Heart Creek is an easy-to-access, classic, year round hike in Bow Valley, Alberta.
Note: This hike occurred prior to June 2013 flooding and trail details are different from current conditions.
Heart Creek is an easy, 3 kilometer (1⅞ mile) one way, popular and easily accessible trail wedged in a valley canyon between Heart Mountain and Mount McGillivray.
The hike is about 50 kilometers (31⅜ miles) west of Calgary and clearly signed on the TransCanada Highway (Hwy 1) across from Lac des Arcs.
This hike begins mid-morning on hard packed snow which makes the trail slick. The first kilometer is an east traverse on the undulating Quaite Valley Trail at the base of Heart Mountain.
Crossing the first bridge over Heart Creek precedes a right turn onto the clearly-signed Heart Creek Trail.
Heart Creek is a relatively flat and beautiful hike through aromatic evergreen forest. The trail crisscrosses Heart Creek seven times on narrow, sturdy bridges which, on this day, require caution on iced surfaces.
Along Heart Creek there are sheer, rock walls on Mount McGillivray which are used regularly by rock climbers in the summer. A little further along on the Heart Mountain side of Heart Creek there are ice seeps used by ice climbers in the winter.
At the official trail end there is a memorial bench overlooking the canyon S curve which hides the waterfall on Heart Creek. The top of the waterfall is accessible by a scramble in summer. The view over the edge is spectacular but adjacent terrain is slippery rock which can be very dangerous.
It is unknown if this young lady honored by the bench at formal trail end lost her life here. There are many of these benches and memorial plaques at dangerous locations throughout the mountains.
The Heart Creek trail is safe and easy. To venture beyond is for more experienced hikers. Accidents happen and these memorials remind us to be careful and stay safe.
The loss of life is a sad reminder to exercise caution and due diligence at all times.
Following a brief rest, and time to enjoy the natural ambiance, hiking crampons are reattached to hiking boots for the return trip. The day is warming up as sun streams into the Heart Creek canyon and trail surface will become more slick.
The hiking crampons will stick to the surface and substantially reduce the risk for injury or personal humiliation.
At the end of the hike, the short drive further west to Canmore allows casual strolling on Main Street to enjoy surrounding mountains, including Mount Rundle, Ha Ling Peak, Mount Lady Macdonald, and historical buildings prior to enjoying St. Patrick's Day lunch at the Rose and Crown.
The return drive to Calgary is via old Highway 1A for alternate mountain views. A storm brewing in the west chases the ride home but there is time for photos of Heart Mountain above the hike just completed along Heart Creek.
Mount Yamnuska is a popular and rewarding hike for another marvelous day in the mountains, perhaps in the summer.