Reluctant to pack the snowshoes away for another season? Check out these great spring getaways in the Canadian Rockies and don’t forget the winter boots; It’s definitely not summer yet in these parts!
Destination One: Lake O’Hara, Yoho National Park
The road to Lake O’Hara is accessed by a Parks Canada bus service in the summer season with a reservation service in place to ensure that visitors get spots. Travel the road on your own steam before the road opens, and you’ll get to see this majestic area free of crowds or tourists. The road is great for cross country skiing or snowshoeing until early April. After that, hiking is recommended for icy spring conditions. Bring a pair of ice cleats or spikes for the bigger hills on the way in and don’t forget your snowshoes because you will still need them when you arrive at Lake O’Hara if you want to tour around the lake.
If you want to stay overnight, the Alpine Club of Canada’s Elizabeth Parker Hut often has availability in spring and then you’ll only have to hike the 7 miles in without completing the return trip in the same day. Reservations must be made in advance if wanting to stay overnight and you’ll be sharing the cabin with other hut-users. Bring your own sleeping bag and food, but you’ll find a fully stocked kitchen along with sleeping mattresses provided.
Fun tip: Bring a sled for the way out. If the road is icy, you will make fast time descending the bigger hills and it’s mostly all downhill on the way back to the parking lot.
For more information on the Lake O’Hara area, please visit the Yoho National Park website.
Destination Two: Rogers Pass, Glacier National Park
It won’t be summer in the Rogers Pass area of Glacier National Park until mid-June so you have plenty of time to come here this spring if you are still longing to play in the snow. Spend a night or two at the Alpine Club of Canada’s A.O. Wheeler Hut and explore the Asulkan Valley from the hut on snowshoes.
This is a great place to take the children for a spring getaway with a very short 30 minute hike in. The kids will enjoy sledding outside the door, exploring the ruins of the historic glacier house lodge, and hiking a short ways up the valley.
Note that there is avalanche danger if you travel too far up valley from the hut but you can hike a couple of miles before you enter any dangerous terrain. With the soft spring snow, you probably won’t get further than that anyway.
To read about our family adventures at the Wheeler Hut, read my previous story: Snowshoeing Rogers Pass in Glacier National Park, Canada.
Destination Three: Icefields Parkway, Banff and Jasper National Parks
We plan an annual April snowshoeing trip to the Icefields Parkway each spring in one last attempt to get out there and enjoy the winter wonderland-like scenery near the Columbia Icefield Centre. We like to stay at a wilderness hostel, of which there are several, along the Icefields Parkway and enjoy a last taste of winter camping.
Our recommended hostel is the HI Hilda Creek Wilderness Hostel located just minutes away from the Athabasca Glacier and its famous ice cave, still fun for spring exploring. You can also hike up behind the hostel a short ways for views of the Hilda Glacier.
To read about our family adventures on the Icefields Parkway, read my previous story: It’s Still Snowshoe Season in the Canadian Rockies.
For more information on wilderness hostels, visit this link to Hostelling International Canada’s website.
Destination Four: Highwood Pass, Kananaskis
Highwood Pass is located in Kananaskis Country near Calgary, Alberta. It is the highest paved pass in Canada and you’ll definitely find snow here until June. Consider biking the closed highway to the Elbow Pass Day Use Area or to the Highwood Meadows Day Use Area. From Elbow Pass, you can snowshoe up to Elbow Lake free of avalanche danger. From Highwood Meadows you can snowshoe up to Ptarmigan Cirque or Pocaterra Cirque. (Avalanche training recommended for Ptarmigan Cirque and required for Pocaterra Cirque)
The return bike ride from the winter road closure on Highway 40 to Highwood Meadows Day Use Area is 21 miles (so leave the children at home) but you’ll save yourself a few miles, reduced to roughly 15 miles round trip (and save yourself the final big climb) by stopping at Elbow Pass.
The highway opens to vehicle traffic on June 15th so make sure you do this outing before that to enjoy the wide open road.
For more information on Highwood Pass in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, visit this link to the Alberta Parks website.
Staying overnight in Kananaskis:
Want to stay overnight in Kananaskis and make a real getaway out of your spring adventures? Mount Engadine Lodge is located in nearby Spray Valley Provincial Park and provides easy access to great snowshoe trails that keep their snow well into May.
More information on Mount Engadine Lodge can be found in my previous stories: Escape to Snow Paradise in Kananaskis, Alberta and Mount Engadine Lodge: Alberta’s Front Country Lodge with Backcountry Charm.
For those wanting to try something truly original, Mount Engadine Lodge also offers yurt-camping which is an ideal way to enjoy the lodge in the warm spring weather. A stay in the yurt is all-inclusive and includes breakfast, a packed lunch for your day’s adventures, afternoon tea, and a gourmet dinner. It is also quite affordable at $125 per person.
Destination Five: Lake Louise, Banff National Park
Lake Louise is another great place to spend a spring weekend with many options available from easy family-friendly hikes to longer outings more suitable for strong adults. If you liked the Highwood Pass bike/hike idea, another option is to ride the closed road to Moraine Lake before it opens to traffic mid-May. There is some avalanche danger near the end so it pays to be careful and it wouldn’t hurt to have avalanche training along with gear on you. Prepared individuals though could do a great bike/hike combo trip here, riding as far as the pavement allows and switching to snowshoes closer to the lake.
Another option would be to ride up the road to the entrance for Paradise Valley and then switch to hiking mode for a lovely visit up this creek. Stay low near the creek and you will stay out of avalanche terrain. As you get closer to Lake Annette though, you would want to be more careful.
If you want to avoid the biking part and stick to pure hiking, there are still many trails that are in great condition for snowshoeing around Lake Louise right now. Mirror Lake is a great safe option with children and the Highline Trail is a great choice which will take you to Paradise Valley.
For information on accommodation, hiking trails, and all things to do at Lake Louise, visit the Banff Lake Louise Tourism website.
Summer’s coming but there’s still plenty of snow for that last spring getaway to enjoy a final snowshoe trip off the season while you enjoy the warm sun and extended day light hours.
Disclaimer: I am no avalanche safety specialist and conditions change on a weekly basis in the Rockies. Please consult a visitor centre before heading out into the backcountry or snowshoeing into avalanche terrain. Also consult the Avalanche Canada website. Spring is a dangerous time for avalanche paths to slide with warmer temperatures so it’s necessary that all outings in the mountains be done with extreme care.