Heart Creek Trail in Kananaskis Country

Author: Dan Brewer

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The Heart Creek Trail is an enormously popular Kananaskis hike and for good reason. The Heart Creek hike is fun, easy and beautiful, a powerful combination making it one of the best kid-friendly hikes near Canmore.

Hikers follow the path of the gently flowing Heart Creek into the belly of a dramatic mountain canyon, filled with large evergreen trees and boulders on the canyon floor. The best part of this easy Kananaskis hiking trail is crossing fun, little wooden bridges over Heart Creek time-and-again.

Kids love the family-friendly Heart Creek hike

The Heart Creek Trail packs a lot of fun and scenery into a short distance, making it an ideal hike for Bow Valley locals or an easy day hike from Calgary. Best of all it can be enjoyed year-round, as it’s also a fun winter hike.

Kananaskis hiking with a toddler in a backpack carrier

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Heart Creek Hike Highlights

There is so much to enjoy about the kid-friendly Heart Creek Trail near Canmore. Here are some of the many highlights:

Funny enough, the beginning of the Heart Creek Trail isn’t that great. I mean, it’s nice enough, but the 0.7km walk from the Heart Creek parking lot to the Heart Creek Canyon junction parallels the TransCanada Highway.

The consistent traffic noise and occasional views of the Exshaw Lafarge cement plant across Lac des Arcs doesn’t make for the nicest hiking, but it’s short and the rest of the Heart Creek hike more than compensates for it. We always hike this leg, but many hikers on the Heart Creek Trail park on the side of the TransCanada Highway to skip this leg.

As you near the end of the access trail, you enter a beautiful aspen forest with a bench to sit on with some excellent Rocky Mountain vistas.

The Heart Creek Trail is a beautiful spring hike in Kananaskis
Heart Creek Trail in Spring

Before you enter the Heart Creek Canyon, take the time to read the interpretive signs about the impacts the 2013 flood had on the Heart Creek hiking trail. Even today it’s still easy to see debris piles along the Heart Creek from this catastrophic flood.

It's amazing to see debris from the devastating 2013 flood still piled up near the bridges on the Kananaskis Heart Creek Trai
Debris from the 2013 flood

Once the Heart Creek Trail enters the canyon, the fun really begins, especially if you have kids. Kids will love crossing Heart Creek over the many little wooden bridges along the trail. In addition, your kids will love walking and balancing along all the fallen trees and climbing up-and-over large boulders.

The fun wooden bridges on the Heart Creek Trail make this is popular Kananaskis family hike
Hiking Heart Creek with a Toddler

Heart Creek is shallow enough that kids will be able to safely play in the water (with supervision) throwing rocks, making rock piles, floating sticks, splashing and everything else they can think of!

Keep your eyes on the cliff walls of the Heart Creek Canyon as you might see some rock climbers scrambling to the top!

The end of the Heart Creek hike is a very popular picnic spot. It’s a beautiful spot, next to a rock wall with a loud, hidden waterfall tucked just out of sight. There is a park bench here, with lots of spots to relax and enjoy the beauty of this special Kananaskis spot. This is a popular spot for kids to play in Heart Creek while their parents sit, watch and have a coffee or snack.

The bench at the end of the Heart Creek Trail in winter
Heart Creek is beautiful in winter

The end of the Heart Creek hike is a beautiful spot with a really happy vibe – a good reward for your effort!

Heart Creek Trail Location

As mentioned above, there are two trailheads for the Heart Creek hike near Canmore:

The “Official” Heart Creek Trailhead

The official Heart Creek trailhead is located in a huge parking lot near the Lac des Arcs overpass. It’s a one hour drive from central Calgary to Heart Creek and only a half-hour from Banff.

The trailhead at Heart Creek Trail has interesting information about the 2013 flood

If you feel up to it, the Bow Valley Bunker trail is another kid-friendly Kananaskis hike which also originates from the Heart Creek parking lot. This interesting hike features a Cold War bunker dug deep into the mountain which is great fun to explore.

Heart Creek parking lot

Official Heart Creek Trailhead

 The “Un-Official” Heart Creek Shortcut Trailhead

The first 0.7km of the official Heart Creek hike is simply an access trail from the parking lot to the mouth of the Heart Creek Canyon. With the TransCanada Highway always within earshot and occasional views of the Lafarge plant, it’s not the nicest stretch of Kananaskis hiking trails.

There is an opportunity to use an unofficial parking lot in a ditch on the south side of the TransCanada Highway where Heart Creek passes under the highway. I believe that parking on the side of the TransCanada is technically illegal, but it’s a very common practice. Park there at your own risk.

Aspens and evergreens in front of a snowy mountain in Kananaskis in spring

Using the unofficial Heart Creek highway parking lot shortens the round-trip distance of the Heart Creek hike from 4.7km to approximately 3.5km.

Heart Creek Highway Parking Location

Heart Creek Trail Stats

How Long is the Heart Creek Hike?

The round-trip distance of the Heart Creek Trail is 4.7km (one-way distance of 2.35km).

