The entries on Hiking with Barry blog are journal accounts of hikes completed predominantly in southern Alberta, British Columbia, Montana and the American Southwest. Barry Taylor's intent is to share his experiences and lifelong passion for the outdoors in the hope it will help others to improve the quality and diversity of their experiences.
The well-groomed park is an open area surrounded by dense forest concealing multiple hiking trail opportunities. Formidable wooden and covered picnic shelters offer protection from the elements. The tidy park provides a variety of unique playground, puzzle and exercise features for children of all ages.
An ancient gravestone under the shade of mature trees is further protected by a formal chain link border preserving the memory of young Henry Stafford who was born inScotland on August 29, 1866, and the only child of William and Jane Stafford. Henry tragically lost his life on August 4th, 1883 at the age of 17. His parents, William and Jane, were larger-than-life founding members of Lethbridge, Alberta, who made significant contributions to the location and development of the city.
Unique playgrounds offer opportunities for exercise of muscles and mind with traditional exercise equipment mixed with an interesting variety of mind-expanding, land-based puzzles and games. The park is unique and imaginative. On this early morning, sunny, week day, the entire facility is nearly vacant for enjoyment of the amenities.
Cooking and dining shelters are impressive and well-constructed to provide protection from the elements. High Level Bridge looms overhead a short distance north and always offers a unique and awesome impression.
The real hiking opportunity is directly across the street where a formidable hoodoo hill is equipped with a long and impressive wooden staircase rising to three levels of viewpoints overlooking the valley. A few people are running up and down the formidable staircases to achieve an aerobic workout.
Along the short walk to the entrance at the bottom of the stairs, it is obvious many past visitors have compromised the steep slopes with scrambles directly to the top. While undoubtedly more adventurous, the deep ruts created are exposed to further damage by inclement weather. Barricades have been constructed to discourage further damage and to promote developing plant growth which may heal the damage over many future decades. Cleverly blocking access at road level might be a sensible additional protection.
Vistas back across the Baroness Picnic Shelter and Park provide clear perspective of the Oldman River Valley crowned by the University of Lethbridge on far-side banks. The relentless stair climb, with the opportunity to enjoy spectacular views, offer opportunities to rest at platforms with benches. A sturdy and picturesque, wooden gazebo crowns the top of the initial, steepest section of the route. Most staircase sections of the hike to the top are augmented by gravel trail for others like myself who prefer the consistent ramp angles as an alternative to stair steps.
Past the formidable gazebo, a more gentle incline hangs left and continues upwards to prairie plateau at the top. Views are breathtaking. The unique nature of the roof garden at the Helen Schuler Nature Centre is clearly visible past the geometric support structure of the High Level Bridge.
When there could apparently be no further improvement on this outstanding and adventuresome experience, a freight train begins to make its way across the High Level Bridge, travelling east towards the hilltop. The scale of sound and sight create an impressive and indelibly-memorable experience as the camera works hard to capture the unique imagery.
The train, which is longer than the bridge, stops on the bridge for unknown reasons. Perhaps the full weight of the train is used to test bridge dynamics and integrity or more likely there is a checkpoint or necessary stop within the city for fueling, or load transfer, before the impressive train span can continue to a potential destination thousands of miles to the east. The essential inner child is alive and well.
Trail from the top continues across prairie grassland towards Brewery Gardens in the city. The 3.3 KM (2.1 mile) loop towards Brewery Gardens provides the opportunity to visit a variety of unique attractions before continuing past Fort Whoop Up on the return route to Baroness Picnic Shelter and Park. The alternative this day is to descend the wooden stairs used for access. The vistas on this blue sky day are no less spectacular on the way down than they were on the ascent.
Viewpoints at the gazebo, and along the way, provide a fascinating perspective of beautiful, unique and diverse terrain. The unique Helen Schuler Nature Centre is clearly visible on the north side of the High Level Bridge. This short hiking adventure, with multiple extension options, across from Baroness Picnic Shelter, is worth the time and effort.
There are multiple hiking opportunities in the immediate area which provide a wide variety of experiences with negligible travel time between hiking trails. Trail branches and connections can vary the distance, duration and effort substantially to create the day which best suits individual participants.
Multiple hiking opportunities within the City of Lethbridge offer a wide range of unique opportunities which appeal to a broad range of historical and exercise related activity in a unique, often surreal landscape.
Inside the Helen Schuler Nature Centre (check hours of operation), which is a specifically designed structure promoting environmental efficiency with limited environmental impact, a rack of brochures just inside the entrance hosts a wide range of interesting and informative literature which includes hiking brochures for three adjacent interpretive trails including the Coulee Climb. The other two self-guided trails are Oxbow Loop and Nature Quest.
The short Coulee Climb hike, with a significant vertical component, offers the opportunity for some exercise and fresh air while learning about the nature and function of a coulee. There are several auxiliary benefits to this hike which include phenomenal views across the Oldman River Valley combined with up close and personal interaction beneath the fascinating High Level Bridge (Lethbridge Viaduct) which opened in August of 1909 to facilitate heavy rail traffic across the expansive Oldman River Valley.
