Jewell Falls is a gem, accessible from the Barrier Lake Dam in Kananaskis Country.
The 65 kilometer (41 mile) drive west from Calgary, beneath overcast skies on the TransCanada Highway, turns south onto Kananaskis Trail (Hwy 40) at the intersection hosting the Stoney Nakoda Resort and Casino. Trail-head parking is a well-signed right turn past the Barrier Lake Visitor Centre across Kananaskis Trail from Tim Horton Children's Ranch to park near Barrier Dam.
Ceilings are still high but insufficiently dark to generate rain in the near term. Maybe. Today, the hike to Jewell Falls on the Jewell Pass trail, which stretches North-South between Barrier Lake and the TransCanada Highway east of Heart Mountain near Lac des Arcs, will begin by hiking across the 'S' shaped earth dam which interrupts the Kananaskis River to create Barrier Lake. There are several other access options and there is wisdom in carrying and referring to a hiking guide and trail map. A tangled labyrinth of confusing trail occupies this popular area.
The hike west over the dam to the service road beneath power lines to the Jewell Pass trail-head is about 4 kilometers (2½ miles) long, one-way, and very beautiful with mountains surrounding Barrier Lake on one side and spring-green forest buffering the glacier-carved and sheer rock walls of McConnell Ridge on the other.
Note: This hike to Jewell Falls is substantially modified by June, 2013 floods, however, the Kananaskis Trail Crew and the Friends of Kananaskis Country have worked very hard to reopen and improve the trail.
The trail-head on the right is clearly signed and initial progress gradually gains elevation above the rapid white water of Jewell Creek echoing through the valley against massive rock walls on Heart Mountain. Recent rain has magnified the aroma of evergreen forest punctuated by a multitude of deciduous green colors on newly budding trees.
The gain in elevation above the creek is followed immediately by a steep drop to creek-side where twisting, cascading rapids capture the attention. Undulating trail is good, occasionally damp and varies between evergreen needle soft and rustic rocky.
The roar of Jewell Creek is the sole companion so yelling 'Yo' or 'Yo, bear', louder and more frequently than normal is expedient adjacent to fast, noisy water in case any animals need to be aware of my presence. The loud water will mask their ability to hear the same way it does mine.
The objective for this day is Jewell Falls about 2 kilometers (1¹⁄₃ miles) north from the trail-head. This hike will not continue to Jewell Pass on this day but crossing sawn log bridges, back and forth, over fast, white water in Jewell Creek is a sensory experience. Proximity to Jewell Falls is confirmed when trail is obliterated by snow over ice.
When waterfall flow runs faster than creek water flow the creek freezes first and water from the waterfalls pours over the top of the creek until everything finally succumbs to the winter freeze.
The waterfall is tucked into a rock-bound alcove on the west side of Jewell Creek and, for the next half hour, scrambling over dead fall and difficult terrain rendered slippery by ice and moss is required to capture photographs satisfactory to share.
The large horizontal chunk of ice at the base of the fall, which was recently the vertical ice fall, has tumbled down when rocks warmed and greater spring flow pushed it away. The residual ice will soon be gone so timing is fortunate. In the late summer and fall the waterfall may be a trickle or dry.
The waterfall is just a few meters off trail, and about 20 feet (3 meters) tall, but it is making plenty of noise today.
On the return hike via the same way taken in, a hike off-trail from the power line access route is exercised to photograph the base of McConnell Ridge where glacial rock monoliths accentuate the landscape and large, difficult-to-access cave openings high up on the face of the ridge capture the attention.
Accessing the broad shoreline on the return will shorten and flatten out the return hike. When Barrier Lake is full, this alternative will not be an option. Today it is a pleasant stroll, predominantly over sand with a border of water on one side and tons of driftwood on the other. Heavy weather is forming up but intermittent sun mixed with an occasional drop of rain that evaporates quickly is thoroughly enjoyable.
This is a relatively short and easy hike of about 8 kilometers (5 miles) round trip with minor elevation and a wide variety of amazing scenery along good trail. This hike will appeal to hikers with a bit of experience who can effectively reference a hiking guide and map. The hike can be lengthened substantially by continuing to Jewell Pass and the scenic Barrier Lake Lookout to form a circuit back to Barrier Dam and the parking area.