The Red Rock Canyon Loop in Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada is a half-hour, 0.7 KM (0.4 mile) loop hike with 20 metres (66 feet) of elevation gain to a maximum elevation of 1, 520 m (4,986 ft). It is easily accessible by bicycle, car or shuttle from Waterton Village to the end of the Red Rock Parkway. Red Rock Canyon is a very beautiful and busy place throughout the summer so it is best to arrive early in the day.
North from Waterton Village on the Waterton Lakes National Park access road (Hwy 5), a left turn on the 15 KM (9.4 mile), paved Red Rock Parkway weaves its way west through the impressive Blakiston Creek Valley where roadside exhibits explain this route is the ancient Buffalo Trail used by Indian hunting parties for the past 10,000 years. It is a dramatic example of Waterton Lakes National Park’s unique characteristic where prairies meet mountains. At the end of the road, a large parking lot, with nearby washrooms and picnic facilities, marks the beginning of the trailhead for the adjacent Red Rock Canyon Loop. Following yesterday’s hike to Crypt Lake, we will be doing short-haul, lower elevation-gain hikes today as muscles and joints recover.
The hike can be done beginning on either side of Red Rock Creek running through the canyon. Be sure to hike upstream. Other trails begin from the same trailhead. There are interesting interpretive plaques along the trail which provide information about the formation of the canyon. The red rock, called argillite, is mudstone compressed in the presence of oxygen, The green stone is argillite made of mudstone compressed without the presence of oxygen. Lighter coloured layers were laid down thousands of years earlier by storms or eruptions creating layers between events of mudstone.
The canyon get deeper as the trail progresses along the top of the canyon. The trail arrives at the top-of-the-loop, upper bridge over the deepest part of the canyon at 25 m (82 ft.). We choose to proceed past the bridge on rugged, compromised trail along the west side of the canyon but views into the canyon are very limited and there are no opportunities to make a descent within a reasonable distance.
We turn around and return on the opposite side of Red Rock Canyon to our starting point. Then we begin the fun part of hiking up the bottom of Red Rock Canyon through Red Rock Creek as far as feasible.
Recent hot weather, combined with latent snowpack in surrounding mountains, has water running fairly high for this time of the year. There are pools sufficiently deep to discourage us from hiking all the way to the upstream log jam but we rock-hop and wade our way through knee-deep water in sandals are far as feasible. It is an extraordinary sensory experience of brilliant colour, bouncing light and the reverberating sound of rushing white water over smooth, red-rock walls with beige extrusions.
The best photographic opportunities lie at the bottom of Red Rock Canyon, rock-hopping in sandals along the rock shorelines or through the cool, crystal-clear water cascading over colourful stones. Photographic mosaics spring from patterned formations surrounding colored pebbles at the bottom of Red Rock Creek. It is a lot of fun and it is difficult to stop taking pictures. Here are a few of my favourites.
As I work my way downstream, the final photos are taken beneath the bridge over Red Rock Canyon where our hike began. If you look closely, you can see the straight-line shadow of the bridge crossing Red Rock Creek in front of the camera.
It is convenient the parking area bridge over Red Rock Canyon also hosts the trail to Blakiston Falls. Actually, a number of trails begin from the Red Rock Canyon parking area, so it is important to take a moment to be sure we are hiking on plan.