THE CANADIAN GREAT DIVIDE– PART 2- HEIGHT OF THE ROCKIES PROVINCIAL PARK
Height of the Rockies is a true gem. The epitome of Canadian wilderness in my opinion. Though the Great Divide trail only passes through 12.5 km, it was by far one of the most favorite parks of the trip for both myself and my hiking partners. If you are looking for an “off the beaten path” (quite literally) experience, untouched, unspoiled terrain; free from hoards of summer hiking crowds, this is the spot for you to begin your adventure. I entered the rugged Height of the Rockies Provincial Park on the Continental divide at the edge of Peter Lougheed. The trail fades as you enter the park, but the landscape that unfolds in front of you, is both awe-inspiring and intimidating. Few know about this park, and even fewer choose to venture into the depths of it.
This section may not appeal to most because of the remoteness and difficulty rating, but I wanted to include it in the series since a) I hiked it and b) it was awesome and I can’t help but share. I would recommend adding this on to a hike in Peter Lougheed if you have an extra day or two. Coming into this section, I was a bit intimidated about what I would be facing. Stories of bush-whacking, dangerous river fords, wrong turns, grizzlies, and steep descents left me a bit unnerved. I didn’t spot any animals on the trail but saw more grizzly and elk scat than all other parks combined. Thankfully, while the trail was faint and overgrown, there were never any issues with navigation in this section. I will try to highlight the trail quirks as best as possible, in case you wish to make this a side adventure on your trip.
The first challenge is a very steep decent of North Kananaskis pass. (The guidebook said moderate, I beg to differ) A few rock cairns (sort of) guide the route down the slope. The slope had a lot of loose scree and large, ankle-eating rocks.
After the first steep decent, the trail glides gently downhill through the trees until it emerges at the LeRoy Creek.
H@H Tip: It was at the first LeRoy Creek crossing where the first actual orange blaze could be seen to mark the “LeRoy Creek Trail”. Don’t expect to find any signs on this trail. There are occasional orange blazes from the LeRoy Creek to Palliser Pass.
The trail re-enters the woods on the other side of the LeRoy creek. At one point, before the creek reaches the gorge, a Y in the trail will present an option. A cairn and arrow seemingly pointing left, (to cross back over the LeRoy creek) are misleading. IGNORE these. Stay straight at the Y and you will eventually find yourself at the correct point along the bank (past the gorge) by the confluence of the LeRoy creek and Palliser river.
Stay on the trail along the bank of the LeRoy creek, almost until you can’t walk any further, then cut right through the woods. It looked like someone had cut back the path here to lead to the Palliser River crossing. Cross the river here.
H@H Tip: Guidebooks and maps were in disagreement on this river crossing. The Dustin Lynx guidebook on the Great Divide was fairly accurate. Perhaps someone has cleared a more efficient path recently.
The water level was low enough to make this an easy crossing. I don’t expect it will always be this peaceful. Pick up the trail on the bank on the other side of the river. I noticed an orange blaze with 0.0 here, so I was confident I was on the right path! The trail you pick up here will lead into a lovely little meadow within minutes.
H@H Tip: If you are ending the hike at this point, the meadow would be the best place to stop and make camp. If you continue on, there aren’t many spots to make camp until another hour + of hiking and a steep accent to the Palliser lake area.
Once leaving the meadow, the trail becomes a bit more.. jungle like. After a steep ascent (switchbacks? Ha, yeah right!) is a great camping area. This spot is located next to some ponds (less than half a mile) before the climb to Palliser lake. It offers a close water source, a flat open area for pitching a few tents and a fire pit built by some previous campers. The trees here aren’t the best for the old bear bag technique, so I was thankful for my Ursack and a seasoned bear-bagging pro in our group.
A short easy climb in the morning leads up to Palliser Lake and makes for a lovely morning hike. I saw some spots where camping could have been possible just beyond Palliser lake, but you would have to backtrack for water to the main lake or one of the small ponds in that area.
Just beyond the lake, the trail opens up into incredible meadows. In the summer when the fields are blooming with wildflowers, this would be quite an amazing landscape to see. Find the marker for the divide and the entry point to Banff National Park.
The Great Divide contains only a small portion of Height of the Rockies, but the imprint on my mind and heart was much larger. Hands down, this was some of the most exciting hiking of the trip, primarily for its ruggedness and solitude. This type of wild place was exactly what I was looking for on this epic hike. If you are willing to venture outside your comfort zone of blazed, maintained trails, established backcountry campsites and fellow hikers, treat yourself to an extension of Peter Lougheed or Banff and enter the Height of the Rockies. This park will not disappoint.
Have you had the pleasure of an adventure in the Height of the Rockies? Please share the sights and trails you’ve experienced so that next time I know what to explore!