This wonderful hike follows the often dry Jura Creek though a deep slot canyon, cascading pools, gravel flats and boulder fields to an interesting and significant geological formation. Along the way, you can also expect to find fossils.
This is not a strenuous hike, and in fact we picked it because we wanted something fairly easy this day. None the less, the loose footing on the creek bed means you’ll work harder than if you were on a packed down path.
Start your aventure at the obvious parking spot below the power lines across from the Greymont plant entrance, just east of Exshaw. Don’t park where Jura Creek itself crosses the highway, it’s too dangerous there.
Heading west, follow what ever 4*4 track you wish, they all end up pretty much at the same spot anyway. Drop down into the creek bed and turn north. There is a broad gravel flat here showing recent damage from flooding (a common theme this year in Kananaskis). Evidence of heavy equipment working to clean up the mess is also seen.
This section of the creek, at most times of year is dry, the water following a path under the porous limestone bedding. In fact most of the route is devoid of water, except for the lower or first canyon, which we’ll soon arrive at.
Entering it, expect to get wet feet. On our visit the water was quite shallow however, a trickle really, and there were lots of strategically placed stepping stones and logs to help us along. In the spring it could be too deep and fast flowing to enter and so there is a by-pass trail here when conditions are dangerous. Take the canyon if you can though, it’s a delight.
In places the walls are so close that one can easily touch both with outstretched arms. At each bend the water has scoured out huge polished bowls, which I have fun exploring. The high water mark is well above our heads showing what a monster this creek can be at times, in spite of appearing pretty placid o our visit.
Where the canyon opens up briefly one encounters huge car-sized blocks that appear to have come down recently from the cliffs high above.
Occasionally, a few pools and chutes have to be tackled head on, but they aren’t terribly challenging. You can easily shimmy up them.
Before long, to soon in fact (it’s fun), the canyon ends becoming instead a narrow valley. Eventually it broadens too and at that point the creek bed becomes dry again. There are smooth gravel flats here, and boulder fields, lots of evidence of flooding and a few fallen trees. None the less, the going is easy. There are occasional by-pass trails in the woods if you’d like to avoid the loose footing of the creek bed.
At times, smooth gently sloping slabs can be found in the valley and I have fun playing on them. These are part of the Palliser Formation, which we’ll talk about shortly.
For the next kilometre or two, the going is pretty mundane although one can catch a glimpse of some of the mountains that rim the valley, Goat Mountain (I think) one of the most prominent seen from this angle. Mostly however, you’ll see trees and cliffs and rocks. Lots of rocks.
The valley starts narrowing again and rounding a corner, we come to a geographically significant place. Here, three separate formations meet, something ones does not find every day – at least so well exposed and defined. There is the earlier mentioned Palliser Formation, the grey material on your right. To the left is a thin section of the Exshaw Formation, the black almost coal looking shale material and above it is the more brown-ish Banff Formation. Lots of large blocks and slabs from the latter seem to have tumbled down here recently – watch for falling rocks!
The creek here has cut an odd path, pouring down though another slot canyon above, though a series of plunge pools before cascading over the smooth slabs to the gravel beds below. Water only flows here at spring runoff or at times of severe rain. Some of the deeper pools hold stagnating water.
The Palliser slabs have eroded in such a way that one can walk up the steep walled valley here with ease, via a series of ledges. Half way up, and ever narrowing it, becomes a notch and then another slot canyon, a very narrow one. From here it’s impassible, further turning into a deep steep walled gorge. There is a by-pass trail though, heading to the left and from it one can look down into the narrow confines of this second canyon (aka the upper canyon).
At the top, the valley opens up dramatically. If you wish to go further, Jura Creek changes personality though and it’s nothing but an endless sea of huge boulders and unless you are a glutton for punishment and like scrambling over and squeezing between them, it’s not worth going on. Make this your turnaround point.
Returning back down, we have lunch (and of course wine) below the second canyon and I spend some time looking for fossils which apparently are quite common here – to photograph – and I find none. I do notice a few nodules, sandstone I think, in the Exshaw shale, which are interesting enough though.
The trip back is uneventful, but we do notice a cave high up the valley that we did not see on the way in. It looks huge. Interesting!
Back at the first lower canyon, we thoroughly enjoy our return trip through it as much as we did the trip in.
At the broad open flats further on we take time to enjoy the mountains around us. To the Northeast is Door Jamb Mountain and Loder Peak (connected by a ridge). The trail head for these is the same parking spot we used. To the west, the barren summit of Mt McGillivray looms above us. Beside it is Pigeon Mountain, a place we’ve been up. It looks too steep and precipitous to be climbed, but one can easily hike up the gentle back side.
We saw only a few people on the trail this day but overall I hear it’s quite popular. My understanding is the local MD may restrict access to the parking spot and fine those who use it, which they see as being dangerous. Rather than cut everyone off, I think an official parking spot, safely off the highway, would be a better alternative than closing it down completely (which I don’t see working anyway).
In addition to hikers, I understand geology students often visit Jura Creek on field trips.
Not far away in Canmore is another interesting river canyon, and to see a report on it, click the link below…
If you wish more information on this trail, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: August, 2013.
Location: Kananaskis near Exshaw, AB.
Distance: 8km round trip.
Height gain maximum: 240m
Height gain cumulative: 240m
Technical bits: The canyon can be tricky depending on water level.
NOTE: all heights and distances are approximate.
Reference: Kananaskis Trail Guide by Gillean Daffern.