Walking on ice? It sounds like a broken hip in the making. However, the Grotto Canyon ice walk, done with the right gear (see the last section of this article), is an easy hike on a frozen creek to spectacular ice falls. Winter hiking on the Grotto Canyon trail, is a family friendly outing with stunning scenery. In addition, the icy adventure is less than an hour drive west of Calgary.
Where is the Grotto Canyon ice walk trailhead?
To get to the Grotto ice walk from Calgary, head west on Highway 1 toward Banff. Watch for the Seebee Exshaw 114 exit on the right to the 1A highway.
Drive past Exshaw and watch for the sign for Grotto Pond Day use area on the right. There you will find a moderatley sized parking area, with outdoor vault toilets.
The Grotto Canyon hiking trail is popular. We suggest arriving early and avoiding weekends. Do not park on the highway. Expect a ticket on your vehicle if you do. In other words, if the lot is full, we suggest coming back another day.
For other ideas of what you can do in the Canmore area, read Leigh McAdam’s article on Things to Do In Canmore on a 2 Day Winter Visit.
Route finding on the Grotto Canyon ice walk
Look for the start of the ice walk at the mid point in the parking area. After that follow the signs for the Grotto Creek Canyon hike.
Initially the trail follows an old road bed, passing by power lines and the Baymag magnesite processing plant. The noise from the plant can be off-putting. Carry onward to the ice walk which will be far more peaceful. Hike until the trail swings north (right) and drops into the Grotto Canyon floor.
With the quiet of the canyon now surrounding you, the power of glacial meltwater some 12,000 years ago is seen in the canyon walls.
Grotto Canyon Pictographs
In only a handful of locations in the Candian Rockies has art from First Nations peoples been found. Grassi Lakes and the Grotto Canyon trail, hold some of these treasures, for those with a keen eye.
At the last bend in the Grotto Creek Canyon before the waterfall, look for a smooth rock wall on the left hand side. Thought to be between 500 and 1300 years old, the most notable ochre painting is that of a Hopi character.
Legend tells of Kokopelli, the flute player, being left in the north migration of the Hopi people, when they ventured to the land of ice and rock. When unable to melt ice, their guardians directed them to move south. They settled in a far warmer area, known today as Arizona.
Above all, please refrain from touching the pictographs in Grotto Canyon. The historical art continues to fade.
Grotto Canyon Ice Climbing – Etiquette for watching
At approximately the 2 km mark of the Grotto trail, frozen waterfalls cling to the limestone rock. A popular spot with the Calgary climbing community, you may see ice climbers.
For your own safety, never walk near or under the ice climbers. As they swing ice axes and kick with crampons, chunks of ice can easily fall. In other words, prevent your own head injury by staying clear.
Do not speak to the belayer (the person holding the rope at the bottom) or the climber on the frozen waterfall. Distracted climbing leads to accidents. Above all, observe from a distance.
From my own past ice climbing experience, I can attest that curious onlookers hollering questions is not helpful.
Should you go to the Grotto Canyon cave?
Facing the ice falls, a short slot canyon appears to the right. Often completely covered by uphill, rippling ice, it ends soon with a smaller ice waterfall.
To the left, Grotto Canyon soon widens out. You can continue to walk for several kilometres. About 10 minutes after the canyon opens, the Grotto cave is visible in hoodoos high above the trail.
Although an enticing feature of Grotto mountain, we do not recommend the steep uphill. Coming down can be a perilous winter hiking adventure. Those sliding down on their bottoms, which may be the only safe way to descend, cause rocks and debris to fall on hikers below.
What you need for Grotto Canyon winter hiking
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As the saying goes there is never bad weather only bad gear. Therefore, should you want to prevent the Grotto Canyon ice walk from becoming a bone cracking adventure, wearing icers over your boots is recommended.
The Grotto Creek Canyon is one of the easy hikes in the Canmore area. However the winter blanket of ice makes the footing treacherous without proper footwear.
We also recommend hiking poles if you are heading to the Grotto Canyon trail in winter. Not only for balance, ours served as testing slushy parts of the ice canyon to ensure we would not step through soft sections of the ice surface.
Have you been winter hiking or tried an ice walk?
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