This trail is best negotiated from the north trailhead to the south, ending at the Coal Banks Kiosk which is also an informative and historically interesting experience. This short 2.4 KM (1½ mile) hike provides a diverse range of unique and fascinating experiences.
Trail beginning at the base terminus of the coulee is a wide and well-graded gravel ramp rising gently on trail adjacent to grassland banks hosting a wide variety of colorful and diverse shrubbery. The trailhead is also the obvious delineation point between lush cottonwood forest on the river plain and the challenging parched conditions within the coulee. The route continues uphill through 12,000 years of history where relentless drainage has created these coulees culminating in the formation of the present day Oldman River Valley.
More challenging portions of the trail are supplemented with wooden steps along the relentless route ascending alternate sides of the coulee. The swing south onto a long stretch of wooden stairs begins the climb towards the base of the High Level Bridge framed dramatically by clear blue sky. Expansive views of the Oldman River Valley begin to take shape with constant modification and scope as higher altitude is relentlessly achieved.
A wide variety of avian life flutters about performing the duties of their daily existence and seemingly accustomed to being comfortable and accepting of human presence. No doubt they entertain local custodians who assist in their feeding and care.
The historic bridge began its service in 1909 and has carried heavy railroad traffic for well over a century across a river valley which frequently entertains high wind. From the base of this massive structure, the bridge doesn't seem like a good idea. Surely the heavy burdens endured for decades must have an impact over time. From a significant distance the bridge is an awesome sight.
From beneath the bridge the range of feeling is quite different and definitely a unique photographic opportunity. Geometric forms and shadows create a mosaic of images deeply in conflict with surrounding, free-form river valley scenery. Each footstep alters the nature of the images. Photographers are at the mercy of an infinity of form, shadow, and content within an endless array of fascinating compositions.
A matrix of trail surrounds the base of the bridge columns as altitude is relinquished beginning the decent to the base of the coulee. Eventually formal trail ramps down the side of the coulee through desert-like terrain until a civilized wide and evenly-sloped ramp terminates at the Coal Banks Kiosk.
This small museum and interpretive center is constructed at the entrance to old coal mining shafts. Fascinating exhibits of coal mining artifacts are combined with historical information which documents the history of this specific mining operation as well as providing an overview of the massive mining operations which fired the furnaces of homes, businesses and economic development throughout a good portion of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Larger than life, pioneer entrepreneurs forged an industrial revolution within this newly developing nation. Long ago, a 2,100 ft (693 m) Incline Rail System carried coal from the mine to the surface 300 m above for linking to the narrow gauge railway line. This likely explains the well graded trail near the beginning of Coulee Climb. This particular mining operation ceased production in 1893.
Coulee Climb is an excellent way to begin a sunny autumn day. The short tour, which may consume one or two hours for the average participant, offers a wide variety of experiences with plenty more options immediately nearby. This early morning, sun rising into clear blue sky day offered the coolness of morning air to counteract the warmth of exercise while providing a cornucopia of unique images embellished by unique structure and moving shadow. What a phenomenal way to start the day.
There are three major interpretive trails which begin from parking at the Helen Schuler Nature Centrein the Lethbridge Nature Reserve. Coulee Climb, documented here, is one. The Oxbow Loop explores a nearby Oldman River delta and riverside where swales nourish new growth during high water. The Oldman River is sourced at Mount Lyall in the Rocky Mountains and flows about 350 KM (218 miles) to join the Bow River and create the South Saskatchewan River.
The other formal trail emanating from the Helen Schuler Nature Centre is Nature Quest which offers multiple options and 12 interpretive stations tending towards the Baroness Picnic Shelters and the Oldman River.
On the other side of the Oldman River from the Lethbridge Nature Reserve are the picturesque Elizabeth Hall Wetlands.
For every kilometer of formal trail, there are several times that distance on informal trails which provide multiple hours of exercise and exploration opportunity. The entire river valley hosts a matrix of quality hiking opportunity.
Photographs on the short Coulee Climb trail are captured near the Helen Schuler Nature Centre within the Lethbridge Nature Reserve on Wednesday, September 20, 2017.
River View Loop is a hike along the Oldman River in Lethbridge, Alberta.
The early morning 83 KM (53 mile) northwest drive along Highway 4 from Milk River towards Lethbridge, passes through Warner, New Dayton and Stirling with brilliant sun rising rapidly into big, clear blue sky. A quick diversion into the Lethbridge Visitor Centre at the corner of Highway 4 and 32 Street S nets invaluable information from very knowledgeable staff along with a plethora of worthwhile maps, guides and recommendations.
The quick backtrack east along 24 Ave S (Highway 4) to 43 St S proceeds north to reservations for three days at the Quality Inn near the intersection with Highway 3 which divides north and south Lethbridge as well as providing rapid, straightforward access across the city. Like the majority of cities developed around a major river valley, Lethbridge is no exception to the confusing array of scenic, landscape-compromised, free-form routes which baffle directionally-challenged adventurers.
