Distance: 15 km
Elevation gain: 300 m View map Download GPS track
I wanted to get out hiking today, but with the moderately thick smoke near Calgary I didn’t really feel like trudging to the top of a mountain for no views. As my car also had a thin coating of ash on it from the past few days, I also didn’t think it wise to do something too strenuous. Together with the heat, I figured a hike along a creek would be nice and quickly decided a hike up Junction Creek to a beautiful three-tiered waterfall would do nicely.
I expected this trip to be quite engaging despite the lack of summit views. I always enjoy the scenery alongside creeks, I assumed there would be a variety of photogenic wildflowers and mushrooms in the forest, and as the area was once a sawmill, I hoped there would be some bits of history lying around.
Our hike started with an easy ford of the Sheep River, which was only calf-deep today. In the morning heat it didn’t seem cold at all and after switching to our dry hiking boots we started hiking along the Junction Creek trail. The trail was in pretty good condition and we moved at a reasonable pace, reaching a side creek that flows into Junction Creek from Junction Lake in about an hour, four kilometers from the car. I got a bit confused at this point and started heading up the side creek, but realized my mistake after a few hundred meters and backtracked to the correct trail. [We met a large group on the way out that also made this mistake, so this is apparently an easy place to go wrong. The correct trail crosses
the creek. It’s flagged and cairned, but seemed like a secondary trail to me. It’s not.].
After another three or so kilometers of hiking we reached the next major side creek. We headed up the creek on one of many trails at this point and soon reached our destination – the lovely three-tiered waterfall I’d seen in every report on this area and in the Kananaskis Country Trail Guide. We had lunch in the cool shade by the falls, then explored the area and a bit downstream. It was hot and I was minutes away from jumping in the lower pool, but another couple arrived and suddenly getting naked just didn’t seem appropriate anymore! Instead we started the long, monotonous plod back to the car.
With the exception of the beauty of the three-tiered waterfall, my expectations for this hike were, unfortunately, completely wrong! First, the trail very rarely followed any creek, and when it did we were usually slogging along ugly flood-deposited river rock. Second, while the forest has seemingly fully recovered from the ancient logging, there were remarkably few flowers and mushrooms; in fact, there was about twice as much horse crap on the trail as there were wildflowers in the forest! Third, the only bits of history I found (although I didn’t really look that hard) were the ruins of a logging dam and a partially-finished cabin. Recent fire rings, campsites, and chopped trees for firewood were, however, quite prevalent.
If you hike only for the destination and care little about the experience along the way, this would be a lovely hike; the falls at the end are indisputably beautiful. It’ll be a while before I work up the mental fortitude to head back to the area for scrambles up Junction and Pyriform Mountains and a foray into the Junction Lake basin, however.