Nihahi Creek – Kananaskis Country – Hiking Alberta

 

Nihahi Creek, on the west side of Nihahi Ridge, is a unique hiking adventure in Elbow Valley, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada.

 

 

Nihahi Creek is a favorite, classic hike and scramble at the end of Highway 22/66, west of Bragg Creek past access to Forget-Me-Not Mountain in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada.   From the campground above the shore of the Elbow River, access to the Nihahi Creek trail-head is about 4 KM (2½ miles) west of the gate on relatively flat, dirt road.

 

Nihahi Creek – Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Nihahi Creek is located in the valley on the far side of Nihahi Ridge.  The short hike into Nihahi Creek is a stunningly beautiful hike on a sunny day in late summer or fall.  Some hiking and scrambling experience and good boots are beneficial.

The best option is to simply make a right turn off the main trail before Nihahi Creek at the signed intersection.

The Nihahi Creek trail-head is on the near side of the tiny creek but there is an interesting option to hike off-trail up the creek bed to the 100 m (328 ft) waterfall at the south end of the canyon.  To enter the canyon this way would be a technical effort but the alcove is an interesting and peaceful place.  There is an exit about halfway to the waterfall which allows a scramble up the steep east cliff side to intersect with the Nihahi Creek trail.

A gentle slope through the forest for a kilometer gives little indication of the wilderness adventure ahead.  If you find them, faint side trails reveal a couple of well-hidden view points into this fascinating canyon.

 

Nihahi Creek

 

Where the trail passes an open stony area on usually dry creek bed creek on the left, it is important to turn sharply left and down in the reverse direction to enter the canyon.  It is easy to miss this junction and if you hike past it, it is necessary to turn back and enter the canyon access point.  This entrance point is not obvious so it is important to watch carefully

Logs used to descend the cascading waterfalls may have been washed away during spring and summer runoff and replaced with less stable poles.  The walls of the canyon have been worn smooth and are beautifully graceful after millenniums of water flow have created their form.

 

Nihahi Creek – Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

There are few places to gain hand or footholds and descent is achieved by creeping down logs, maintaining balance with hands on the walls, to avoid plunging into the cold water pools at the bottom of each depression.  Normally these small pools are fairly shallow. 

Today they are full and sufficiently deep to make the unfortunate experience humiliating.  Many of the walls and ledges are wet and slick.  Caution is required.  In the sun it is warm, but inside the shady canyon it can be quite cool, so layering up and down may be frugal to balance effort and temperature.

 

Nihahi Creek – Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Nihahi Creek – Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Nihahi Creek

 

Carefully working back through the canyon will lead to a warm, sunny opening which is the perfect spot to enjoy lunch.  In all my years of hiking, the urge to break open a rock and smell the inside of it has never been experienced. 

Apparently some of the small black stones guard a secret.  Shattering these small, black stones by throwing them against larger ones will release foul-smelling gas when they break.  Gas is trapped inside some of the black rocks.  The pungent odor of hydrogen sulfide is undeniable.  Who knew?

 

Nihahi Creek – Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Nihahi Creek – Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Nihahi Creek – Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Nihahi Creek – Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

Following lunch in the warm sun, the hike continues down through the canyon past fascinating rocky terrain until eventual arrive at the top of the waterfall near beginning where risk clearly outweighs reward.  A short backtrack leads to a location where a scramble is sensible to climb up and out of the canyon to the Nihahi Creek trail about 100 m above. 

The strenuous scramble is best executed on separate parallel routes so there will be no danger of the lead person accidentally dislodging loose rock onto a person beneath.  A right turn at the trail provides return to the trail-head on the same route used for access.

 

Nihahi Creek – Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada Nihahi Creek – Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada 

 

There are trail alternatives for return to the main trail.  Back at the main trail there is an alternative to cross the main trail and follow the creek to where it joins the Elbow River.  This is an excellent place to relax and bask in the sun beside the Elbow River.  The music created by fast running water, combined with the rich aroma of the forest creates a relaxing ambiance.

 

Nihahi Creek – Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada

 

A network of rustic trail allows passage along the edge of the Elbow River where surrounding mountains loom above the opposite shoreline. 

On this day, the drive back to Calgary features a magnificent sunset silhouetting the mountains behind and impressive storm clouds in the eastern sky creating a massive rainbow over the city.  Magic!

 

 

 

 

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Comments

Thank you for your comment, Gayle. I am sorry my instructions were confusing and I appreciate you sharing this. I will review the post when I get a few spare moments and try to improve the quality of the information. I have hiked Nihahi Creek many times and my journal entries are never a good substitute for a quality hiking guide. The short hike past the trail and up the creek leads into a blind canyon and usually dry, impassable waterfall. The best approach to the Nihahi Creek canyon experience is via the clearly defined trail just east of the creek and along the east side of Nihahi Creek Canyon. There are a couple of side paths with views into the sculpted canyon. The trick is to deviate from the trail further into the valley at an open area with access to the stony creek bed on the left. It is left turn onto the stony, usually dry, creek bed and a 180 degree reversal in direction which leads south into and through the canyon. The trip down the canyon is a unique and forever memorable experience. I think of it as two distinct sections with an open area in the middle. Let's call them the north and south sections. The south section ends at the tall, impassable dry waterfall. To get out it is possible to scramble up the steep east wall to the access trail. Not for everyone, and people must avoid being below scramblers for danger of dislodged rock coming down and causing injury or death. The alternative is to return to the central clearing where a trail ascends, on the east side of the canyon, to the access trail. I agree, taller people can navigate more easily but I have been there with several truncated preople many times over many years and they all did well. It may be a bit more challenging for them but then, the achievement is greater. Hope this helps. A guide book and a map are always useful. I hope you had a great day. It is one of my all time favorite experiences.

You mentioned at the beginning of the trailhead how you walked past a little to follow the creekbed, then you talk about descending the canyon when actually it seems you are ascending. I was just a little confused there. So did you go up via the canyon as well as down the same way then? How far did you travel once out of the canyon and heading north? We did this today and we were on the trail and almost missed where the canyon started! We had to backtrack just a little. We carried on beyond the canyon for another maybe 15-20 minutes and then stopped for lunch and returned. Once down at the elbow trail again we hiked back up the creekbed as far as the waterfall you are sitting on in the last picture and assumed by looking ahead there was no way up it and in the distance it looked like a very tall waterfall so made the assumption that using the trail was the only way around this part, but it sounds like you could follow further in the creekbed. The trail itself could be quite steep for a ways there. Did you pick up a trail on the west side of the creek then as you mention entering the canyon via a sharp left, where we had to take a right? All in all a great hike, good exercise and fun following what was obviously a beautiful creek and waterfalls at one time. The canyon really added to the adventure. Need to use your agility, balance and many body parts to shuffle along at times and we were all tall people. Those short people will need a few boosts and help to get over and around some of the areas.

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