You won't need a Heart Creek Trail map, but we recommend having one on your phone just in case

How Steep is the Heart Creek Trail?

The total elevation gain you’ll encounter along the Heart Creek Trail is 300m. This may sound like a lot, but in reality, the incline along the Heart Creek hike is quite gentle the whole way. In fact, the scenery along Heart Creek is so beautiful and the multiple bridge crossings are so fun, you’ll barely notice the uphill.

Hiking Heart Creek Trail with a toddler
Hiking Heart Creek with a toddler

How Hard is the Heart Creek Hiking Trail?

The Heart Creek trail is one of the most popular kid-friendly hikes in Kananaskis. On any given day of the year, you’ll see tons of families enjoying this beautiful hike near Canmore. One of the many reasons Heart Creek is so popular is that virtually anyone who is in reasonable shape can enjoy this hike.

There are a couple of hills along the Heart Creek trail which are a little steep, but they are short. We rate the the Heart Creek Trail as “easy”.

Heart Creek is an easy day hike in Kananaskis

How Long Does It Take to Hike Heart Creek?

It should take a typical adult less than an hour to hike the full round-trip distance of this easy Kananaskis hike.

If you hike the Heart Creek trail with kids, expect it to take longer, especially if they stop to play in the water. We recently hiked Heart Creek with our kids (aged 4 & 6) and it took us around 90 minutes.

Kids love the Heart Creek hike near Banff

Heart Creek Trail Map

The Heart Creek hiking trail is pretty easy to follow; simply begin at the trailhead and follow the trail through the forest until you reach a park bench just past a beautiful patch of aspen trees. Turn right at the bench and follow the trail all the way up the Heart Creek Canyon until you reach the hidden waterfall at the end.

The Heart Creek hike runs through a canyon below Heart Mountain near Canmore, Alberta

We used the AllTrails app while hiking the Heart Creek Trail, but to be honest, you don’t need it for navigation purposes. We use AllTrails for all our adventures in the Canadian Rockies. In addition to helping stay on the trails, we like the ability to track our stats (distance, elevation gain, etc.).

To find the Heart Creek hiking map on AllTrails, simply click on the link for the “Heart Creek Trail Map”. Being so close to Canmore and the TransCanada Highway you should have cell service on this hike, but it’s always a good idea to download the trail map onto your phone ahead of time just in case.

A recent App of the Year winner, AllTrails is also one of the best apps for visiting Banff! Enjoy map downloads and many more premium features with a 7-day free trial of AllTrails+!

Hiking Heart Creek Trail with Kids

The Heart Creek hike is not only one of the top things to do in Canmore with kids, but it’s one of the best kid-friendly hikes in Kananaskis. As you can see from the pictures, we’ve been hiking Heart Creek with our kids for many years.

If you visit Heart Creek Trail on a weekend during hiking season, you’ll quickly see from the over-full parking lot that this is one of the most popular family hikes in Kananaskis.

Heart Creek is one of the best kid-friendly hikes near Calgary

Heart Creek Trail is a perfect easy Kananaskis hike for kids. It’s a short and easy hike near Canmore which follows the gentle stream of Heart Creek into a mountain canyon.

With towering cliffs overhead, kids love crossing Heart Creek over fun little wooden bridges. There’s approximately 7 bridges over Heart Creek – I always plan on counting them, but then I end up having too much fun and forget!

Hiking Heart Creek with kids

In addition to the kid-friendly Heart Creek bridges, the stream is gentle enough that kids can play in or near the water (with adult supervision, of course). There’s plenty of rocks along the shore to throw into the water and/or build inukshuks with. The forest also holds lots of fun activities for kids Lots of rocks and fallen logs for kids to climb on.

A family crossing a bridge over Heart Creek, Alberta
Kids love winter hiking in Kananaskis

Heart Creek Bunker Hike – A Bonus Kid-Friendly Hike

If your kids still have enough energy after hiking Heart Creek, there’s another awesome kid-friendly hike from the same parking lot. The Heart Creek bunker hike is a 4km hike (2km each way) to a Cold War era bunker carved deep into the side of Mount McGillivray.

Built in the 1960’s, the Heart Creek Bunker goes 55m deep into the mountain, with a side channel over 40m long. It was designed to protect the nation’s critical documents against a catastrophic emergency, such as a hydrogen bomb.

The Heart Creek bunker hike itself is nothing special, but venturing into the cold, damp and VERY dark cave is incredibly fun for kids of all ages. Be sure everyone has their own powerful flashlight or headlamp – it’s really, really, really dark inside.

The Bow Valley Bunker Trail (Heart Creek Bunker) is another great hike for kids from the Heart Creek Trail parking lot
Bring headlamps for the Heart Creek Bunker hike

Where to Stop for Lunch or a Break

If you prefer a proper sit down picnic, you’ll find picnic tables around the Heart Creek parking lot.

There’s also a bench on the Heart Creek Trail just before the trail enters the canyon. This bench is in the midst of a beautiful aspen forest with some nice mountain views. Take a few moments to read the interpretive signs about the impact of the 2013 flood on Heart Creek.