Accommodation at the Quality Inn restores the availability of included buffet breakfasts to begin the day as well as the pool and hot tub benefits so welcome at day's end.
Activity for the remainder of this day will be spent gaining familiarity with the commute west across Highway 3 to parking at Fort Whoop Up, adjacent to Hoodoo Hills, for exploration of the trail complex emanating from Indian Battle Park near the infamous and imposing High Level Bridgeaka Lethbridge Viaduct.
From parking at Fort Whoop Up, surrounded by unique and fascinating terrain, access to the Coal Banks Trail is nearby just south towards the river. Large, descriptive signage indicates the River View Loop Trail along the east bank of the Oldman River may be a worthy 6 KM (3¾ mile) round trip, easy and scenic initial objective.
Wide, paved trail gradually escapes civilization in the Oldman River Valley as the scenic route passes an irrigation canal and flow control station before another parking area briefly interrupts the continuation of the hike through forest along riverside. A trail side signs warns of a nearby and well-concealed Police Firing Range.
Construction at the University of Lethbridge is clearly visible crowning the top of sandstone bluffs on the opposite side of the Oldman River. Cool breeze from the significant Oldman River tempers the warmth of the day and provides accompanying melody to the natural beauty of brilliant blue water flowing through idyllic, lush and varied terrain with only a hint of urban incursion. The peaceful ambiance is palpable and soothing.
A significant junction of paved trail is clearly visible past the Police Firing Range. The continuation of Coal Banks Trail veers left and River View Trail begins to the right. Just prior to the major paved trail intersection, a gravel road veers right to reveal a mandatory portage exit location allowing river craft to avoid a downstream weir dam and its associated serious undertows. This gravel road diversion provides relief for paved trail as dirt trail adjacent to riverbank proceeds south in an enhanced and more remote hiking experience.
Rustic gravel trail intersects paved trail and the River View Loop curls through dense, mature forest. There is rustic dirt trail extension at the end point of the loop but no indication of where or how far it continues downstream. The main paved trail reverses direction and soon links back into the original route. Again there are many trail offshoot options and hiking on dirt trail directly adjacent to the Oldman River offers the most scenic and sensually pleasing experience.
On the return route, approach to the Police Firing Range offers a short trailside dirt road towards high and barbwire-protected chain link fence discouraging access to the restricted area. In the absence of gun fire, surely there would be little harm in checking out the view.
The compound contains an assortment of vehicles and obstacles, many riddled with bullet holes, that provide the opportunity to stage conflict simulations. Interesting.
Back at the main paved trail this return hike continues northwest along the canal towards Fort Whoop Up, which hosts a fascinating history but is open only for enjoyment and interpretive tours only during the summer. The present day replica fort is in a different location than the original. The location of the current replica fort is about 9.6 KM (6 miles) downstream on the Oldman River from the original site at the junction with St. Mary River. The land, on which the original fort stood, remains protected as a National Historic Site.
The River View Trail reconnects with the lengthy and meandering Coal Banks Trail for return to parking at Fort Whoop Up. A quick drive around the area reveals a multitude of trail opportunities which will be researched in the evening following a swim in the pool, a good soak in the hot tub and an excellent dinner at nearby, within easy walking distance, Moxie's Grill and Bar.
Davis Coulee is an adventure at Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park near Milk River, Alberta.
This amazing adventure is not for everyone and will benefit from past experience to reduce potentially formidable risk. Check in at the Visitor Centre to benefit from important instructions and risk-reducing hiking information from Park Rangers prior to leaving and again after mission completion to avoid unnecessary search and rescue activity.
A crossing of the Milk River is required. At the end of this post you will find some suggestions to reduce river crossing risk. A lower risk crossing location is accessed from the campground by hiking from the parking area near Comfort Camping at the Camp Store and past the amphitheater to the gate at the 'D' which provides access to trail along the riverbank. Closing the gate at this river access and boat launch location prevents beavers from getting into the campground and chewing on the trees.
On the river side of the closed gate, turn right and double back along the riverbank to a river side tree at fence near the amphitheater. The game trail leads down to the flow-controlled Milk River at a wide and more shallow part of the river. This crossing location is used by animals. They know better than we do.
Transition from warm air makes the water feel cold. The family jewels are poised for potentially rapid retreat.
Today, the water at this game trail crossing is near mid-thigh deep, for an average adult, with the deepest part achieved rapidly on the campground side. The second half of the crossing is more shallow on shifting gravel. Slow and steady stays the course. The crossing direction veers left and slightly downstream towards a sandy beach on the far side. A hiking pole may be an asset. Wear sandals for the crossing and switch to dry and sturdy hiking boots on the far side. Terrain in the Backcountry Hiking Zone is rugged and paths are predominantly decent quality game trail.
There is no signage but a topographical map available at the Visitor Center is a helpful reference. Some game trail through dense brush is virtually impenetrable. This is rattlesnake country. You may see evidence of their burrows. Rock piles and dense vegetation or thickets are also worthy of extra attention. Know what to do in the unlikely event there is an encounter.
