David Thompson Resort in Bighorn Back Country, Alberta, Canada.
David Thompson Resort is ideally located along the David Thompson Highway (Hwy 11), about half way between Saskatchewan Crossing, in Banff National Park on the Icefields Parkway, and Nordegg, Alberta, Canada. This stretch of mountain-surrounded highway through Bighorn Backcountry competes for scenery with the Icefield Parkway without as much traffic.
David Thompson Resort is a convenient, full service facility with a motel, private cabins, an RV and conventional campground, and several ancillary amenities including a restaurant, gift shop, fuel, a well-stocked general store and, most importantly, very friendly and helpful staff who work hard to make your personal visit and specific agenda successful. If polished, expensive luxury is required, or if you are natural born complainer, this is not the right place. Be alert for festival times where noise may be an issue.
David Thompson Resort is a down-home, western-hospitality-influenced, family-owned business catering to visitors ranging from international tourists, to all levels of camping, to local construction and oilfield workers.
Additional features at David Thompson Resort include miniature golf, a Frisbee golf course, antiques reminiscent of western history, upside down trees, a chapel and outdoor festival facilities.
There is a small and quaint Chapel at David Thompson Resort accompanied by memorial benches and granite markers.
An antler-adorned, log cabin serves as concession for patrons attending outdoor music festivals. There is likely an interesting story behind the reason Sam's Place is a large public outhouse. There are a variety of unique, conversation-generating structures scattered around the sprawling, forested property.
The matrix of trail leads through lush forest to views over Abraham Lake and connects with more established trails to nearby natural attractions like Little Indian Falls and Whitegoat Lakes. Views over Abraham Lake, during this adventure, are hazy with smoke from a controlled burn on the south side of the North Saskatchewan River.
The exit from David Thompson Resort faces directly into Whitegoat Mountain which can be reasonably summitted by trail and easy scramble from the opposite side.
The entrance to McKenzie's Trails West is a short jaunt to the left where friendly and efficient family members offer a well-managed stable of horses. Diverse trail and trip options provide horseback adventures into some of the most beautiful, lush and remote wilderness on the planet. Ride possibilities range from ponies for children, to short, greenhorn experiences, to full day and complex multiple day camping trips into deep backcountry where spectacular mountain scenery is accompanied by fresh and clean air. Imagine!
Icefield Helicopter Tours are a short drive southwest from David Thompson Resort. Early morning arrival or reservations are recommended. Singles may need to wait to satisfy the 2 person minimum. There are a number of interesting options including airborne glacier tours, remote hiking or yoga, fishing, heli-horseback and even heli-weddings (no pun intended). There is a basic trip into the mountains, with an inexpensive option for a one hour add-on stop in the wilderness. This would be ideal for a difficult-to access, high altitude hike.
On the return drive home, the trip passes through a now extinguished forest fire area which breached the David Thompson Highway near the border into Banff National Park. This may be the Bennett Creek fire which was ignited naturally by lightning, then allowed to burn for conservation reasons. It is uncertain if the Bennett Creek fire is the same as the Spreading Creek fire. Unusually dry and hot weather conditions may have created a larger fire than anticipated. Perhaps the Bennett Creek fire burned out of control so its name was changed to the Spreading Creek fire. Perhaps a reader can comment to clarify.
Major resources are involved to control and eventually contain and extinguish the fire. In sunrise, the scorched forest mantled by cloud covered mountains takes on a spectacular and unique beauty. Stopping several times to wander in the chilly air and pungent, smoky odor of recently burned forest results in the following photos. The full range of vision and all senses functioning will appreciate this mystical and unique beauty. The rapid recovery of plant life is amazing and fireweed creates a colorful, vibrant ground cover.
The Thompson Creek Campground provides nearby access to several significant hiking trail experiences and opportunities. On one kiosk an excellent summary map of the area is photographed for future reference.
Another website suggests it would be advisable to retreat a half day from the Icefields Parkway and explore the David Thompson area. A month could be spent in here without scratching the surface of backcountry adventure through awesome scenery and terrain. The impression is that Bighorn Backcountry may be a final frontier in the area. Perhaps it is similar to the unblemished wilderness simplicity of Banff National Park, Jasper National Park or Kananaskis Country many decades ago.
Nordegg has the potential to become the next gateway like Canmore. The opportunity will be the freedom to develop sensible infrastructure outside the confines of what may become another National Park in the future. Right now the David Thompson Highway is uncommonly quiet and relatively empty.
Bighorn Backcountry offers the advantage of unencumbered wilderness adventure with reduced possibility for crowds. It will not last long so I suggest you consider planning for a visit in the near term. There are many campgrounds along the David Thompson Highway between Red Deer and Saskatchewan Crossing. Rocky Mountain House and Nordegg are growing communities along the route.
Photographs for this post were taken in Banff National Park, Jasper National Park and David Thompson Country, Alberta between August 17 and 21, 2014.