Now that Kananaskis Country has reopened, many Albertans will be heading for the mountains for some much-needed fresh air and exercise. Any close proximity to other humans can be a risk, but under the right circumstances, hiking can be an effective way to practice social distancing.
To date, our experience hiking in Kananaskis during this time is that the width of the trail is extremely important. Despite all we know about needing to keep 2 meters apart, we find that on single-track trails many hikers simply are not making the effort. Many hikers just lean to the side and groups of hikers get maybe 2-3 feet of clearance.
Not good enough…
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The criteria we used to select the best hikes for social distancing in Kananaskis is primarily based on the width of the trail. The width of the Kananaskis hiking trails we’ve identified are all at least 2-3 people wide and in many cases are as wide as a country road.
Tips for Social Distancing while Hiking in Kananaskis
- Hike on weekdays, instead of weekends or holidays
- Hike as early as possible to avoid crowds
- Be especially cautious of distracted people in crowded parking lots
- Likewise, watch for large groups of people hiking together. They are often too absorbed in conversation to remember to be courteous
- If your trail is too narrow to allow 6 feet of separation, do the right thing and get well off the trail to allow the other group to pass. (Be sure to check for ticks when you get home).
We all need to do our part to keep each other safe. The hiking trail can be 20 feet wide, but if we get too close in the parking lot or are not mindful of the 2-meter rule, we’re still at risk.
Here are the best hikes for social distancing in Kananaskis Country:
1. Karst Springs to Watridge Lake
Karst Springs is one of our favorite hikes in Kananaskis.
To be honest, the main reason we love this hike is the final leg from Watridge Lake up to the Karst Springs. The power and beauty of this natural mountain spring is incredible. Sadly, the final leg of the hike is really not good for social distancing. This part of the hiking trail is very narrow and it can get quite congested.
But the 3.5km stretch from the trailhead to Watridge Lake is along a wide country road making it an ideal social distancing hike in Kananaskis. The wide-open hiking trail affords excellent views of the surrounding mountains, and there’s a charming little creek that runs alongside the trail.
The hike to Watridge Lake is easy enough for almost all fitness levels. Watridge Lake is a very scenic lake and is a worthy destination for a hike, even if you can’t continue on to see the Karst Springs.
More information on Hiking Karst Springs in Kananaskis.
2. Barrier Lake Trail
We went to Barrier Lake for a family hike shortly after Kananaskis reopened in mid-May. Barrier Lake is an extremely popular day-use area, so as usual the parking lot was quite full. Despite passing several people in the parking lot, we all kept a respectful distance from each other.
This scenic Kananaskis hiking trail follows the shore of Barrier Lake. This easy trail is enjoyable as there are no trees blocking your view of Barrier Lake and the Rocky Mountains beyond.
The trail which leaves the Barrier Lake Day Use parking lot is called the Prairie View Track, and is part of the Great Trail (formerly known as the TransCanada Trail). The initial 1.8km of this hike is along a gravel road, which due to its width makes for excellent social distancing while hiking.
The trail comes to a junction and you turn right to follow the Barrier Lake lakeshore. The trail narrows somewhat here, but it is still wide enough for groups of hikers to safely pass each other.
More information on the Barrier Lake hike.
3. Spray Lakes West Trail
Like the Barrier Lake Trail, the Spray Lakes West hike takes you on an easy, scenic walk along a gravel road adjacent to a beautiful mountain lake. The trail begins through a forest, but you’ll soon emerge from the trees to enjoy beautiful vistas of the Spray Lakes Reservoir and the beautiful Kananaskis mountains beyond.
An advantage of the Spray Lakes West trail is that it is less popular than Barrier Lake, which makes it a more effective hike for social distancing.
4. Quaite Creek Trail
We went on a family hike on the Quaite Creek Trail on a weekday in late May, knowing it would be good for social distancing. I always underestimate how much I enjoy this hike.
The first 2.5km of the Quaite Creek Trail is an especially good social distancing hike as it’s a wide gravel road (occasionally used by Alberta Parks trucks to resupply the back-country Quaite Creek campground). This section of the trail is through deep forest and a small creek follows the trail for a decent portion.
The trail continues another 3.5km past the Quaite Creek Campground to a junction of several hiking trails. The trail narrows somewhat after the campground, but it still much wider than a traditional single-track hiking trail. The forest becomes very lush along this section, with many carpets of emerald moss in the undergrowth.