The Heart Creek Trail runs through a mountain canyon with a lush forest setting. If you’d like, there are many places along the hiking trail where you can sit down on a rock or log and enjoy a break.

Heart Creek flows through a canyon between Heart Mountain and Mt. McGillivray

But, of course, the best place to stop for lunch on this easy Kananaskis hike is at the end of the Heart Creek hike. There’s a waterfall at the end, but it’s hidden so you can hear it, but not see it. There’s a bench which is often occupied, so bring a picnic blanket and find a nice spot by the river.

Heart Creek Hiking Safety

Kananaskis Country is prime bear and cougar habitat. Please take the time to educate yourself about bear safety and cougar safety in Kananaskis Country.

We recommend you check the latest Heart Creek trail report for trail conditions, wildlife warnings and possible closures before you head out.

Hiking Heart Creek in winter
Still very shady on winter mornings. Dress warm!

Wildlife Safety

When hiking in Kananaskis Country, you are responsible for your own safety. Before hitting the hiking trails we highly recommend you read our 9 Essential Kananaskis Hiking Tips for information about bear safety, trail conditions, wildlife warnings and possible closures.

Heart Creek Trail Logistics

On-leash dogs are allowed on the Heart Creek hike. This hike is so popular, that it’s one of the rare Kananaskis hikes where people actually keep their dogs on leash.

There are washrooms in the Heart Creek parking lot.

There is a vehicle break-in warning posted in the Heart Creek parking lot. Take your valuables with you on the hike or better yet, leave them at home.

There are no drinking water facilities on the Heart Creek Trail, so fill your reusable water bottles or hydration packs before you leave home.

You might get some cell service from Canmore or Exshaw, but don’t count in it for your safety.

The Heart Creek Trail near Canmore features many bridges, an evergreen forest and beautiful mountain views

What to Bring Hiking on Heart Creek Hike

Even though this is a fairly easy Kananaskis hike, you should bring along basic hiking gear to ensure a safe and successful outing. Before hitting the Heart Creek Trail, be sure to check out our recommended Kananaskis hiking gear.

A bridge on the Heart Creek Trail near Canmore
The Heart Creek Hike is one of the best things to do in Kananaskis with kids

Heart Creek Hike in Winter

The Heart Creek Trail is one of the best winter hikes near Canmore as Heart Creek is especially beautiful in the heart of winter. You’ll love the sight and sound of flowing water underneath the partially frozen, snow covered Heart Creek. Take a moment to stop and appreciate this beautiful scene on one of the many bridges.

Kids love the Heart Creek bridges - even in winter!

The bed of Heart Creek Canyon will be covered in a soft blanket of snow. The red bark of dogwood bushes pop against this brilliant white background. The humidity of the creek water often results in the surrounding trees, shrubs and rocks getting completely covered in thick frost.

Trees covered in frost while hiking Heart Creek Trail in winter

It’s an easy winter hike, which makes it less treacherous and more accessible to most winter hikers. Although not very steep, the Heart Creek trail conditions in winter will be slippery so we do recommend some form of traction device for your winter boots.

Traction devices will help on the slippery hills hiking Heart Creek in winter

You’ll be winter hiking Heart Creek on on mostly hard-packed snow, but it can get icy in spots, especially the near the creek and the hilly sections. We’ve attempted hiking the Heart Creek Trail in winter without traction devices and at times, have turned back when it was too icy. This can be especially true in early spring, when there’s a constant freeze-thaw happening when the nights are still cold but the days are warm.

Be careful crossing the slippery bridges on the Heart Creek Trail in winter

When deciding how to dress for the Heart Creek hike in winter, keep in mind you will be hiking into the heart of a canyon. With the sun low in the sky during the winter months, it will be hard for the sun to find its way past the canyon walls to the hiking trail. You will be in shade for most of this winter hike with a good possibility of a cold wind whipping down the canyon.

Heart Creek Hike in winter

We recommend dressing in layers while anticipating temperatures several degrees lower than the forecasted Canmore weather. It’s always a good idea to have a large daybag to store unused layers in.

Read More

Interested in more easy winter hikes near Heart Creek? Check out our comprehensive list of easy winter hikes in Banff and Kananaskis.

We hope you and your family loves the Heart Creek hike in Kananaskis as much as we do!

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The Heart Creek Trail is an enormously popular Kananaskis hike and for good reason. The Heart Creek hike is fun, easy and beautiful, a powerful combination making it one of the best kid-friendly hikes near Canmore.
Standing at Aylmer Lookout Banff National Park

Dan Brewer, a life-long Alberta resident, calls Canmore home along with his wife and two kids. He is the co-owner of Travel Banff Canada, where he gets to share his passion for the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Dan, along with his family, love being outdoors doing one of the many activities they enjoy in the mountains: hiking, mountain biking, paddleboarding, skiing, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

When he's not in Canmore enjoying one of his favourite local hikes, you can find him hoping on a plane to explore a new country with his family or working on one of their other two travel sites: Family Can Travel and Baby Can Travel.