“Wow! That water is so clear!”
My mom was right. Standing by the shore of the higher of the twin Grassi Lakes, the sparkling turquoise water twinkled like a precious gem ringed by bronze and golden stones and moss-glazed forest. Tucked at the base of the giant fang of Ha Ling Peak, high above the town of Canmore, the lakes are a worthy reward at the end of a 1.5 km (1 mi) hike.
Just a few minutes’ drive from town up the Spray Lakes Road, the Grassi Lakes Trail has been delighting locals and visitors to the area for decades. One big reason I love it is its short distance, which makes it accessible to hikers of all ages and abilities. But that’s not the only thing that makes it an ideal destination for all family members, from energetic kids to spirited seniors.
Options for Everyone
Just a couple of minutes beyond the trailhead, you’re greeted by a fork in the trail, where a sign points to an easy option on the right, and a more difficult route to the left. The easy route is a wide, well-graded dirt path that winds its way up through lodgepole pine forest, which in summertime is sprinkled with wildflowers, including vibrant orange wood lilies and crimson Indian paintbrush scattered like brilliant pirate’s treasure. That route ascends so gradually up the 250 m (800 ft) to the lakes, you’ll be blown away when you realize how high you’ve walked, and also by the panoramic views of the whole Bow Valley from several viewpoints along the way.
For more energetic hikers, the more difficult route is a real treat when travelled in the uphill direction, then combined with a descent via the easier path for a comfortable 3 km (2 mi) loop. The steeper option is an impressive work of art created by Lawrence Grassi himself, who moved boulders to fashion a stone staircase spiraling upwards beside a cliff weeping with waterfalls.
For the Love of the Land
Originally known as the Twin Lakes, in 1938 they were renamed in honour of Lawrence Grassi, an Italian immigrant who worked in Canmore’s mines. On his days off, the mountains were his passion. In addition to earning a reputation as a bold and skilled rock climber, Grassi’s expertise and masterful talent as a trail builder are immortalized on several Canadian Rockies hiking trails. With the help of fellow miners, Grassi built this one in the 1920s.
Knowing these things about Grassi – for whom Canmore’s middle school is also named, as well as a nearby peak – make the hike extra special for me, since the vertical and overhanging cliffs that tower above the teal lakes are, perhaps fittingly, popular with today’s modern rock climbers. Bring your camera, and binoculars, as the area is great for spotting birds too. But be careful not to stand too close to the cliffs.
Those equipped with sturdy footwear can follow a rough trail 10 minutes above the lakes to see ancient pictographs painted on giant boulders by indigenous people centuries ago. Just remember they are easily damaged, so take pictures but never touch.