Kinbrook Marsh occupies the east shoreline of Lake Newell in Kinbrook Island Provincial Park near Brooks, Alberta, Canada.
Lake Newell is the warmest and largest man-made lake in Alberta. Kinbrook Island Provincial Park is located along the eastern shores of Lake Newell on a short drive southeast from Brooks, Alberta in the Badlands of south central Alberta. Access from Brooks can be achieved from the TransCanada Highway via Cassils Road then south on 7th Street East aka Hwy 873. There is signage for those paying close attention. Consult a map if you wish to be seen again. The trailhead for the 4.5 KM (2⅞ mile) Kinbrook Marsh Nature Trail loop is situated at the end of a clearly-signed, dirt road which turns off to the right prior to the bridge providing access to the Provincial Park campgrounds and trails on Kinbrook Island.
The short drive into the small parking area provides stunning views to the left across wetland teeming with aquatic and aviary life. An interpretive kiosk, and parking area signage, provide useful information prior to beginning the hike at the obvious trail sign. Abundantly animated sounds of life permeate the air as the trail begins east of the large sign and skirts wetland on the left before swinging north on path through rolling grain fields east of the marshland periphery.
A wide variety of animal and plant life create a sweetly aromatic experience en route to the first yellow viewing platform surrounded by farm fields. From the viewing platform, the massive expanse of wetlands begins to become apparent. Tumbleweed litters the ground and dead trees throughout the marshland periphery stand testament to the wide range of water depth fluctuation. On this day the water levels of Lake Newell are understandably low following an unusually long, hot summer with uncharacteristically limited precipitation. The odor of rampant and multiple forest fires in the mountains to the west is often evident in the early morning but on this day the air is clean and fresh although large thin bands of smoke at high elevation create interesting images in the sun. Exit from the viewing platform soon arrives at border fence where a cattle guard allows passage to good trail heading northeast. The occasional bleached skull on the ground reminds that fluid intake is wise to counter the effects of the warming day.
Wide open trail passes through another cattle guard and travels a long distance through uninspiring and expansive fields before curling west to regain closer proximity to the marsh prior to arrival at a clearly defined Y junction. There is no sign but veering left heads north towards another viewing platform in the significant distance. The nature trail increases distance from the marsh and becomes marginally tedious through flowing fields of grain. On the approach to an elevated viewing platform in the distance the Kinbrook Marsh Nature Trail encounters a fork in the trail shortly after passing through a cattle guard within a fence line. Obviously, the right branch requires investigation however this route gradually tends right before abruptly turning east away from Kinbrook Marsh.
An off trail effort through rocky field regains the intended route. The diversion was not worth the effort but nothing ventured, nothing gained. Past experience has occasionally resulted in a unique and worthwhile discovery. Arrival at the top of the elevated viewing platform provides an unfettered panorama across surrounding wetlands. Avian activity is robust and the plethora of bird varieties, large and small, is mesmerizing within surrounding beautiful and unique landscape. During the summer season, there may be a pole-mounted viewing telescope, however on this day the mounting pole stands vacant. There are several interpretive placards which compensate.
After departure from the elevated viewing platform a significant length of less inspiring, but clearly defined trail continues north and eventually curls left to enter a narrowing spit of land between two large water sources. If you enjoy hiking along a dyke, prepare to be inspired because the next section of trail approaches magical. Immediately adjacent proximity to water on both sides of the road-width trail provides the overwhelmingly fresh odor of aquatic plant life shaded by brush and mature pond-side deciduous trees which provide shade from the sun while amplifying the din of copious life.
The breadth and depth of natural activity is overwhelming and, given the opportunity, consumes the senses within an array of sight and sound that comforts like a warm blanket on a cold day. On one side, still water hosts legions of ducks and geese swimming graciously through black water graced by reeds and flowering lily pads. On the other (east) side, the breeze from open water creates a cooling ambience audibly enhanced by ripples of water lapping against the carefully laid legion of boulders which guard the integrity of the passage. Mature deciduous trees tower over dense shrubbery and brush delineating aquatic plant life. Occasionally an old set of wooden steps lead the short distance down to camouflaged viewing platforms which serve the folks who enjoy a passion for bird watching. This is bird watching Nirvana. For those who appreciate beaver, there is ample evidence of sharp teeth embedded in powerful jaws gradually consuming the sturdy wooden stairs.
