Exploring Grotto Canyon

With the crisp winter chill in the air and impending snow on the horizon, I’ve been reminiscing about warm summer days and breezy autumn afternoons – an afternoon hike in particular. Like any well organized individual, I had a summer bucket list. Hiking was the last remaining and after my recent hike in the mountains I was finally able to cross that off the list as well (even if it is technically not summer anymore).

I tagged along with my roommate on a recent Saturday morning and after throwing on our hiking clothes and grabbing bottles of water, we took off down the highway to a spot surrounded by the mountains. Taking us just about an hour and a half to complete, this was a pretty easy hike that is also suitable for families wanting to take their children along. Parking is available at the start of the trail at Grotto Pond; washrooms available as well (after just over an hour’s drive and a lot of tea drinking on the way, this was a glorious discovery. No squatting in the bush for us that day!)

After navigating through the trees and up a few inclines, we reached the canyon. From there on out it involved a combination of hopping over the streams, going from boulder to boulder, and most of the walking is on loose stones.

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Grotto Pond

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The canyon walls tower above as you make your way through. If you’re a rock or ice-climbing enthusiast, this is a popular place to do both of these depending on the season. Another unique part of this particular hike is the Indigenous pictographs that can still be seen on one of the canyon walls. Pictographs of people and animals can be clearly seen if you know where to look (a mother-daughter team pointed them out to us) and are said to be between 500-1000 years old. You can make out the images in red below, what looks like a canoe in the top photo and 3-4 people in the bottom photo.

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The end of the hike is marked by a little waterfall running down from the top of the canyon walls. You can choose to climb up the rocks near the top of the waterfall or you can just admire it from the base before turning around and making your way back the way you came. The waterfall is also a good place to take a rest and have a little picnic! However, if you want to keep going the canyon does continue on to the left. We chose to end it at the waterfall but I would definitely go back and continue on my way.

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Grotto Canyon proved to be a fun little outing on a warm autumn day and we thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon and feeling so at ease after clearing our minds and connecting with nature. I would say that the only off-putting thing about this hike is that the start is located right next to the Baymag plant, which processes magnesium-carbonate. It’s not really a sight you want to be seeing when you want to be surrounded by nature and in the fresh air. All in all, this is an easy 4km hike to do, doesn’t take too much time, and has some nice views. If you plan on taking the trails during the winter months, please be aware that the canyon will be covered in a thick layer of ice and snow and it is highly recommended that you wear adequate footwear to prevent slipping.

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Spray River Horseback Ride

“This is Brew,” is your only introduction to the animal being handed to you and you quickly begin to become acquainted to the gelding you’re about to spend an hour with and trust to take you safely through the muddy trails. One foot snugly in the stirrup, it’s a familiar feeling to swing your other leg up and over until you’re seated up on the horse’s back.

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Last weekend I took a day trip to Banff with a friend and the highlight of the whole thing was easily the horseback riding. Banff Adventures offer a number of different rides, from one hour up to an entire six days back country ride! With just a day to do as much as we could, we opted for the one hour rides. With a brief speech on what to do for those who had never been on a horse, we were off.

The landscape in Banff is stunning; sitting up there surrounded by mountains in every direction makes you realize just how small you really are. Through muddy trails between the trees, we made our way past onlooking tourists and let the horses wind their way into the bush. As we rode, I remembered why I loved horseback riding in the first place. Although it’s hard to tell with just an hour on a strange horse, the connection you can make with a horse is beautiful and life changing. With nothing but trust and understanding between a horse and rider, it’s an unstoppable feeling.

It didn’t feel like long before our guide stopped us to tell us about the river that we would soon be crossing. As the horses stepped carefully through the crystal clear water, the sound of clip-clopping hooves filled the air and everyone’s faces were filled with big smiles and bright eyes.

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The view of Banff Falls enraptured us all as our horses came around the corner. The waterfall and the river below it sparkled in the day’s sunshine. (Sorry for the bad quality photos, all I had was my phone, one hand, and a horrified thought that I might drop it into the river to be stepped on by Brew.)

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Our ride took us through forest trails, across rivers, alongside a golf course, and next to a waterfall. The hour went by so quickly that I felt we had only just begun when we made our way back to the meeting point. This just means that next time, I’ll have to go for a few more hours ;) This ride is suitable for ages 6 and over and all levels of horseback riding experience. Although sadly you’re not allowed to go any faster than a walk. I was tempted to take Brew on a little gallop, but I didn’t think the guides would take too kindly to that!

