Hiking with a young family can be a challenge, and we’ve all found ourselves in that place where one of the children refuses to walk another step and a parent has to carry them a kilometre back to the car. Here are some of my family’s first hikes that we tried way back in the day using our trusty Chariot. Some of the paths are paved, but the others are all wide gravel or dirt trails. Expect roots, rocks, and the occasional steep hill, depending on the hike. You’ll need a big-wheel stroller for anything that is not paved (think jogging stroller or Chariot). All the trails that I’ve included can be done with either a single or a double stroller and some can be done with a bike.
1. Fullerton Loop, Elbow Valley. This trail starts from the Allen Bill Day-Use Area on Highway 66. It is a 7-kilometre loop with 240 metres of height gain. Most people do the loop counter-clockwise, but if you’re pushing a stroller, I recommend hiking clockwise so that you climb the steep hill to the viewpoint first. It is very steep to push a stroller down safely.
If you choose to go down the steep hill, make sure you have a partner to help you or push the stroller down empty and carry your child down. Even pushing the stroller up could be challenging enough that you’ll want to push it up empty. Aside from that one steep hill, the rest of the trail is quite enjoyable if you want a good workout. (If you want a flat hike, this is not the one for you.)
Big Elbow Trail Alternative - For a flatter option in the Elbow Valley, continue to the end of Highway 66 and park beside the Forgetmenot Pond Day-Use Area. Cross the suspension bridge and get on to the Big Elbow Trail. This is a wide gravel road with a few rocky hills and one small stream crossing. My family always stopped at a big meadow area beside the river where you can have a nice picnic.
Note: The Big Elbow Trail is remote, and you should carry bear spray. This trail can also be biked if you have an attachment for your Chariot or trailer.
2. Bow Valley Provincial Park Loop. This beautiful network of trails starts from the Bow Valley Campground off the Trans-Canada Highway and Highway 1X.
Park at one of the three day-use areas (Middle Lake, Many Springs, or Whitefish) where you’ll find a small parking lot and bathrooms. Create a loop with the Elk Flats Trail, the Bow River Trail, and the Moraine Trail for a total of 5 kilometres. This loop connects the three different parking areas.
Optional loops include the Many Springs Trail (1.6 kilometres) and the Middle Lake Trail (2.2 kilometres).
These trails are all relatively wide with only a few short hills on the Elk Flats and Moraine Trails.
For a paved option, start at the Bow Valley Visitor Centre at the entrance to the park. Climb up to the campground on the paved bike trail (8-kilometre return) and then use paved campground roads if you want to reach the Whitefish Day-Use Area by the river for a picnic. The full trip is approximately a 12-kilometre return to the river and back (all on paved trails or roads).
Note: The only trail that allows bikes in this campground is the official bike trail. You can push a stroller on the others but must do so on foot.
3. Kananaskis Village and Ribbon Creek Trails.
There are several options for a good stroller hike:
Ribbon Creek - Follow this scenic trail, which crosses several bridges and stays close to the creek most of the time. Make sure you do not climb up onto the winter ski trail with the same name. You want to be at creek level. The trail has little height gain and you can walk as far as you want before turning back when tired.
Troll Falls - This trail is currently closed at time of writing, but I’m hoping it opens again for the remainder of summer. From the Stoney Parking lot, it is a 4-kilometre loop with gradual hills on a wide ski trail. You’ll only climb 30 metres, so this is a good option for an easy hike with a fun reward. You can also do a loop with the Hay Meadows Trail for a picnic beside the Kananaskis River.
Bill Milne Bike Path - This paved trail is great for an easy walk or bike ride. It starts at Kananaskis Village, descends to the river, connects to the Kananaskis Country Golf Course and the Mt. Kidd RV Park, ending at the Wedge Pond Day-Use Area.
For biking, I recommend starting at the Kovach Day-Use Area below the village and riding to Wedge Pond and back (approximately a 20-kilometre return and relatively flat). If you’re on foot, it’s a pretty walk from Kovach to the golf course and back through a large meadow.
4. Marl Lake, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. This trail starts from the Elkwood Amphitheatre parking lot or from the Elkwood Campground, if you’re spending the night here. The hike is a 3-kilometre return and you’ll make a lovely loop of the lake on an easy flat trail.
Paved trail option - There is a paved bike trail that connects most of the campgrounds in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. The trail is 12 kilometres (one way) and has a few hills. There’s a nice playground in the Canyon Campground for a rest break mid-way. Make sure you also plan a stop at Boulton Creek where you can get ice cream at the Trading Post.
