The Grassi Lakes trail is a very unique and popular hike just outside Canmore. This trail was dedicated to and initially created by Lawrence Grassi, longtime resident of Canmore. Grassi Lakes hiking trail takes you to 2 gorgeous turquoise lakes that are spring fed and offers views of waterfalls. The trail continues to the climbing walls as well as boulders that have pictographs drawn in ochre on them. One of the most distinctive pictographs is a man holding a medicine wheel. When you see it, you will see which one we are referring to.
The pictographs are said to be connected to the Hopi pictographs found nearby in Grotto Canyon near Exshaw (Grotto Canyon trip report can be found here). The Hopi people who are the creators behind these drawings and many others in Alberta, were native visitors from the Arizona region (Waters, 1963). Their name, Hopi, is a shortened form of their name Hopitu meaning "the Peaceful People".
The ancient myth of the Hopi people and their descendants is described in the Book of the Hopi. The flute player, which is one of the more clear pictographs along the limestone wall of Grotto Canyon, is the symbol of the Hopi people and was only used by them. According to the book, when the Hopi originally came to North America from Mexico around 500 BC, they split and travelled in 4 different directions because they believed that there was energy present in the 4 different corners. They were to meet again at a common place which ended up being present day northeastern Arizona. Out of all Native American tribes, the Hopi have had the longest history of occupying a single area of land.
The story with the "Medicine Man" (which may or may not be the man drawn with the medicine wheel) is the most famous with the Hopi predictions. The Hopi, along with many Native American tribes, believe that the "Medicine Man" were not only healers but also considered to be the seers and philosophers of the tribes.
On your way up you have two choices to take once you get reach the fork. Time vs experience, your best bet is to take the 'more difficult' way up as it takes you to see all the views as it is ever changing and take the 'easy' way back. The 'easy' route is just a wide road that slowly turns as it heads up/down. You are in the forest the entire time and see absolutely nothing. It really is just something you want to take as a descent as the 'more difficult' route really doesn't pose any difficulties.
Grassi Lakes Pictographs Trip Log
Soon after you start you come to a fork in the road. In our opinion you should take the 'more difficult' route up as you actually see all the views where as the 'easy' route just takes you through the forest and you see absolutely nothing until you reach the very end.
After a bit of walking you eventually pass a sign that warns of cliffs. Basically means that you shouldn't walk off the trail to your left as there are steep cliffs. Stay on the trail and you won't have any problems.
Soon after you come to a nice view point that shows off the large cascading waterfall off the side of the cliff. From here just follow the trail to the right to continue. Very shortly after, switchbacks help you gain some elevation.
One of the hardest part of this whole hike are the stairs. Not very hard at all in reality but it involves some stretching of your legs as each step is fair bit higher than your normal stair.
Once you get to the top the view is superb. There is a collection of small lakes/ponds with walking paths that circle them. You can spend quite a bit of time up here as there is a countless amount of beautiful things to see up here.
If you are interested in seeing the pictographs first hand, at the far end of the last lake there is a path that leads to a set of stairs. You will want to head up this trail as it climbs a few sets of stairs and leads you through the canyon. There is a sign that points you to the pictographs when you come up to them so you don't have to bother looking around trying to find them as the sign is right on the trail.
You come to a sign that points you to the right, a few meters off the trail is where you will find the pictographs on the side of the rock. They are a little faded from weathering and people touching it so it is best to look, not touch.
For the return, once you get back to the lakes, you have the choice of taking the 'more difficult' route or 'easy' route. If you took the harder route up and just you want to get back down quick then take the easy route as it's a wide gravel road all the way down. If you took the easy route up then you might as well take the 'more difficult' route down so you see all the sights.
GPS Plotted Route
We took the more difficult route up and the easy way down and you can see it is a wee bit steeper to go, but you see all the nice sights instead of being stuck on a gravel road through the trees. The GPS does go all the way to the pictographs so the last large spikes the stairs and steeper ground on the way up there. Grassi Lakes is about where all the top zig zags are. Not sure what happened on the descent at the end since the GPS shows a random hill and doesn't quite end at our start point.
What were your experiences hiking Grassi Lakes Pictographs?
Share your thoughts in the comments below.