I recently moved closer to the Rocky Mountains in Canada and I have enjoyed seeing the majestic peaks every day. A week ago I finally got out there in the snow for a few hikes and it was truly a peak experience, pun intended. Getting outside, enjoying the fresh air and beautiful scenery, getting some exercise without feeling like I was, communing with nature, bonding with my friends and family… wow, so many benefits!
The first hike I went on was in Kananaskis called the Fullerton Loop. This is a fairly easy and beautiful walk near the Rockies, only a few minutes from Bragg Creek, AB.
The weather was gorgeous and the hike was quiet and lovely. I went with a friend who is a great guide and knows all the good spots in the area. This walk/hike was a terrific way to get my exercise for the day and really see some beautiful nature! I used trekking poles on the descent to help protect my knees, but they certainly weren’t necessary. I also just had on my hiking boots, with no ice cleats, and it was perfect. We did see some people on the trail with snowshoes and while they certainly weren’t necessary, they would provide extra calorie burnage! (Snowshoes add a level of difficulty and effort.)
The next hike I went on, with a huge group of my family, was near Banff called Johnston Canyon. I have been told that this is a busy hike all year round. Luckily for us, it wasn’t crowded on this weekend in January! It’s an easy, gorgeous hike. The canyon is beautiful.
The views at the Upper Falls, and along the entire hike, were gorgeous. The trees laden with thick snow, the trail packed hard with snow and ice (Wear your ice cleats!) and the canyon iced over, with views of the blue, cold running water. I loved the way the trail followed the canyon and wound up and down through the mountain. The air is crisp and clean. You could even feel winded if you weren’t used to the higher elevation!
Once we got to the Upper Falls, taking about an hour since we, naturally, had to stop for pictures, we just stood back and marvelled at the falls and the bold ice climbers!
These two winter hikes in the beautiful Rockies were a great reminder to me to stop using winter as an excuse not to go outside. The ice and snow just magnified the beauty of the area.
I really encourage you to get out there and hike in the winter! It is not just a summer activity. If you are able to get to the Rockies and enjoy the many fabulous hikes, the snow is calming, the air crisp and the Rockies are magnificent!
If you don’t live near the mountains, see what options are available in your area. Even if you think you live somewhere “boring” (you probably don’t btw), there are usually beautiful areas to walk and hike. Edmonton, for example, has a beautiful river valley with many trails to explore. And it is also close to Elk Island Park, rich in trails and the beauties of nature.
I have never been one to enjoy being cold, but as long as the weather is fairly cooperative and not too cold, anyone can get outside and hike! You will need some basic gear and preparation to make your hike fun and safe.
What you will need:
Layers – Several layers of clothing. It is best to have layers that wick moisture and dry quickly, that you can remove and add as your temperature fluctuates. I was surprised how quickly things can heat up. You will want to avoid overheating and thus sweating too much as this can make you not only feel uncomfortable but can lead to chilling when you cool down and now have to hike in damp, cool clothing.
Good hiking boots – Always a good investment. My boots work well in summer or winter, or you can have separate pairs for the seasons. If you are on a budget, look for sporting goods store or trading posts that deal in slightly worn apparel. It is possible to get a good deal on used hikers! Here are the boots I have.
Good mitts – Nothing is worse than cold hands!
Good socks – Could also be said that nothing is worse than cold feet! Get socks that don’t cause sweating, provide warmth and wicking.
Ice cleats – These clip on to the bottom of your boots, giving you added traction in icy conditions. Very helpful on an icy trail. I used mine on the Johnston Canyon hike and would recommend them there as the trail can get quite worn and very slippery. I didn’t need them on the Fullerton loop as the trail was just packed snow. You can order them online or pick them up at a sporting goods store.
Alpine poles – Not a necessity but they can help with steep descents, with balance and stability and also can increase the number of calories you burn. They can sometimes feel in the way though, so maybe they are for you and maybe not. I have personally seen how they can speed your descent and make it safer for joints and knees.
Snowshoes – Not needed unless on very deep snow with an unpacked trail. Always check websites and local weather to see the conditions. These two hikes I talk about here did not need snowshoes, the trails were packed and my hiking boots were great.
Personally, getting outside and moving and exploring in the winter felt like something I need to do, could do, on a regular basis for my health, physical and mental, and enjoying the solitude if I can’t find anyone to drag along with me. Maybe we can all get out and explore!