Explore the Wonders of Grotto Canyon Hike

Grotto Canyon Hike, properly named the Grotto Creek Trail, is a popular destination near Canmore, Alberta, in the Canadian Rockies. This gem offers adventurers a unique hiking experience filled with stunning scenery, cultural significance, and a touch of adventure. 

I hiked this trail in the summer and will go back to explore it in the winter since it is open year-round. 

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About the Grotto Canyon Hike

Length

7 km return

Level

Moderate

Where

Canmore, AB

Gain

340 m

Time

3 hours

Children

yes

pass

Required*

Dogs

on a leash

*You need a Kananaskis Conservation Day Pass to park at the trailhead and enjoy this hike. You can purchase the pass online on the Alberta Parks Website.

hiker standing on the creek bed of the Grotto canyon lookingu up the tall rock wall

Getting to the trailhead

Grotto Canyon is approximately a 15-minute drive east of Canmore, along the Bow Valley Parkway (Highway 1A). It’s easily accessible from both Canmore and Banff.

Parking is on the North side of the highway. It can also serve as a rest area. You will find picnic tables by the water around Grotto Mountain Pond. The trailhead is on the west side of the parking lot. 

Grotto Creek Trail Description

The hike is moderately difficult and is around 4 kilometres (2.5 miles) round trip. Hikers can further explore the canyon, making it a longer hike of 7 kilometres. 

The first part of the trail is a wide rocky path along powerlines behind the Baymag mine. This first leg of the hike is nothing special. One side of the trail is bordered by tall trees but to the hiker’s left is the plant with tall silos, and the loud noise of the machinery covers any nature sounds in the area. 

Once you are past the mine, the trail takes you to a lookout for Canmore and the mountains behind it. Although you are only one kilometre into the hike, there is a bench to sit and enjoy the beautiful scenery. 

view of theriver and the mountains from the lookout on the Grotto Creek Trail

From the lookout, the trail goes right. It wanders through a forested area and descends into the canyon. 

From then on, there is only one way to go: follow the dry creek bed of the canyon. You hike between the tall but narrow canyon walls, and the sheer faces of the rock walls on both sides are impressive. 

Hiker walking on white rocks in canyon with the narrow rock walls on each side

Along the trail, you can find ancient pictographs (rock paintings) created by the indigenous peoples who once inhabited the area.

At the two-kilometre mark, you will come to a beautiful waterfall cascading down the canyon wall. The water cools the air, allowing you to feel the refreshing air. You can get up close and personal with the falls, but watch your footing as the rocks get slippery when wet. 

waterfalls cascading down the rock wall in Grotto Canyon

Just a little further after the waterfalls, the trail comes to a garden of Inukshuks. Hundreds of Inukshuks are scattered on the canyon floor. 

Most hikers turn around at the Inukshuk Garden and return to the trailhead. Some stay on to explore the cave about 500 meters farther. 

Inukshuks scattered all over the rocky creek bed on the Grotto Canyon Hike

The canyon is also popular for rock climbing. At the 3.5-kilometre mark, you reach the climbing wall. 

Grotto Canyon Hike in the Winter

Grotto Canyon transforms into a winter wonderland in the winter months. The frozen creek bed provides a unique environment for ice walking, ice climbing, and even ice skating.

Adventurous souls can strap on crampons and explore the frozen waterfalls and ice formations that adorn the canyon walls. 

Tips for the Grotto Canyon Hike

While Grotto Canyon is a relatively moderate hike, it’s essential to be prepared and stay safe while exploring this natural wonder. Here are some essential safety tips to keep in mind:

  • Check Trail Conditions: Check current trail conditions and weather forecasts before hiking. Conditions can change rapidly in the mountains, so you must be prepared for whatever Mother Nature throws your way.
  • Wear Proper Footwear: The terrain in Grotto Canyon can be uneven and slippery, especially in winter. Wear sturdy hiking boots with good traction to prevent slips and falls.
  • Pack Essentials: Bring plenty of water, snacks, and essential gear such as a map, compass, and first aid kit. Bear spray is also a good idea, especially during the warmer months when wildlife activity is more prevalent. 
  • Hiking poles: Trekking poles are not essential on this hike, but they help lessen the impact on your lower body and help with balance when hiking on rocky and unstable terrain such as the Grotto Canyon Hike. 
  • Dress Appropriately: Layered clothing is key, especially in winter when temperatures drop rapidly. Be sure to dress warmly and wear moisture-wicking fabrics to stay dry and comfortable throughout your hike.
  • Parking and Facilities: A parking area near the trailhead can fill up quickly during peak times, so arriving early is advisable. Facilities at the trailhead may include parking, restrooms, and informational signage.
  • Local Regulations: As with any outdoor activity, respecting the environment and following any posted rules or regulations is essential. This includes staying on designated trails, properly disposing of waste, and being mindful of wildlife habitats.
  • Respect Wildlife: Grotto Canyon is home to various wildlife, including bears, elk, and deer. Be sure to make plenty of noise while hiking to alert animals to your presence and avoid surprising them.

FAQ about Grotto Canyon Hike

How long is the Grotto Canyon hike?

The Grotto Creek Trail is 4 kilometres return, but hikers can make it a longer hike by following the creek bed. I hiked 3.5 kilometres into the canyon, making my hike a 7-kilometre return hike. 

How much time does it take to hike the Grotto Canyon?

Depending on when you decide to turn around, plan for 2 to 3 hours to hike the Grotto Canyon Trail. 

Do I need a Kananaskis pass for Grotto Canyon?

Yes, you need a Kananaskis day pass for Grotto Canyon. You can purchase the pass online on the Alberta Parks Website

Are there washrooms at Grotto Canyon?

There are washrooms at the trailhead. No amenities on the trail. 

Is Grotto Canyon kid-friendly?

Yes, the Grotto Creek Trail is perfect for a family hike with active children who like to walk in nature. 

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