From the beach on the far south side of the river, a wander left along the beach provides access to navigable trail at the base of the spectacular bluffs and the natural transition west (right) along the bottom of the artistically-weathered cliffs. Trail into the first coulee, the Humphrey Coulee, can be delayed as an addition at end of the day for those who wish to enjoy a more full and rewarding hiking experience in the Davis Coulee.
Trail continues west past the entrance to the Humphrey Coulee and proceeds to the larger and more complex Davis Coulee. Continuing past the Davis Coulee will begin a hike via grassland to a barbed-wire fence separating the Backcountry Hiking Area from the restrictedArchaeological Preserve which includes the historically infamous PoliceCoulee and the location hosting a replica of the North West Mounted Police Post active between 1874 (1890 formally) and 1897. There is deep and fascinating history here. A personal attempt to hike north along the fence line results in a failed attempt to get close enough to photograph the replica police post structures fairly close to the Milk River. The grassland is rife with rattlesnake dwellings and a dense forested band convinces me to pursue a formal escorted tour in the future. Retreat to the entrance of the Davis Coulee is via the same route taken in via the fence line.
The entrance to the Davis Coulee is wide and obvious. Majestic sandstone towers form spectacular soaring walls as good game trail proceeds through grassland into the narrowing canyon, embellished with a plethora of ground level brush and cactus.
A rugged and clearly defined side trail branches left and climbs to grassland at the top of the coulee for expansive views of surrounding features from the top. This side trail is a short diversion from the main objective and definitely worth the time.
After absorbing the spectacular views from the top of the coulee, descent to a left turn proceeds further into the depths of the narrowing Davis Coulee.
As the width of the coulee decreases into a tight canyon, passage around a dense forest thicket is achieved by hugging the left canyon wall. Game trail entering the dense thicket is virtually impenetrable. The route adjacent to the rock wall on the left squeezes around the thicket of dense brush and immediately reveals a tight canyon. Wide people carrying a large pack may be unable to navigate past this point. My situation is marginal but determination is strong. On this day, time must be taken to collect and lay stepping stones on the wet and mucky surface patch necessary to cross before scrambling up to the dry base between narrow and dry rock walls. Portions are close to being an easy squeeze.
Past the narrow section of coulee rock walls, the canyon begins to widen past fascinating erosion features formed over thousands of years. Small holes in rock faces serve as dwellings for birds who bustle about their daily routines seemingly impervious to human presence. Ground level, wall-side caves have clearly served as dens for predators and skeletal evidence of their prey provides evidence of past occupation.
Narrowing canyon walls exit into broadening valley with fascinating rock features and coulee branches which conceal herds of scattering deer and evidence of past construction possibly used for fossil excavation or mining activity.
The Davis Coulee gradually gains altitude while exposed rock features diminish until fields of endless prairie grassland provide little motivation to proceed further. The turnaround to a similar or identical retreat provides an entirely different perspective of the incredible features observed during access.
The short, narrow canyon is equally as much fun in retreat as it was on access. The mud patch requires a bit of planning before the jump down followed by rapid and carefully placed steps. The route past the dense brush thicket is more obvious than it was during canyon access. All that remains is the short hike out from the coulee.
Writing-on-Stone Campground occupies a heavily treed delta along the infamous Milk River in southern Alberta, Canada.
Clearly-signed access east on Highway 500 and south from the Town of Milk River along Highway 501 allows parking at the clearly-signed Visitor Center for hiking trail access downhill to the campground grocery store with adjacent washrooms and showers. Access roads for registered campers lead to a variety of accommodation for tents, RVs and trailers or limited Comfort Camping locations. The well established facility caters to a wide variety of camping styles in an idyllic, heavily treed location offering a wide variety of amenities including an amphitheater, playground, interpretive trails, picnic shelters and a small sandy beach on the river.
Primarily, the Visitor Center and Campground are staging points for convenient access to world class archaeological exploration among unique natural features.
There is also walking access from behind the Visitor Centre which features interpretive information combined with spectacular views across the Milk River.
A well-marked hiking trail behind the Visitor Center provides valuable interpretive information along the downhill trek through hoodoo features to exit near the showers, washrooms and grocery store.
From parking below at the Campground, the trail complex provides lengthy access to the famous Battle Scene Petroglyph but the more lengthy trail can be challenging in the heat and desert terrain. Access to the Battle Scene is best achieved by driving west to the Davis Coulee Viewpoint for spectacular views and substantially shorter trail access to the Battle Scene. There is also a bus tour available from the Visitor Center which provides access and interpretation in the restricted archaeological zone.
Parking at the park near the Camp Grocery Store provides access through the small interpretive park and playground Day Use Area to the road through the campground which passes Registration and the Amphitheater before arrival at a D-shaped bend around a large tree with a gate in the chain link fence providing access to a boat launch and river adjacent trail. Be sure to shut the gate to keep the beavers out.
A left turn past the gate leads along dirt trail at riverside with stunning views across the river towards sheer cliffs and the Humphrey Coulee. The trail continues along river edge with the occasional wet and marshy spot, to the small sandy beach on the east side of the major river bend.
