Distance: 11.5 km
Elevation gain: 900 mView mapDownload GPS track
After a failed attempt at Volcano Peak on Saturday due to isothermal snow and avalanche risk (see here
for a successful trip), we decided to head to an area that typically doesn't get a lot of snow. That area was Bull Creek Hills, located just 3.8 km or so west of the Kananaskis Country border (signed) along Highway 541.
This is a reasonably popular area with many options. Most trail reports on the web, including a previous one from me
, indicate that one should park in the Sentinel Day Use area; however, this entire area was obliterated by the flood of 2013 and so at least for the time being, parking is by the side of the road. This can make finding the trailhead difficult, but it's on the right about 1 km west of where Fir Creek (signed) crosses the highway. The trail is reasonably wide and obvious when you see it. You'll know you've gone too far if you see a former exit lane on the far left leading to a dropoff into the Highwood River (that's where the old Sentinel Day Use area was!). If you do see this, the trail is about 100 m to the east.
Once you're on the trail, start ascending on a moderate grade through a really nice forest filled with huge trees, then through open forest and meadows, reaching Grass Pass in about 2.75 km. Grass Pass is an unusual 5-way trail junction. The main trail continues to the north and seems to be used primarily by horseback riders, and routes branch off to the ridges to the west and east (the grassy ridge to the east that you paralled on the way up is worth a visit). The route to Bull Creek Hills initially heads due east from Grass Pass, reaching the first of many high points 600 m later. From here the route descends to the north, then climbs steeply to the first Bull Creek Hill. Many people call it a day here, but slightly higher hills with more expansive views lie further to the east. With bountiful energy and great weather we decided to continue.
The route between the hills is obvious and the only hazard at this time of year may be snow. Today it was very, very deep, but we were early enough that for the most part it was solid and we could walk on top; for more difficult sections we were fortunate that we had a trail from yesterday to follow with the post-holes already made for us. The many small ups and downs between the hills - to be repeated on the way back - do add up, so be sure you've got the energy to re-ascend all the snowy sections. A more adventurous option is to descend east off the highest (most easterly) hill and navigate back to the highway near the Kananaskis Country border, then hitchhike or walk back to your car. In theory this shouldn't be difficult, but we preferred to backtrack rather than walk along the road.