This hiking trail is located in the Sheep River area of Kananaskis, just west of Turner Valley. It takes one south up a remote densely forested valley, paralleling scenic Junction Creek the whole time. While it’s in the trees most of the way, there’s enough views of surrounding mountains to make it all worthwhile. An added bonus, and the real reason you’ll want to come here, are the many waterfalls, one of them especially spectacular, seen along the route (most near the end).
The going is super easy, flat, or mostly so. In fact we did it because we were ill and needed something not too demanding physically. In that respects, it was near perfect. There are zero navigation challenges. It’s a bit rough and wet in places, and is frequented by equestrian types, so expect to play in the mud from time to time. The horses can chew up soft ground, and of course leave the occasional road apple for you to dodge. No big deal. Hunters use this trail when the season’s open. We saw a few groups. Recommendation: leave the antler hat at home.
The start of the trail is at the Junction Creek day use area, at the very end of the Sheep River Road (Highway #546). From the parking lot, head south toward the Sheep River. Cross at a point west of Junction Creek, seen coming in from the south on the opposite bank. The Sheep is typically fairly shallow and the current moderate. In spring, or even after a big rain, it can become a monster however, so time your adventure accordingly.
Find the old logging road and start hoofin’ it south. It meanders a bit, any elevation being gained barely noticeable. The forest is thick here. Occasionally, as the trail nears the creek, there are some views of towering peaks on both sides of the valley. To the west is Shunga-la-she and to the east Junction Mountain. In the creek bed look for remains of wood dams left over from the logging days – a build up of water behind them would be released allowing the stuff being floated down Junction Creek a quick trip to the much bigger Sheep River. Also, look for many small step-falls up and down the creek bed. Lots of them.
Pass some side creeks – notice the trail is often washed out at these crossings. In boggy areas see cross-way set logs that once made up a corduroy road. Come to meadow, once the site of a sawmill, where logs were rough cut. There’s nothing really left to see here from that operation. The logging road ends. From now on the trail is single track and is a bit more chewed up too.
Continue on. Come to the remains of an old cabin (one that looks to have never been finished), then soon after a horse camp. Follow the (nameless) side creek upstream a short way to view a spectacular waterfall. It’s high and multi-tiered with a deep green plunge pool at the bottom. Stunning! We choose to visit it on the way out. Sort of a best for last thing.
Come to some gravel flats. Some of the trail has been wiped off the map by past flooding. Keep to the west bank until you intercept it again. It reappears soon enough. Junction Mountain, our old friend, rises up to your left. To the right is the west flank of Highwood Peak. Go down to the water and notice how clear it is. Some of the cleanest water in the world right here. We wandered about this open area for a time, for fun.
The trail at times climbs up high above the creek. The next section from here to the end is where most of the elevation is gained this trip. But it’s still pretty moderate and easy. Pass another side creek (another washed out section), drop down a bit and rise up again. An offshoot trail leads west up a valley – in fact there are supposed to be trails up each side valley, but outside this one branching off, we didn’t see them. The going is quick. One last drop down to the creek, at some step-falls, both a suitably scenic place to have lunch and also a good turn around point. You can continue on if you like – the trail heads up steeply into the trees on the opposite bank but we’re not sure its final destination. The path is well beaten so there must be something nice up that way. Anyone been?
Find a rock to sit on, chow down and soak it all up for a time. We spent almost an hour there, enjoying the solitude, sipping wine, the only noise heard, that gurgling creek. Retrace your steps. Don’t forget to hit up that one waterfall on the way back, if you didn’t already beforehand. It’s the real reason to hike this trail. It’s the cherry on top. Once done there, it’s a quick trip back to your car. Damn the Sheep River is cold!
While not the most exciting trail out there, still it’s one we’d recommend. Those waterfalls are nice and make it all worthwhile. Extra reward: if it’s hot out, there are many opportunities to take a plunge in the creek. Lots of swimming holes along the way where one could cool off, including a nice deep one below those breathtaking falls. How could that be bad?
As to how busy the Junction Creek Trail is. We passed some people on horseback, some hunters early on, and a few other hikers along the way. Most of the time, however, we had the place to ourselves. Given the remoteness of the valley, the feeling of being alone was quite palpable. Not overpowering, but there.
If you wish more information about this trail, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: September, 2016.
Location: Sheep River area Kananaskis, AB.
Distance: 16km there and back – options to go further.
Height gain maximum: 350m.
Height gain cumulative: 450m-ish (more if you go further).
NOTE: all distances and heights are approximate.
Technical bits and notes: None.
Reference: Kananaskis Trail Guide by Gillean Daffern.