Leaving the sandy beach via the obvious and nearby beaver-proof passage accesses road heading north past campground sites and finally the Comfort Camping zone before intercepting the Camp Store and parking area for vehicle access or the return hike to the Visitor Center at the top of the bluff.
On the commute between the The Town of Milk River and Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, the paved route through predominantly prairie passes the roadside Masinasin Pioneer Cemetery about 30 KM (18 miles) east of town on Hwy 500. Masinasin is a Cree word meaning 'Writing-on-Stone' with reference to the sandstone carvings standing in memory of former communities. A few pensive minutes are taken to wander the prairie plot and to collect and remove debris. The resting places for the young children are the most moving and a solemn reminder for hardships endured by pioneers.
This hiking adventure, with many options, can be as short or long as participants choose to make it. Summer heat and infrequent inclement weather may be determining factors. It is always very wise to check in at the Visitor Center and ask questions about options, conditions and alternatives no matter how much experience you have. This adventure is unique.
Hiking trail east from parking beyond the Visitor Centerleads a short way through grassland into a maze of hoodoos. Virtually endless photographic opportunities include periodic long views across the picturesque Milk River to coulees, grassland and major hoodoo structures in the Backcountry Hiking Zone on the south side of the Milk River. Snow-capped Sweetgrass Hills in Montana dominate the far view south.
Many trail options wind their way through a small but complex myriad of hoodoos with visual identification of position intermittently available at higher and larger clear spots. Becoming temporarily lost is easily achievable, but quick remedy makes the hiking opportunity through erosion-formed hoodoos an artful and mysterious endeavor. Stone statues change shape by direction and the route chosen is a free form collection of fascinating alternatives. It is common to mysteriously and unintentionally find oneself in the same spot visited several minutes prior. GPS might be a spoiler.
Long views from higher or open spots on the hill provide more comprehensive vistas across surrounding hoodoos to fields of hoodoo structures on the opposite, south side of the Milk River. Trail options can be chosen where the maze will lead to elevated views straight down sandstone banks to precarious views of the colorful and tranquil waters of the Milk River directly below.
The demarcation line betweenWriting-on-Stone Provincial Park and private land is defined by barbed wire fence. Inviting longer views past fencing to manicured private land creates beautiful vistas along and across the picturesque Milk River.
Near the fence a small herd of deer scatter among nearby hoodoos to avoid detection. One young deer stays in a protected gully to watch me. The mutual person / deer staring contest lasts for several minutes. Deer seem more comfortable with me than with most people. I believe this is because their ears are about the same size as mine.
All of the Badlands is rattlesnake country which is important and worthy of respect. It is unlikely a snake will be encountered and they tend to announce their location with a distinctive rattle from an elevated tail but knowing what to do is sensible and keeping a close eye on the young people would be sensible. TheVisitor Center can and will provide helpful information.
The greatest threat here is graffiti which ruins the natural experience for those who follow. The obnoxious carvings and marks in the sandstone which will be a blight on the natural experience for many decades.
Achieving higher ground for trail along the perimeter fence provides a more direct return route embellished with long views across the bend in the Milk River to the features of the Humphrey Coulee and the Davis Coulee which offer backcountry hiking opportunities within the Backcountry Hiking Zone on the other side of the Milk River. A topographical map is available from the Visitor Center. This is not for everyone and more experienced hikers will be more comfortable and less prone to mishap.
The infamous Police Coulee slightly further west is an important and restricted Archaeological Preserve.
Trail higher above the hoodoos provides spectacular views across the Milk River with visual reference and security for expeditious return to the Visitor Information Center perched above the Campground.
The fascinating Red Rock Coulee Natural Area is 27 km (16⅞ miles) and about half an hour south on Highway 887. The unique and naturally aesthetic area is a remnant of an ancient sea bottom. Scattered, red, sandstone boulders, ranging in size from a meter (3 feet) to 2.5 meters (8¼ feet) in diameter, provide clear evidence of original sea shell deposits coated with multiple layers of sediment deposit.
Paved road travels due south past the rural and rustic Red Rock Community Park prior to a pronounced swing east where the clearly signed and ongoing straight gravel road leads directly to the small, cul-de-sac parking area for Red Rock Coulee Natural Area. Symmetrical boulders to the right at roadside announce imminent arrival. There is a large, colorful sign near an opening in the cattle fence for investigation of the most commonly visited features. Entire Natural Area borders are defined by perimeter cattle fences to discourage trespassing onto private land.
Dry ground is essential. Navigation on wet ground is a serious mistake on slippery and clinging, clay-like soil. A walking tour of the unique and over-trodden area near parking provides the opportunity to view the concretions created long ago over many centuries by accumulated deposit of minerals on seashells at the bottom of an ancient sea. The matrix of trail provides access to spectacular views of nearby coulees and distant vistas of gullies and canyons accessible by sketchy trails possibly used nocturnally more by animals than humans.
