Elizabeth Hall Wetlands occupy a section of historical terrain north from High Level Bridge in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada.
The exit from Highway 3 West over the Oldman River Valley is not signed, (at this time of writing), for Elizabeth Hall Wetlands, however, signage for the exit to the Bridge Valley Golf Course will lead to the exact location. At the end of the road, Bridge Valley Golf Course is on the right and the gate to parking for Elizabeth Hall Wetlands (originally known as the Oxbow Lake Nature Area) is clearly signed on the left. Can't miss it.
A clearly defined, short, gravel link leads from the parking area beneath mature trees to a reddish brown, crushed brick loop trail circling the picturesque pond in the center of the interpretive pathway around the outside edge of the 15 hectare (37 acre) parcel. Soon, deteriorating wooden pilings along pond banks hint of past industrial activity. Interpretive signage along the path introduces a wide variety of plant, avian and small animal occupation. Dogs and bikes are not allowed here for obvious reasons.
On warm, sunny days, painted turtles basking in the sun are abundant. The main trail loop is about 2 KM (1¼ miles) long with options to lengthen for special wilderness experiences spanning an hour or more. This is a great place to sit, ponder and become absorbed by the special beauty of the minute detail.
Hiking north along cinder trail adjacent to the fenced-in, par 3 golf course, and towards the prominent High Level Bridge in the distance, passes a well constructed beaver dam whose occupants, on this day, are out and about within the company of a wide range of large and small birds. The cool air encourages discovery beneath heavily overcast skies desperately doing their best to avoid raining down on this idyllic location.
The crunchy, red cinder trail continues to curl north past wetlands alive with life and sound accompanied by the rich, pungent aroma typical of wetlands. Past the golf course, and in closing proximity to the High Level Bridge, the Elizabeth Hall Wetlands trail turns left across the flat top of a well constructed dyke controlling water flow from the adjacent Oldman River. Trail also continues straight ahead over gray-white crushed rock trail into Bull Trail Park travelling south past forest and beneath the High Level Bridge. This additional opportunity will be investigated following completion of the Elizabeth Hall Wetlands loop.
The far side of the dyke ends at the west bank of the Oldman River. Following the left turn, several nearby trail opportunities provide access to trails descending into wetlands surrounding the pond. The most prominent, signed entrance descends wooden stairs to excellent trail through forest to the Wildlife Viewing Blind.
The Wildlife Viewing Blind provides the opportunity to view and photograph surrounding terrain hosting abundant wildlife within relative anonymity. Portals within the high wooden walls of the blind permit excellent photographic opportunities.
Dry path through forest departs from the blind and continues south through the lower section of the wetlands. There are several opportunities to take trail branches up to the higher periphery trail level but the quiet forest walk provides an excellent alternative and more wilderness-like hiking opportunity until wooden stairs provide return to the Oldman River level.
Further south past the forest section hosting the viewing blinds, another opportunity near the north end of the pond provides steep path, or stairs a bit further along, to floating platform surrounded by marine growth. The viewing platforms offer close range observation of avian and amphibian life near water level. Exit from this special experience returns to the main tail which continues north to loop around the floating driftwood gathered at the end of the pond within imperceptible water flow.
Narrow, alternative path skirts the top of the bank as a superior experience alternative to less intimate formal path. Eventually they combine near the return to parking. Surrounding terrain fascinates at every observational level. This is a special place which is likely best appreciated at the most quiet times. On this day, I have this beautiful place virtually to myself.
This adventure will continue south along a repeat of the west side of the pond adjacent to the golf course. The hike continues south past the dyke into Bull Trail Park North for the enjoyment of trail beyond and beneath High Level Bridge and above the Oldman River along the steep, formidable banks of the Oldman River Valley.
Photographs for Elizabeth Hall Wetlands are captured on the overcast day of Thursday, September 21, 2017 on the west side of the Oldman River in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada.