Family friendly crags in the Canadian Rockies
What’s more off-road than climbing? Maybe flying?! Climbing is so different from any activity I have tried. It pushes me to trust my strength and capability more than any sport. I find climbing addicting. We take our kids everywhere with us so making outdoor rock climbing a family affair was an easy decision. Taking young kids outdoors requires some preparation but is rewarding for everyone. One question I’m frequently asked is where to go climbing as a family, so I’ve compiled a list of 6 family-friendly climbing locations in the Canadian Rockies that are close to Calgary. Maps are included to make these areas a breeze to find!
All locations listed below are for sport climbing; one pitch, top rope and bolted routes. All are family-friendly in my opinion based on their short approaches, flat bases and shaded areas. Due to the short approach all of these locations are popular so can get busy.
I’ve done a quick description of the location and what you will find at the crag. There are more than 6 family-friendly crags near Calgary which I’ll get around to writing about one day, until then I hope this list helps you to get out climbing as an individual or family!
For each climbing location below check out one or more of the following resources to understand routes ratings and locations:
I provided directions to all of these locations from Calgary since it’s the closest major center. I have roughly ordered the climbing areas below by approach distance from car to crag. All of these places are also hiking trails. If you haven’t hiked them before and either don’t climb or want to check them out before bringing your gear I highly recommend hiking each of the below with or without kids!
From Calgary take Highway 1 West. Take the Sunshine Ski resort turn off, follow the road up only about a minute and take a left into a parking lot with an outhouse. You are here! If you pull into the lot facing the river the rock is the slab to the left of you. It is so close you can basically throw a stone at it.
Flat wide base, great for picnics. Trees for shade. 80 plus routes including low practice anchors. Lots to choose from plus a creek to cool the feet off in.
From Calgary take Highway 1 West to Highway 40, park at Wasootch Day Use area. Climbing is down the hiking trail 1km from parking lot.
1km easy hike with mostly flat crag base that edges on the creek bed. Likely see other families at this location.
From Calgary take Highway 1 West to 1A just past Exshaw. This is a popular hiking location. There are two parking lots the main Grotto Canyon lot or travel a little further down Hwy 1A and park west of the Lafarge - Baymag Plant (you will walk past this lot if you park at the main lot so it is a time saver). Take the trail about 1 km to the creek bed, enter the creek bed and the walls are there to climb!
Easy flat approach and the creek bed is uneven but a good place for kids to play.
From Calgary take Highway 1 West to Canmore. Take Benchlands Trail to the parking lot before the round about and directly after the Iron Goat restaurant. Park here, head up the creek into the hiking trail, you will cross the creek a few times winding along the trail and come to the climbing. It’s a 1-2 km hike in but mostly flat and fun for kids.
The very first routes you see on your left are a 8 and 9, they are two bolts and potentially a good kids climb depending on what you are looking for. Further in gets harder and possibly to challenging for children depending on their age and level. Beautiful hike and location if adults plan on doing the majority of the climbing!
From Calgary take Highway 1 West. Take Lac Des Arc turn-off, this is the main Heart Mountain hiking and climbing parking lot with outhouses and picnic tables. Follow the hiking trail until you see a crag on your right, next one is up the trail a little further. The hike with kids could be 20+ minutes and it is uphill most of the way so a bit more challenging for young kids.
Another parking option is get back on the highway, drive back towards Calgary about a minute down the highway and you’ll likely see some cars pulled on the side of a highway and a small hiking path towards Heart Mountain. This knocks off about 10 minutes from your hike. It’s not an official parking area but is rarely empty.
The hike is beautiful but sometimes pushes our toddler’s limits and is enough of a push for parents carrying baby and gear. The crag base is flat and there is plenty of room for young kids to wander and a creek close by. Lots of shade to hang out in.
Located in Canmore, Alberta off the Three Sisters Parkway. Park at the main Grassi Lakes parking lot. There are two trails to Grassi Lakes, a difficult one that isn’t that difficult but is narrow next to some step cliffs and has stairs. The difficult path offers more views.Take the easy approach if you don’t want to burn out the kids.
There was a shorter approach by driving past the Grassi Lakes hiking turn-off and parking at the Dam. This entrance is currently ‘closed’ due to trail erosion and rock fall. The hike from the main lot is 2kms but the ‘easy’ trail can manage a chariot. If you haven’t checked out this climbing area before do the Grassi Lakes hike and then decide before you lug all of your climbing and kid gear in. The base of the climbing isn’t always ideal for kids especially with how busy it can get.
Happy climbing with the kiddos!