As I peer over the railing at the top of the river gorge, spray from the thundering waterfall on the other side reaches so far that it cools my face with a refreshing mist. Gripping my hands a little tighter on the rail, I take my first peek into the depths below. Spectacular – and a perfect reward for the invigorating hike up to this viewpoint.
Alberta has some of the most beautiful views in the world, but did you know that some of the best are seen from the top or the bottom of a canyon? Here are some unique canyon hikes you’ll want to experience.
Waterton Lakes National Park
Waterton has some of the oldest exposed sedimentary rock in the Canadian Rocky Mountains – about 1,500 million years. The brilliant red and green colored bedrock and crystal clear water of Red Rock Canyon is pure eye candy for photographers. Take a relaxed hike around the site on the Canyon Loop, and then continue on for 1 km (.62 mi) to the spectacular Blakiston Falls. The canyon lies at the end of the Red Rock Parkway, a winding 16 km (10 mi) drive with plenty of viewpoints.
In the mysterious landscape of Alberta’s badlands, you’ll find easy access to Horseshoe Canyon right off Hwy 9, near Drumheller. Standing at the edge of this huge u-shaped canyon, gives you a real sense of the region’s history. The exposed walls reveal the geological layers laid down when dinosaurs inhabited the lush forests and wetlands 70 million years ago.
Not far from here is Horsethief Canyon where many notable dinosaur fossils have been discovered. Get an up-close look at the sedimentary strata that have eroded over time to create the otherworldly shapes known as hoodoos.
Canadian Rocky Mountains
It’s true the greater the effort, the greater the reward. Walk the entire Johnston Canyon Trail to see its seven waterfalls and six Ink Pots – unique pools of clear turquoise-colored spring water that hold a year-round temperature of one degree Celsius. Just 30 minutes west of Banff on the Bow Valley Parkway, Johnston Canyon is one of Banff National Park’s easier hiking trails.
Make your experience at Maligne Canyon in Jasper National Park as low key or enthusiastic as you want. The canyon is part of an extensive, unexplored underground river system and attracts travellers from around the world. With handrails and clear trails, the walk is manageable for hikers of all ages.
Hiking Safety Tips
It’s important to always be mindful of basic hiking safety while exploring Alberta’s extensive trails. Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Buddy System: Exploring the great outdoors is a great way to spend some quality time with friends. By hiking in a group you’ll also help deter wildlife from approaching and have help readily available if you sustain an injury or need assistance for any reason.
- Stay on the Trail: Alberta’s major hiking routes are well marked for your safety and the preservation of flora and fauna. If you travel off of the trail you risk getting lost or injured and can cause erosion to the trail.
- Food and Water: Pack more water and snacks than you think necessary, this way you’re prepared if you take longer than expected or require more sustenance than anticipated. Nuts, fruit and energy bars are great options.
- First Aid Kit: Carrying a small first aid kit is always a good idea – even on shorter hikes. Adhesive bandages, antiseptic, gauze, tape, safety pins and a tensor bandage can come in handy. Longer treks and multi-day trips will require a more robust supply list.
- Bear Deterrent: Add bear spray to your backpack if you’re hiking in bear country – and always travel in groups.