Once the snow has really set in, the Rocky Mountains of Alberta truly become a winter wonderland where the colder temperatures transform the stunning mountainscapes into frozen natural artwork. And although it might seem like hiking season is long over, exploring the mountain area by foot takes on another dimension once the rivers and lakes freeze over. With the right equipment, ice walking can be a fun and interesting way to see the sights and take in the fresh mountain air, provided you’re prepared to with warm clothes, proper gear, and a willingness to defy the very laws of nature. Here are some of the coolest spots to walk on water in Alberta.
Explore ice canyons at Maligne Lake
Walk beneath a towering frozen waterfall at Maligne Canyon, a popular destination for ice walkers located not far from the picturesque town of Jasper. Maligne Canyon is the deepest canyon in the Jasper National Park, and exploring it is a humbling experience where giant walls of ancient rock surround you at all points and exemplify the powerful will of nature. The Maligne Canyon ice walk is an easy and quick hike that is suitable for the whole family — even kids — and guided ice walking tours will explain the rich geological history of the area while showing you the best vistas for snapping your holiday photos. You can visit during the day, but nighttime ice walks are also popular, where turning off your headlamp will reveal an impressive night sky that you just can’t see in the city. In fact, Jasper National Park is one of the largest Dark Sky Preserves in the world, so you’d be hard-pressed to find a better spot to stargaze.
Frozen waterfalls at Johnston Canyon
Johnston Canyon is one of the most popular hiking areas in Alberta and that doesn’t end once summer’s over. Winter visitors to the area regularly adorn themselves with hiking boots, ice cleats and poles to do this easy hike, which follows a railed path to traverse waterfalls and diverse landscapes. There’s a slight incline on the way there but it’s totally worth it when you’re rewarded with spectacular views of frozen waterfalls cascading over dramatic mountainside cliffs — don’t forget your camera!
Grotto Canyon’s Aboriginal heritage
A quick 10 minute drive from Canmore is the Grotto Canyon, where visitors can wander along a frozen creek bed for an easy 4-kilometre hike in the wilderness of the Rockies. Forest and mountain scenery aside, the real draw of this ice walk is the incredible Aboriginal pictographs that adorn of the narrow walls of the canyon. A guided tour is the best way to learn about the stories and history behind the natural and man-made wonders of this historic area.
Abraham Lake’s frozen bubbles
Head off the beaten path and see a sight that will take your breath away at Abraham Lake, a natural wonder located on the David Thompson Highway. While renowned for its pretty turquoise tint in the summer, Abraham Lake is even more famous in the winter for its frozen bubbles, which result from methane gas being trapped in ice as it tries to reach the surface of the water. It’s possible to view the lake from the shoreline, but if you want to venture out on the ice and really explore it, it’s recommended you hire a local guide, as the ice can be unpredictable.
For the truly adventurous: Ice climbing in Waterton
If an easy hike through the canyon just isn’t going to satisfy your thirst for adventure, consider heading south to the stunning Waterton National Park where there are over 40 different spots where experienced ice climbers can take a thrilling scramble up a frozen mountainside. Ice climbing is a fantastic way to explore the mountain wonderland in the winter, but bear in mind that it’s a dangerous activity that requires the right equipment and training. (It also requires you to be totally rad, but that’s more of a suggestion than a formal requirement.) To reinforce that sense of ruggedness, ice climbing guides are not available in the area, making it a fantastic choice for veteran climbers who truly want a one-on-one (and entirely unassisted) connection with the pure majesty of nature in the wintertime.
If you're tired of solid ground and are ready to become an undisputed master of ice walking, then it's time to visit Travel Alberta and plan your next move today.