This is rattlesnake country, so care and attention is expedient. Know how to behave. It is highly unlikely there will be an encounter but their usually distinctive rattle will likely first be heard announcing their proximity. Stop. Locate. Move quietly and deliberately away for another more circuitous route towards your objective. A bit of respect is justifiable. Know what to do.
Sketchy trail ramps down gradually through nearby coulees for another spectacular Badland experience. The sight and scent of brightly blooming wildflowers augment the fragrance and vision of flowing-in-the-breeze grassland. Dry trail winds its way back and forth across wet drainage from a recent rain event.
A wide variety of colorful grass, cacti and wildflowers morphs into dramatic vistas of beautifully stark and eroding canyon walls.
Coulee drainage leads to expansive terrain surrounded by picturesque Badland cliffs clearly identifying their unique time lapse layers of development over many thousands of years. Current erosion perpetuates change and development which continually reveals new and long hidden treasures. Tufts of brightly colored plant life inconceivably thrive in seemingly impossible terrain and conditions.
Virtually endless opportunity to roam and explore is truncated only by time available. An alternate coulee is chosen for return via a circuitous ascent route to the original hiking trail beginning. Long vistas, even within coulees, make navigation easy and sure. The ramp up to beginning altitude continues on sketchy trail where occasional footsteps are chosen to avoid small obstacles.
The original elevation is made more obvious by re-emergence of variably sized and smooth-surfaced oblong stones. This day is further blessed with bright sunshine tempered by gentle and cooling breeze wafting graciously through the grass-filled channels. There is no-one else here on this day. Red Rock Coulee Natural Area belongs to me on this very special and spectacular day. A companion would serve as a sensible safety benefit and social component at the expense of the personal relationship with natural elements and features.
Many impressive boulders lay atop the ground. Others remain largely buried to be revealed in their entirety for the benefit of future generations. There appears to be evidence of vandalism where layered rock has been shattered and broken. Such is sadly the price of being located remotely without supervision. High resolution video surveillance and delicate ground sensors may someday help in reducing vandalism at the expense of slightly compromising the natural experience.
This special place is a place of spiritual and photographic bliss. Light and shadow dance among wildflowers and natural sculpture. The breeze creates an accompanying symphony of relaxing sound.
Return to the entrance at Red Rock Coulee Natural Area crosses a grassland plateau with spectacular long views past barrier cattle fence. There is a picnic table near the entrance with incredible 360 vistas of this unique natural area and surrounding farm and ranch land. Perhaps the greatest hazard is a lethal dose of incredibly fresh prairie air and sun. Bring, carry and drink water.
Return north past the isolated and rural Red Rock Community Park on Hwy 887 arrives where Highway 3 will turn southwest for photos of nearby Premium Sausagein the picturesque hamlet of Seven Persons before continuing the more lengthy drive west and south to the Town of Milk River in Alberta near the center, and a few minutes north of the border towns of Coutts,Alberta and Sweetgrass, Montana,USA.
Cypress Hills is a spectacular area of elevated land that soars above seemingly endless, surrounding stretches of rolling prairie. The unique area was left undisturbed by ancient glaciers which carved surrounding land flat.
Unexpected news on arrival finds Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park closed due to the fire hazard created by the extraordinary 2017 hot and dry summer. The only access beyond paid RV camping is for the Fort Walsh National Historic Site at the southeast corner of the park. Access details must be followed carefully. There are many opportunities to end up elsewhere and apparently this is a very common occurrence.
Meticulously detailed instructions lead south and west through the small and memorable, remote town of Maple Creek for a turn right (west) at the hospital followed 3 KM (1⅞ miles) later by a left turn south on Hwy 271.
Highway 271 south, after a 3 KM jog west from the corner at the hospital, on Hwy 21, heads south past the famous Cypress Hills Vineyard and Winery which, unfortunately, is closed to public access, because by this time, a glass of wine may begin to appear very attractive. There may be people still out there praying for a gas station. Watch carefully for scarce and critical signage. Enough written.
Fort Walsh is at the end of a series of twists and turns gaining rapid altitude through towering forest to an elevated prairie surface where copious cattle rightfully roam, before descent on well-signed road.
Established in 1875, Fort Walsh became the largest and most influential fort the North-West Mounted Police occupied during early years of Western development. The location became a meeting place and crossroads for many different people, including Mounties, First Nations, Métis, fur traders and whiskey traders. The North-West Mounted Police avoided much of the violence that often characterized other frontiers by application of diplomacy, conciliation and dialogue.
The lengthy approach turns left at a wooden, fence-protected kiosk for descent past the cemetery to the inviting reconstruction of the walled fort. Reception, information and the Canteen occupy the building immediately to the right inside the entrance.
An excellent interpretive program has just begun under outdoor canopy adjacent to the Commanders cabin in the watchtower corner of the compound. The impeccable detail achieved in this meticulous example of the reconstructed fort is extremely impressive and representative of the original complex.
