Hidden gems

In addition to world renowned sites like some of the ones in Jasper and Banff National Parks, Canada is home to many hidden gems usually known only to local people. We also found some of those on our recent travels.

After saying good-bye to our son and his family and leaving the mountain parks behind, we spent another week in the nearby foothills where we camped at Bottrel, Alberta with our daughter’s family. There’s actually nothing at Bottrel except a general store and a small unserviced campground, but we heard about it because our son-in-law’s mother lives nearby.

The campground is only 40 minutes from our daughter’s home in northeast Calgary. As soon as we’d set up camp on the bank of the lovely little creek that runs through the campground, we drove into the city to pick up Drew, our oldest grandson, who enjoyed two days of camping with Gram and Grandpa before the rest of the family was able to join us.

One of the things that we wanted to do during that time was introduce Drew to kayaking, but the creek was too small for that and we didn’t know of any lakes in the area. Richard spoke to the storekeeper, who also runs the campground, and learned of a small fishing lake nearby that’s known only to the locals. The highlight of our outing to Winchell Lake was the rare opportunity to watch a loon and her chick close up!

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About 20 minutes from the campground, on our way into Calgary, we had also passed signs for Big Hill Springs Provincial Park. A quick online search revealed that its 2.3 km (1.4 miles) hiking trail with an elevation gain of only 20 metres (66 feet) was popular with young families. Not intending to do the hike until the rest of the family joined us, we decided to take a drive over to the park just to check it out. Drew was so enthusiastic, however, that we ended up hiking the entire trail that day! Of course, as little boys are inclined to do, he put in a few more steps than we did!

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Later in the week, we packed a picnic lunch and returned with the rest of the family. With Drew as our guide, we did the hike again.

An interesting geological feature in this small park, which is located in a beautiful coulee, are the mounds of unusual rock called tufa (too-fah). Apparently tufa forms when water, rich in calcium and carbonate, emerges from the ground. As it comes to the surface, it releases carbon dioxide into the air and forms outcroppings of calcium carbonate rock.

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The first part of the hike was particularly pretty following a stream with lots of little waterfalls.

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I believe this was 3-year-old Simon’s first hike, but he was very keen to go!

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Later in the afternoon, back at the campground, the creek was a great place to cool off!

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Two great hikes in Jasper National Park

As part of Canada’s 150th anniversary celebration, the country offered free Parks Canada passes to every Canadian and every visitor from around the world who requested one, giving each of us free admission to national parks, national historic sites and national marine conservation areas across the country. We put our pass to good use when we spent a week camping in Jasper and Banff National Parks with our son Matt, daughter-in-law Robin, and grandsons Sam and Nate, who were enjoying their first family vacation in the Beatrice, a newly restored and much loved family heirloom.

Like most mountain parks, both Jasper and Banff abound with hiking trails of varying lengths and degrees of difficulty. While at Jasper, we took advantage of two of these.

Valley of the Five Lakes

We chose this trail on the recommendation of my aunt who has lived in Jasper since 1953 and who continued to hike into her late 80s. The 4.5 km loop, located about 9 km south of Jasper, was an excellent choice. With only 66 m elevation change it was an easy hike for all of us.

The loop takes in all five small lakes, each a different shade of blue or green, but all strikingly beautiful.

First Lake

First Lake

Second Lake

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Second Lake

Third Lake (and in my opinion, the most beautiful)

Third Lake

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Isn’t that just stunning?

Fourth Lake

Fourth Lake

Fifth Lake

Fifth Lake

While bears are known to frequent the Five Lakes area, especially in berry season, we saw only this frisky little chipmunk who was happy to pose for a photo.

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Maligne Canyon

With a depth of more than 50 metres at some points, Maligne Canyon is one of the deepest in the Canadian Rockies and certainly one of the most spectacular. For our second hike in the Jasper area, we started at the 5th bridge and hiked up the canyon trail to the teahouse at the upper end.

When I first looked at my photos, I was disappointed. Somehow they just didn’t capture the magnitude of what we’d seen. Then I realized that it was the thunderous sound of the water churning through the deep, rocky canyon that was missing! Use your imagination as you follow us up the trail and try to imagine what it sounded like as the canyon walls narrowed and the rushing water echoed below.

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Where does all that water come from? Located in the Maligne valley, Medicine Lake is formed by the Maligne River. One of the interpretive signs along the hiking trail compares Medicine Lake to a “giant leaky bathtub.” Water from the lake drains into what is thought to be the largest inaccessible cave system in the world and resurfaces downstream through springs along the canyon walls.

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The power of the moving water becomes evident when you look at the shapes of the rocky canyon walls that have been whittled away over eons.

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In some places, rocks and sand swirling around in the turbulent water wear potholes in the canyon floor or walls. Over time, as the canyon wears deeper these potholes, or bowls as we called them, are left above the water level, reminders of a previous time. You can see a pothole still being formed near the centre of this picture.

