Friday, March 09, 2018

Winter Adventures in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Kananaskis

We love exploring Peter Lougheed Provincial Park all year long, and appreciate that we can reach the park in less than an hour and a half from the Calgary city limits. This park is definitely a crown jewel in Kananaskis Country, and in my opinion is one of Alberta's most beautiful provincial parks.

Blueberry Hill Lookout, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

So far this winter, we've spent 6 days cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and even ice-skating in the park as a family. Below are the highlights from our adventures this winter, the trails we've enjoyed, and the adventures we've found.

Kananaskis Fire Lookout, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

Highlight One: Skiing to the Kananaskis Lookout early season in November

The Kananaskis Lookout Trail is only 1.7  km long (one way) but packs a punch with 200 metres of height gain. Climb up on skis and you'll feel your muscles the next day.

The next challenge is that the Lookout Trail is accessed from the Pocaterra Trail, and there's no easy way to reach the junction of the two trails. The shortest way starts with a long climb up the Whiskey Jack ski trail for a total distance of 6 km (one way) to the top of the Lookout from the Boulton Parking Lot. (And Whiskey Jack also gains 200 metres of height, so you're looking at a 400 metre climb!)

Fortunately, in November, there's a "secret" way to reach the Lookout without having to do the climb up Whiskey Jack. Skiers can sneak on to the Pocaterra Trail from an unmarked pull off on Highway 40 (past the winter road closure, hence why you have to do it in November before the highway closes on December 1st.)

Skiing to the Lookout from the secret parking lot off Highway 40

The unmarked pull off to access the Pocaterra Trail is roughly 8 km past the Highway 40 winter gates on the right hand side. You'll be well on your way to Highwood Pass before you reach it. Pull over, cross the little bridge, and ski for a short distance (less than half a kilometre) until you reach the official Pocaterra Trail. Turn left and ski for another half a kilometre (at most) to the Whiskey Jack Junction - where you'll marvel that you've made your way to the TOP of Whiskey Jack by car and not by climbing.

From the Whiskey Jack junction it's another half a kilometre to the Lookout Junction. And your grand total distance for the day will be no more than 6 km round trip. (with no more than 250 to 300 metres of height gain.)

Kananaskis Fire Lookout

So save this one for next November. - and know that you'll be on official ski trails the entire time so snowshoeing is only an option if you go early November before trails are groomed. Otherwise, if you must snowshoe, go mid-week when you likely won't meet too many skiers. 

November Ski Touring in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

And trip notes from this year's ski up the Lookout:

We carried our son's downhill skis with us in case he needed them for the descent. He started out in cross-country skis and would have been fine in them the entire time, but this was one of his first ski trips of the season and there was a LOT of fresh powder (with no recent grooming.) His cross-country skis are also really skinny and we knew it was still early season (with questionable conditions.)

Downhill skis for the decent worked very well in the end, and Noah had a blast ripping down the steep trail through all the fresh snow.

Skiing down from the Lookout, Kananaskis Lakes below us

Highlight Two: Ice-Skating on the Upper Kananaskis Lake in December

This one can be summed up with the following:

Upper Kananaskis Lake froze (solid enough to skate on) before it became covered in snow. 
This never happens!
It was incredible and we got to skate around two different islands on the lake.

I do not expect to ever have this opportunity again

I never dreamed in a zillion years that I'd get to skate on Upper Kan!

A once in a lifetime opportunity to skate on Upper Kananaskis Lake

Highlight Three: Skiing the Moraine, Fox Creek, Boulton Creek Loop

Of all the little loops you could come up with for a short cross-country ski day in Peter Lougheed, this is my favourite.

We start at the Boulton Bridge Parking Lot, ski up to the Moraine Trail, connect to Fox Creek, tackle the steep double hills on the Elk Pass Trail (up to the power lines and then back down the other side,) and then finish on the Boulton Creek Trail.

Fun skiing on the Moraine, Fox Creek, Boulton Creek Loop

All in, this short loop is 8 km long and a LOT of fun. The trails are narrower than most of the other ski trails in the park (single track set rather than double) and it's fun skiing beside Fox and Boulton Creeks (with a couple of bridge crossings.)

Bridge crossing on Fox Creek

Find out more about cross-country skiing in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park here.

Skiing along the Moraine Trail

Highlight Four: Traversing the Park on Skis from Boulton Creek to Pocaterra 

We were skiing with friends and decided to do a traverse of the park from the Boulton Parking Lot to the Pocaterra Hut at the far end of the park. This would allow us to ski in a favorable direction (with more down than up.)

Fresh corduroy on the Wheeler Trail

The husbands started at Pocaterra, and us moms started at Boulton with the kids. We all met up somewhere around the Amos/Meadow junction and then continued on together back to Pocaterra. And while the men only got to ski half of the traverse, at least we had vehicles waiting at the end.

Trails skied: Wheeler, Meadow, and and then the final "Suicide Hill" on Lodgepole down to the Pocaterra Hut.

Total distance: Approximately 9 km.

Look at all the friends we met up with on the trail!

Highlight Five: Snowshoeing on the Lower Kananaskis Lake

I have a few thoughts on the subject of snowshoeing:

  1. You don't need snowshoes on a trail that's been packed down.

  2. Snowshoeing is only fun in powder (and the deeper the better.)

  3. Make snowshoeing "fun" and the kids will love it. Play games, let them make their own trail through an untracked meadow, make snow angels, and take time to play.
Snowshoeing along the Lower Kananaskis Lake

We made our snowshoeing adventure on the Lower Lake super fun with a game of pie tag (I tramped out a circle and divided it into sections. To play, stick to the lines as you chase each other,) and with some adventurous cliff jumping.

Playing pie tag on Lower Kananaskis Lake
Cliff jumping over Lower Kananaskis Lake

My son also loved walking across the lake and blazing his own trail through the fresh deep snow.

Kids love making their own trail through fresh deep powder

Read more about snowshoe trails in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park here.

Playful adventures on snowshoes in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

Highlight Six: Skiing to the top of Blueberry Hill 

This will be a highlight of my winter because my 9-year old son skied 16 km (return) and climbed 375 metres. I never honestly thought he was capable of anything so big, but he ASKED to ski Blueberry Hill (and that makes all the difference.)

Blueberry Hill Viewpoint

When my son wants to do something, he will be motivated to make it happen. And he was plenty motivated because it was the only "black trail" in the park he hadn't done on skis yet. And he LOVES hills. (The steeper the better.)

One of the best viewpoints you can ski to in Kananaskis

We had a fabulous day and it only took 5 hours (return.) - Gah! So, yeah, it was a looooong day, but he crushed it and we enjoyed a glorious bluebird day for our ski.

Skiing the Elk Pass Trail en route to Blueberry Hill
I love skiing the Elk Pass Trail for scenery like this

To ski up Blueberry Hill, we started at the Elk Pass Parking lot and skied up the Elk Pass Trail until we reached the junction with the Blueberry Hill Trail.

Gorgeous winter wonderland on the Blueberry Hill Trail
Skiing down the Blueberry Hill Trail

Other  Winter Adventures we've enjoyed in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

Backcountry Ski Touring to Chester Lake 

Snowshoeing to Rawson Lake 

Early season snowshoeing in Ptarmigan Cirque

Early season snowshoeing at Elbow Lake 

Never a bad day in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park

For more information...

Read more about snowshoe trails in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park here.

Find out more about cross-country skiing in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park here.

Parting shot of Lower Kananaskis Lake

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