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Grotto Canyon is a relatively simple trail walk with interesting features that make it a very worthwhile excursion. Walking between the narrow walls of the canyon provides an eerie experience and at the end of the canyon there is a small waterfall and cave to explore. You can also find ancient pictographs painted on the canyon walls if you know where to look!
Time Required: 1-2 Hours
Location: 16km east of Canmore, AB
Distance: Up to 7km round trip
Highest Elevation: 1550m
Elevation Gain: 250m
Difficulty: 3/10 – Some uneven footing
Season: Year-Round – May be icy and slippery in the winter.
Additional Requirements: N/A
From Calgary: Take the Trans-Canada (Hwy 1) west approximately 65 km to Exit 114 and take Hwy 1X north. After 3.5km turn left and head west on Hwy 1A. Follow Hwy 1A 11km and park at the Grotto Pong Day use area.
From Canmore: Take Hwy 1A east approximately 16km and park at the Grotto Pond Day use area.
WHAT TO BRING
- Comfortable Footwear: A pair of comfortable sneakers will be sufficient for this hike. In the winter you may want winter boots and potentially micro spikes as it could be icy.
- Water: One water bottle per hiker will be sufficient as this is a fairly easy, short hike.
- Snacks: Bring some of your favorite snacks to enjoy along the trail.
- Weather appropriate clothing: Check the weather forecast and plan accordingly.
- Sunscreen: If it is sunny and you’re like Mattson, who easily burns, bring sunscreen!
- Insect Repellent: Insect repellent can greatly improve your hiking experience.
- Bear Spray: You are in bear country. Always hike with bear spray that is easily accessible.
- Camera: There are numerous photo opportunities you won’t want to miss.
- This Guide: Print a copy of this guide to reference throughout the hike
Wildlife: You will be hiking in bear country. It is always advisable to check in at the local Visitor Information Center to learn of any trail closures due to wildlife. Carry bear spray in an easily accessible location. Travel in groups of multiple hikers and make lots of noise to avoid an unexpected encounter.
Leave No Trace: It is important that we enjoy the outdoors responsibly and sustainably. Some key principles to consider when hiking to “Leave No Trace” are:
- Plan ahead and prepare: Proper planning allows adventurers to hike safely while minimizing damage to the land.
- Travel on durable surfaces: Stick to the trail when possible. If there is no trail, or you must travel off trail, stay on durable surfaces to reduce your impact.
- Dispose of waste properly: Pack it in, pack it out.
- Leave what you find: Leave rocks, plants, archaeological artifacts and other objects of interest as you find them.
- Respect wildlife: Observe wildlife from a distance. Never feed wild animals.
- Be considerate of other visitors: Be courteous to others to allow everyone to enjoy their outdoor experience.
To learn more about “Leave No Trace” visit http://www.leavenotrace.ca
Summary: The Hike through Grotto Canyon begins at the Grotto Pond Day Use Area just off Hwy 1A. There is a well-marked trail that will take you from the Day Use Area to the entrance of Grotto Canyon. As you venture up the canyon follow this guide to find ancient hopi pictographs painted on the canyon walls, the waterfall that feeds grotto creek and a small cave.
From the Grotto Pond Day Use Area, the trailhead to Grotto Canyon is clearly marked (Route marker #1 on the map). Begin following the trail into the forest. 450m down the trail you will come to a work access road. Cross the road and continue following the trail towards the noisy Baymeg Plant.
Follow the trail 350m more and you will hit a fork in the road. Follow the right trail indicated by the arrow in the green circle on the sign.
This path will take you to a rocky creek bed which leads to the canyon. At this point you can climb down into the creek bed and follow it or take the higher trail on the right side through the trees. The trail through the trees will traverse the hillside and then lead you down into the canyon.
Follow the rocky creek bed into the canyon. You will cross back and forth over the creek as you make your way deeper into the canyon
600m into the canyon from where you first hit the rocky creek bed is the rock wall where ancient Hopi Pictographs can be seen (Route marker #2 on the map). They are a faint red color approximately at eye level. The picture below shows a group of hikers viewing the pictographs.
200m further down the canyon you will come to a T-intersection. The creek is fed from a small waterfall to your right. A very short walk along the creek will take you to the waterfall (Route marker #3 on the map). Be cautious on the wet rocks as they are very slippery.
If you go left from the T-intersection the canyon will widen and you will trek through a valley of rock cairns built by previous hikers.
1km down this path you will come to a small cave on the side of the rock face (Route marker #4 on the map). It is a steep climb to get up to the cave, but it is worth checking out before starting the return journey.
When you’ve seen enough of Grotto Canyon head back the way you came to the Grotto Pond Day Use Area.
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Have fun out there!