Five stunning easy hikes for the beginner adventurer
By Cassie Weiss, Features Editor
Lockdown or no lockdown, warm weather is fast approaching, and that brings with it the incessant need to be outdoors. Who wants to be cooped up inside with no sunshine and no mountain air to breathe deep into stressed and worn-out lungs? I know I sure don’t.
Sometimes there is nothing better than jumping in your vehicle, alone or with a pal, and taking off toward the mountains in the west. I find myself gravitating toward them over and over, itching for less of the city and more of the wild, especially in a time when we’re urged to stay away from other humans.
I always hear excuses about why those around me don’t take the time to take a small road trip out of town, and most often it is due to the amount of money it costs to spend the day in Banff or Lake Louise. Little do they know that when I ditch the city lights the only cost I have to factor in is how much gas it takes to get me where I want to go. The places I want to go are usually not anywhere close to Banff or Lake Louise, both places packed with travellers aplenty.
Now, you’re probably curious about how it is that I don’t spend any money and don’t head immediately into the mountain towns dotting the TransCanada highway. See, I’m a hiker and climbing to the top of a mountain honestly doesn’t cost me a thing.
Hiking isn’t for everybody and that is 100 per cent okay — we all choose what types of exercise we love and we make the most of it. But, if you’ve ever used the excuse that you are not in shape enough to hike a couple of kilometres (km) into the untouched wilderness, you, my friend, are sadly mistaken.
I got into hiking approximately four years ago and was almost 80 pounds heavier than I am today. I was extremely out of shape and had absolutely no idea how I was supposed to walk in a steady incline for hours on end and not collapse. The secret was simpler than I thought — I just had to put one foot after the other, regardless of how long the climb took. And the more times I took that risk and put myself out there, the better I got, the more I learned and the better I felt.
Of course, there are a couple of other secrets to hiking — like always carrying bear spray (and knowing how to use it), learning breathing exercises to help with the incline and hiking with friends who aren’t impatient and don’t rush you — but those will all come in time. As will the creation of a hike bucket list as you slowly develop a want to push further and higher and faster.
But until then, here is a list of five of my favourite beginner hikes. These bad boys will ease you into the activity and show you some of the most beautiful scenery around that you could never even come close to by car.
Just under eight km, Rawson Lake starts in the Upper Kananaskis Lake parking lot. The trail has little incline for about 1.5 km until it veers up the mountain and remains a steady climb for another hour or so. But remember, one foot in front of the other — you’ve got this. The best part about this hike is it features a rushing waterfall, gorgeous views of Upper Kananaskis Lake, some friendly Pika at Rawson Lake itself, and crystal-clear turquoise water that is perfect for a quick dip on a hot sunny day. I like this trail so much I’ve done it twice already this year. The hike takes about three to four hours on a round trip, depending on how many stops you make and how long you hang out at the top.
With two separate trails, both approximately five km long, leading to the same place, Chester Lake is one of my all-time favourites. I’ve also done this hike twice this year. Pick your path of choice and head on up. I personally have only ever hiked the trail to the left, but I’ve heard that both have incredible views of the mountain peaks around. The hike has one or two steeper spots, but it evens out after about an hour into a mountain meadow crisscrossed with streams and mountain larches. The lake is small but backed by a mighty peak, and if you hike the trail about 10 minutes past the lake, you’ll find the famous elephant rocks. I personally don’t see the elephants, but I was never good at Rorschach tests either. This hike takes approximately four to five hours depending on dawdling time.
Kings Creek Ridge
Okay, this hike isn’t easy at all, but it’s short and it gives off the most wonderful views I have experienced in my life. Approximately four km takes you almost directly straight up the side of a mountain and leaves you at the very top. But remember, there’s four more to go as you head carefully back down. It’s quite windy, so I challenge you to stay up there for more than 20 minutes. But, I can promise you the hard work is worth the reward. Walk along the ridge, dangle your feet off the side of the mountain, and check out the panoramic views of Upper and Lower Kananaskis Lakes, as well as the mountain valley that pieces together Mount Blaine and Mount Cornwall.
I haven’t done this hike in a few years and did it very slowly at the time, but depending on how fast you hike, it could take anywhere from three to five hours.
Ford Knoll Trail
Hidden just meters from the parking lot of Forgetmenot Pond, this small loop is a pleasure full of orchids and other beautiful mountain flowers. Approximately a five km round trip, this hike only took us 1.5 hours and left us with plenty of time to explore the surrounding area around Bragg Creek.
See if you can count all the cairns scattered throughout, and rest for a quick snack when the trail opens at its apex to display views of the adjacent mountain range.
Upper Kananaskis Lake
Boy, she’s a long one but a good one. This 16 km hike takes you in a giant loop around the lake and features an uncountable amount of beautiful scenery — including waterfalls, rock slides, alpine meadows, rushing rivers, and maybe even a bear or two. I’ve done this hike a few times over the past few years, and every time it absolutely blows me away — the idea that there are parts of this amazing country that no one will ever see unless they move on foot or by air.
Although this hike is on the longer side, it is relatively flat and you are following the lakeshore in a giant circle. Honestly, if you’ve got a full day, I suggest you explore this lake.
Whether you do one or all the hikes on this list, I can promise you won’t be disappointed. You’ll get out of the city, you’ll avoid the rush of the touristy locations in and around Banff, and you’ll have Instagram-worthy photos for days.
In the words of the infamous Miley Cyrus, “Life’s a climb, but the view is great.”