Every good adventure starts with careful research and meticulous planning.
We rely on these resources for our inspiration and well-being while on adventures in the mountains. If you are planning a trip to the Bow Valley corridor, or want to explore the adventures that can be had in the Rocky Mountains here in Canada, these recommendations will help you to do that at your own speed, distance, and risk level, and they will inspire you along the way.
Here you will find maps and guide books, along with links to avalanche safety training courses, biking trail apps & the InReach Beacon that we rely on and have found indispensable.
Use these recommendations & links to manage your risk. Only you know what feels right for you, but using these, and doing your research ahead of time, will help you to explore and push your comfort zone and extend & develop your sense of adventure.
Remember to always make a photocopy of the trail descriptions before you head out (rather than going without or lugging the entire book), as taking a photo with your phone doesn’t cut it in bright sunlight, when it has an unfortunate oops, or when your battery dies.
Have fun, but most of all, stay safe out there!
Gem Trek maps are indispensable. Even if you have no intention to bushwhack and forge your own trail, and do not need them in any way whatsoever to follow the well-worn trail beneath your feet, they are great fun at a snack spot, viewpoint or picnic vista. It’s genuinely entertaining to learn to read the contour lines and find them in the real word in front of you from a mountain peak or ridge top, and learn to read the landscape before you.
Identifying peaks is a compelling & engaging task. But it’s also really fascinating to get to know an area intimately, as you come at a landscape from different paths and trailheads.
For example, the Ribbon Creek Valley is one of those friends that we’re coming to know well, having explored it via the Ribbon Creek Trail from the Kananasis Village & hostel trailhead, through Memorial Lakes, Buller and North Buller Passes via the Spray Lakes Road and through Guinn’s Pass via the Galatea trail.
One tip: most Gem Trek maps are available in regular and waterproof versions. Always buy the waterproof versions. Their paper is far hardier and can withstand the rigours of coming in and out of your pack many, many times, even if they never see water. If you cannot find the waterproof version of a particular map at MEC or Campers’ Village or Valhalla Pure Outfitters, or even GemTrek itself, try Map Town in Calgary. Map Town will mail them to you as well. And if you don’t see the map you’re after on their website, give them a call. That’s how we tracked down one map that we were missing.
Alltrails is a great app to use while on the trails. It’s available in both apple and android versions.
TIP: You need to buy the full version: in this way you can download maps onto your phone of the area you’re hiking, and then the app will use GPS to locate you on the map, rather than expensive data from your phone’s plan. If you do the free version, you’ll eat through your data in no time. The neat thing is that you can see where you are on the map of the trail at any time while you are hiking it.
It comes in very handy if you are on a trail that is somewhat difficult to find or read, or if you reach a point in the trail with a number of paths from which you can choose, or if you’re hiking through heavy rock or rockfall areas where a boot-worn path doesn’t show up. The best part of this app is that it’s easy to see if you are off trail or not, and it’s easy to see how far you still need to go (if you’re getting tired!).
One more TIP: Be sure to save the hike you are about to do into the app’s favourites section. In this way, the hike will stay open, and you won’t need to type in its name and search it every time you want to see where you are on the trail.
This app has really helped us when scrambling on rock or when exploring off trail in high alpine environments.
Don’t Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies. We love these guide books! Their language use and descriptions of trail experiences can be over the top, but they’re full of personality. You can spend multiple hiking seasons, working your way through their 3 & 4 boot hikes alone. They proclaim to be opinionated, and they are! Lovingly so, in my opinion.
You can now buy these books as a kit. The larger book has lots of photos to entice you and an overall description of what the hike is like, and what you can expect to see and do. Then there are a series of small booklets. Like hardy pamphlets, they’re designed to take on the trails with you and have step by step descriptions in them so that you cannot get lost… either finding the trailhead by vehicle or finding a turn off or a landmark on foot.
If you’re looking for a place to start, and you’re wanting to get away from the crowds, these are the guide books for you.
Another set of books by the Copelands, their Where The Locals Hike In The Canadian Rockies is full of excellent Kananaskis Country Hikes and are a good antidote to the over crowded hikes offered in our national parks in the high-tourist season summer time. We have relied heavily on these guide books as we’ve explored the Rockies & the Kootenays over the years.
One tip: The Where the Locals Hike Kananaskis book is no longer up to date. Published in 2013, it came out at about the same time as the great flood we had in the Bow Valley. Unfortunate timing, for sure. Trailheads and approaches are a little different now, and many trails, even as I write this in 2017, have yet to be rehabilitated and repaired, though parks staff and volunteers are working tirelessly to do so. You should take maps with you when you do K-Country hikes and be prepared to do a little route finding.
