Pincher Creek is your adventure hub

This article is part of our #BucketlistAB campaign – allowing you to string together an assortment of destinations across Alberta’s south for a road trip you won’t soon forget. Start here and be sure to use the tag #BucketlistAB and let us know how the travels are going!

By JOANNE ELVES for #BucketlistAB

Pincher Creek, AB – You know how folks in Pincher Creek know it’s going to be a great day for a hike? The sun is shining, and the rows of wind turbines are making lazy loops on the horizon. In the summer, those days are abundant.

Using Pincher Creek as a basecamp for hiking in southwestern Alberta is ideal. First, there are plenty of reasonably priced accommodations, restaurants, coffee shops and pubs to get you on your way. So, lets begin. South or west? South today, tomorrow west.

Check into Pincher Creek to start planning your trip's activities.

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The jewel of the Canadian Rockies

Within 40 minutes of Pincher Creek is Alberta’s best kept secret. Waterton National Park and its quaint village is like Banff … unplugged. Waterton is one of Canada’s smallest national parks, but size doesn’t matter. Spearheading a movement to protect the wilderness in 1895, Kootenai Brown convinced the government to list it as a forest park. Spearheaded by the Rotary clubs of Alberta and Montana in 1932, Waterton Lakes and Glacier National Park in Montana were designated as the first International Peace Park. Since then, it’s also been designated a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO and most recently, a Night Sky Preserve. Not bad, huh and we think Mr. Brown would be pretty pleased.

Photo: Joanne Elves

In the winter, the townsite of Waterton is almost a ghost town. In the spring and fall, it’s all yours. But in the summer, you may have to line up a few minutes for a hotdog at the famous Wieners of Waterton, but that’s it. The trails, the roadways and the lake are yours to discover.

Springtime is a showy time for nature in the park. Over 900 different species of plants are bursting with flowers. Alpine fields are exploding with fresh green grass and are blanketed with pastel colours of a painter’s palette. Columbine, lupine, orchids and wild roses are everywhere.

Yes, Waterton experienced a devastating fire in 2017 with some regions still in recovery mode, but the Parks staff is working hard to open new terrain, so don’t let that stop you. Let it be your guide to discover how nature heals. Watch the Waterton Park Facebook page for updates on the trails. They are hinting that Red Rock Canyon road all the way to the canyon has the potential to open this summer.

“When the Parks says, ‘This summer,’ you have to realize that summer is short here and that means closer to July,” says Kelley Baker of Waterton Outdoor Adventures. “But for people coming early, the bonus is the road is closed to traffic all the way to Coppermine Creek pullout.” Just make sure you have good tires on.

I agree with Baker, when the road is closed to traffic in the spring, it opens the door for hikers and cyclists. Last spring, we cycled it, passing lots of hikers enjoying the road with no traffic to disturb the sights or the sounds.

Baker suggests hikes in the area that are open include Betha Lake, Lion’s Head Lookout and the Belvidere trail. She says she has her fingers crossed that Bear’s Hump will see people on it this season too, but says it has to be totally free of hazards before the Parks will take down the closed signs.

My favourite hike in Canada, is the hike to Crypt Lake. It’s not easy, but it’s worth every step of the effort. The hike involves crossing the lake in a boat, hiking steep valleys, crawling through caves, climbing steep rock faces while clinging to a fixed cable, crossing unguarded international boards to stop at a pristine mountain lake, edged by mountain peaks and snow drifts that last almost the entire summer. You can’t linger too long as the boat comes back at a designated time. Definitely a #bucketlistAB trail.

Because it takes all day to do Crypt Lake trail, staying in Pincher Creek is ideal. Stop on your way back to Pincher Creek at the Twin Butte store for some killer Mexican food. Trust me on that.

Check into Pincher Creek to start planning your trip's activities.

Castle Provincial Park

Castle Provincial Park
Photo: Travel Alberta

In less than half an hour from the historic downtown of Pincher Creek  you can be strolling brand new trails in Castle Provincial Park (or neighbouring Castle Wildland Provincial Park). The two park systems cover over 105,000 hectares of mountains, creeks, meadows and protected lands for everything from squirrels to bears. Yes, bears, so if you do visit, make sure the bear spray is dangling from your belt.

A good idea is to stop at the Alberta Parks Information Centre and ask for suggestions, as the trails are constantly being upgraded or opened. Easy trails can be found snaking out from all the day-use and camp areas. Syncline Group Campground had some great trails we did on cross-country skis this winter and I’m looking forward to seeing them this summer.

A fantastic day hike that can end at the T-Bar at Castle Mountain Resort over a plate of nachos is the meander to Haig Lake. Park at the resort and follow the new signage through the village area to the south following the ski-out trail. You’ll wrap around Mount Gravenstafel and gradually climb to the lake. Watch for huckleberries along the way. Round trip, it’s close to 20 km.

A tough trail, but definitely rewarding is the 8.5 km slog up Table Mountain from the campground at Beaver Mines. It’s a huge gain of 771 metres, but the view from the top is five stars. No, I should say all the stars. It’s spectacular. If you have been worried about no cell service in the park, you should get it from the top of the mountain before you descend.

Mountain bikers and the equestrian crowd will be delighted to find lots of trails that were created by the off-roaders. But now that the area is designated a park, their activities are limited to four areas. With over 105,000 hectares, there is plenty of space for us all to play fair.

When You Go

Get the most out of your trip to Pincher Creek by following along with this great itinerary.

Check into Pincher Creek to start planning your trip's activities.

Looking for a guide to take you right from the curb on main street Pincher Creek into Waterton? Stop in at the Tamarack Outdoor Store where Hike Waterton arranges tours.

Travel Alberta also has lots of great information about things to do and places to see in Southern Alberta.

Hit the road to explore Alberta's South along Highway 3 this month and be sure to share your discoveries on social media with the hashtag #BucketlistAB and #ExploreAlberta - you could be featured on our social media channels.  Check out for itineraries, stories and lots more video on Southern Albertan experiences.

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