Grotto Canyon is easily accessible, year-round, from the Bow Valley Parkway near Exshaw.
Update: June, 2013 floods have significantly changed the characteristics of the Grotto Canyon floor.
Grotto Canyon is easily accessible, year-round, from the Bow Valley Parkway (Hwy 1A) near Exshaw, Alberta west from Calgary on the TransCanada Highway. The staging point is the clearly marked parking area at Grotto Pond and a short, slightly uphill, walk west arrives at the mouth of Grotto Canyon.
Grotto Creek is frozen in winter and easily navigable with hiking crampons. A short 30 minute hike through the narrow, spectacular canyon passes ancient Indian pictographs.
Look for the faint, red ochre images of dancing warriors, 2 meters (6 ⅝ feet) above the canyon floor on a smooth slab to the left, about 15 to 20 minutes into the inner canyon trek.
Grotto Canyon will end in an open area where two ice seeps (in winter), called His (15 m WI 4) and Hers (15 m WI 3-4), command attention.
Ice conditions on His and Hers can be marginal and thorough reconnaissance is highly recommended prior to free climbing. Fixed anchors are available to establish a top rope for these short climbs, so odds of climbing safely with abandon are significantly improved. The more popular climb is on Grotto Falls (55 m WI 3) located in a cleft to the right of His and Hers. The easily accessible climb is often very crowded, and lengthy wait times to climb potentially pitted ice may occur.
When waiting is not your thing, there is a nearby, interesting, hiking adventure. Hang a left, near His and Hers, out of the open area though another short section of tight canyon into a flat, forested area on the east flank of Grotto Mountain.
Within another half hour, on the left, is a hoodoo-transitioning, very strange, orange-hued hill that looks like it belongs in a Harry Potter movie. There is an obvious cave in the predominantly gravel hill. It looks like a huge clay oven and few can resist the urge to explore that cave. The route from the valley floor into the cave is obvious.
The short hike and scramble up to, and into the cave is definitely worth the effort, but the initiative is not quite as easy as it appears. In winter, the composition of sand and clay, saturated with small, smooth, round boulders can host a frozen, slippery surface and those protruding boulders are likely to pop out of the wall when you attempt to use them as hand holds. Test each hand-hold carefully before committing. The mini-adventure is worth doing, but extra caution is required to stay safe. Final access is on a short, narrow ledge. The view from the cave is excellent. The remainder of the adventure will be left for independent discovery and appraisal.
Grotto Canyon is an equal delight in the summer. The hike is one that children can do with adult supervision.
Rock climbing is popular within Grotto Canyon during the summer. There is a plethora of bolted, anchored and documented rock climbs.
Consult 'Sport Climbs in the Canadian Rockies', compiled by John Martin and Jon Jones, and published by Rocky Mountain Books. Rock climbs on Hemingway Wall and Upper Right Wing are often occupied.
In summer, Grotto Creek usually runs light and navigation is straightforward with a fun bit of rock hopping back and forth across the creek. It is important to be aware of potential wet weather. Any canyon may change rapidly from gentle brook to flash flood. If you hike out to the gravel hill and then experience a heavy rain, you may not be able to get back for a while due to fast water flow in the canyon.
His and Hers may survive into spring, even early summer, but they become unsafe to climb and are susceptible to collapse as the rock underneath warms. Exercising caution is expedient.