People swear Gillean Daffern’s series of books. If you have exhausted the Copelands’ recommendations, then it’s time to move onto these. She is a very prolific writer & hiker! Hats off to her for the sheer volume of hikes she has done & catalogued with meticulous detail!
They are your ticket into getting to know Kananaskis Country even more intimately… and it’s a huge area to explore, as you can see by the five volumes of this series!
These guidebooks are like a thorough catalogue. An impressive feat by the author, to be sure. But they are a very dry read. Don’t look here for inspiration… look here for adventure, and thorough, no-stone-left-unturned attention to detail.
If you are an experienced hiker and comfortable with mountain terrain, and want to up your game, then these are the guide books for you. Often requiring you to put away the poles and have hands and feet on the rock to get up and over, or down from mountain features, these contain some wild adventures.
We call it scrambling, and it is seriously fun. It turns the mountains into adult playgrounds. Be warned, however: some of these hikes have exposure to them, meaning that if you slip or fall, there are serious consequences, including fatal ones. Always pack a first aid kit and an InReach or Spot beacon with you on these types of adventures. And let someone know where you are going, and when you expect to be out, so that they can send in the troops, should you be delayed (as in, come to harm).
This is another reason to carry an InReach device over a Spot beacon. It lets you press the SOS button, should you need immediate rescue, but it also (unlike Spot) lets you send out text messages when you are out of service, via satellite uplink. So if you spend longer on the trail, have a nap on a summit, etc., you can let your contact person know that you will be delayed coming out, but are fine. It also has a handy app, so it can be used from your phone, making texting much easier.
We rely heavily on this book to find safe snow shoe routes to tackle in the winter time. I heavily recommend doing your AST 1 course at a bare minimum, before snow shoeing in the rockies.
Avalanche Safety Training courses are offered by Yamnuska Mountain Adventures in the Bow Valley and their level one course does enough to scare you into only staying on safe terrain.
Before tackling any of the snow shoe hikes that Andrew calls beginner, be sure to take your AST2 course and carry the appropriate gear… shovel, probe, beacon, etc. Your life, and the lives of the friends you go with, depend on it.
He has also written a beginner guide, called, appropriately enough, A Beginner’s Guide to Snowshoeing In The Canadian Rockies.
If you are at all into mountain biking, then these books will help you get on your way to discovering the Gems of the Bow Valley’s 2-wheeled adventures.
People swear by the biking at the Canmore Nordic Centre. And it is fantastic! Be sure to download the Bike Pirate App as it follows you in real time, setting down cookies, allowing you to have fun without getting lost on the trails there as there are hundreds!
But be sure to combine your nordic centre adventures, and your the rides detailed in these guide books with exploring the new High Rockies Trail… an 80km back country trail that has been scuplted up and down the forested slopes of the Spray Lakes road in Kananaskis country. For every up, there’s a fun down section with berms and camelback humps. It has incredible bridges over creeks with safe sides so you can’t tumble in when perched up high on a bike. It has thoughtful benches with views for rests, snacks & lunches. It is playful and a good work out for anyone who wants to add distance to their play.
The High Rockies Trail can be accessed from many sections, so you can pick and choose and enter where you’d like. They are listed in order, from north to south here:
Doing this in sections allows you to explore over a number of days, rather than tackling the entire route. (For greater info & maps go to the High Rockies Trail Tourism Site).
Mountains 101. The University of Alberta has a free, online course about mountains that I HIGHLY recommend. It looks at the geography of mountains here in Canada and around the world, and the ways that mountains have influenced culture around the world. The historical tidbits are fascinating. Not only is the info shared in this course solid and interesting, but its visuals are outstanding. Its lectures and activities are polished and exceptionally well-done. Each lecture and its component parts is about an hour long, and you can work at your own pace, completing one per week, or bunching them together when you have the time to complete them.
Within its first year, Mountains 101 had over 20,000 students signed up from 160 countries around the world. Afterall… mountains are everywhere on this planet! “According to Class-central.com Mountains 101 is ranked as the #1 Science MOOC and #1 Environmental Science MOOC, and has been recommended as a Top 50 MOOC of All Time. Mountains 101 also won an ‘Ember Award’ from Digital Alberta, as the best MOOC of 2017.” Take it. You won’t be disappointed.
*** These recommendations are our own and we have never been approached by an author or publisher, app developer or tourism board to promote them in any way.