Mature and robust deciduous trees create a unique and beautiful tunnel along the trail as hikers enter and become enveloped by trees forming a magnificent natural arch.
The trail morphs to groomed flatland after navigating the bridge section delineated by two large boulders and a gate. A rocky water break on the right and running parallel to the bridge likely provides protection from robust surf in high wind as well as providing mooring for small craft on this impressive man-made lake consuming 66 square kilometers. Kinbrook Island complex supports a wide variety of recreational opportunities including boat launches, a huge number and variety of reserved recreational camping opportunities, swimming beaches, recreational fishing, boat launches, hiking trails, picnic shelters, playgrounds, well maintained bathrooms and showers, group campgrounds, private cottages and volleyball courts. The scope, size and development of the facility are impressive.
The Kinbrook Island Nature Trail arrives at, or leaves from, the north end of Kinbrook Island Provincial Park. Arrival at the north end of the island on the counter-clockwise circuit provides immediate access to washroom facilities and a plethora of nearby marine and sailing craft demand a walking tour of the area surrounding the private, members only Newell Sailing Club. Clearly defined and signed hiking trail across lawns, and between campsites and marshland, continues south to eventually arrive at the major road intersection hosting the Park Office near the entrance.
There is an option to hike south end of Kinbrook Island which could include touring the Group Campgrounds on the mainland, multiple camping sections and the Cottage subdivision but this will add significant hiking distance and time to the day’s endeavor. Photos for this optional extension are not included. A campground map available via Internet is an important navigation aid. It is easy to get turned around in the complex.
Paved road at the Park Office, clearly identifiable by towering communication towers, provides the exit from (and entrance to) Kinbrook Island. The paved and potentially busy road has no consistent paved trail beside the road so much of this section of the return hike is on the narrow, paved apron. The consolation is a scenic walk on level surface with magnificent wetland terrain on both sides of the road and the requirement for caution is axiomatic, particularly when children are in attendance.
The left turn onto the Kinbrook Marsh access road provides return to the initial parking area accompanied by perpetually amazing marshland scenery hosting the sights and sounds of prolific avian and aquatic life.
Back at the car, fresh cold water in the cooler hits the spot on this hot, late summer day. Closer examination of the area surrounding the gravel parking area reveals a previously unnoticed overgrown road leading to interpretive signage near robust marshland. A short stroll reveals an old gas well along the route towards the marsh. The final interpretive sign has been partially consumed by encroaching wetland and tilts at a precarious angle prior to near term total consumption within challenging terrain. The content of the interpretive sign needs to be investigated but the route in has been consumed by water-logged ground. Navigation is through dense, above head height aquatic plant growth via wet ground above boot level while the occasional firm lump serves to provide navigational assistance. A photograph, not included here, provides confirmation of success prior to retreat to an old dilapidated bench on firm ground for the boot emptying and sock ringing out ceremony. The short hike back to the car ends a grand and unique hiking day in a very special place overflowing with life creating sights and sounds which assault the senses in the grandest way possible.
On the daily return drive to excellent and convenient accommodation at the Brooks Heritage Inn and Suites, each day offers a developing view of the giant solar farm being constructed along the TransCanada Highway. After a soak in the singularly occupied hot tub and a solo swim in the accompanying pool, the day ends with an excellent dinner and the downloading of the days photographs prior to a bit of relaxation and a good night’s rest.
Three grand days hiking end in the Brooks area of Alberta. Tomorrow morning will feature the final and excellent Continental breakfast at the Brooks Heritage Inn prior to the early day 100+ KM drive southeast on the TransCanada Highway to Medicine Hat.
Photographs for this flat, scenic and unique hike around Kinbrook Marsh southeast of Brooks, Alberta in Newell County are captured on Tuesday, September 12, 2017.