Nestled away in the gorgeous Rocky Mountains near Exshaw and Canmore, Grotto Canyon is a spectacular site to see to get away from the city confines throughout all seasons. This unique ice walk takes you on a frozen creek through an intriguing canyon. In the winter time, Grotto boasts a hike up a frozen creek passing an absorbent amount of climbing slabs and ultimately leading you to the frozen His & Hers and Grotto Falls. On your way you will pass one of the most exciting additions to this hike, the old Hopi pictographs created by native visitors from the Arizona region. There is not much left of their drawings on the canyon walls but enough is visible to have fun trying to distinguish what they could possibly be.
The first kilometer of the trail is through a forest passing the Baymag plant #2. From then on, you are walking up a creek until the end where the wall ahead of you is covered by frozen pillars of ice and to the right, the not so hidden Grotto Falls frozen into a beautiful ice waterfall.
Both breathtaking and majestic, Grotto Canyon is an easy ice walk that can be done with families or soloing.
Grotto Canyon Pictographs (Winter) Trip Log
You can find the trailhead on the west side of the parking lot. A large sign with "Grotto Creek Trail" painted on the wood makes it easy to spot. It starts off on a small narrow path that leads you through the forest before the trail widens and allows you to walk side by side.
As you continue on the trail you will come beside Baymag's Plant #2. A small tablet explains the history and what the plant is all about in present day. Soon after, a small opening on the right side which is marked with flagging tape is apparent. Follow this path as the forest thickens around you.
Once you come out of the trees you are greeted by the eroded creek bed of Grotto Creek. From here you have two options. One is to start heading up frozen creek immediately, the other, to follow the hiking trail as it goes up hill and parallels the creek bed along the west side. The more common approach is to walk along the frozen creek. The safest way to walk along the ice is to wear some sort of traction devices such as crampons, yak traks or microspikes.
Follow the frozen creek along the canyon. The path is essentially flat with little elevation gain. What makes Grotto unique is the fact that you are walking on the bottom of the canyon instead of viewing it from the top like many other canyon walks. In Grotto, you can feel the texture of the rock and see the amazing cut outs in the rock first hand.It's just as beautiful if not more beautiful in the winter than the summer and with crampons or yak traks, the walk is a piece of cake! With sections of beautiful blue ice, and snow nestled along the rocks on the side, the walk to the end where the waterfall lies is majestic.
As the walls of the canyon become larger, keep an eye out for pictographs. The reddish-brown paint, now faded, represents the Hopi native people who visited thousands of years ago. According to Hopi legend, the different clans of Hopi ancestry, split up in different directions after landing in America, with a promise that they would all meet up sometime in the future at a common meeting place. Over time, it is said that the Hopi settled on the mesas in Arizona (known now as the Hopi mesas). Each clan left different markings on rock walls to indicate their passage just in case if others were to follow. The pictograph depicting a flute man on the walls of Grotto Canyon, are most likely to represent the "Flute" clan passing through. Others suggest that these canyon walls were once the place where the Hopi practiced sacred rituals, calling on various spirits of nature. Although the pictographs are difficult to make out, especially with the naked human eye, it is incredible to see remnants of Hopi history, messages which were to lead others 2000 years ago.
Please remember not to touch the Hopi pictographs as you travel through Grotto Canyon. The oils and residue on your fingers and hands will damage the paintings and cause them to fade even more.
Once you make your way through the forest you end up at a dead end in the canyon with a waterfall at the end. The waterfall is not the only thing interesting about this location, as you look up the rock appears to have been almost ripped out of the wall. On the left hand side as you approach the falls, there are a few large holes in the cliff walls that really make you think trolls could of lived here once upon a time, who knows.
Return the same way.
GPS Plotted Route
The GPS overview for this trail is rather straight forward. No suprises or ways to get lost as you simply follow the creek.
Click here to download the GPS route in GPX format. You may have to right click and select "Save Link As" if your browser does not download it automatically. Be sure to save it as a .gpx file.
What were your experiences hiking Grotto Canyon Pictographs (Winter)?
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