Johnston Canyon. Photo: Paul Zizka
Summer is here, and that means glorious months of camping, playing and roaming outdoors are ahead. It also means you can start dusting off those hiking boots, hit some of the nearby hiking trails and enjoy some of the most awe-inspiring landscapes in the world – all within a half-day drive of Calgary. Hiking is an excellent camping activity, so whether you want to set up camp close by or just go on a day trip it is up to you.
Located about 2 hours and 15 minutes by car from Calgary, this is a family-friendly hike as well as one of the most popular hikes in the Banff area, featuring stunning waterfalls, nesting black swifts and viewing platforms where you can get a unique view of the canyon. Depending on how much time you have, you can hike all the way to the Ink Pots, ponds with mineral water bubbling to the surface, or turn back at one of the pit stops by either the Lower- or Upper Johnston Falls. The hike is fairly easy with only a moderate incline and winds through the canyon on paved trails and catwalks clinging to the canyon walls for the first 2.6 km.
From the Upper Johnston Falls you can leave the crowds behind and continue hiking for about an hour through the forest and onto a meadow until you reach the Ink Pots.
The only drawback of this hike is that you will return along the same path – that doesn’t take away from its natural beauty, though. Comfortable footwear is fine unless it is very wet and muddy.
Where to camp? Check the availability of any of the great campgrounds in Banff National Park.
Starting with a scenic boat ride across Waterton Lake in Waterton Lakes National Park, the 18 km hike to Crypt Lake is the most popular hike in Waterton. On the hike you’ll pass four waterfalls, climb through a natural tunnel, pass along a narrow cliff ledge and finally reach the beautiful Crypt Lake.
This is a thrilling but also more challenging hike, traversing an eight-foot iron ladder and the cliff ledge may be a barrier if you’re afraid of heights.
Allow four to six hours and allow extra time so you don’t miss the boat back. Bring plenty of water and good hiking boots.
Where to camp? Check the availability of the campgrounds in Waterton Lakes National Park.
Close to the Canmore Nordic Centre, this is a short, family-friendly hike of about 4 km. Choose the easy or the more difficult way to the top and you’ll be rewarded with great views, a peek at a waterfall (on the more difficult route) and gorgeous turquoise lakes once you reach the top.
For this hike comfortable footwear is fine in dry conditions.
Where to camp? Check out the many campgrounds in Kananaskis Country.
Plain of the Six Glaciers/Victoria Glacier
Another popular hike in Banff National Park, this 11.8 km, moderately challenging hike starts at scenic Chateau Lake Louise, a two-hour drive from Calgary.
Lakeshore Trail is located along the beautiful but busy Lake Louise. Enjoy views of the Victoria Glacier while you hiking up until you reach a small tea house (open in summer months, cash only).
From the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House, you can choose to hike an extra 1.5 km to the Abbot Pass Viewpoint where you get a vantage point of the Lower Victoria Glacier crevasses.
Hiking boots are recommended for this hike, and remember to bring plenty of water with you.
Where to camp? Check the availability of any of the campgrounds in Banff National Park.
The hikes listed above are some of the most popular hikes in Alberta. If you’re looking for more inspiration or want to go off the beaten trail, here is a good overview of hikes in Alberta.