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Backpacker in a canyon that has red and white stripped rock walls
The Holistic BackPacker

Hiking on Mars? Explore Red Rock Canyon This Thanksgiving Weekend

When you've had too much turkey, Waterton’s otherworldly trails offer the perfect antidote – and no, it's not cranberry sauce!
an aerial view of the red rock walls and stream at Red Rock Canyon in Waterton National Park
Red Rock Canyon – Waterton Lakes National Park. Darwin Wiggett | oopoomoo

We’re all planning on stuffing Turkeys… and ourselves this long weekend. 

For those of you who are looking to keep the dopamine flowing the entire three days – we’ve got the perfect day trip that will keep your gratitude rising and then some!

Banff may be Alberta’s biggest selling point to tourists. Still, locals know one of the real gems of our province lies just north of the US border, Waterton Lakes National Park.

The stunning hikes in Waterton will leave you feeling like you’ve ended up on another planet, let alone in the same province! And one of the most out-of-this-world feeling hikes in Waterton is Red Rock Canyon.

Featuring some of the oldest exposed sedimentary rock in the Rockies, walking through its high walls covered in rich red and cream swirls will have you feeling like you’ve died and gone to Mars.

For geology fanatics, the area is the site of an ancient seabed. The distinctive stripes through the canyon walls are caused by iron oxidizing in the land’s primary rock, Argillite.

The drive down is the ideal setting for a multi-generation road trip. If you’re driving from Calgary, Cochrane, Airdrie or Banff, Highway 22 will take you through foothills and farms. It’s an awesome scenic warm-up to the main event.

Once You’re in Waterton

Starting from the Waterton Townsite, the nine km Red Rock Parkway road goes over rolling hills, mountains and grassland prairies with plenty of points to stop and take in the awesome mountain views. You will almost certainly see wildlife as well, including deer, bears and coyotes. Plus, there is a historic indigenous Buffalo jump atop one of the bluffs along the way.

Once you arrive at the Red Rock Canyon parking lot, a footbridge leads to the trailhead and beautiful views of the red rock. This area is also wheelchair and baby-stroller-friendly.

If the weekends’ indulgences have you feeling like you can barely roll off the couch – let alone attempt a hike – this is the perfect outing for you, with maximum scenery and minimum energy needed.

The canyon “hike” is more of a leisurely stroll. It’s ideal for all ages, so you can get the whole family out and pictured together (Facebook and Instagram Moms take note). 

two children wading in a creek and gazing up at the colourful, red and white walls of Red Rock Canyon
Wading in the canyon bottom. Photo by

Once you head over the footbridge, take the first right turn to begin exploring the Red Rock Canyon Loop Trail. 

The walking trail starts with a slow climb up the high-bank canyon wall. A couple hundred metres later, there is a long footbridge to cross the canyon, and then the trail will gently slope back downhill and loop back towards the beginning.

Short, sweet and inspiring! Your turkey-filled belly can handle this outing.

For those who do have more energy or are looking to make room for some more mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie, many other routes from the parking lot present more of a challenge.

You can walk along the bottom of Red Rock Canyon and explore the sinuous sedimentary curves and emerald waters of Red Rock Creek. Be sure to bring wading shoes for ‘full immersion’ in the canyon! 

Speaking of water, the Blakiston Falls Trail is a two km return hike (45 minutes), ending in a beautiful waterfall. If you want a more intense experience, grab your hiking boots and hiking poles and trek up the  Goat Lake Trail, 12.6 km return (5 hours) for some alone time in the wilderness.

Whether you’re seeking an easygoing family outing or a more vigorous hike, Waterton Lakes has something to offer everyone. 

Red Rock Canyon is the perfect post-feast escape, and as you stroll through this otherworldly landscape, you’ll find yourself filled with gratitude for the natural wonders of Alberta.

So, this long weekend, indulge in the stunning scenery and give thanks for the beauty of our corner of the world.

a man on the viewing platfrom overlooking Blakiston Falls in Waterton Lakes National Park
Blackiston Falls, Waterton National Park. Photo by

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