Planning a hike for last weekend, we briefly considered hiking to the top of Mount Bourgeau (24 km and > 1500 meters gain). But since K’s been undergoing rehab on his left foot all summer and our longest hike so far this year was the one to Paradise Valley and the Giant Steps (just over 20 km with 800 – 900 meters gain), we quickly concluded that Mount Bourgeau might be a little too much for us to tackle this summer.
So we took another look at our “Hikes to do in 2012” list and selected a hike at the other end of the difficulty spectrum – Jura Creek! We first learned about this hike when we came across pdf brochures for three self-guided geology-oriented walks on the Canmore Museum & Geoscience Centre website. In addition to the interesting geology, there was the possibility of finding three geocaches on International Geocaching Day. And the thought of walking along a creek on a hot summer day was also appealing!
As explained in this July 2012 article in the Rocky Mountain Outlook, parking can be a bit of a challenge. From what we observed, hikers have three choices. We opted to park just off the driveway to the Graymont Plant. We were the second vehicle to park here when we arrived at about 8:30; at the end of our hike we counted about a dozen cars and two 15-passenger vans in this unofficial parking area. Driving back towards Canmore, we saw two vehicles parked right at the Highway 1A bridge over Jura Creek, the second parking option. There aren’t many spots available here and depending on traffic volume, you could face a challenge when it comes time to get back on the highway and head for home. We discovered the third option about 600 meters into our hike, when we walked right past a couple of vehicles parked along the creek bank at the end of some bumpy, dusty, braided off-road routes. Since we don’t off-road, we can’t offer any sort of informed comment on this option.
After safely crossing the highway, the first stretch is pretty basic, gaining very little elevation as you pretty much parallel (or walk right down in) the creek bed. On reaching the lower end of the slot canyon you have a choice – walk up the canyon or take the bypass trail (it’s on the left (west) side of the creek and every time you reach a fork in the trail, choose the right one). Since the water level looked pretty low, we opted for the canyon route.
Once the narrow canyon opened up into the main Jura Creek valley, we started searching for fossils. We found at least a few, plus lots of other interesting rocks:
Also along this section, we found GC88A8 Under a rock by a Door Jamb, our first geocache of the day. Placed almost 10 years ago, this cache has been found just 5 or 6 times in an average year. We didn’t have any luck at the posted coordinates, but making use of some alternate coordinates posted in an earlier “found it” log along with the hint posted by the cache owner, we soon earned our smiley. Surprisingly, the cache still contained a number of the scout badges including as trading swag when the cache was first hidden!
About 45 minutes later, we reached the “notch” that forms the upper canyon, where it’s easy to observe the contact between the grey rocks of the Palliser Formation and the black shale of the Exshaw Formation. K led the charge along the Palliser slab in search of GC1D2WM – Jura ? Creek, our second geocache for the day. But after locating the big ammo can, he found a comfortable rock and settled in for a rest while the rest of us explored a little further up the canyon.
After exploring the upper canyon (and beyond) for a while, we donned our day packs to head back down the creek. Just about then, a large group came along – maybe 15 or 18 mostly young guys. We spoke with the group leader for a few minutes, comparing notes on how far we’d explored, how far they were planning to explore, etc. I only mention this brief encounter because back at home, referencing Ben Gadd’s “Handbook of the Canadian Rockies” trying to determine what kind of raptor I’d seen, I realized the group leader was Ben Gadd! Sure enough, a few minutes of searching on the web revealed he was leading a walk up Jura Creek for the Canmore Museum and Geoscience Centre. Small world…
The trip back down the creek was a little more challenging, mainly because someone or some group that was behind us either accidentally or on-purpose took down most of the log ramps / bridges. In the end, three of the four of us got very wet feet. But it was a hot day and we really didn’t mind!
Return distance – approx. 9 km + (depends how much exploring you want to do beyond the upper canyon)
Elevation gain – about 125 m to the top of the upper canyon
Our difficulty rating – moderate, simply because of the high likelihood of getting wet feet if you opt to go up the slot canyon AND the possibility of having to turn back and take the alternate route in higher water situations
Would we do it again? Absolutely! This hike has a HUGE fun factor and is a great choice for kids from about age 4 or 5 and up. Wear (or at least bring) water shoes or sandals (such as your favourite pair of Keens) so that you don’t have to worry about getting wet feet). It’s a great choice for a quick outing on a hot day.
Options – It’s possible to do a loop, starting just a little further east, going up Door Jamb to Loder Peak and then down the drainage cut just upstream of the upper canyon. Experience with a topo map and navigating your way down from a mountain top without the benefit of a trail would be essential skills for tackling this option. Gemtrek’s Canmore and Kananaskis Village top map shows the unofficial trails and the gaps between them.