Camore - Grassi Lakes Trail. Trail details: Take Trans-Canada Highway to Canmore, AB. Drive through town past the Canmore Nordic Centre (Highway 742, also known as Spray Lakes Rd.). Look for a turnoff just before the winter gates on Spray Lakes road, this turnoff leads downhill and to the trailhead..
There's not much I can say about Grassi Lakes that hasn't been said. The hike is beautiful and should be done at least once per season. It's a short loop with about 1.5 km of steep uphill, and some parts of the trail are not for those with unsure footing or fear of heights (a hiker recently died after falling from the trail), but the views of Canmore and the lakes themselves are beyond description. Back in May (which was really too early to hike the trail) even my crappy camera photo was able to take a great desktop photo. That's how photogenic this hike is.
D and I decided to take this hike as part of a day trip to the area. We weren't looking for anything super strenuous -- just a quick hike with a little bit of kick to it. We got exactly what we wanted.
Canmore was under a high water alert for the first time that spring, but surprisingly, we didn't see much evidence of high water, with the exception of a couple of ponds right off the main roads of Canmore.
From the trailhead, the path is along a closed off forestry road before coming to this fork. The best option is definitely the "difficult" path, despite what your inner hiker might say. This side of the loop provides the best views on the way up and the most challenging walk. The easier path is confined to the forestry road and is an excellent way to descend from the lakes -- nice and relaxed.
Naturally it didn't take long for one of the locals to come out. I'd be hard pressed to think of a time we didn't see a red squirrel on this hike.... they practically own the trail. Due to popularity of the trail and it's location, that's about all you're going to see though. That's fine, there's plenty of other things to look at. There is plenty of history to this area and to this hike in particular (named after Lawrence Grassi - and mine worker who became a renowned trail guide and trail builder in the early 50s. This trail is almost the exact path he followed on his initial hike to the lakes).
It doesn't take long before the trail leads alongside the mountain. There are a number of creeks and waterfalls that cross the path here -- none are enough to do more than dampen the bottom of your shoes and can be crossed easily. Make sure to keep your head up though, because the views from here are already incredible:
Not bad for less than 30 minutes into the hike.
The next notable stop in the path is shortly after the small streams and waterfalls, and long before you see it, you should be able to hear it.
This is about as close as you'll get to the falls, which is probably a good thing, since even this shot is from a bit of a cliff-like point on the trail.
From here the trail takes a sharp turn upwards.
I wasn't kidding. And this is no camera trick, the stairs really are that steep. I'm never one for railings on trails, but it's absolutely needed in this case. The trail just before here is equally steep and requires some careful footing.
But it's worth it....
Once you get to this bridge, you're almost there and the hardest part is over -- really the hardest part isn't that bad. This is Grassi Creek, and this was probably the first sign D and I had of why Canmore was under a water alert. The right side of the bridge was very pond-like and calm, and actually looked quite high, but as it poured underneath the bridge and over to the left side it turned into crazy wild creek! Check it out:
Check out the bird on the rock! He was having a blast! Another time where the photo does not do the scene justice...
From here it is only a quick stroll to Grass Lakes.
The path leads along the right side of the first lake and then splits. You can either continue along to wind along the second lake (which is only meters from the first), and to the rock face, or continue around the first lake and then back down the forestry trails. There are plenty of areas to kick back and take a break, but don't expect a lot of quiet, as this might be the most popular trail in Canmore.
If you go in summer, you're almost certain to see rock climbers on the rock face beside the second lake. This is where the trail officially comes to an end:
...but the more adventurous and sure-footed can scramble up a small scree slope just beyond the end of trail marker. There are petrographs at the top, though they are tough to find, and there are usually many more climbers at the top.
D and I didn't climb this time, but I did a few years before and it's a fun climb. Do it for the climb though, because there isn't much of a payoff.
D and I doubled back and headed back down the forestry road, which is a pleasant and sunny downhill walk. One reason I like taking this walk back is because there are usually a number of people coming up the other side of the loop and with such a narrow path (and staircase) it becomes inconvenient. There's also a little more in the way of wildflowers on the forestry road.
If you're planning on hiking this trail during the summer (and due to the narrow path and ice on the trail long into the spring, there really is no choice but to wait until June), I cannot stress enough to get there early. When D and I returned to the trailhead, there wasn't an inch of parking space left in the small trailhead area, and it wasn't even 11 am.