5. Elbow Lake, Highwood Pass. Follow a wide gravel road to a scenic backcountry lake where you can camp for the night, if you want to try stroller-friendly backpacking. The hike is a 2.8-kilometre return with 137 metres of height gain.
The lake is popular for fishing and you can circle the lake on a pretty trail if you’re looking for an easy option for young children to stretch their legs after riding up the trail.
Note: This hike is popular, and the parking lot is small so plan to arrive early if you want a place to park. Mid-week is also a great time to visit this lake when it’s less busy.
6. Watridge Lake, Spray Lakes Valley. This is a great hike for families wanting a quiet trail without the crowds. Start at the Mount Shark parking lot and follow wide ski trails for 3.7 kilometres (one way) to reach the pretty lake.
Once at the lake you have the option of hiking up to Karst Spring (without the stroller) to see a spring gushing out of a rock wall. It’s also a lovely hike up to the spring following a pleasant creek. The hike is only 0.8 kilometres one way from the lake.
You’ll feel remote on this hike so make sure you bring your bear spray and consider hiking in a group.
7. Dyson Falls, Sheep River Provincial Park. This is a great hike for families living in south Calgary. Drive down to Turner Valley and head west on Highway 546 toward Kananaskis. You’ll start your hike from the Indian Oils Day-Use area.
Dyson Falls is accessed via the Sheep Trail, which resembles a wide gravel road. At the beginning of the hike, you cross the Sheep River on a large bridge over Tiger Jaw Falls before starting your 8.9-kilometre hike (return distance) to Dyson Falls.
There are moderate hills on this trail, and you’ll gain 289 metres of height. You’ll also want to make sure the trail is dry (and free of mud) before you try to push a stroller to the falls. The All Trails website or app is a great place to check for up-to-date trail reports.
8. Grassi Lakes. This is one of the most popular trails near Calgary for good reason. Families have the option of taking two different routes to reach two stunning lakes bordered by cliffs popular with rock climbers. Look carefully and you can often see owls in a small cave up on the wall behind the upper lake.
If you’re pushing a stroller, you’ll want to take the upper “easy” trail, which follows a wide gravel road. The “harder” trail is not suitable for strollers and has many stone staircases. The trail is a 4-kilometre round trip with 200 metres of height gain.
Note: This trail is busy on weekends, so either visit mid-week or arrive early to find a parking spot. I also recommend bringing a bike lock, so you can leave your stroller at the first lake. The scenic trail around the two lakes is narrow. After your hike, consider stopping at Quarry Lake on your drive back down to Canmore to cool off at the town beach.
9. Canmore Riverside Trails. Canmore has the most beautiful network of riverside trails around town and they are all wide enough for a stroller. Most of the Three Sisters Pathway is paved, and the other trails are a mix of smooth dirt and packed gravel.
Park beside the river at the Mineside Trailhead on Rundle Drive (it’s a small parking lot so you may need to arrive early). From this parking lot, you can either head west for the Bow River Loop Trail crossing over Engine Bridge (the highlight of this loop) or you can head east on the Three Sisters Pathway toward the West Canmore Playground. Beyond the playground, you’ll come to a beautiful meadow with an old mine site to explore. Further east, the trail climbs up to the Three Sisters area of Canmore.
You can find downloadable maps on the Town of Canmore’s website, canmore.ca/recreation-facility/trails. The Bow Valley West Map shows the trails I’ve mentioned.
10. Sundance Trail, Banff. This paved trail starts from the Cave and Basin National Historic Site in the town of Banff. It climbs up to a picnic area along the Bow River from where you can lock the stroller up and continue on foot into Sundance Canyon, if you want a longer outing.
The paved trail is a 7.4-kilometre return with 145 metres of height gain. The additional loop through the canyon is 1.6 kilometres and is not stroller-friendly.
The trail is scenic along the river, even if you skip the canyon, and it’s an easy walk with a stroller.
Disclaimers: For up-to-date trail information, trailhead locations, or maps, consult a hiking website or app such as All Trails or check the appropriate provincial/national park website.
I highly recommend checking for a current trail report before heading out because trail closures can occur at any time. The All Trails website/app is fairly reliable. Otherwise, both provincial and national park websites have up-to-date trail reports.
Tanya is a freelance writer and mom to an energetic 11-year-old boy. She loves hiking, camping, skiing, and all things mountain- related. She is the author of the blog, Family Adventures in the Canadian Rockies, rockiesfamilyadventures.com.
Photos: Courtesy of Tanya Koob
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