Wednesday, April 04, 2012

The best picnic spot in Kananskis

I've been hiking trails all over Kananaskis for the past 12 years and I think it's fair to say that I know Kananaskis, and I know it well.  There are few areas I haven't explored and I have one hike left to finish in Gillean Daffern's Popular Day Hikes 1 guide book to the Kananaskis area.   Becoming a mom has actually helped me in this project because there were a lot of hikes I had never done before Noah came along.  Toddler hikes and family day hikes weren't usually very far up on my list of trips to do in the past.  All this to say that I was surprised to discover what I think is the best secret picnic spot in Kananaskis on the weekend.  It was in an area I had never explored before, on a trail I'd never hiked.

Our secret secluded picnic spot beside the Kananaskis River

When I asked my husband where he wanted to go hiking on Saturday, he asked if there was a trail beside the Kananaskis River.  We'd never explored the main river flowing through the heart of K-Country and figured it would be fun to watch the kayakers braving the rapids, pools, and mini-waterfalls.  I got out one of my newest hiking books, another in the Gillean Daffern collection, and discovered that yes, there was a trail built for spectators during paddling competitions, and the trail followed the river for a nice distance before going up into the trees towards the Barrier Lake Info Centre.

Starting off on the narrow trail barely above the slalom course on the Kananaskis River

We started at Canoe Meadows down stream from the Info Centre and headed out on our hike with two other families.  In total we had five children amongst us and I was really hoping the trail would be appropriate for our group of 'not always so steady on their feet" toddlers.  We have a reputation for taking our friends (and Grandma) on hikes that are a tad beyond their ability, or of downplaying the distance, height gain, difficulty, etc. of our trips when asking people to come along with us.  There's always the possibility with us that a cute little hike will in fact be an off-trail bush whacking experience through mosquito infested meadows to a destination we'll never reach.

The trail got a little more sketchy as we crossed snow patches covering the narrow trail

The trail proved to be quite narrow and I can't quite say I recommend it for families with young kids.  That being said, we had a lot of fun on it and nobody fell in the river.  Almost but not quite.  It would be a lot of fun to repeat this hike during a paddling competition because you'd certainly be close to the action.   If we had waited a few weeks, the trail would have been snow free too which would certainly have taken away one danger at least.  The scariest part came when the trail basically disappeared and was replaced by big boulders you had to cross  (see photos below).  Crossing this section of the 'trail' involved scrambling along the boulders perched at the edge of the fast moving river while clinging to a rock outcropping on the one side.  Most hikers would barely flinch but when you are carrying one child and helping a second across, it requires significant amounts of courage.  I would almost say it's necessary to have one parent per child if you want to repeat our steps and explore this trail.  I say 'almost' because one of our friends did it solo with her two kids and fared fabulously.

Greta getting both of her girls across the crux of the trail safely

Not quite in the river
Not sure I can call this a trail anymore

If I've just scared you, let me encourage you that you don't have to take the path down by the river.  There's another great trail that goes above the river and bypasses all danger.  However, you'd miss out on an up close view of the action on the river.

Spring surfing in Kananaskis
Action seen right from our picnic spot

The section of the trail following the river couldn't have been more than a kilometre at most.  After that we climbed up to a pleasant forest trail and the kids could run free.  Check out the photos below and tell me my friend's daughter doesn't look happy.  The bridges were a big hit with all the kids.

The only difficulty on the forest trail was a blow down we had to cross.  Challenging, yes.  Impossible, no.  A bit of help from Moms and Dads required for sure but the kids all got across.  I'm hoping the Park will clear the trail as the season warms up.

In total, I'd say we hiked about 2km before we reached what I am calling our secret picnic spot.  I wish I could give it a name but I'm not exactly sure where we were on the trail.  We were about three quarters of the way to the Barrier Lake Info Centre for sure.  If you started at the Info Centre and walked towards Canoe Meadows you'd have a nice short and easy walk.  We took some stairs down to a rocky beach area where we found a picnic table beside what I am going to call a small waterfall.  I'm sure it has a technical name but I'm not a paddler so to me it was a waterfall.  We got to watch two kayakers go over the waterfall and the kids got to throw rocks in the river.  It was the most idyllic spot I've ever had the pleasure to enjoy a picnic in.  Other than the occasional kayaker who paddled by, we had the beautiful beach to ourselves; our private, secluded, and probably not so secret now, beach.

It doesn't get more remote than this for a picnic
Playing by the river

A rare family photo of all three of us

We hiked back along the forest trail and it was a quick jaunt retracing our steps to the parking lot.  The kids enjoyed some last play time in the group campground en route.

Climbing back up to the trail from our beach

The toddlers hiked about 4km all by themselves without being carried.  So proud of them.
A game of tag at the campground

If you are looking for a group campground, this one at Canoe Meadows looked amazing and it's conveniently located right beside all the river action.

Trail information:
Widow Maker Trail:  4 km total distance from Canoe Meadows to the Barrier Lake Info Centre
Access:  Highway 40, Kananaskis
Best guide book for the area:  Gillean Daffern's Kananaskis Country Trail Guide, Volume 1, edition 4

What's your secret picnic spot now that I've shared mine?


  1. I love this. I am located in Copperfield. Do I head into Kananaskis via 22x or enroute to Canmore/Banff on the highway. Thanks!

    1. You need to get onto Highway 40 so you'd either have to get on the main highway to Banff through Calgary or from Bragg Creek and go up that way. But yes, it's enroute to Canmore/Banff. Turn left at the Casino onto highway 40.