The natural progression from the Commander's HQ leads to a progression of white-painted log cabins. Good attempt has been made to make the facility wheelchair accessible. The initial cabin hosts a ramp to modern washroom facility. The subsequent cabin is a reconstruction of the former bathing house. Published interpretive information explains components long ago rendered obsolete.
History buffs will be impressed with enlargements of period photographs and detailed scale models of the original fort complex in the meeting room before this fort was closed in 1883 after only 8 years of service.
Adjacent buildings contain recreations of the cookhouse and mess hall as well as bunkhouse accommodation.
A walking tour of the Fort Walsh buildings includes the immaculately recreated building for weapons and ammunition storage as well as the meticulously recreated blacksmith's workshop. Detail is impressive and for those with a substantially better developed attention span than mine, the presentation surrounding the facility will bring the folklore to life.
The largest building contains stables for the black horses which became established as the ongoing standard for RCMP mounts to current day. Racks of saddles and the reconstructed workshop for horseshoe creation and maintenance accompany a host of the gear, tools and tack required to maintain a stable of working horses. All heat and light was supplied by wood stoves and kerosene lamps.
Gates past the livery open out to the re-creation of a tepee village reflecting the working relationship between soldiers and indigenous people. A small cluster of cabins outside the tall walls of the fort are accompanied by a vegetable garden and chopping blocks for wood fuel. Lofty and diverse surrounding landscape combines grassland competing with deciduous and evergreen forest.
On the circular route path returning to the fort's main entrance there is cleared pathway to the site of the original village which quickly sprang up to serve traffic created by the fort's existence. The frontier settlement grew to host about 40 log cabins and a population near 1,000 which served as a meeting place for freighters, hunters, fur traders, explorers and vagabonds.
At its height of development, the settlement included two hotels, a restaurant, several billiard halls and the services of a barber, a tailor, a laundry and a blacksmith. The fort and surrounding lands would periodically host up to 5,000 people. Virtually nothing remains beyond the small creek except old basement depressions and small clearings.
The nearby historical cemetery represents the era plus, more recent additions include local residents in the area. A massive stone cairn contains historical information on a brass plaque and many of the ancient tombstones help to reveal the character of the time.
The tour around the fort and surrounding land is an often interrupted hiking experience on its own but there are formal hiking trails in the immediate vicinity which can be enjoyed in addition to surveying the fort.
The trail-head for the Métis Trail is located at the picnic site and provides access along Battle Creek suitable for any family. This easy trail is also wheelchair and stroller compatible.
The Johnson Lakesnowshoe loop is accessed via Lake Minnewanka Road from the TransCanada Highway west of the Canmore entrance to Banff National Park. The maintained road heading north is well-signed and convenient parking leads to trails which explore the area and provide an excellent, scenic circuit around Johnson Lake.
Cascade Ponds provide multiple free-form snowshoe opportunities in the large clear area surrounding the ponds. Parking is accessed via Lake Minnewanka Road north from the intersection along the TransCanada Highway west of the Canmore entrance to Banff National Park. The trail which connects Cascade Ponds to Lower Bankhead may also be worthy of consideration. Consult your Gem Trek map for other excellent snowshoe opportunities in this outstanding and easily accessible area.
Note: Snowshoe trails north of the TransCanada Highway which provide access to the base of Cascade Mountain on the west side of Lake Minnewanka Road may present a serious avalanche risk.
Lake Minnewanka provides substantial parking at the end of Lake Minnewanka Road inBanff National Park. The main road north of the Town of Banff is partially closed in winter to provide recreational track set for cross country skiers but the branch right to Johnson Lake continues to Lake Minnewanka along an incredibly scenic route beneath Cascade Mountain. At least one person, preferably the driver of the vehicle, should be watching the road. There are turnouts to absorb the incredible beauty.
This is cross country ski territory. Do not mess with their trails. Never step on a cross country ski track. Carefully step over them if and when necessary. Apron beside the track set may be for ski skating. The snowshoe trail is obvious and separate.
Snagmore is a popular snow trail trail which begins along Hwy 66 west of Bragg Creek across the road from Allen Bill (Pond no more). Parking is available on both sides of the road. Cautious crossing please. Trail beginning is the same as for popular Fullerton Loop with clear signage at intersections to provide the swing right for climbing to spectacular views over the Elbow River near Bragg Creek.
A Lake Louise favorite year round is the same maintained trail from large and commonly busy, or full parking behind Fairmont Chateau Lake LouiseinBanff National Park. The sustained climb through forest leads to spectacular vistas en route and potentially tricky wooden stairs on beveled icy steps at final approach to the tea house which is closed in winter.
Rawson Lake is a perennial favorite hike or snowshoe year-round and is often crowded in fair conditions. From upper parking at Upper Kananaskis Lake on Kananaskis Lakes Road, the trail is relatively flat for the first kilometer above the shoreline to a well-signed left turn a short distance past the bridge at beautiful and frozen Sarrail Falls. From here the sustained climb is invigorating through forest to the near end of spectacular, mountain-surrounded Rawson Lake. Past the end of the lake in winter is serious and potentially fatal avalanche terrain to be avoided by all but the highly trained and adequately equipped.
