If you live in Calgary, you’ve got heaps of snowshoeing options within a two hour drive of the city. Granted, after a big dump of snow you don’t even need to leave the city but let’s face it, that’s a rarity in this city.
Where should you snowshoe within two hours of Calgary? These 7 places are all great options to get the happy hormones pumping in winter.
30 Minutes from Calgary
The Ann and Sandy Cross Conservation Area
Head to the Ann and Sandy Cross Conservation area at the south end of the city. With approximately 20 kilometres of trails you can opt to do one of several loops or an out and back trail. The conservation area is home to a herd of elk in the winter so if you’re lucky you might see them. Though snowshoeing is free they are happy to accept donations.
45 Minutes from Calgary
West Bragg Creek Trails
You have loads of options if you head for the West Bragg Creek Trails, located 8.8 kilometres due west of the town itself. The easy 5.5 kilometre Snowshoe Hare Loop is dog friendly whereas the other trails are not. I personally love the 10 kilometre Ranger Summit – Strange Brew Loop as it affords awesome views of Moose Mountain and there’s some truly lovely snowshoeing in the woods. There are options to add many kilometres and make it into one very long day – though you may be breaking trail. Don’t forget to take a picture of the trail map before you start out.
60 Minutes from Calgary
Ribbon Creek, Kananaskis Country
The Ribbon Creek Trail, accessed from the Ribbon Creek Day Use Area (a few minutes away from Kananaskis Village) offers a scenic 3.7 kilometre outing (one way) along the pretty Ribbon Creek. There’s only 60 metres of elevation gain so it’s very family friendly. This is a new trail after the former one was badly damaged in the 2013 floods. Nearby is Troll Falls – another easy option as it’s only 3.4 kilometres return. Park at the Stoney Trail parking lot just after you turn onto the road up to Nakiska Ski Resort. They would be easy to knock off together in a day.
90 Minutes from Calgary
High Rockies Trail, Goat Creek Parking Lot
The High Rockies Trail is relatively new so not a lot of people know you can snowshoe a good chunk of its 80 kilometres in winter. It’s the western most section of the Trans-Canada Trail in Alberta running from the Goat Creek Trailhead just above the town of Canmore to Elk Pass on the BC – Alberta border.
If you park at the Goat Creek Trailhead and snowshoe down the hill through the woods to the obvious sign it will direct you left. (If you go right you end up in Banff National Park.) Do it as an out and back trail, choosing the distance you snowshoe based on weather conditions and your energy. Some parts of the trail cross avalanche zones but most of it does not. Pick up a map at the Barrier Lake Visitor Centre in Kananaskis Country to see where the trail goes and call them for the latest conditions.
Spray River Loop
You won’t find some of the big mountain views you get on other snowshoeing outings but the Spray River loop has its charms, especially with consistent views of the crystal clear turquoise coloured waters of the river itself. Throw in views of ice climbers if the conditions are good and periodic vistas of Mt. Rundle and you have a better than pleasant winter outing. The turnaround point by the bridge is also very pretty. The trailhead is located just past the Banff Springs Hotel where the road dead ends – or you could start by Bow Falls. Be prepared to share the trail with fat tire bikers and cross-country skiers. And after why not go for a dip in the Banff Hot Springs?
2 Hours from Calgary
Chester Lake, Kananaskis Provincial Park
Chester Lake, one of the premier snowshoeing destinations in Alberta, is located off the Spray Lakes Road in Kananaskis Country. The 5 kilometre one way trail starts out steeply – climbing 310 metres but flattens when you reach the meadows. It’s here the views are truly magnificent especially on a bluebird day. Enthusiastic and energetic snowshoers should continue to Elephant Rocks to see giant boulders strewn around the landscape.
Rawson Lake, Kananaskis Country
Start the snowshoe trip up to Rawson Lake from the far end of the Upper Kananaskis Lakes parking lot. The first kilometre is a snap – almost all flat with some very lovely views over the lake. The 300 metre climb starts shortly after you go over a small bridge at the Sarrail Waterfall. It will get your heart pumping! The trail takes you through a forest made up largely of spruce trees. When it starts to moderate the lake isn’t far off. All told it’s an 8 kilometre round trip outing. You’ll find the descent on snowshoes to be very speedy.
Note: Don’t go to the far end of the lake because of avalanche danger.
How to Dress for Snowshoeing
As a Sporting Life ambassador I’d say head to the nearest store – Market Mall or Southcentre in Calgary and invest in some outdoor gear that will keep you warm even if it’s a -25°C day.
What I’d recommend is the following. Start with merino wool base layers made by Icebreaker (different weights are available) for warmth and because no matter how much you sweat you won’t stink; a fleece, preferably with wind-proof qualities like the ones made by Arc’teryx. If it’s a bitterly cold day I throw on a down vest and almost every company of note make lightweight ones across a range of price points. If it’s not too cold I’ll just wear a shell on top and on the bottom – no matter what the temperature. Arc’teryx, Patagonia and North Face are all excellent choices. In the winter I ALWAYS bring a heavier down jacket in case the weather turns or I get injured. I invested in an expensive super warm Arc’teryx jacket about five years ago. When the zipper went they replaced it with a new one, no questions asked.
On my hands I carry lightweight liner gloves along with a high quality mitt. Try the Swamy mitt with a built in fleece glove – the only mitt so far that truly keeps my hand warm. On my feet I wear merino wool socks and then a pair of boots. Sorels are a great choice as they keep you very warm on the coldest of days. Don’t forget a neck warmer or buff and a hat.
You should always go well prepared in winter so take a thermos of something hot to drink, several energy bars, nuts, hand warmers and a lightweight seating pad to insulate you from the cold. Always carry a small first aid kit, fire starter and a lighter as well as a knife and a headlamp. Don’t forget sunglasses and sunscreen. I take ski goggles if it’s going to be snowing hard.
Just as an FYI, Sporting Life offers an excellent selection of Tubb’s snowshoes at around the $240 price point. They’d make a great Christmas gift. Some people like to carry poles for balance – and again Sporting Life has an awesome selection.
It’s an investment to buy good gear but 10 years from now many of the pieces you buy today will still be around.
Now go have fun snowshoeing.