The Highlands Trail provides sweeping vistas over spectacular terrain at Big Knife Provincial Park in Alberta.
The trailhead for the 6 KM (3¾ mile) return Highlands Trail is a fairly obvious and well-signed location along the southwest side of the access road across from a marshland about 500 meters (547 yards) before reaching the Day Use Area. Passing the park administration and maintenance facility means having passed the widened area along the road which allows parking for a few cars at the clearly visible, signed and chained trailhead.
The groomed grass access trail starts flat but soon begins relatively easy and sustained elevation through forest and past an interesting erosion feature on the right.
Following the initial short, sustained elevation the trail is nearly flat along the top of the ridge. Similar to the Lowlands Trail (River Flats Trail), the surface is predominantly groomed grass through field and forest. This is an easy and scenic hike. There is a detailed sign at every intersection with 'You are here' location information which makes navigation easy and straightforward. Hiking off trail will improve the chances of getting lost in potentially complex and compromising terrain.
Similar to the process for the Lowlands Trail (River Flats Trail), the entire hike will be executed on external trail links. The trail configuration is like a series of figure 8's which provide hiking options to retreat or continue at several points for a shorter or longer day's endeavor.
Near the beginning, the trail passes a massive earth berm behind fence on the left which is clearly designated as private property with prohibited access. At the first trail intersection, the hike proceeds to the right where a Dustin Dean Derr, wrought iron, memorial bench pleads successfully to take time to sit, relax and soak up an incredible vista across the Battle River complex surrounded by marshland with a backdrop of Badlands terrain. The images are impressive and far beyond the scope of anything a camera can capture.
Groomed grass trail continues through field, shrubbery and forest to an impressive picnic location hosting fantastic views across the Battle River. Nearby a second Dustin Dean Derr memorial bench offers long terraced views over impressive surrounding terrain.
Towards the far end of the Highlands Trail, a very beautiful and peaceful place overlooks extraordinary eroding cliff features under blue skies cluttered with fluffy white cloud where Big Knife Creek wiggles its way through the complex canyons beneath. Here, time will be spent with Dustin Dean Derr on another wrought iron, memorial bench.
This is a place to let everything go and simply become part of the environment where incredible natural beauty combined with soft, gentle breeze captures the senses. Absolute relaxation. After one final view at the edge of the expansive valley, formed by thousands of years of wind and water erosion, turning about allows Dustin's bench to act as foreground for the continuing route around the outside perimeter of the Highlands Trail.
The grass carpet winds it way through a wide variety of fresh and fragrant Spring field and forest before the giant earth berm comes into view. Signs on the fence barrier declare No Trespassing onto private land owned by the Paintearth Mining Company. The strip coal mining operation is important to the surrounding communities including Forestburg. Since 1956 the massive operation has supplied jobs and fuel for the three generating units at the Battle River Generating Station which in turn provides electrical power for the region.
Past the giant earthen berm, the trail descends on the same trail used for access where the car remains as the sole indication of human presence. For this entire day, not a single person has been seen. It is like the whole place belonged to me and Dustin on this perfect Spring day before May long weekend crowds will saturate this tiny, spectacular park.
Perhaps this is the way it was meant to be.