All You Need to Know About The Three Mountain Family Hikes Trail Rating System.

Category: Hikes + Easy Walks

The trail difficulty in my first book was written for a child’s walking ability. My next series of books still continue to do that, BUT I have expanded the definitions to include more advanced and technical terrain – for families and beginner hikers that are ready to take it to the next level.

One Mountain – All Walking Abilities

Toddlers to youth

  • Younger children can walk on their own on easy, flat trails. 
  • May require help and motivation on uneven sections.
Lake Louise Shoreline Trail, Banff National Park

Teens to adults

  • More of a walk than a hike, these trails are ideal for an easy day outdoors.

Hiking terrain 

Elevation gain/loss: 

  • None to minimal

Terrain: 

  • Hard-packed, minimal chance of roots, rocks. 
  • Trail may be paved.

Stairs/steps:

  • Potentially

Water Hazards:

  • Lakes, ponds, slow-flowing streams may be present.
  • Bridge crossings, with or without hand railings

Fall Hazards: 

  • None to minimal. 
  • Some trails may have fences or handrails.

Two Mountain – Competent Walkers

Toddlers to youths

  • Younger children are able to walk on uneven terrain with slight elevation gains, up to 7km return.
  • May require help with stairs, rocks and roots.
  • Walking for extended periods up to a few hours with little or no motivation required from mom or dad.
  • For some, these hikes will feel like an epic adventure. 
Grass Lakes, Canmore. The difficult trail.

Teens to adults

  • These trails are ideal for beginner teen and adult hikers trying to figure out their hiking ability and getting comfortable with their gear.
  • Some may still consider these trails more of a walk with elevation gain than a hike.

Hiking terrain 

Elevation gain/loss:

  • Slight, short and low-grade elevation gains.

Stairs/Steps:

  • Would be well defined (cement, wood, rock).
  • Hand railings possibly present.

Terrain: 

  • Hard-packed, rocks, roots. 
  • Possibility of water trickling across sections of the trail, short muddy sections. 

Water Hazards:

  • Lakes, streams, rivers might be present.

Fall Hazards: 

  • Minimal, but possible.
  • guard or handrails on some trails
  • Boardwalks, plank bridges on some trails.

Three Mountain – Advanced Walkers

Toddlers to youths

  • Hike distances up to 10 km return.
  • Some children may find these trails challenging. 
  • May require some motivation from mom and dad.
  • Comfortable with moderate elevation gains and climbing sustained steep sections
July 3, Lake McArthur Trail, Lake O’Hara.

Teens to adults

  • Have their hiking ability and gear figured out. 
  • Motivated to improve and expand upon their hiking skill set. 
  • Slight, short and low-grade elevation gains.
  • These trails are hikes, no longer walks. 

Hiking terrain

Elevation gain/loss: 

  • Steep angles in short sections.
  • Possible exposure on these sections.

Terrain: 

  • Rocks, roots, short sections through talus (large rocks) and scree (small rocks) slopes.
  • Patches of snow may still be present in late spring.

Stairs/Steps:

  • Uneven, slippery when wet.
  • May not be evenly spaced.
  • Little ones may need assistance.
  • May need to use hands-on steps for balance.

Water Hazards:

  • Possibility of water trickling across sections of the trail.
  • Longer muddy trail sections. 
  • Lakes, fast-moving rivers might be present.
  • Bridge crossings with or without hand railings.

Fall hazards:

  • Increased risk of falling on steep slopes, embankments or cliffs.
  • Steep embankments are present, possibly near bodies of water.

Four Mountain – Expert

Toddlers to youths

  • Athletic and active with positive previous hiking experiences and looking forward to outpacing mom and dad. 
  • They can easily hike a return distance of 10kms, possibly further, carrying their gear and food.  
  • Everyone is wildlife smart and trail etiquette aware.

Mt. Edith Cavel, Jasper National Park, above the meadows. It was so windy, my son felt safer sitting down.

Teens to adults

  • Desire and ability to hike longer, more challenging trails.
  • If the children in your group can do it, so can you. However, you may be outpaced by your children, which has been my experience!

Hiking Terrain

Elevation gain/loss: 

  • Steep gains for more extended periods

Terrain: 

  • Some trail sections may go through exposed, short, steep, Class 2 hiking terrain for a short distance.
  • Possible travel through talus (large rocks) or scree (small rocks) slopes.
  • Possibility of water trickling across sections of the trail, short muddy sections.
  • Patches of snow may still be present in late spring.

Stairs/Steps:

  • Stone, uneven, slippery when wet.
  • May not be evenly spaced.
  • May need to use hands-on steps for balance.

Water hazards:

  • Fast-moving rivers that may parallel the trail.
  • Bridge crossings with or without hand railings.

Fall Hazards: 

  • Increased risk of falls on steep slopes, embankments, or cliff/drop-offs.

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