Jewell Falls is a gem, accessible from the Barrier Lake Dam in Kananaskis Country, Alberta, Canada.
The 65 kilometer (41 mile) drive west from Calgary, beneath overcast skies on the TransCanada Highway, turns south onto Kananaskis Trail (Hwy 40) at the intersection hosting the Stoney Nakoda Resort and Casino.
Trail-head parking is a well-signed right turn a short distance past the Barrier Lake Visitor Centre and Tim Horton Children's Ranch to park near Barrier Dam.
Ceilings are still high but insufficiently dark to generate rain in the near term. Maybe. Today, the hike to Jewell Falls on the Jewell Pass trail will begin by hiking across the 'S' shaped earth dam which interrupts the Kananaskis River to create Barrier Lake.
A tangled labyrinth of confusing trail occupies this popular area and there is wisdom in carrying and referring to a hiking guide and trail map.
The hike west over the dam to the service road beneath power lines to the Jewell Pass trail-head is about 4 kilometers (2½ miles) long, one-way.
Surrounding terrain is very beautiful with mountains surrounding Barrier Lake on one side and spring-green forest buffering the glacier-carved and sheer rock walls of McConnell Ridge on the other.
Access to Jewell Pass is south on good trail towards the campground. Consult your map or GPS.
Note: This hike to Jewell Falls was substantially modified by June, 2013 floods, however, the Kananaskis Trail Crew and the Friends of Kananaskis Country worked very hard to reopen and improve the trail.
The trail-head on the right is clearly signed and initial progress gradually gains elevation above the rapid white water of Jewell Creek echoing through the valley against massive rock walls on Heart Mountain.
Recent rain has magnified the aroma of evergreen forest punctuated by a multitude of deciduous green colors on newly budding trees.
The gain in elevation above the creek is followed immediately by a steep drop to creek-side where twisting, cascading rapids capture the attention. Occasionally damp undulating trail is varies between evergreen needle soft and rustic rocky.
The roar of Jewell Creek is the sole companion so yelling 'Yo' or 'Yo, bear', louder and more frequently than normal is expedient adjacent to fast, noisy water in case any animals need to be aware of my presence.
The loud water will mask their ability to hear the same way it does mine.
The objective for this day is Jewell Falls about 2 kilometers (1¹⁄₃ miles) north from the trail-head. This hike will not continue to Jewell Pass on this day.
Crossing sawn log bridges, back and forth, over fast, white water in Jewell Creek is a sensory experience.
Proximity to Jewell Falls is confirmed when trail is obliterated by snow over ice.
When waterfall flow runs faster than creek water flow, the creek freezes first and water from the waterfalls pours over the top of the creek until everything finally succumbs to the winter freeze.
The waterfall is tucked into a rock-bound alcove on the west side of Jewell Creek and, for the next half hour, scrambling over dead fall and difficult terrain rendered slippery by ice and moss is required to capture photographs worthy of sharing.
The large horizontal chunk of ice at the base of the fall, which was recently part of the vertical ice fall, has tumbled down when rocks warmed and greater spring flow pushed it away.
Residual ice will soon be gone so timing is fortunate. In the late summer and autumn the waterfall may be a trickle or dry.
The waterfall is just a few meters off trail, and about 20 feet (3 meters) tall, but it is making plenty of noise today.
Update: Trail which previously continued past the waterfall and up the canyon valley bottom has since been rerouted over the top of the waterfall.
On the return hike via the same way taken in, a hike off-trail from the power line access route is exercised to photograph the base of McConnell Ridge.
Glacial rock monoliths accentuate the landscape and large, difficult-to-access cave openings, high up on the face of the ridge, capture the attention.
Accessing the broad shoreline of Barrier Lake on the return will shorten and flatten out the return hike. When Barrier Lake is full, this alternative will not be an option.
Today it is a pleasant stroll, predominantly over sand with a border of water on one side and tons of driftwood on the other.
Heavy weather is forming up but intermittent sun mixed with an occasional drop of rain, that evaporates quickly, is thoroughly enjoyable.
This is a relatively short and easy hike of about 8 kilometers (5 miles) round trip with moderate elevation and a wide variety of amazing scenery along good trail.
This hike will appeal to hikers with a bit of experience who can reference a hiking guide and map.
The hike can be lengthened substantially by continuing to Jewell Pass and across to the scenic Barrier Lake Lookout to form a loop back to Barrier Dam and parking.