Pony Bridge is a short, easy hike from the Icefields Parkway to a dramatic crossing over the North Saskatchewan River in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.
The drive west from hiking in the isolated, sunny corridor over Sundance Lodges on Kootenay Plains changes abruptly into a wall of driving rain. The potent thunderstorm reminds me of the Blackfoot story 'KSISTSIKOOM', meaning 'Thunder', and the translation has been recently published in the Blackfoot and English languages as originally told by SAAKOKOTO.
A long line-up of cars at the entrance booth into Banff National Park brings back fond memories of childhood days listening to the pounding rain beating on the roof of the sturdy 1947 Chevrolet.
Check-in at The Crossing Resort is expeditious. By the time a quick, late lunch is consumed, the opportunity remains to explore the excellent attraction support facility. A comfortably appointed office beneath the Parkway Pub is dedicated to providing information about local attractions and hiking opportunities.
Fourteen accessible and spectacular hikes along the Icefields Parkway, within a 30 minute drive of The Crossing Resort, have been identified and documented for guests. Selected hikes range from easy to strenuous. Area maps and full color rack cards detail the selected hikes including rating, distance, maximum elevation, approximate time length, suggested footwear, best hiking months and location of the trail heads.
There is one short, easy hike very near The Crossing Resort called Pony Bridge which captures my attention, mainly because I have never heard of it in the decades spent hiking in the area. From the description, it sounds like the front end of the well-known Glacier Lake Trail. The storm has passed. The sun is shining. There is time in this non-hiking day to satisfy the curiosity and get this short hike done. The description on the excellent rack card for the Pony Bridge hike provides the following statistics.
- Rating: Moderate
- Distance: 2.2 km (1.3 mi) return
- Maximum elevation: 1,660 m (5,450 ft)
- Elevation gain: Approximately 100 m (300 ft)
- Approximate time: 1-1.5 hours
- Footwear: Good walking shoes/light hiking boots
- Best hiking months: May – October
- Trailhead: Gravel parking lot 1.2 km (0.7 mi) north of The Crossing Resort.
This hike will be easy for the average local hiker and may be moderate for a non-hiker or inexperienced traveler.
As suspected, the gravel parking area is for the well- known and very historic Glacier Lake Trail. The Pony Bridge will be the bridge over the North Saskatchewan River. The parking area has been emptied by the recent storm and the trail will belong be quiet for the next hour.
Flat, well-maintained trail passes through tall, very aromatic forest with tall lodgepole pines filtering sun into animated shadow along the route. A gentle descent provides a short, side trail opportunity to an opening on rock with magnificent mountain vistas under dramatic and clearing skies. Following a section of slightly more aggressive descent, the trail enters an opening to the Pony Bridge over the North Saskatchewan River. Wow!
The frothing, aquamarine water of the North Saskatchewan River encourages the short walk across the foot bridge over the North Saskatchewan River through a metamorphosis of changing and spectacular scenery. For those with additional adventure time, it is worth hiking further along the Glacier Lake Trail past the Pony Bridge.
Continuing an additional 1.2 kms (¾ of a mile) will reach the awesome Howse River Viewpoint. At the location of the Howse River Viewpoint, the famous explorer, David Thompson, camped at this very spot for several days in 1807 while leading a group of fur traders. From this historical viewpoint you can see Howse Pass, Mount Murchison, Mount Outram, the Sir James Glacier and the beautifully colored Howse River.
For those who cannot hike the distance to the Howse River Viewpoint, the photo immediately following was captured on a hike to Glacier Lake in 2004.
From the far side of the Pony Bridge, the access trail from the Icefields Parkway is clearly visible. The hiking draw card obtained at The Crossing Resort identifies a short 1.0 KM (⅝ mile) hike north along the east side of the North Saskatchewan River for views of Saskatchewan Falls. There is time for this short diversion along the top of the shallow canyon containing the North Saskatchewan River.
The angry river water has been encouraged by recent rain and the sound of raging rapids over rock is reflected and amplified by surrounding stone and forest. The short hike gains consistent and shallow elevation until Saskatchewan Falls becomes visible around a bend in the river. The long, flat, white waterfall emits a different audible tone and it is interesting to stand at canyon edge with the din of downstream rapids in the left ear and the powerful sound of the waterfall in the right.
All that remains is the 2.1 KM (1¹⁄₃ mile) hike from the falls to a left turn at Pony Bridge for ascent on the access trail to the car in the gravel parking area. Return of sunny skies has increased hiker traffic in late afternoon.
The hearty, fine dining experience at the Crossing Resort's Mount Wilson Restaurant, consisting of Chipotle Chicken, a baked potato with mixed vegetables and chocolate cake with cream and raspberry puree, is outstanding and accompanied by the brilliant hues of the setting sun reflected from remaining mist and the dramatic surrounding summits of the Rocky Mountains. This is a fitting end to a long hiking day originally intended to be dedicated for rest and relaxation.
Hikes at Kootenay Plains, Sundance Lodges and Pony Bridge, combined with dynamic and well-timed heavy weather have created an unplanned and forever memorable day of wilderness adventure on the transition from Bighorn Backcountry into Banff National Park. Tomorrow will be another aggressive hiking day with plans for an early start to view the Athabasca Glacier from the top of Parker Ridge along the Icefields Parkway.
Photographs in this blog post for Pony Bridge, taken along the Glacier Lake Trail near The Crossing Resort on the Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada, were captured on Monday, July 27, 2015.