Ribbon Falls is an easily accessible, classic Kananaskis Country hike west of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
The Ribbon Creek trail-head is easily accessible via Kananaskis Trail (Hwy 40), south from the TransCanada Highway west of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, to the exit for Nakiska Mountain Resort on Mount Allan.
The Ribbon Creek Trail was seriously damaged by June 2013 flooding and one of the first trails resurrected because of its year round importance and popularity. Ribbon Creek Trail provides an important link to Ribbon Lake, Buller Pass, Guinn's Pass and the Lillian Lake / Galatea Lakes hiking trail complex.
The hike to Ribbon Falls and beyond is long but relatively easy. The spectacular scenery, and proximity to cascading white water, makes it nearly impossible for photographers to justifiably maintain any manner of disciplined pace. The day tends to get extended.
The front end of the Ribbon Falls Trail was completely obliterated in the flood. A wooden platform bridge crosses Ribbon Creek at the parking area which was once the site of the logging and coal mining town of Kovach (aka Ribbon Crick). In it's heyday the pioneer hamlet boasted an assortment of tarpaper shacks and a small schoolhouse ancillary to the main school nearby at Seebe.
The old Kovach schoolhouse was the original hostel before it was replaced by the current hostel. Scant remains of Kovach structures can still be found. A portion of Ribbon Creek trail was originally a forestry road called Ribbon Creek Road.
The river is crossed on the obvious wooden platform bridge to take the road called Terrace Trail uphill to a junction with the Kovach Trail. All trail junctions for this hike are right turns. A left turn is a perfectly good hike somewhere else. The Kovach Trail leads to Kovach Link which crosses Ribbon Creek. There are map signs along the way at intersections.
The Kananaskis Trail crew is busy replacing the temporary platform bridge with a more substantial version. There is a temporary plank crossing, with rope support, beneath and beside the new structure. A short ascent on the opposite side of Ribbon Creek leads to the T junction for a LEFT turn leading to Ribbon Falls.
The original Ribbon Creek trail was relatively flat and close to the edge of the creek, Major portions of that trail were carried away in the flood and the new trail has been sensibly constructed on higher ground which requires an initial ascent past the wizard stump. New trail is easy to navigate through spectacular forest with occasional log benches in alcoves along the way.
A new bridge over a major drainage reveals the impact of flood water. The trail branch along North Ribbon Creek is fairly obvious prior to the confluence of North Ribbon Creek with Ribbon Creek where another new bridge provides an alarming view of the extent of flood damage at this location.
The historic sawmill and logging exhibit originally at this location has been washed away. Much of the lumber for the original construction of Calgary came from this site. The extent of the damage is awe inspiring. Old and new trail sections provide close examination of the impact to the river course. The power of the flood water created major alterations to the previous landscape.
The Ribbon Falls Trail gains subtle elevation as it tracks powerful, cascading, white water forced through narrow canyons. The Ribbon Falls Trail is constrained by the flanks of Mount Kidd on the left and Mount Bogart to the right. The close proximity of these formidable mountains creates powerful sensory images and impressions.
The air is charged with negative ionization. Spring greenery shines with new birth. High water from Spring runoff thunders through rock. Flowers are exploding from the ground and tiny runoffs create their own micro ecosystems.
Even dead and rotting logs sport explosive new growth of moss and delicate fungi. The images are piercing and memorable. Incredibly difficult hiking discipline is required to maintain forward progress in reasonable balance to alternatively being focused on absorbing the intricate beauty.
The original sign for the bike access cut-off at the 5.7 KM (3⅝ mile) mark remains standing. The rack is gone and new trail replaces old. Most surrounding land has been washed away downstream.
Our hike eventually delivers us through and past tiny Ribbon Falls Backcountry Campground and up to the roar of Ribbon Falls. The laced waterfall is accompanied by a host of tiny companions along the face of the South Peak of Mount Kidd. Reverberated sound and mist in the breeze soothe the soul. There is time to sit down, and enjoy lunch, in the presence of natural magnificence.