Rummel Lake is a classic snowshoe adventure from the road intersection to Mount Engadine Lodge along Smith-Dorrien Trail in the Spray Lakes component of Kananaskis Country. The elusive trail-head begins on the east side of Smith-Dorrien Trail. Follow footsteps after climbing over the snow bank. Often a popular and busy trail.
Terrace Trail (7 KM north to south) is accessible from far end parking at Kananaskis Delta Lodge or Galatea Lakes parking (south to north). Grand views of the Wedge but predominantly through forest above the Kananaskis Country Golf Course on a terrace beneath the spectacular summits of Mount Kidd.
This snowshoe begins from the south side of parking at Chester Lake parking north of Sawmill along the Smith-Dorrien Trail in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada. The Kananaskis Country Snowshoe Trails brochure with clear maps will show the labyrinth of trail possibility in this area. The day can be as short or long as you choose to make it.
Guides and Maps
The Kananaskis Country Snowshoe Map is available atNorseman XC Ski, Hike and Climb and other stores while supplies last. They are also available from Alberta Parks Visitor Centers and many tourist information locations. Even though very good quality segmented mapping may be provided along the trail it is always wise to be carrying your own map. Gem Trek maps are excellent sources of reliable and easy to understand information. Fields of snow can be disorienting.
for the experienced, well-equipped (including potentially necessary and vital avalanche gear and training) more aggressive snowshoe adventures can be found in 'Snowshoeing in the Canadian Rockies' for more advanced snowshoers by Andrew J. Nugara.
Gemtrek Maps are well suited to provide bigger perspective in snow-covered mountains.
Snowshoeing is hiking with a different perspective. Snowshoeing is often more aerobic and clothing layers will depend on the pace, degree of difficulty and personal characteristics. Generally speaking, it is common to need less clothing than expected while moving and more when stopped. Emergency and first aid gear is mandatory to manage the unexpected events and potentially rapid changing weather conditions. Many hiking clubs and winter activity clubs, as well as sporting goods stores and the University of Calgary Outdoor Center, provide a variety of training and adventure opportunities. There is strength in numbers in the back-country where exposure to fickle elements may require more attention for comfort and safety.
Strathcona Island Park stretches along the shoreline of the South Saskatchewan River in Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada.
Well-signed access to Strathcona Island Park from Kingsway Avenue and South Railway passes through architecturally diverse residential and a speed-reduced school zone. The area is blanketed by mature, enveloping trees over some of Medicine Hat's grand historical residences from early days of aggressive investment and development.
Substantial parking is bracketed by parkland on one side and tennis courts on the other. Trail access for this more urban and developed park is obvious at several points near the entrance. Scaling the dyke and crossing the paved path drops onto more rustic pathway through dense forest adjacent to the south shoreline of the South Saskatchewan River. The formal paved trail along the top of the dyke is part of the TransCanada Trail aka The Great Trail which is a substantially more aggressive effort connecting the coastlines of three oceans and spanning a total of 24,000 kilometers (15,000 miles). At this time The Great Trail is the longest through hike on the planet.
The Strathcona Island Park trail passes river viewpoints, a scenic bridge, public washrooms and a cookhouse for larger groups or hikers needing protection from inclement weather. Within a short hiking distance the trail approaches the river shoreline.
Forward progress is motivated by the profound beauty of towering cliffs reflecting on this day's still water at the pregnant river bend. Trail passes above and close to eroding river banks. Police Point Park occupies the other side of the South Saskatchewan River as this scenic hike continues past wetlands and rocky shoreline towards the impressive river bend cliffs. Past a formal baseball field with spectator seating, a TransCanada Trail Pavilion, which began as a tiny red speck, expands into view.
As customary in Medicine Hat, the end of this and nearly every trail continues to another undocumented destination on more rustic trail. Virtually endless hiking potential is multiplied by the number of seasons.
The TransCanada Trail Pavilion holds plaques inscribed with contributors names who donated towards the development of the spectacular and diverse collection of hiking opportunities. My name resides in a pavilion adjacent to the Bow River in downtown Calgary. Ken and I also shared the honor to be selected for participation in hiking (cycling) a short section of the inaugural trip across Canada which terminated in the forever memorable ghost town of Retlaw, Alberta. Walter spelled backwards.
Deer are abundant in the brush and surrounding forest near the TransCanada Trail Pavilion at the end and return point for this scenic hike through the features and amenities of Strathcona Island Park. More rustic trail continues east towards the dramatic cliffs and substantial will power is required to avoid the temptation.
The return hike, on an alternate trail loop through grassland bordering dense and mature forest, arrives at an area of park amenities where parking is available for the elaborate playground and adjacent water playground popular through the warmer summer months.
The south cookhouse is rendered artistic by an ancient and weathered fallen tree bleached white by years of exposure to brilliant sunshine noticeably absent on this day. Red brick cinder trail deviates from the raised pavement trail to drop from the rise through incredibly beautiful forest leading to old wooden beam stair access to and from one of the surrounding historic downtown communities.