Winter Activities: Banff icewalks take you through snowy wonders of Canadian Rockies

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Written by bike posted on Monday, February 8th, 2010

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The tranquil waters of Lake Minnewanka form the backdrop of one of the guided icewalks you can take in the Canadian Rockies.

The Canadian Rockies are beautiful any time of the year, but if you haven’t walked through them in winter, you’re missing something really special.

When Banff National Park puts on its winter overcoat, it transforms. It’s white, pristine, and lush beyond belief. Bears may hibernate in the winter, but there’s plenty else to see.

We strongly recommend a winter vacation here in the high country. It’s a different world then. And here are a few guided walks you might take to start exploring that world:

EVENING ICEWALK & CAMPFIRE: Just like the name says, here’s a walk that takes you out into the evening wilderness. Equipped with a headlamp, hiking cleats and a pole, and led by a friendly guide, you’ll take a stroll along the shoreline of Lake Minnewanka, Banff’s largest lake, also known as the “lake of the spirits.” Under the stars, in the deep silence of the winter wilderness, it’s an ethereal scene. If you’re lucky, you’ll hear the snap of the lake’s ice cap cracking, and on a clear night you’ll be dazzled by the multitude of stars. You might even see the Northern Lights! If time allows it, you’ll walk all the way to the historic Stewart Canyon Bridge over Stewart Creek, which feeds the huge lake. Plus, if you’re worried about the night chill, we’ve thought of that, too. You’ll sit around a toasty campfire, roast marshmallows and drink hot chocolate before returning to Banff.

JOHNSTON CANYON ICEWALK: Johnston Canyon is one of the great places of the Rockies, and on this walk in the winter, it leads to one of the most breathtaking sights you’ll find anywhere: the great icefalls. Steel walkways built into the side of the canyon make the journey a bit easier. You’ll be equipped with hiking boots and a pole, and a guide will lead you through prime wildlife habitat to the trailhead and up the canyon, where you’ll be treated to stunning views of the canyon and of the lower falls. You’ll be surrounded by ancient rock, though the canyon through which you’re hiking is young, giving you plenty to look at and learn on your way. And at the end of the hike, of course, are the shimmering, awe-inspiring sheets of the great icefalls. You might even see climbers daring to ascend the huge ice pillars.

GROTTO CANYON ICEWALK: This is another walking tour that takes you along icefalls, but the journey there is markedly different. Equipped with hiking cleats and a pole, you’ll be led by a guide along a frozen creek through Grotto Canyon, a strange place of unusual rock formations, strange miniature forests and a mix of geologic and human history. The rocks are the remnants of an ancient ocean floor; you will be witness to the staggering results of millions of years of mountain building. At one point you’ll pass through a forest of small, twisted trees, and your guide will tell you how this very odd forest came to be. And you’ll pass Native American rock art, pictographs up to 1,500 years old. Finally, you’ll pass very close to the icefalls, and here, too, you might see climbers ascending.

For these and any other icewalks, be sure to dress warmly, as it can get quite cold up here! Hot chocolate is provided on any walk, along with a variety of snacks, but you have to bring your own camera. For more information, call 1-877-565-9372.

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