Lazy Summer Afternoons

With being caught in between school years with not much cash to spare, it’s been a mission this summer to do a few things around my own city that I might not take the time to do otherwise. With a trusty best friend by my side, we decided to take a day or two to hit up some of the parks in our city.

First up was Whitemud Ravine, a place where you can go to get the feel of being surrounded by nature but still be in the middle of a city. The ravine has excellent walking and biking trails that are accessible any time of year.

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Park benches are scattered throughout the ravine where you can rest and take in a pretty view.

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And we happened to come across a friend in our wandering who was keen to eat grass from my hands.

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A blazing hot day brought about our next set of urban park adventures. Armed with all the necessities required for an afternoon of suntanning, we made our way to Hermitage Park. Located in the north of the city, Hermitage has paved paths that eventually connect to Rundle Park.

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Here, you can rent out a canoe and take a paddle on the large pond. If fishing is your thing, family fishing is allowed in the pond and you can have some fun trying to catch the rainbow trout that are kept in there. For those of us with dogs, there’s an off-leash dog area where your furry friend is free to run, jump and play to their hearts content. It’s also a great place to get a group of people together for a fire and a cook-up of food on one of the barbecues scattered around the park.

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As we had come fully prepared to do nothing more than take a walk around the park and scope out the best place to lay around for the day, we finally found ourselves with a meadow entirely for ourselves. Surrounded by trees, we had all the privacy we could hope for and a view of the pond ahead. Thoroughly pleased with our find, we spread out all that was needed for a lazy afternoon in the park and welcomed the sun with open arms.

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The Real Devonian Gardens

This might sound like a repeat post, like you’ve read the name Devonian Gardens somewhere around here before. And you did, right here. But there are two Devonian Gardens in Alberta, apparently. One nestled on the top floor of a shopping mall (which is a great escape from the winter blues) and one that is located just outside of Devon, AB that greatly exceeds the size of the one I’ve previously talked about. The Devonian Botanical Gardens have been around since 1959 and cover a whopping 240 acres. Whether you prefer flowers or plants, a space that is polished and manicured or one that is left a little more wild, you’ll have a chance to pass through it all in an afternoon here.

One of the most popular areas of the garden is the very well kept Japanese Garden, with its rushing water, vast expanses of green lawn and still ponds. Walking through it makes me want to jump into a yoga sequence or sit on the edge of a rock and meditate.

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But don’t forget to take a stroll through the butterfly house on your way there. Kept hot and humid, stepping into the butterfly house feels like you’re walking into the tropics. Butterflies of all sizes and colors float through the air, flitting from one flower to the next and resting on giant leaves. This is definitely one of my favorite parts of the gardens, not only to imagine myself being in the tropics but also because if you have the patience to stand very still, very quiet, for a fair amount of time, you might just have a butterfly land on you!

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As we were with my great grandma, who can’t walk quite the distance she used to, we opted to try out the guided tour of the gardens. Led by a chipper girl who clearly loved her job, we hopped on board the train of golf carts and began a journey through the history of a place that is over half a century old. While I prefer walking through a place so I can get a little snap happy, the guided tour was extremely educational and quite a good idea if you like knowing what you’re looking at as opposed to simply admiring the beauty.

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Calla Water

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If you are taking a stroll through the property, there’s even an area that is built to satisfy more than human sight. Guests are encouraged to touch and even taste the herbs and plants that grow in these areas!

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The gardens make for a peaceful afternoon of wandering about, admiring pretty things, taking children frog catching. You can visit on a Thursday evening for a designated date night with a special someone or group of friends and can even use it for elaborate events such as large or small weddings.

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Sunday Snapshot: Alberta Prairies

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Today’s snapshot features a photo from home, taken on a country road just outside of Edmonton. The more I travel the more I find that I appreciate where I come from. Nothing beats the Alberta prairies, yellow fields as far as you can see and wide open blue sky. Driving down those back roads always calms the mind and gives you a beautiful view like this one. You might even find yourself slamming on the breaks to jump out of your car and lay down on the road to snap a photo (watch for cars!) ;)