An early sunny morning in Calgary renders mowed hay fields brilliant yellow and billowing cloud over distant mountains glows pastel orange as Ewa and I drive west in heavy traffic, then south on Kananaskis Trail to the winter gate. A right turn under overcast skies and light snow delivers us to the Peter Lougheed Visitor Information Centre on Kananaskis Lakes Road near the Canyon exit to the popular 4.7 KM Penstock Loop Snowshoe Trail.
The Visitor Centre is open and busy but we luck into a quiet spot to gain a map and valuable information about area snowshoe routes from the Park Ranger on duty.
We decide to tackle the 3.4 KM (2.1 mile) Elkwood Loop Trail, with elevation differential of only 23 m (75 ft), a short distance further south across Kananaskis Lakes Road from William Watson Lodge. The parking area for Elkwood Campground is well-marked. We find a spot and don our hiking boots, gaiters and snowshoes. To access the trailhead, Ewa and I carefully cross the well-groomed ski trail and begin our snowshoe adventure at the clearly marked trail sign and map. The Elkwood Loop Snowshoe Trail wanders through snow-draped forest and passes beautiful Marl Lake which will be frozen over and covered with snow.
The trail quality is excellent but directional integrity is compromised by a labyrinth of trail possibilities through the very large and complex Elkwood Campground. Careful attention is required. Red diamond trail markers assist with direction.
Initially, the trail is through the large and well-appointed 130 campsite Elkwood Campground with some of the trail through magnificent forest harboring clusters of sparkling snow hanging from branches and creating stark contrast. It is a relentless WOW! scene. Soon we arrive at the Elkwood Amphitheatre where summer guests enjoy live theatre presentations or Park Ranger wilderness seminars. The empty architecture is winter enhanced by nature’s snow sculpturing.
Within a short distance of continuing winter enchantment, Ewa and I arrive at the Marl Lake Interpretive Trail junction.
Signs along the way document the glacial forces which formed the valley. Periodically the thick, snow-enhanced forest is interrupted by open snow fields adorned with bumps or moguls. These areas are fens, and in spring, summer and fall, small grassy mounds rise above nourishing wetlands where birds and insects flourish in their own mini ecosystem.
Surrounding scenery, with light snow falling, is spectacular. There is no substitute for standing here with the light cool breeze on the skin and surrounded by 360 degrees of winter wonderland. Distant mountains are obscured by snowfall which is very gradually increasing in intensity. The sun is unsuccessfully struggling to penetrate drifting clouds.
On the return side of the loop we pass the Elkwood Campground shower building. This complex during summer camping season will be like a small town buried in the wilderness with a variety of amenities to enhance the experience. Sites are generously sized, firewood is plentiful, and there is a gold mine of recreational paradise within easy reach.
At the end of our excellent snowshoe around the Elkwood Loop Trail, Ewa and I drive further along Kananaskis Lakes Road, past the Boulton Creek Trading Post, to investigate the very busy cross-country ski areas at Boulton Creek Bridge and Elk Pass before enjoying lunch in the car at the very scenic parking area overlooking Upper Kananaskis Lake. It is also the trailhead for the Rawson Lake Snowshoe beneath impressive Mount Sarrail but we will not be doing that one today. After lunch we drop down to the Interlakes for a view over Lower Kananaskis Lake where ice fishermen congregate near the open water flowing from the dam outlet.
On the drive home to Calgary, we take Sibbald Creek Road to appreciate more wilderness in favor of busy weekend highway traffic. Late afternoon sun accentuates Sibbald Meadow with Cox Hill in the background. Directly across is Moose Mountain with the tiny blip of the fire lookout on top, indicating less snow than expected at this time of the year.
Our final stop is at the Jumpingpound Forest Demonstration Exhibit. Surprisingly, the road is open and we can drive all the way up to the open air log cabin featuring more impressive views to Moose Mountain and Cox Hill.
It has been a grand winter day of snowshoeing in crisp and clean mountain air. The winter days are beginning to get longer. Ewa does well on this snowshoe subsequent to her first at Warspite Lake on the Black Prince Cirque. All is good.