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Another interesting feature is the chockstone. Chockstones are giant boulders that have become wedged across portions of the canyon which narrows to only two metres at the top in some places. Over time, erosion slowly reduces the size of the chockstones until they eventually tumble to the canyon floor. There is a chockstone with moss and trees growing on it near the top of this photo.

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The promise of dozens of fossils preserved in the rock beneath our feet was an incentive to keep our young grandsons going as we climbed the last portion of the trail which is a bit steep. They became very good at spotting these reminders that this was once a very different looking world and enjoyed making rubbings of several of them.

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Though this hike isn’t a long one, if you go, allow yourself lots of time as there are so many interesting things to see and photos to take!

There are many trails in the canyon area and rather than retracing our steps the entire distance, we took a higher trail from the 4th bridge back to the 5th. Though we were above the canyon walls and further from the thundering water, the views were beautiful.

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Don’t get eaten by a bear!

We have never seen as many bears in the wild as on this trip… 18 so far! We’ve even hesitated to go hiking in some areas due to the risk of meeting a bear on the trail. In spite of the sign, we did do the 9th Avenue Trail at Dawson City though.

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The only wildlife we saw was this curious fellow who stopped munching long enough to watch us go by.

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Well, that’s not entirely true. There were also mosquitoes! Lot’s of mosquitoes! We made two errors that a hiker should never make. First, I forgot my water bottle. I filled it and left it sitting on the counter in the trailer. Fortunately, I’d packed some pop for our lunch, so we were able to stay hydrated. Second, we forgot bug spray, a big mistake, especially in the north! The mosquitoes hadn’t been bad in town, so we didn’t didn’t even think about them until we were out in the bush getting bitten. Luckily, it was a cool day and we were wearing long pants and sleeves, so we didn’t get eaten alive.

Back to the bear sign though. Notice that it says, “BE ALERT MAKE NOISE”. I’ve been giving Richard a hard time lately over the fact that throughout our many years of marriage, he hasn’t been a very open communicator. I know that some of you who know him will find that difficult to believe, but it’s true. I also read that talking works better than carrying bear bells as a way to avoid an encounter with the furry beasts. When we read the sign, I told Richard, “Today you’d better talk to me or you might get eaten by a bear!” In fact, I think a new code phrase has been born. From now on, if I think he’s being particularly uncommunicative, all I’ll have to say is, “Don’t get eaten by a bear!” and he should know what I mean!

Anyway, I digress. Back to the hike…

Beginning in 1898 when the population of Dawson City swelled with thousands of people hungry for gold, tents and then log homes were built up the steep hillside behind the present day town. Today, the uppermost avenue is 8th, hence the name of the 9th Avenue Trail that follows the perimeter of the town, but further up the hill. As the gold rush came to an end and the population dwindled, the hillside homes were eventually abandoned, but there are glimpses all along the trail that there were once people living there. The homes were often built on flat platforms with stone retaining walls. Most of these wooden structures are long gone, but a few signs of them can still be seen.

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There was no garbage collection in Dawson’s early days. Broken and discarded items were often piled up outside the buildings. Rusty remnants can still be seen along the trail offering archaeologists plenty of information about life in early Dawson.

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I’m not even sure what that was, but the bed springs were obvious. I wonder who slept on them and what their story was?

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The hike was not a long or strenuous one. The 9th Avenue Trail itself is only about 2.5 km in length. We made it a little longer by adding the connecting Crocus Bluff Nature Trail which leads out to a viewing platform perched on a rocky bluff overlooking the highway entering Dawson and the confluence of the Klondike and Yukon Rivers.

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Hike to Quarry Rock

One of the big advantages of living in (or visiting) North Vancouver is the fact that you’re only minutes away from a wide array of beautiful backcountry hiking trails. Our grandsons didn’t have school today due to a teacher professional development day and though it poured rain overnight this morning’s weather looked suitable for an outdoor adventure.

Quarry Rock is a large rocky outcrop overlooking Indian Arm at scenic Deep Cove. Clouds hung low over the cove as we set off on our hike.

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The 3.8 km round trip trail, which is also part of the easternmost section of the much longer Baden Powell Trail, begins with a long stair climb that quickly informed me that after a long winter, during which the treadmill in our basement mostly gathered dust, my legs and my cardiac conditioning are somewhat out of shape. It didn’t help that in my eagerness to get out and onto the trail, I’d forgotten to have my morning cup of tea! Fortunately, the fresh air, the enthusiasm of our young hiking partners, and the wonderful smell of the damp forest were invigorating.

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The overall elevation gain on this trail is approximately 100 metres, but there are lots of ups and downs along the way. In addition to many flights of wooden steps, boardwalks and small bridges, much of the trail is a maze of tree roots.

