If you live near or are planning a trip to Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada, you MUST check out the super quick and easy hike at Grassi Lake Trail! Let me tell you: Grassi Lake Trail is the perfect hike for beginners, families, and those of us who just want a quick-and-easy (but BEAUTIFUL) day in the mountains with a loved one.
I have been visiting Calgary from the Toronto area this summer, and my best friend and I planned a harder hike later during my stay here with another friend of ours (see my blog post on Ha Ling Peak Trail for more info). We wanted to try a much easier hike before we set out on our Ha Ling Peak excursion together. We needed to get our legs moving and our cardio ready for a “difficult” hike in Kananaskis.
There are two trails listed on AllTrails (a website I definitely recommend you visit): one is usually marked as a “moderate” hike, and the other is marked as an “easy” one. If you are hiking with very small children or seniors (or if you are a small child or senior yourself—he he!), then do not fret! The easy trail IS pretty easy. You see, there are two different trails leading up to the set of small lakes at the top. One trail is marked “difficult” and the other, “easy” (literally, there is a signed fork in the trail near the trailhead). The more difficult trail is quite narrow, decently paved and marked, and consists of a very steep portion with a stunning view of a waterfall and mountain background, followed by an even steeper portion with stairs and a wooden railing. The easy trail, however, is much, much wider, very well-paved, and takes (perhaps) a little longer to hike but has a far more consistently paced out incline. I will say, however, the easier way has significantly less views than the more difficult way,, so if you are up for it, I would highly recommend you try at least one of the in-and-out ways as the difficult trail. Despite the 203 meters gained in elevation (which is no comparison to other hikes like Ha Ling peak with 748 m or Centennial Ridge with 1350 m), the easier trail steadies out the incline and makes for a casual day hike in the mountains of Alberta, Canada.
On our trek, my best friend and I decided to hike up the difficult way and down the hard way. I think we were both very glad we chose the route we did because the more difficult option is quite steep, and I would much rather be walking away from the scary view than towards it. In other words, if you are afraid of heights but still want to check out the moderate hiking trail that Grassi Lake offers, then my suggestion would be to hike the easy trail on the way back to the parking lot.
Before you begin your hike at either Upper Grassi Lakes Trail Loop (the easy hike) or Grassi Lake Trail (the moderate hike), you will need to pay for a Park pass. The Park pass is a recent addition to Kananaskis, and since a lot of areas quickly go out of service in the mountains, my tip is to pay for your Park pass before you leave for your mountain destination altogether. The pass is cheap: it is $15 per day or $90 per season. While you might be like me, visiting from across the country (or another country altogether), and only needing to buy a few day-passes over the course of your stay, you might also live near Kananaskis, in which case it certainly makes more economic sense to purchase the season’s pass. Chances are you will save money, especially if you’re an avid outdoorsperson.
Now, you can easily GPS a lot of the trail heads in Kananaskis, including Grassi Lake. Living in Calgary has major perks, and most hiking areas are under 2 hours from the city.
The trailhead for both the easy and moderate treks is in the center of the Grassi Lake parking lot; like I mentioned earlier, the trail splits early on and is well-signed with “easy” and “difficult” markers. The trails here are very well-maintained, beautifully scenic, and clean. Parks Canada seems to have updated a few portions of the trail, especially for the moderate hike, including the waterfall viewpoint. You will have to climb about 50 stairs over the course of the moderate hike; these are very new as of 2021 and Parks Canada has added thick wooden railings to provide more ease for hikers on their ascent or descent.
Once you reach the top, there are plenty of thick and sturdy wooden benches where you can eat your hiking snacks. My best friend and I spent about 30 minutes at the top taking photos and eating our lunch. And while I do not think Parks Canada recommends that hikers swim at the small lakes near the top, we did see about 5 people preparing their swimsuits for a dip in the pristine water.
Grassi Lake seems to be one of the more popular spots in Kananaskis. My friend and I left from the parking lot for the hike at around 8 am and were some of the only few on the moderate trail (we waited for a couple other groups to start our descent because we are frightened of bears). By the time we left the top of the trail, though, there were several other people making their way up the mountain. We saw lots of children, grandparents, and couples with babies. All in all, it was a wonderful day spent around likeminded hikers, and we were very glad to have hiked Grassi Lake together.
When I was on my way home to Toronto, I was sitting in the airport and overheard someone talking to another person about how difficult they found the Grassi Lake trails, though, so I want to provide a disclaimer here. I hike a lot and have worked up the necessary cardio for a range of difficulty levels. If you feel at any time that you are over-straining your muscles or your mental game on any hike, please do not be afraid to turn around. There is absolutely no shame in knowing yourself and your body—and one person’s recommendation might not work for you. All Trails is a great website for crowd-sourced reviews, and I would always, always suggest anyone check those out before starting on their own excursion.
Also, to note: there were bear warnings on our trip in July of 2021, so please remember to bring bear spray and do NOT bring a bear bell. Parks Canada has recently come out with a report that states the uselessness of a bear bell and the USEFULNESS of your own loud voice combined with bear spray! When you are out on a trail, remember to talk loudly and frequently with your hiking buddies, and if you are solo hiking, you will want to shout every few hundred meters.
Please check out our blog posts on what to pack for a day hike for tips on how to prepare for hikes of varying lengths and difficulties. No matter where you are hiking, it is super important to be (over) prepared and safe:
Thanks so much for following along on my adventures; I sincerely hope this trail review was helpful; and happy hiking! We have lots of DLTK's summer activities, and be sure to check out one of our other hiking posts:
- Ha Ling Peak Trail Guide
- Tombstone Lakes in Kananaskis Country
- Bruce Trail: Peninsula National Park
- Bruce Trail: Chedoke Radial Trail
- Hiking Grotto Canyon
- Hiking the Kicking Horse to Amiskwi Trail
- Hiking the Loop Brook Trail
- Peyto Lake Trail
- A Rainy Day in the Mountains
I am the "T" in DLTK! In my spare time, I love to hike, read poetry, and hang out with my two cats. You can connect with me here.