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Kananaskis Country: Prairie View Trail, Barrier Lake – Sept. 2012

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Labour Day, 2012

I’m fortunate right now to be getting the chance to spend a few months in Calgary, so of course, my next hike had to be in the mountains. I’ve never hiked in a mountain range before and the options here are endless. One of the first things I did upon arrival was to buy a few trail books. I had never heard of Gillean Daffern before, but she and her husband Tony, are trail-blazers of the highest order. I bought the 2nd edition of their Kananaskis Trail guide (published in the mid-’80’s) at a used bookstore and, though it was exhaustive, I wasn’t sure how up-to-date it would be. Luckily, Gillean and Tony maintain one of the best hiking blogs I’ve ever come across at:

I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of trails that there are to choose from. My hiking partner and I decided to just get ourselves into K-Country and ask for trail suggestions at the Info Centre. The Info Centre at Barrier Lake is just a few short kilometres south of the TransCanada highway, on Hwy. 40. I had read previously that the folks there are super helpful and friendly and that info was bang on. It’s nice to encounter park staff who are avid hikers themselves.

While standing in line, we overheard the attendant, Bob, telling a group of fellow tourists how to minimize their chances of a bear encounter. Their was a sign in the lobby saying, “Bear in the area”, but I would imagine that you should always be thinking that an encounter is possible. Seems to me that a more appropriate sign might read as follows: “There are always bears in the area. We happened to see one of them recently.”

We asked Bob if he could recommend a good 3-4 hour hike with a lookout or two. He immediately pointed us towards the Prairie View Trail at Barrier Lake and described to a tee, what we would be looking for along the way. The signage is clear and the trail is wide and well traveled.

Wondering whether we should carry bear spray or not, Bob explained that, while its a personal choice, this was the time of year that the bears were focused on packing in as much food as they could before winter. Therefore, they were out looking for food. He also admitted to carrying bear spray with him on every hike. That was good enough for me, and I was happy to buy a canister. $45 and it fits on your belt. Of course, we didn’t see a bear as the trail was really busy. It was Labour Day and we expected to see a lot of traffic. Either way, I’m planning for multiple hikes in the Rockies and I’m always happy to have an extra can of spray to offer a fellow hiker.

In Ontario, I find having a can of bear spray or a bear bell jangling can get you some sideways looks by fellow campers. We have primarily Black bears to deal with and they aren’t Grizzlies. That said, more deaths have occurred with black rather than grizzly, but really, who’s keeping score? I hope to discard a full can of bear spray when its expired, untouched. As for the bear bell, I keep that going mostly to let fellow campers that someone is nearby. Some of the thunderboxes in Algonquin are pretty close to the trail, if you know what I mean.

The trailhead, crossing the dam.

The parking lot at Barrier Lake is 2 km south of the Info Centre. The trailhead is at the parking lot, beginning with crossing the dam. Once over and into the trees, you stick to the right and follow the signs.

It’s not a terribly long hike, about 6 kms up to the first peak, and you can take another 700m trail up to a second peak that gives you a full panoramic view. As it turned out, we only hiked to the first peak and were very satisfied with the 3/4 view of our surroundings.

The start of the trail is very well maintained and relatively flat. Wide enough to accommodate the heavy traffic in both directions.

Prairie View Trail

About 500m or so, before the first peak, the wide trail ends and confused us for a moment as we thought we had reached the end. The lookout was impressive. Soon though, we saw a group of people above us at the actual peak.

1st lookout on the Prairie Trail

1st lookout on the Prairie Trail

The last bit of trail up to the peak is quite steep, making me wish that I had brought two poles for each of us. As it was, we got by with one each. We watched several people face the challenge of coming downhill without the assistance of poles. I’ve said it before in this blog and I’ll say it again: I admire the strength of those who hike without poles, but my knees can’t take it otherwise. We were plenty happy to have the assistance of our poles on the way back down.

The “Prairie View” from the 1st peak.

view of Barrier Lake from 1st peak

view of the mountain valley looking west from the 1st peak.

another view from the 1st peak

another view from the 1st peak.

I don’t know what compelled me not to pack my hiking shoes for my trip out West. It was a poor choice for me to go at it in my Blundtstones as the insoles (albeit well worn already) got shredded on the descent. At least it wasn’t a long and arduous hike. All in all, it took us about 3 1/2 hours to climb up and back down.

I’m looking forward to more hiking in the Rockies. I can see what all the fuss is about.

Back at Barrier Lake at the end of the hike.

Prairie View Trail, Barrier Lake, Kananaskis AB at EveryTrail


Written by canadianparkhound

September 4, 2012 at 4:51 pm