With the weather forecast calling for a high of 32 C in Bow Valley Provincial Park today, we decided to go for a lower-elevation gain, shorter hike today; we also wanted to find a few geocaches. So after a bit of research, we decided to start from Barrier Lake just off Highway 40, to hike up Prairie View and then make a loop via Jewell Pass trail.
But before heading to the trailhead, we pulled off thei highway at Lusk Creek, aiming to find The Other Side, a 3 / 4 difficulty cache on the other side of the Kananaskis River. We checked the TransAlta website last night, so knew the river would be "turned off" until 9 o’clock this morning and that we’d have a good opportunity to cross the river in its low-flow state. The boys stayed on the highway side of the river while we crossed in sandals, using our trekking poles for added balance across the faster-flowing spots. Once safely across, we were faced with scrambling up a 5 meter rock face to access the meadow and yet another rock band before approaching the posted coordinates for this nice ammo can cache. Four weeks after publication, we were second to find on this cache!
After marking our parking spot at the Prairie View trailhead, we headed off along the shore of Barrier Lake, walking past the hydro dam that controls the flow of the Kananaskis River upstream of "The Other Side". By the time we reached this point on the trail, the river was flowing at full volume for the day.
Much of the Prairie View trail is through mixed forest and we were very glad of the shade today. Even so, it was HOT and we hiked at a considerably slower pace than usual. By the time we reached the first viewpoint, overlooking Barrier Lake, we had stopped to find 3 geocaches, including 2 where we swapped travel bugs and travelling geocoins. We spotted plenty of wildflowers along the way: wood lilies, brown eyed Susans, fleabanes, bunchberries, Indian paintbrushes (red and salmon), yarrow, a few glacier lilies, clematis and columbine.
We stopped for lunch at about 11:30, at the upper viewpoint where Prairie View Trail transitions into Jewell Pass trail. Last time we were up here was in 2006 and we made the side trip to the fire lookout. But with all the smoke from the Kelowna forest fires hanging in the air, we decided the extra distance and elevation weren’t worth the effort today. After visiting with a couple of other hikers and some of the local wildlife, we carried on into the forest, aiming for Jewell Falls where we hoped to find the first of four more geocaches.
After visiting Takakkaw Falls in Yoho National Park a couple weeks ago, Jewell Falls seemed pretty small. But sometimes small can be beautifully cool and refreshing, as our boys discovered when they washed up a little in the creek. Then our Youngest got really brave and filled his ball cap up with water to dump on his head – that cooled him off in a hurry!
We found all four geocaches hidden along this section of the trail and traded another couple of travellers. Then came the hardest part of the hike: approximately 3 km back to the parking lot, most of it fully-exposed to the 29 C sunshine and with 3 out of the 4 of us with dry CamelBaks! Fortunately, we know that at this time of year, we freeze bottled water to keep our lunch bags cold, so that we have some emergency water supplies if needed. These 500 ml bottles kept us hydrated during the last section of the hike and we were back at the parking lot by about 2:30 pm. Total hiking distance today = 14.6 km, with 500 meters elevation gain and eight geocaches found.
This loop is definitely NOT on our list of favourite hikes, but on a clear day, the hike to the viewpoint is well worth it, as you can see the front ranges of the Canadian Rockies and the rolling prairies from the same spot, and can even spot the City of Calgary skyline. It probably makes sense as a late fall hike, when snow makes some of the higher elevation trails less accessible.