Jul 162013
 
Big Hill Springs waterfall

A little oasis of green on the rolling prairies, Big Hill Springs Provincial Park is a fun place to explore. There is a natural spring, old creamery remains, wildlife and a short but pleasant hiking trail that takes you past it all, and up to the valley ridge above.

Located less than 10km north of Cochrane, the park is small, yet has lots to offer. And because of that, it’s popular and expect it to be busy. If you want solitude, don’t come, or at least don’t come on a summer weekend.

From the parking spot, start by following the trail that parallels a stream. This is “the spring”, in Big Hill Springs and as you travel upstream you’ll be treated to waterfalls, tufa deposit (more on this below) and all manner of flora and fauna. The water here emerges from a side valley in the west.

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Passing the picnic area, one comes to some concrete remains near a bridge. This is what’s left of the Big Hill Springs creamery that once operated here, so long ago. It’s assumed that the water, which maintains a fairly steady flow at a constant temperature all year round (cool but not cold), was perhaps used as a temperature stabilizing medium for the product. This author has seen pictures of the creamery from the early 1890s, but it’s not clear when it closed. On thing is for certain is was one of the earliest commercial operations of this nature in the area or even the province.

Later on, according to some websites, a fish hatchery operated here but I have found no solid evidence of this. Of course, I have been wrong before.

Walking past the remains, you’ll notice a unique type of rock in the immediate area. This is that tufa (too-fa) I spoke of earlier and it’s composed of layer after layer of minerals precipitated from the water over the eons. They slowly build these rocks much like the calcium builds up in your coffee pot, only on a grander scale.

Walking along, we pass a number of lovey water falls, ALL very photogenic.

Soon after we come to the tufa dam. According to a sign at the site, the remains of an ancient beaver dam may be encased in the deposit. Apparently over time, the leeched material coated the dam and built upon it, becoming the large mass we see today. An interesting story, but I am not convinced. Instead I think it’s just a normal deposit that built up over time, eventually forcing the stream to change direction.

I went to the bottom of it and it’s many matres thick, the thickest deposit we saw in the park. The stream flows along the base of it. Careful when walking on this stuff as it’s sharp and craggy, and would likely be very painful if one were to fall on it.

The section described so far is the most busy area in the park and once beyond the tufa dam, the crowds thin out. Along here the trail can be muddy.

Following the stream further, the topography forces you to leave the little valley you are in and head left uphill. It’d be interesting to see where the water actually emerges from the ground, but it’s too boggy, the trees and bushes too thick and the side valley too steep. Maybe I’ll try to find the source, another time, by traversing the side valley further up where the trees thin.

Travelling through mixed forest, you soon top out above main valley. The going is easy, a stroll for us really. Along the way we spot many edibles, gooseberries (yum), strawberries (double yum) and raspberries (triple yum). None are ripe however. There is also Buffalo Berry, many of which are ripe, and while they are edible, they’re at best, awful. Bears seem to love them for some reason.

Meandering along the top between the heavy woods on the valley edge and an open farmers field, (remember this is prairie), we enjoy our stroll. We pass only a few people here, many of them huffing and puffing. We hear some chirping and spot a hole in a dead tree. It’s some baby woodpeckers, but mom and dad come and go too fast for us to photograph them in action (or at least photograph them well).

In spite of being on the prairies, this section of the Big Hill Springs trail has some very un-prairie like features and it would be easy to imagine one is deep in the mountains further west.

Before long the trail heads back down, zig-zagging as it goes, and in short order we are back where we started. We were just getting warmed up!

I take time to check out an old double track, a fenced off continuation of the road into the park, heading south down the valley. It looks like a possible hiking route, although it’s not part of the park itself and indeed I have found some trip reports where people have used it to travel almost to Cochrane. This uninhabited valley is home to a small steam and nothing much else (cows maybe, according to a sign). It’s heavily forested on the east facing side, and basically barren on the other. I see a trip for another day.

