I learned about Grassi Lakes near Canmore from a few people on Twitter, after I posted a Tweet about the Heart Creek Trail hike. As we are looking for kid friendly hikes, the Grassi Lakes Trail falls in the category ‘PERFECT’. Not too far, a 4KM loop, a doable 250M elevation gain and lots to see!
The lakes are named after Lawrence Grassi, an Italian who immigrated to Canmore in 1912 and spent the rest of his life exploring the Rocky Mountains as climbing guide.
After doing some research about the trail, I learned about the fact that there are two trails to get to the lakes. An easy route which takes you up to the lakes on a service road. Not so spectacular. Or you can take the difficult route which is a lot more interesting and I’d love to share why.
Our first question was; “can the difficult route be done by a 4 year old”? All the resources on the internet were talking about a moderate climb on stairs but it wasn’t clear what kind of stairs. Could be anything right? From metal stairs bolted into the mountain to rock constructions. So there was only one way to find out.
The difficult part of the trail starts fairly easy on a wide enough path with only some roots sticking out. But it get’s rockier and narrow as you get closer to the waterfalls… wait what! Did you say waterfalls?
Yes! Taking the difficult route rewards you with spectacular views over the valley and takes you right to a fantastic view point of the waterfall!
Ok, back to the trail. Nearing the end of the trail you have to be prepared to get wet. Water sipping from the mountain creates mini creeks at several locations and since there is a cliff on one side and a steep hill on the other side, there is only one way to cross… through the water. This is BTW the unwritten hiking rule anyway; walking through puddles of water rather than going off the trail and around it. This prevents further erosion of the specific area.
Right before you have to start scrambling your way up to the lakes, you’ll be treated with an incredible view of the waterfall! Never keep your eyes of the the kiddos though, you’re still on a cliff!
Now the stairs… well, that’s what they are, stairs in the simplest form created out of rocks and boulders. You have to zig-zag your way up to the top, probably with a 50M elevation gain. It’s fairly easy to do for adults. And kid from 4 years and up can do this too with a little help holding their hands. It’s a good and safe climb and it actually has a railing on some parts. If you are like me, carrying an infant carrier on your back you want to take small steps and not loose your balance. The use of hiking poles is a great help in this case!
When you made your climb up, there is only one creek left to cross (via a bridge this time) and you are treated with the amazing colours and clearness of the Grassi Lakes!
Some words of caution!
There is a sign that says “Caution, falling rocks”. Let me repeat that again in capitals; “CAUTION, FALLING ROCKS”.
Unlike the “Watch for wildlife on road” signs that you see when you are approaching the Rocky Mountains from Calgary, this sign means business. I have yet to see a moose crossing the highway and I believe these “Wildlife” signs are more to get the out of town visitors all excited. However, the warning sign about falling rocks is very real!
Here is the thing. The Grassi Lakes are surrounded by fairly high cliffs, making this a favourite spot for rock climbers. When you go and check out the climbers, you’ll see that everyone is wearing a helmet. I know from doing some rock climbing myself, safety is the most important thing when you’re going up on a wall. So the rock climbers are wearing the helmets to protect themselves from pieces of rock falling down caused by the climbers going up. But this is not the real danger!
Up on the ridge, there are often mountain goats roaming around. These goats have no manners at all and they love to kick some rocks down the cliff… right about where you are enjoying the lake! At some point during our visit, a couple of rocks fell down from high off the cliff into the lake. Big enough rocks to create serious damage! At first you think somebody feels the need to fill the lake with a couple of biggies but soon after the occurrence, one of the rock climbers warned us about the goats up on the ridge.
Thing is, there is a shallow area with a mini pebble beach where kids can get there hands wet and throw some stones in the water. This area is in the trajectory of the falling rocks! Please folks, keep your eyes on the ridge and make sure at all time that you don’t see any rocks coming down from high above. I have not read about serious accidents with falling rocks but you definitely don’t want you or your kids be the first one to get in trouble. Trail safety people, anywhere!
This also goes for bears, cougars and other wild life. This trail is very popular and has a lot of people going up and down during the day. So I don’t expect you to run into mamma Grizzly and her cups. But we are still in the backyard of the wild animals. I believe whenever you go into Kananaskis Country or any other parks, be prepared. Always cary your can of pepper spray and watch for signs on the trails. If there is any bear or cougar activity, this is normally posted at the start of the trail on the information board.
It’s almost needless to say that you are able to find Geocaches in the area. Pretty much every trail in the Rockies have at least on cache somewhere hidden and this is also the case for Grassi Lakes. If you are not familiar with Geocaching, it’s a great way to spend time with kids in the outdoors, looking for treasures!
The name of the cache in this area is “The Green Green Grass(i) of Home” and is a fairly easy find. Be aware of people though, since this is a very popular and busy place, you might trigger the curiosity of some nosy people when you are doing your treasure hunting in the bush.
There is also another Geocache to be found near the Nordic Centre.
How to get there
- From Highway 1 take the first exit into Canmore (Three Sisters)
- Follow the Three Sisters Parkway (changes into Three Sisters Drive)
- At the split, go left onto Spray Lakes Road
- Pass the Nordic Centre and right before the road turns into gravel you make a left turn on the road that takes you to the parking lot.