I’m a fair wether snowboarder, skier and snowshoer. Ice skating, however, I can tackle anytime no matter the weather. Skating outdoors in the Rockies turns mundane weekends into something magical. Plus there’s the added bonus that it kind of counts as a work out, depending on how long and hard you skate. Over the holidays I discovered Carrot Creek, a secret serene spot in Banff National Park.
Where is Carrot Creek?
I’d heard friends talk about skating at Carrot Creek for years, but I never could figure out where it is. Googling it wasn’t that helpful either, but I eventually found my way by stalking a dad friend who took my daughter along on his family outing.
From Calgary you drive about 2.5 km past the Banff National Park Gates. Mark this! Carrot Creek is on the opposite side of the highway, so you pull a quick U-turn at the first turn off that allows you to do so.
Then you’ll be facing East, on the TransCanada headed back towards Calgary. There are likely cars pulled over on the side of the road, but if not, just pull over immediately after getting onto the opposite side of the highway.
Skating in Banff
Part of the attraction of skating in Banff National Park is that the journey is just as exhilarating as the destination. You could go outdoor ice skating right in the town of Banff on Main Street at the public outdoor rink at Banff Community High School, but it’s just not the same.
Sometimes the Waldhaus Rink behind Fairmont Banff Springs is open though and it’s quite lovely. There’s also an indoor ice surface at Fenlands Banff Recreation Centre.
But back to Carrot Creek! Once you’ve parked, you’ve got to get down to the actual creek. First you’ll walk towards the metal wildlife fence. Then you’ll stroll down a short, steep hill. Go through the gates and follow the well trod path through the forest towards the creek.
It’ll probably take you just under a 10-minutes to get to the creek. Along the way you’ll have to jimmy yourself down another hill, but fortunately there’s a rope to assist your descent. Kids think this is a hoot.
There are no benches to put your skates on nor are there any fire pits to warm yourself up at Carrot Creek. What you’ve got is pure, unsullied Banff wilderness.
As such, it’s a good idea to pack a shovel and broom for clearing the ice if there’s been a recent snowfall and a winter picnic is always delightful. Just remember to practice no trace left behind, packing out what you packed in.
Gingerly stepping onto the ice, I was cautious about going very far at first. The ice looked solid, but how would I know if it’s thick enough? I was reassured that it was at least 6 inches thick and therefore perfectly fine, you uptight weekender, I’m pretty sure I heard my guide mutter under his breath.
And I rationalized since it’s a creek and presumably not very deep, in the unlikely event I did hit a hole, I surely wouldn’t go down very far.
Outdoor skating near Calgary
There’s skating and then there’s outdoor ice skating. You can do outdoor skating on a rink but it’s infinitely nicer on a natural ice surface like Carrot Creek. Out of all the outdoor skating options near Calgary (like Canmore’s Pond), Carrot Creek is by far the nicest. It’s worth the effort.
Gliding across the smooth expanse of ice as the sun was casting its last rays over the rockies is a serene way to end your day. All was glinting and golden and good. Trapped air bubbles, silvery pebbles and even brave fish are visible below the surface.
The scene could’ve been on one of those old fashioned postcards, and you’d be hard pressed to find a prettier, more secluded natural ice rink. Gazing up at the grey, craggy peaks of the Mount Rundle range snaking its way along the western side of the Bow Valley, I felt alive and grateful to live so close to such a salubrious spot. Outdoors, exercise, mindfulness: this is why I love Alberta winters.
Have you ever skated on a pond or creek in the great outdoors? I’d love to hear your favourite spots.