Sounded like an interesting hike so we headed out east along Highway 1A (Bow Valley Trail) from Canmore. After about 10 minutes we arrived at the Grotto Pond Day Use Area.
Grotto Canyon Trailhead
The first section was frankly not too interesting with a minor climb along a very rocky trail. There was an industrial plant off to the left humming along quite loud. After about 20 minutes of walking we came to an open area with a bench overlooking a former gravel pit, again not too interesting.
However the view of Gap Lake and the scenic Bow Valley to the west towards Canmore framed by mountains on both sides was picture perfect. Overall you can expect a 50 meter (150 feet) elevation gain at the start.
Walking Up the Creekbed
You now enter the Grotto Canyon walking up the creek bed as it twists and turns. There was not a lot of water flowing during our late May visit which made it easy to cross as we were following the best route up this narrow canyon. In sections the grips of winter remained as we had to walk across the tops of the ice although mud had been frozen into the surface providing traction.
In one section the canyon widened a bit and we discovered several sets of climbers tackling the canyon walls. We also meet a school group; guided tour and many other individual hikers during our visit to this popular trail.
Grotto Canyon Pictographs
On the left of one canyon wall pictographs could be barely seen (viewed best through camera lenses) and we could make out a canoe, person and a few other items. Continuing further up on an elbow turn we could see water falls. And just past this section the Grotto Trail opens up a bit wider.
Hiking in Different Seasons
The local Tourist Board guide mentions that Grotto Canyon changes with the seasons as the canyon floor is likely to be wet with a light-flowing creek. In early spring snow melt can cause the creek to flood. And apparently in winter it is magical when the canyon floor freezes into a sheer sheet of blue ice (we still saw the remains of this even in late May), Ice cleats are recommended if you are hiking in the winter.
If in the Canmore area the 4 km (2.5 mile) Grotto Canyon makes for an interesting light/moderate level hike.
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