Powderface Trail is a challenging gravel road in Kananaskis Country, Alberta.
Powderface Trail is a 34 kilometer (21 mile) twisting, turning, roller coaster, gravel road running north-south and linking the east-west part of Sibbald Creek Trail (Hwy 68), in the north, to the east-west Hwy. 66, Bragg Creek, Elbow Valley access to Kananaskis Country, at the south end.
You may have heard the Powderface Trail should be avoided. This is not true but the route is a spectacular drive which demands serious respect.
Photos in this post were taken prior to the June 2013 flooding event that closed Powerface Trail for repairs which required many months and significant expense.
Common sense might suggest avoidance of the Powderface Trail in very inclement weather. The road is normally open between May 15 and December 14 each year.
Note: Powderface Trail was wiped out by the June 2013 floods. It is being reconstructed and improved but it is wise to check availability with Alberta Parks before making travel plans.
The north closure is at the equestrian camping area at Dawson Trail Recreation Area. Worthwhile time is justifiable to take a few minutes to scout out this facility which nestles beside Jumpingpound Creek. One main access to the popular Cox Hill hike begins from this parking area.
Campsites are lush and embedded by forest adjacent to the large parking area which is fully equipped for horses. Hiking trails from this equestrian campground link back into the Sibbald Flats area. The daily overnight fee was $23 (May 2011).
Alberta is a place of roads called 'Trails'. Likely the confusing moniker originated from animal trails before being used for centuries by Indigenous People. When roads were constructed, the names stuck.
Along Powderface Trail there are wonderful vistas of mountains and foothills. Many excellent hiking trails emanate from this rustic road. A quiet, roadside pullout about midway along the Powderface Trail hosts the somber and informative Mount McDougall Memorial.
The Powderface Trail is bone dry this day, with the exception of a few brief soggy spots where spring runoff has created minor ruts across the road. Very fine dust creates a long trail behind the car and penetrates tiny crevices in any vehicle, loosened up by years of driving on primitive back country road including the vehicle-destroying Skutumpah Road in Utah.
The Powderface Trail is a wonderful, scenic drive on well maintained road. Much of the Powderface Trail is carved from the sides of steep hills as the surface rises and plummets, twisting and turning through pristine wilderness.
The road demands respect and must be driven carefully.
There are many unprotected shoulders with unforgiving (possibly not survivable) steep drops over the side. The opposite side can be a very steep uphill slope of gravel containing big boulders.
As the dynamic nature of seasons erodes the slope, boulders dislodge from the surface and roll out onto the road. Not today, but on several previous occasions, it has been necessary to stop the car, get out, and roll a few boulders over to roadside before driving past. Driving too fast, and turning a tight corner with no time to react could possibly damage the under carriage of a low clearance car, perhaps even puncturing the oil pan.
There are a couple of short, narrow sections where opposing traffic must cooperate to pass safely which is not a big deal when driving slowly and safely. To enjoy spectacular views while driving, the common sense procedure will find a safe place to pull over, stop the car, get out and enjoy the vista.
The drive south over the full length of the Powderface Trail provides beautiful views of the spectacular Nihahi Ridge and Ford Knolls where a break might be hiking a short distance on Prairie Creek Trail.
In hindsight, the Prairie Creek Trail would have been a good choice for the day but the main objective is an attempt to hike the 2,240 meter (7,350 ft) summit of Jumpingpound Mountain. The prospect is enthusiasm tempered by doubt. The attempt will begin from the south Cox Hill trail-head which is also a small portion of the TransCanada Trail.
This hike is being attempted at an awkward time of the year, before snow clears completely for the summer, but there is no harm in trying.