Get more information on the Quaite Creek Trail.
5. Canmore Reservoir Trail
The Canmore Reservoir Trail continues the theme of large gravel road next to a mountain lake. In this case, the lake is the Canmore Reservoir, just outside the Canmore Nordic Centre.
You’ll enjoy the space the wide gravel road affords you for social distancing, but you’ll love the magnificent views of Canmore’s most famous mountains, including Ha Ling Peak, Miners Peak, Ships Prow and Rundle Mountain.
Assuming everyone acts responsibly, this is one of the best hikes for social distancing in Canmore.
6. Goat Creek Trail
The Goat Creek Trail is a popular hiking and mountain biking trail near Canmore. The Goat Creek Trail isn’t a gravel road like many of the other social distancing hikes recommended here, but it is still wide enough to provide 2 meters distance between hikers.
The one-way distance of the Goat Creek Trail is 18km and ends at the Banff Springs Hotel. We typically walk towards Banff for roughly 5km before turning back. You’ll be the trees quite a bit, but you’ll still be treated to very nice mountain views along the way.
This is a popular mountain biking trail, so be alert for high-speed mountain bikers at all times.
Get more information on the Goat Creek Trail.
7. Goat Creek South to the High Rockies Trail
I’m not even sure if this ‘hike’ has a name, but it’s just south of the huge Goat Creek parking lot. It’s become a family favorite whenever we are looking for a secluded hike or snowshoe near Canmore.
The beginning of this hike is a 1km walk downhill along a wide service road to a small, scenic pond fed by Goat Creek. It’s a wide-open meadow around this pond, so you’ll be treated to some amazing mountain views.
There’s plenty of additional hiking trails in-and-around this pond, including the High Rockies Trail. We rarely see anyone in this area, so you’ll likely enjoy the wide open spaces all to yourself.
There’s a small parking lot just off the Smith-Dorrien Trail Highway.
8. Cougar Creek Trail
Cougar Creek is another good hike for social distancing within the Town of Canmore. This trail is popular with locals going for a walk, but it’s nice and wide so with a little common courtesy, you should all have lots of space. The trail narrows as you walk upstream, but the number of hikers also drops off, so these should hopefully offset.
The runoff from Cougar Creek was a major contributor to the catastrophic 2013 floods. As a result of flood mitigation efforts, not much of Cougar Creek is natural at the beginning of the walk.
It doesn’t take long to walk upstream and see its natural state. You may need to hop 1-2 feet over the creek water here-and-there. I’ve never gotten my feet wet but wear waterproof hiking shoes just in case.
Part of the efforts to mitigate the future flood risk was the instillation of a massive debris net, which span the width of the canyon. It’s worth hiking to this point, just to see the magnitude of it.
As you walk back to the parking lot, you’ll be distracted from the man-made creek shapes with some of the best views of the Three Sisters you’ll find anywhere.
Get more information about the Cougar Creek hiking trail.
9. Grassi Lakes Hike
I’m hesitant to include this popular hike, but I have listed it as an option under very specific circumstances. This hike is often incredibly busy, so this recommendation is valid for off-peak times, such as early on weekday mornings.
Grassi Lakes is so busy for a reason; it’s one of the best easy hikes in Kananaskis. On a sunny day, the water color of the Grassi Lakes is simply incredible.
There are two paths to Grassi Lakes. The ‘easy’ walking path to the Grassi Lakes is a wide gravel road, which in normal circumstances, should allow everyone to properly socially distance while hiking. The walking paths around the Grassi Lakes are not very wide, so think twice before you venture in.
If you wish to hike Grassi Lakes, but discover the parking lot is overflowing (as is typical), just keep on driving and try one of the other Smith-Dorrien hikes recommended above like Goat Creek, Goat Creek South or Spray Lakes West.
Get more information about hiking Grassi Lakes Trail.
What to Bring Hiking in Kananaskis
You don’t need a lot of hiking gear to enjoy hiking in Kananaskis. Our list of hiking essentials contains the hiking gear and clothing you’ll need for the variable Kananaskis weather and trail conditions.
We hope you found some inspiration for good social distancing hikes in Kananaskis. Let’s all work together to keep hiking safe for everyone, so they don’t have a reason to close the parks again.
Have a great day hiking in Kananaskis!
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