a less strenuous option to West Wind Pass (and a good choice when the winter gate is closed and you can’t access Ptarmigan Cirque). The first part of the hike is easy going on an old fire road, but becomes more interesting as you approach Warspite Lake. Look for Tree Rock and pikas living among the rocks. The little lake is lovely on a calm day when it acts like a mirror (except in fall when it becomes a puddle). Note that there is avalanche danger beyond the lake in winter conditions, so don’t cross the lake! 4.5 km, 150 m elevation gain.
On the way home,gGet a Japanese beef bowl at Moose Family Kitchen in Kananaskis Village, or dine at Pomeroy Kananaskis Mountain Lodge.
Elbow Lake is a short, but steep hike that takes you to a pretty alpine lake. There’s a backcountry campground here (reservations required), lots of picnic tables, and fishing! If you’d like to explore further, carry on to Edworthy Falls or Rae Glacier. 2.6 km return, 150 m elevation gain.
For more information on things to do at Elbow Lake, read: Camping at Elbow Lake Backcountry Campground.
What to Bring
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Good hiking boots, a down hoody or fleece, toque, gloves, and windproof/waterproof shell are recommended year round. Trekking poles are useful for long hikes, steep descents, or babywearing. You should also carry The Ten Essentials including: water, extra food, extra clothes, a first aid kit, headlamp, GPS / compass, and map of the area, sunscreen (this mineral sunscreen is fragrance free, paraben free, and reef-friendly), bug spray (this deet-free one contains 20% icaridin and will repel ticks), and bear spray. Carry bear spray in a Bear Spray Holster or Scat Belt.
A Garmin inReach Mini 2 satellite communicator is highly recommended for contacting Search & Rescue and emergency contacts in the event of an emergency, or communicating with friends and family when you are out of cell phone range. You can send text messages and your GPS coordinates via satellite (but a monthly plan is required)!
In snowy/icy conditions, traction devices such as Kahtoola Microspikes (Available from Amazon, MEC, and Valhalla Pure Outfitters), or Hillsound Trail Crampons (Available at Valhalla Pure Outfitters and Sport Chek) are recommended. See our Fall Hiking Gear Guide for recommended clothing and gear.