Nihahi Creek, on the west side of Nihahi Ridge, is a unique hiking adventure in Elbow Valley, Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada.
Nihahi Creek is a favorite, classic hike and scramble at the end of Highway 22/66, west of Bragg Creek past access to Forget-Me-Not Mountain in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada. From the campground above the shore of the Elbow River, access to Nihahi Creek trail-head is about 4 KM (2½ miles) west of the gate on relatively flat, dirt road.
Nihahi Creek is located in the valley on the far side of Nihahi Ridge. The short hike into Nihahi Creek is stunningly beautiful on a sunny day in late summer or fall. Some hiking and scrambling experience and good boots are beneficial.
The best option is to simply make a right turn off the main trail immediately before Nihahi Creek at the signed intersection.
The Nihahi Creek trail-head is on the near side of the tiny creek but there is an interesting option to hike off-trail up the creek bed to the 100 m (328 ft) waterfall at the south end of the canyon. To enter the canyon this way would be a technical effort but the alcove is an interesting and peaceful place. There is an exit about halfway to the waterfall which allows a scramble up the steep east cliff side to intersect with the Nihahi Creek trail.
Trail on a gentle slope through forest for a kilometer gives little indication of the wilderness adventure ahead. If you find them, faint side trails to the left reveal a couple of well camouflaged view points into this fascinating canyon.
Where the trail passes an open stony area on usually dry creek bed creek on the left, it is important to turn sharply left and down in the reverse direction to enter the canyon. It is easy to miss this junction and if you hike past it, it is necessary to turn back and enter the canyon access point. This entrance point is not obvious so it is important to watch carefully.
Logs used to descend the cascading waterfalls may have been washed away during spring and summer runoff and replaced with less stable poles. The walls of the canyon have been worn smooth and are beautifully graceful after millenniums of water flow have created their form.
There are few places to gain hand or footholds and descent is achieved by creeping down logs, maintaining balance with hands on the walls, to avoid plunging into the cold water pools at the bottom of each depression. Normally these small pools are fairly shallow.
Today they are full and sufficiently deep to make the unfortunate experience more humiliating. Many of the walls and ledges are wet and slick. Caution is required. In the sun it is warm, but inside the shady canyon it can be quite cool, so layering up and down may be frugal to balance effort and temperature.
Carefully working back through the canyon will lead to a warm, sunny opening which is the perfect spot to enjoy lunch. In all my years of hiking, the urge to break open a rock and smell the inside of it has never been on my personal agenda.
Apparently some of the small black stones guard a secret. Shattering these small, black stones by throwing them against larger ones will release foul-smelling gas when they break. Gas is trapped inside some of the black rocks. The pungent odor of hydrogen sulfide is undeniable. Who knew?
Following lunch in the warm sun, the hike continues down through the canyon past fascinating rocky terrain until eventual arrival at the top of the waterfall near beginning where risk clearly outweighs reward. A short backtrack leads to a location where a scramble is sensible to climb up and out of the canyon to the Nihahi Creek trail about 100 m above.
The strenuous scramble is best executed on separate parallel routes so there will be no danger of the lead person accidentally dislodging loose rock onto a person beneath. A right turn at the trail provides return to the trail-head on the same route used for access.
There are trail alternatives for return to the main trail. Back at the main trail there is an alternative to cross the main trail and follow the creek to where it joins the Elbow River. This is an excellent place to relax and bask in the sun beside the Elbow River. Music created by fast running water, combined with the rich aroma of the forest creates a relaxing ambiance.
A network of rustic trail allows passage along the edge of the Elbow River where surrounding mountains loom above the opposite shoreline.
On this day, the drive back to Calgary features a magnificent sunset silhouetting the mountains behind and impressive storm clouds in the eastern sky create a massive rainbow over the city. Magic!