The emerald waters lay silent. Like treasures waiting for discovery, Grassi Lakes Canmore, presents a natural gem to visitors. Ask any Albertan for suggestions on a Canmore hiking list and these aquamarine lakes above the town, are sure to make the top of the recommendations.
The Grassi Lakes hike is the first mountain adventure the two of us shared, now over 40 years ago. Raised on the Canadian prairies, I had not seen the wonders of Rocky Mountains of Western Canada until my new beau took me home to meet his parents in Calgary.
It would be on this trail, considered one of the best hikes in Canmore, that I would fall in love with the mountains. By that point I was completely head over heels with the boyfriend. Neither Grassi or my partner have lost their charm over the decades.
History of hiking Grassi Lakes Canmore
The trail to Grassi Lakes, Alberta, built by Lawrence Grassi, is now an icon of the Canmore trails. Grassi immigrated to Canada from Italy in 1912, initially working for the Canadian Pacific Railway. By 1916 he calls Canmore home and begins working in the Canmore coal mines.
Never married, Grassi found his love in the mountains. Building the original stairs to Grassi Lakes, he also spent time trail building near Lake Louise and Lake O’Hara. His name and legacy are forever woven into Canmore history.
“There are stories about him carrying a whole stove up to a camp that a couple of strapping young men hadn’t been able to bring,” said Elio Costa. Costa, along with Gabriele Scardellato, wrote Lawrence Grassi: From Piedmont to the Rocky Mountains.
According to Costa, Lawrence Grassi lived alone, never returned to Italy and took pleasure in helping others enjoy the mountains as he did.
Is it Grassi Lake, Grassy Lake or Grassi Lakes?
Until you know the lakes are named for Lawrence Grassi, it seems reasonable that the glacial fed lakes would be called grassy lakes. After all their emerald-like colour could be compared to a mountain meadow.
However, it is Grassi Lakes Canmore that you are looking for to enjoy this spectacular mountain hike.
One note of caution. There is a challenging scramble called Mount Lawrence Grassi hike. This is not the Grassi Lakes hike. Mount Lawrence Grassi is the tallest peak of the Ehagy Nakoda massif. The peak is south of the town of Canmore and east of the Spray Lakes Road. This hike is difficult.
Canmore Hiking – Two trails to the aquamarine lakes
Without question, the Grassi Lakes hike is one of the most popular near Canmore, Alberta. Family friendly, these trails can be congested on summer weekends. Arrive early to enjoy the aquamarine pools of water, without throngs of other hikers.
The Grassi Lakes trail begins directly behind the outdoor restrooms. Approximately 100 metres down the path, a sign indicates a choice of two options for these hikes near Canmore. The lakes are approximately 2 km. (1.2 mi.) ahead with an elevation gain of 125 m. (410 ft.)
To the right is the easier trail, which his an old fire access road. It is wide and has a more gradual incline. To the left is the more scenic, and moderately difficult, path.
On this Grassi Lakes hiking trail, expect spectacular waterfall views. The trail is closed in winter due to snow and ice on the trail. However with the arrival of frigid temperatures, the waterfall freezes and local ice climbers refer to the base of the waterfall as the Junkyard.
The town of Canmore, nestling in the valley below, causes swiveling of hikers necks to take in the vertigo inducing scene.
As the trail steepens, wooden railings and rock steps guide hikers by babbling streams.
In addition, on this gem of Canmore hikes, signs along the interpretative trail explain the history of Lawrence Grassi and his trail building in the area.
Grassi Lakes Climbing
In 1995, when we began climbing at an indoor gym in Calgary, little did we know Grassi Lakes would become one of our favourite destinations.
The cliffs surrounding the green-blue lakes were once covered by the sea. Uplifted 75 million years ago, the rock is Devonian coral reef filled with fossils. As a result, the pocketed limestone makes superb hand and foot holds, for those keen on rock climbing.
Once you reach the second of the Grassi Lakes, a rock wall on the far side of the lake is visible. Graceland, an area of rock climbs, is aptly named for all the Elvis-like shaking climbers experience on these long, routes.
Following the path around the lake, hikers who wish more of a challenge, can proceed upward on the stair lined trail. After that, more cliff faces with climbing routes will be visible.
Please note there is a rockfall hazard on the northside cliffs, above the lakes, due to curious tourists at the top gazing down as well as mountain sheep.
Continuing on the stair path to the top , another lake is visible. Whiteman’s Pond is less spectacular than the smaller Grassi Lakes, but a beautiful reward for the steep climb.
Grassi Lakes Pictographs
Following the stair path for approximately 5 minutes from the blue green lakes, a sign indicating pictographs is beside the trail on the right. If you miss the sign, ask a climber where they are. The pictographs on the Grassi Lakes Canmore hike are over 1000 years old.
These centuries old paintings are a mix of ochre and grease. Gradually fading over time, due to weather and visitors touching them, please use only your eyes and camera, not your hands.
How to get to Grassi Lakes
Head west from Calgary on the #1 Highway toward Banff. Prior to reaching Canmore, exit on the Three Sisters Parkway ( Highway 742). Drive past the Canmore Nordic Centre approximately 2 km.
Watch for the sign for the Grassi Lakes parking. Turn left at the junction where paved road turns to gravel. If you hit gravel you have gone too far.
Hiking Grassi Lakes begins behind the outdoor restroom in the parking lot.
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