Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Spring in Bow Valley Provincial Park

Bow Valley Provincial Park is our favourite place for spring hiking for one big reason - NO SNOW!  In fact, usually you could hike here year round and never need a sled or pair of snowshoes.  The winds tend to whip through the area blowing any snow far away before it could ever really settle into drifts.  This is great news for spring hikers desperate to get outside on a sunny March afternoon in the mountains.  And while I'm as eager as the next skier to get as many ski days in per winter as possible, it's really hard to think about skiing when it's between 5 to 10 degrees Celsius and you know you'll do nothing but slog up icy hills on your skis, taking your life into your hands each time you have to descend one of the same hills on the way out. 

The Flowing Water Trail, Bow Valley Provincial Park

Such was the case for us last weekend.  I went cross country skiing in Peter Lougheed Park on Friday and spent the day battling a mixture of ice and slush as temperatures climbed well above Zero.  I put my skis away and said I was done for the year unless the temperatures seriously dropped again.  Saturday was another lovely warm spring day and we knew skiing was out of the question.  We rounded up a couple of other families eager to unleash the kids for some outdoor fun and off we went to Bow Valley.

Puddle Jumpers in Bow Valley Provincial Park

We chose to spend the day at the Willow Rock Campground which we discovered had just opened for the season.  We kicked ourselves for not knowing this because it would have been an excellent weekend to take the trailer out for its first trip of the season.  Note to self:  Stay at Willow Rock next Easter which falls in late April, 2014.  

Junior Hikers ready to explore

The Willow Rock Campground is home to one of our favourite little hiking trails, the Flowing Water Trail.  At 1.5 km, this fun loop is a guaranteed crowd pleaser for the 5 and under crowd.  Older kids would love the trail as well but you would want something else to do after the hike because it wouldn't take you much more than 45 minutes to complete the loop.  Our children ran the entire loop with us adults chasing after them out of breath to keep up.  Guess we aren't the only ones happy for spring!

The trailhead - snow free!

The trail starts off paralleling the Kananaskis River and then climbs a short flight of stairs to a bench above the river.  This is the only section that makes the trail non-Chariot friendly.  If you are willing to lift your Chariot up the stairs, you'll find the trail quite easy for the younger kids in your group.  I did it with a single Chariot the first time I did the hike when we were camping at Willow Rock years ago.  

The crux of the trail
Viewpoint above the Kananaskis River
From the bench above the river, you hike a short distance out in the open with full exposure to the wild Bow Valley winds.  Within a minute though you are back in the trees and it warms up again.  The next highlight of the trail is the beaver pond complete with an abandoned beaver lodge near the trail that you can explore.  There's a lookout here with benches and it's a nice spot for snacks.  

Running, Running Running

Back down to the trees

The Beaver Pond

From the beaver pond, you head next to a boardwalk section over a marsh.  This is always the best part for kids who LOVE boardwalks.  You'll be back in the campground here and steps away from some of the campsites bordering the marsh.  We chose to have a picnic lunch in one of the sites since the campground was very quiet and regretted not having brought marshmallows and hotdogs.  

The Boardwalk
Final section of boardwalk beside the campground
We finished off our visit with a stop at the playground near the campground gates.  While windy out in the open, it was a huge hit with the kids and we stayed there for a good hour.  

Natural playground on the hiking trail

Directions and more information:  

Take Hwy 1 towards Banff and look for the sign for Bow Valley Provincial Park shortly after the turnoff for Hwy 40.  You'll be turning on to Hwy 1X towards Exshaw.  The tiny hamlet of Exshaw is approximately 15 minutes from Canmore.  As soon as you turn on to Hwy 1X, you'll see a sign for the Willow Rock Campground on your right.  

There is no official parking for the Flowing Water Trail but if you park near the playground you'll see a trail heading through the campground that is signed for the hike.   Note that there is also no official day use area at this campground and all campsites are designated for the exclusive use of registered campers.  For day use areas in Bow Valley Provincial Park should you want to have a wiener roast or picnic after your hike, visit the following link to the Alberta Parks website.  Middle Lake across Hwy 1X is the closest day use area but does not have fire pits.

Exploring the Beaver Pond