The following images provide a hint of inadequate testament to the perpetual and powerful assault on the senses.
Lunch will be shared with 18-year-old Simon White who transitioned his physical presence many years ago. The heavy metal frame of his bench is badly warped from the force of flood water and debris but the anchors have held firm and his memory remains alive at this beautiful place and in the hearts and minds of friends and family.
It feels good to relax within so much spiritual and natural presence. Ribbon Falls, to the best of my knowledge, is the largest, permanent waterfall in Kananaskis Country. What is seen from the bottom is only a small portion of the entire fall.
The hike continues by gaining elevation on a crescent-shaped trail which ascends above the lower falls through forest and across scree slopes to the chains which provide assistance for the scramble past the head wall to Ribbon Lake.
At the chains there is the opportunity to sit, rest and soak in the incredible views of surrounding mountains before regrouping for the return hike descent over scree slopes and active drainage to the base of Ribbon Falls.
Back at Ribbon Falls, it is expedient to stand beneath the downdraft from the waterfall where cooling mist and negative ionization combine with powerful sound and imagery to recharge the body and soak clothing for the energetic and cooling effect of evaporation which will moderate the impact of the return hike by the same route in the much warmer afternoon.
The hike down Ribbon Creek is easier as elevation gently declines but no less spectacular with a seemingly endless barrage of powerful and scenic distractions. Stops on several occasions are made to collect and enjoy fresh and cold drinking water from Ribbon Creek using SteriPEN and Katadyne water purifiers.
As the cascading water component gives way to more level forest, river and flood sections, late afternoon sun sets the brilliant green slopes of Mount Allan ablaze with light that beckons us home. The flood damage near the confluence of North Ribbon Creek with Ribbon Creek is difficult to fathom.
Back at the bridge construction over Ribbon Creek, trail crews have left evidence of significant progress and gone home for the day. We may be the first people to cross the new plank surface.
The temporary plank crossed many hours prior is now blocked off. The remaining 3.5 KM (2¼ mile) hike to the parking area is a route march.
This post, by necessity and definition, is predominantly a photo essay. There are not enough words.
The hike is long and objectives are compromised by nearly perpetual, spectacular, scenic distraction. Bicycle access for the first 5.7 KM (3⅝ miles) is an alternative for expediency or Mount Bogart scramblers and rock climbers who are focused on different objectives.
This hike is best done in earlier season when water flow is more spectacular. This day has been very close to perfect conditions. It is important to be well equipped with, food, water, and water purification capability. Proper footwear is important. The distance and rugged rocky sections demand good hiking footwear to reduce fatigue and prevent injury.
For most, this is not a season opener. Be certain to tell someone your destination and exaggerate the amount of time you expect to use. Include your travel time and check in when you return.
Specifications for the hike will be estimates. The hike to Ribbon Falls from Ribbon Creek Parking will be near 11 KM (6⅞ miles) each way given the revised approach and trail rerouting. Pre-flood elevation differential is documented in the Kananaskis Country Trail Guide, 4th Edition, Volume 1, as 311 m (1,020 ft) to a high point of 1,814 m (5,950 ft).
The net elevations remain the same but gross elevation gain and loss have increased over the distance in the new trail configuration, so it is wise to include the differential in expectation planning. The jaunt past Ribbon Falls to the chains will add a bit. Distance hiked is estimated near 25 KM on this day. Nothing a good soak in hot water with baking soda and Epsom salts won't fix.
Photographs for this long-day, amazing hike to Ribbon Falls were captured in Kananaskis Country on June 10, 2015 west of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Kudos to the Kananaskis Country Trail Crews and volunteers from the Friends of Kananaskis Country who seized and executed the initiative to rebuild this important trail. You did an incredibly good job within nearly impossible circumstances. Thousands are, and more thousands will be, forever grateful. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.
Let us not forget the incredible planning, back office and administrative contribution.