Big Hill Springs Provincial Park - Hiking Alberta

 

Big Hill Springs near Airdrie is an outstanding day hike close to Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

 

 

Big Hill Springs Provincial Park is a fascinating and unique parcel of land isolated in a beautiful coulee 30 KMs (19 miles) west of Airdrie and 15 KMs (9.4 miles) east of Cochrane, Albertathen 2 KMs south of Hwy 567.

 

Big Hill Springs Provincial Park - near Cochrane, Alberta, Canada

 

Year round streams and delicate waterfalls are perpetually fed by underground springs.  Big Hill Springs Provincial Park is open to bikes and horses but the short 2.3 KM (1⅜ mile) loop with an elevation gain of only 20 m (66 feet) primarily appeals to families with children, out for a stroll in a quiet, beautiful and interesting place.  The tiny park is a popular place for walking dogs and birdwatchers frequent the uniquely diverse terrain.  The kiosk, near the washrooms at the parking area, tells the story of tufa (pronounced too-fah).  Tufa is common in these here parts.

 

  Learn about tufa.

 

Immediately upon entering the trail loop, there are picnic tables, wooden bridges over multiple streams of running water and significant evidence of tufa formations built thousands of years prior.  New tufa is being formed more rapidly than predecessors erode.

Big Hill Springs Provincial Park is actually and actively under natural construction.

 

Big Hill Springs Provincial Park - near Cochrane, Alberta, Canada

 

Very near the beginning of the hike there are tufa rock formations at trail side and pristine waterfalls tumbling over tufa.  This is a very beautiful place where spring growth is beginning in the shallow runoff from waterfalls.

 

Big Hill Springs Provincial Park - near Cochrane, Alberta, Canada

Big Hill Springs Provincial Park - near Cochrane, Alberta, Canada A spring-fed waterfall over tufa in Big Hill Springs Provincial Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Big Hill Springs Provincial Park - near Cochrane, Alberta, Canada A spring-fed waterfall over tufa in Big Hill Springs Provincial Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Big Hill Springs Provincial Park - near Cochrane, Alberta, Canada A spring-fed waterfall over tufa in Big Hill Springs Provincial Park, Alberta, Canada

 

There are nearly endless opportunities for photographs along the streams which provide the constant and relaxing sound of water rushing over rock.

 

Big Hill Springs Provincial Park - near Cochrane, Alberta, Canada

 

Shortly into the hike, historical concrete foundations from an old Alberta creamery are overwhelmed by fresh spring-fed water accompanied by melting snow.

 

Big Hill Springs Provincial Park - near Cochrane, Alberta, Canada Big Hill Springs Provincial Park - near Cochrane, Alberta, Canada

 

The bridge past the remains of the old creamery leads to robust waterfalls over tufa lined with contrasting ice and moss as the final vestiges of winter share the youth of spring.

 

Big Hill Springs Provincial Park - near Cochrane, Alberta, Canada Another cascading waterfall over tufa in Big Hill Springs Provincial Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Big Hill Springs Provincial Park - near Cochrane, Alberta, Canada Another cascading waterfall over tufa in Big Hill Springs Provincial Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Occasional sections of quiet water above cascading waterfalls host brilliant green flora suspended over stream bottoms by still, virtually invisible, crystal-clear, cold water.  The images are mesmerizing in their simplicity and delicate beauty.  The ambiance is surreal.

 

Big Hill Springs Provincial Park - near Cochrane, Alberta, Canada Big Hill Springs Provincial Park - near Cochrane, Alberta, Canada As

 

Continuing counterclockwise around the Big Hill Springs Provincial Park loop, a path, branching to the right, leads to a hill.  Although not part of the loop, excellent views and perspective may be gained from the higher position at the hill-top. 

 

Big Hill Springs Provincial Park - near Cochrane, Alberta, Canada

 

The vistas justify the short climb and an array of human and game paths, lined with new crocuses at the top, allow an alternate return descent to the creek.

 

Big Hill Springs Provincial Park - near Cochrane, Alberta, Canada Looking back towards the parking area and the beginning of the stream-side trail

 

Big Hill Springs Provincial Park - near Cochrane, Alberta, Canada The view ahead to trail through new features at Big Hill Springs Provincial Park from the top of the hill.

 

Just prior to the ascent portion of the main trail there is a large tufa dam.

 

Big Hill Springs Provincial Park - near Cochrane, Alberta, Canada The Tufa Dam at Big Hill Springs Provincial Park, Alberta, Canada

 

The loop trail continues uphill into predominantly aspen forest.  An interesting structure off-trail catches the corner of my eye and brings back memories of splendid, secret forts constructed by imaginative youth.  It is good that some things stay the same.

 

Big Hill Springs Provincial Park - near Cochrane, Alberta, Canada

 

The trail through forest at the top of the hill occasionally shelters snow and eventually leads to broad, compromised switchbacks which descend to the parking area.

 

Big Hill Springs Provincial Park - near Cochrane, Alberta, Canada Big Hill Springs Provincial Park - near Cochrane, Alberta, Canada Big Hill Springs Provincial Park - near Cochrane, Alberta, Canada

 

Back at the parking area, a yellow sign at a fence on the flat, grassy plain is too far away to read.  A short, end-of-hike walk to the fence reveals some of the valley park land has been leased for grazing.  The urge to breach the fence is resisted and photos of the peaceful valley floor will suffice.  It is a fitting end to a unique hiking experience a short drive from Calgary.

 

Big Hill Springs Provincial Park - near Cochrane, Alberta, Canada Big Hill Springs Provincial Park - near Cochrane, Alberta, Canada

 

For many years, Big Hill Springs Provincial Park was held as a closely guarded secret by local residents in Airdrie and Cochrane.  It is easy to see why this little treasure was protected.  The park is tiny and vulnerable to excess traffic.  There is simply no room for crowds. 

