That time of year between autumn and winter, where the temperature climbs and dives, might not seem the best time for hiking. But maybe cheap hotels will convince you that it’s the perfect time of year to get out on the trail. The Canadian Rocky Mountain towns of Banff and Jasper are very expensive unless you go when nobody else wants to. You can get nice accommodations for the whole family for less than $100 CAD per night as opposed to upwards of $350 CAD per night during peak season. End of November into the first week of December is when I bundle up the family and take off to the mountains.
In my opinion this time of year is extremely underrated. The beautiful foliage is gone and the ski hills are not open yet. So, why go? Well, I’ve mentioned the cheap hotels. But, the hiking is wonderful this time of year, which is the main reason we visit the mountains, and you don’t know what kind of hiking you’re going to get. It could still be Autumn like conditions, the trails could be clear, and hiking excellent. Or, it could be full-on snow-covered trails that require clamp ons. Either way, if you are prepared, you are in for a great hiking adventure.
We headed to the mountains for a weekend hiking adventure during the first week of December. Our hotel was $98 Cad, so it didn’t dent the wallet too much. The weather was sunny and around -5 Celsius. Which sounds somewhat cold, but when you are hiking through the snow, it feels like it’s 20 degrees out. It’s always important to check the weather because we slid our trip into a warm period. The week leading up to our trip was -20 degrees and the day we left for home the mercury dipped to -17…too cold for family hiking. Our limit is -10.
We were prepared for all hiking conditions so when it snowed quite heavily the night we arrived, we were prepared for trudging through the snow the next day. I can’t stress how important the above checklist is for hiking. Over the past few years we have made multiple mistakes and miscalculations in terms of weather and preparedness. The list above will get you onto the trail and to the end safely. We always plan one big hike per day in the winter, because the hikes take longer and we expend more energy in the snow and cold. And then we will do a small hike; More of a sightseeing hike.
This trip, with clamp-on’s secured to our boots, we headed to the Maligne Canyon. The river wasn’t quite frozen yet, so we were unable to hike in the canyon, and instead we hiked along the top following the trail you would take in the summer. The clamp on’s were essential, allowing us to make it to the end with an autistic 8-year-old while passing adults without the traction aids were forced to turn back. Slowly, as we expended energy, the layers had to come off. The hike took longer than we expected, even for a winter hike, but our son has become a fairly good hiker. We put him on a treadmill about 5 days a week so he stays in hiking shape…might be time for his mom and dad to hit the treadmill as well.
Our second day of hiking took us to the Old Fort Road, but trust me it is no road. Its a slow gradual climb through a winter forest. The trail was a long one trudging through the snow. The kid loves hiking amongst the trees, specifically if the sun shimmers through the canopy so he can get some stim time. We had to stop several times to rest and peel off layers. One thing we didn’t bring was extra mitts. The temperature rising combined with the exercise and falling in the snow lead to some wet mitts. Luckily the temperature didn’t dip and we got away with it. I can imagine if the temperature fell we would have had very cold hands by the end of the trail. Next trip we will add extra mitts.
The views from the summit made all the hiking worth the trip. Blue skies and a clear view of the Rockies are all a hiker can ask for. The decent got a little tricky, but the spikes helped and we would never have been able to climb down and finish the trail without them. I did have to drag the Kid in some parts because the edge was a little to perilous and I wanted to be sure be sure we didn’t slip and picking him up was a little too dangerous.
My son just turned eight at the time of this trip. We always pick easy to moderate trails with limited elevation changes. We are planning to tackle some trails in the spring and summer that will change elevation quickly, but if you’re looking for good beginner winter hikes in Jasper, the Maligne Cannon and the Old Fort Road are doable, beautiful, and rewarding hikes. The exercise, fresh air, and incredible scenery is restorative…and so we hike.