One thing I have noticed since our last visits here (perhaps 10 years ago) is how worn out Big Hill Springs Provincial Park looks. Many of the trails are braided, and some people have bypassed the zig-zags, making a steep path that is susceptible to slumping; bridges need repair, there is much deadfall, and overall the place could use some simple TLC. Heavy use and an apparent a lack of maintenance have taken their toll. This should not dissuade anyone from visiting though.

Not terribly far away is an interesting ghost town site, located in Glenbow Ranch Park and to read about it, click the link below…
Town of Glenbow.

To see some other short and easy hikes, follow these links…
High Noon Hills.
Brown-Lowery Provincial Park.

If you wish more information on this route, by all means contact us!

Date of adventure: July, 2013.
Location: 10km north of Cochrane.
Distance: >3km loop.
Height gain from start: >50m.
Height gain cumulative: >50m.
NOTE: all heights and distances are approximate.

Big Hill Springs parking

The very busy parking lot at Big Hill Springs Provincial Park.

Big Hill Springs park

The natural springs come into view.

Big Hill Springs creamery

Remains of the creamery that once operated here.

Big Hill Springs waterfall

The largest waterfall in the park.

Tufa deposit

This “rock” is known as Tufa (too-fa), created by minerals that over eons precipitated from the water.

Big Hill Springs falls

Another waterfall further upstream.

Big Hill Springs Tufa dam

The Tufa dam.

Tufa deposits

This deposit is many metres thick.

Big Hill Springs trail

This section of the trail is wet and muddy.

Trail Big Hill Springs

Heading up to the valley top.

Gooseberry

Goosberries, one of my favourites.

Buffalo Berry

Buffalo Berry, edible but not very tasty.

Woodpecker nest

You could hear the baby birds in this nest – the parents came and went too fast for us to photograph them.

Trail at Big Hill Springs

The trail at the top travels through mixed forest.

Trail down Big Hill Springs

Lower down, the woods are predominately spruce.

Big Hill Springs Provincial park

The end of the trail.

Big Hill Springs valley

Looking from the park boundary south down the valley.

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15 Comments on "Big Hill Springs Park"

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L Regina
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L Regina

My family and I visited the park last weekend and it was crazy busy. Also, I agree it could use some fixing up. It would be a much nicer place.

Hollywood Kim
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Hollywood Kim

Great, I always wanted to check out this place and now I will. On a weekday!

Buffy
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Buffy

I went here with my kids and Dad yesterday and had the place to ourselves. I got the idea to go there by looking it up in your blog. The park is is beautiful and what a great little spot, a gem of a place.

Jerry Moor
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Jerry Moor

We visited the park last week and we agree with you about its condition. It is starting to show the effects of overuse and damage from irresponsible visitors. Clean up your garbage people!

Steve
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Steve

We have been to Big Hill Springs a few times, and the creek and small falls are great for pics. Our main complaint is that it is very busy, although week days and colder times filter out the softies. One thing that we can’t change is that since we go in the spring melting time, when the water is flowing better, we have to put up with the hundreds of Airdrie people who let their dogs poo everywhere, and it all comes up when the snow goes. Tip: Avoid spring trips or the smell will nauseate you. Being the only green area within 100 km of Airdrie, they have nowhere else to take their dogs, and being outside Calgary, they must feel they are too good to clean up after their mutts. Sad.

Paul von Huene
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Paul von Huene

Back in the ’70’s it was possible to drive south and end up in Cochrane. The large stone fireplace must be gone. I am sure you would have photographed it if it was still there. There used to be a camp kitchen to the east of the parking lot. We used to camp there in the late ’60’s.

Mike G and the Team
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Mike G and the Team
Hi Chris and Connie. We were out at Big Hill Springs for the first time about 2 months ago. I was surprised how many others were there. After we survived getting a parking spot, the park itself and the hike was very nice. We followed the route up the spring and did the switchbacks on the way down. There were 2 or 3 tipi type structures that have been built at the top. There was still a fair bit of snow and ice on the trail which made for a slippy trip on the way down. We had to be extra careful not to slide off the trail and down one of the “shortcuts”! By the time we got back to the parking lot, it had cleared out and we could enjoy the warm sun and have a tailgate picnic. Too bad it gets so busy out there. Great suggestion… Read more »
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