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The terrain is typical of North Shore hikes with the trail wending it’s way through densely wooded areas of Douglas fir and hemlock. Morning mist hung in the trees as we set off, but before long the sun began to peek through and we soon started removing layers of clothing.

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Along the trail, many small creeks filled with spring runoff from the mountains tumble down the hillside in their rush to reach the ocean.

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Eventually the trail climbed up onto solid rock and we walked out onto the bluff where the views were spectacular.

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This trail is clearly a popular one. Even on a cool Monday morning, there were lots of hikers out and when we reached Quarry Rock, it was so crowded with people that it was difficult to get good unobstructed photos!

 

Climbing Cerro de las Culebras

Richard M and Colleen use a laundry service here in Coatepec. For approximately $1.40 CAD per 2 kilograms of laundry, you drop it off one morning and pick it up the next afternoon washed, dried and neatly folded! When Colleen and I were on our way to pick up the laundry yesterday she pointed out a green hill in the distance. On top was a bright yellow circular tower of some sort with a cross its side. I immediately wondered if there was a trail leading up to it.

A quick internet search was all it took to discover that Cerro de las Culebras (Snake Hill) and the lookout tower on its top are easily accessible from the centre of town. This morning was warm and sunny, so after a hearty breakfast the four of us set out to find the trailhead and climb to the top. Forty-five minutes later we were at the bottom of a series of steep cobbled steps leading up the hillside.

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The lush greenery on either side made it a beautiful climb and soon we began to catch glimpses of the town spread out below.

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Before we knew it, we were at the top where the lookout tower with a white statue of Christ at its top stands in the middle of a grassy clearing. The views of Coatepec and the surrounding mountains were spectacular. In the distance, we could even see the snow covered peak of Pico de Orizaba, Mexico’s highest mountain and a dormant volcano that last erupted between 1545 and 1566. It is the third highest mountain in North America and the world’s second highest dormant volcano, behind only Kilimanjaro in Africa.

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If you can’t spot Pico De Orizaba in this photo, I’ve circled it in the next one which was taken from the top of the observation tower.

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Hiking the Highlands

Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Highlands National Park boasts more than 20 trails ranging from short easy walks to spectacular hiking expeditions. We chose one of the most popular, the dramatic Skyline Trail on the western side of the Cabot Trail, for Wednesday’s hike.

As we approached the trailhead, we could see the tiny silhouettes of hikers against the skyline on the ridge high above us. Soon we would join them!

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The Skyline Trail offers two options. Many choose to stay on the well groomed path that takes them directly out to the headland cliff overlooking the Gulf of St. Lawrence. This out and back route is 7.5 km long. We chose the longer 9.2 km loop.

The back side of the loop, the road less traveled, crosses a high plateau. The trail is rougher and some sections were muddy as a result of the horrendous storm that swept across Cape Breton two days earlier.

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Once we reached the far side of the plateau, the views were gorgeous.

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Sometimes we just had to sit and soak them in.

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Nothing prepared us for the spectacular views from the headland, however! There, a wooden boardwalk and a series of steps took us down the middle of the cliff. The open ocean was far below to our right and a deep ravine to our left. We watched eagles soar below us and vehicles winding their way along the Cabot Trail looked minuscule.

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Strategically placed by Parks Canada so that it isn’t visible from the highway below, the boardwalk protects the fragile headland plants from trampling and also gave me a sense of security as I crossed the ridge.

Once we tore ourselves away from the the amazing vistas spread out before us, the most used and best maintained portion of the trail took us back to the parking lot. There was a small change in elevation along this portion, but it was very gradual.

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Is it any wonder that I’m overwhelmed by the beauty of Nova Scotia?

Hiking Kejimkujik Seaside

Nova Scotia’s Kejimkujik National Park is actually one park divided into two completely separate areas. Thankfully, locals refer to it as Keji because I’ve had a terrible time getting my tongue around that name! The meaning of the Mi’kmaq name is uncertain, but the park’s official stance is that it means “tired muscles”. Yesterday, we spent several hours hiking the beautiful Seaside portion of the park; 10.7 km in all and I’m proud to say that my muscles are just fine today!

The hiking trails ramble through coastal barrens and bogs, around rocky headlands and along cobbled and sandy beaches offering views that are breathtaking. The trails are well maintained and there’s very little change in elevation, but if you go, you’ll definitely want good footwear for the rocky sections.

Come along on a virtual hike with me.

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In the past, sheep were grazed on the barrens. Here are the remains of the shepherd’s home; definitely a room with a view!

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Wildlife share the park with hikers. A sign at the entrance warned that bears have been sighted. Thankfully, we didn’t see any, but there was plenty of scat along the trail. The only wildlife we saw was birds, a squirrel and this harbour seal sunning itself!

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