The little park is suffering under the strain with a matrix of off-trail paths and shortcuts across the downhill switchbacks that will exacerbate main trail erosion.  The beautiful little park is a victim of excess traffic and disrespect.  I hope park administration, perhaps with the help and cooperation of a hiking club and/or citizens of nearby towns will be able to restore the park to its original beauty.

Like Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park, near Cochrane, Alberta, Big Hill Springs Provincial Park is a gem a short, inexpensive drive from Calgary, Cochrane and Airdrie to an oasis of natural beauty, where the pace of daily life can be temporarily paused to allow reacquainting with the soul.  Your inner child will thank you.

Please be kind to this precious little gem.

 

 

 

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Comments

Just did it today with the kids - muddy but fantastically rewarding. Even let the kids play in the shallows by the bridge at the beginning of the trail. Thanks for the info! It was invaluable. If you are traveling with little children, I would recommend doing the trail clockwise since we accidentally took a livestock trail to the top of the ridge, and had to bushwhack a little bit to come back to the main trail.

Thank you for your comment, Yvonne. My visit to Big Hill Springs Provincial Park was in early spring. I can imagine summer and autumn at this little park are unique and very beautiful experiences. Spring flowers, with a variety of new green leaves, and fall colors would enhance the hike substantially. Although the park is not on my bucket list this year, I shall return to experience the different seasons. I can imagine there are many photographic opportunities available within our wide variety of dramatic weather and seasons. I hope you will have an opportunity to share the best of your photos with others. If we can convince a single family to spend a day, we will have done our job. I was very impressed with this little park near Airdrie and Cochrane but also in the middle of nowhere. That will change and people would be well advised to see it soon.

I have many photos I would like to share with you. I love this park.

Thank you for your comment, Andrea. During my spring visit, this pristine little park struck me as an oasis of tranquility. Unfortunately, I do not get back to a specific trail very often. There is so much to do and share. Your comment will provide an update. The display of flowers in the mountains is also incredible right now. If I stopped to take photographs of every beautiful wilderness garden, the hike would never end. I am glad you and your family enjoyed your excursion to Big Hills Provincial Park. It would be an excellent and unique learning experience for your young boys as well. I really enjoyed my time there.

I just went here with my boys and my Dad today, looked it up and your blog is the third site hit on google for Big Hill Provincial Park. The trail really IS beautiful and what a great little educational spot as well both geologically and biologically. The excessive off shoot trails are actually a bit confusing in 2 or 3 spots and you are right, these "extras" are going to degrade this fascinating landscape. It's really a shame. For anyone reading this, it is really easy to get through with small children and there are a few benches along the way courtesy of the Friends of Fish Creek Park Society. Barry, I recommend you go back and update your photos. In summer bloom, this series of small water falls looks like a place where fairies would live.

My sentiments exactly. I believe you will enjoy Glenbow Ranch and it is likely buds will be forming on the trees. I shall return with my bicycle when the east bound trail is open. I am interested to find the current terminus of Bearpaw Trail. There are many casual, short and easy hikes within easy reach of Calgary, including Glenbow, Big Hill, Fish Creek and interconnecting trails at Bowness and Baker Parks. Soon there will be many who are enjoying these, close to urban, sanctuaries. We are very fortunate. Thanks for your comment, Leigh.

Too much love is never a good thing for a park. I bet this one is really beautiful once it's all greened up. With cooperative weather this weekend I look forward to trying the Glenbow Ranch hike and hope it stops snowing soon in the mountains so the trails are open before mid July.

Thanks, Charlie. Tufa is rock which is formed when calcium and water rich in carbonate come in contact. The process is common at Big Hill Springs Provincial Park as well as several other lesser sites in Alberta. The Tufa Dam is a long ridge where tufa has accumulated into a long rock barrier over hundreds, possibly thousands of years. I tried several locations to get a good photo of the tufa dam but obstacles prevented me from doing a better job. Either I was too close or something was in the way. When I return, I will get a better profile. In hindsight, I believe I could have made the capture from the top of the hill with a long lens. Plans for 2012 are still a bit sketchy, Charlie, but I am hoping to hike additional trails in Waterton Lakes National Park, Yoho National Park and if everything goes well, a long awaited repeat tour of Utah's Zion National Park. Maybe a review of Bryce National Park while I am down there. Always spectacular. Enjoying your blog posts and photos, Charlie. Keep up the good work. Thanks for your comment. Always good to hear from you.

Another nice gem that should be here ;) What is a tufa dam? I can't wait to see the places you visit this summer Barry. Any exotic locations or are they secret ;)

Just found this park today (online) so I took the family out this afternoon. What a beautiful place! I have grown up in Alberta and never new this existed. I will definitely be visiting again for picnics.

Is there a way to hike from the park to Cochrane along the stream? Google maps shows a track but I've learned not to trust everything that is on their maps!

Jill, there may be but it is not a route that is known or familiar.  There is a labyrinth of trail in that direction but it would be best to know if there is a route and preferably a map.  Suggest you check in with the Parks Visitor Centre at Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park.

I go here all the time with my parents and i always LOVE to play in the water by the trail head. If you go on a nice sunny day you will see tons of kids playing in the water building bridges and playing 'the water is lava' games hopping around island to island. If you have kids i strongly recommend bringing them here because some of my best memories were made there.

Thank you for your comment, Emalee.  Big Hill Springs is a very special place and I am glad you are making life long memories there.  Happy trails and stay safe.

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