Hiking the Bow Valley – Jura Creek

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.

Early in the slot canyon
The slot canyon was in deep shadow when we started out just before 9 o’clock. At this point, K’s trekking poles were still stowed in the side pocket of his day pack. We pulled them out a short while later, glad we had one pair of trekking poles between us (two sets would have been better, but we left them in the car not anticipating how useful they would have been).
Brothers talk about the best way to make it onto the log
The GeoKids paused to brainstorm the best way to make it onto the log while keeping their feet try. In the end, trekking poles and a l-o-n-g step did the trick.
Follow the logs
Working our way up the slot canyon was tricky, but fun! Hikers before us carefully arranged logs and stepping stones to create a “keep your feet dry” route all the way up to the top of the canyon. Here, K offers his dad and older brother his advice on what to do next.
Mrs. GeoK ascends the log
Mrs. GeoKs’ long arms provided an advantage when it came to using the slot canyon walls to help with balance. Unfortunately, the canyon widened out just upstream and she ended up sitting in the creek after losing her balance while trying to adjust some stepping stones.
Stepping stones
Here’s a section with no logs…just carefully positioned stepping stones. Mr. GeoK used the “key line filter” for this shot.

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:

Markings on rock
We took lots of photos of interesting rocks. But we really need a qualified geologist to tell us whether these markings are the result of rocks bumping over this boulder during spring run-off or whether they’re the ancient tracks of some worm-like creature.
Interesting rock
Mrs. GeoK thought the protrusions, missing protrusions and rust stains (presumably some type of iron-based inclusion) on this rock worthy of a photo.
Ancient shells
Shell imprints and shell fossils spotted by Mrs. GeoK.
Not sure what this is (Mrs. GeoK needs to take a course on the geology of the Canadian Rockies), but we think it’s a group of fossils of some ancient, simple sea creature.

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.

At the pools
While Mrs. GeoK climbed ahead to go search out one last geocache, Mr. GeoK opted to take lots of pictures of the pools that have been eroded into the slabs of Palliser Formation rock. We’ve also seen these little pools referred to as “bathtubs” and Mrs. GeoK interrupted a raptor bathing in one of the pools – possibly a prairie falcon. It took off without posing for a photo!
Juxtaposition of geological formations
The dark Exshaw Formation on the left makes abrupt contact with the lighter Pallser Formation on the right. Chunks of Palliser Formation rock clutter the foreground. The pools (bathtubs) are up and to the right, in the Palliser Formation slab. Mr. GeoKs’ “key line filter” was turned on for this photo.

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…

Leading the charge
Of all the hikes we’ve done this year, I think this one top’s K’s list. It’s got a high “fun factor” and the likelihood you’ll end up wet makes it a great choice for a hot day. K led the whole way through the slot canyon – in both directions!

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!

One log left in place
Mr. GeoK makes his way down one of the logs still in place. From the lowest dry section, it’s a couple of long steps to reach the next section of gravel “beach”.
Resigned to re-building
After it was clear that someone would have to get wet feet, K jumped right in to drag the dislodged logs over to us so we could try to rebuild a “keep your feet dry” option for getting past this section of Jura Creek.
Mrs. GeoK in the creek
K wasn’t quite strong enough to move all of the logs back into place, so Mrs. GeoK (having fallen into the creek just a few minutes into our hike, then dried out in the heat and willing to get wet again) jumped in to help. After carefully placing the now wet (and most likely slippery) logs back into place, she offered a steadying hand to C. Unfortunately, it was of little use. As soon as C took two steps onto the longest log, it spun out from under him and there were three GeoKs in the creek!
Walking in the creek
After rolling up his pant legs and flooding his boots with creek water, K decided he might as well walk the rest of the way in the creek. It was such a warm day that the rest of his were tempted to join him. And his boots were dry in about 24 hours.

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.

One thought on “Hiking the Bow Valley – Jura Creek

  1. Please note that the MD of Bighorn has asked the Province of Alberta to prohibit parking at the informal Jura Creek trailhead. For more details, refer to http://www.rmoutlook.com/article/20130613/RMO0801/306139992/-1/rmo/bighorn-seeks-jura-creek-parking-restriction

    Not sure whether this means everyone wanting to hike Jura Creek will have to get someone to drop them off and pick them up or whether they’ll have to request permission from Graymont to use their land for parking. We’ll post another update if we learn anything new.

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