Family Fun in Bow Valley Provincial Park

by - Friday, May 15, 2015

Bow Valley Provincial Park is the perfect family-friendly mountain destination only an hour from Calgary. With panoramic mountain views and scenic hiking trails, geocaching, fishing, biking, and paddling, there is something for everyone.

Parents of young children will appreciate the short trails around Bow Valley Campground with minimal elevation gain, benches along the trails for snack breaks, and washrooms at every parking lot. Longer hikes in the park, which are doable year round, include Raven's End, Prairie View, and Barrier Lake Fire Lookout.

Join us now on a virtual tour of Bow Valley Provincial Park!


Montane Interpretive Trail (1.5 km loop, minimal elevation)

This hiking trail departs from the first day use area when you enter the park. The trailhead is next to the Bow Valley Provincial Park Visitor Centre. On this 1.5 km loop, you will pass through meadow and forest and learn about the ecosystem, and local plants and animals. There are also a couple geocaches on the trail - one in the forest and one in the meadow - see if you can find both!

Not that the trail is officially a hiking trail (we let the kids bike because it was off season and no one was there, but shouldn't have) and we did the loop in the reverse direction.

Washrooms? Outhouses at parking lot
Stroller Friendly? Yes, but bumpy and rooty.
Directions from Calgary: Head west on the Trans Canada Highway (Hwy 1), until you get to Exit 114 for Exshaw / Bow Valley Provincial Park. Merge onto Hwy 1AB N. Take first left at sign for Bow Valley Provincial Park. Drive 600 m to Bow Valley Administration and Information Centre.

Montane Trail, Bow Valley Provincial Park
Prairie Crocus
Montane Forest Geocache, Bow Valley Provincial Park
The small hill up to the top of a ridge.
On the ridge, Montane Trail
Heading down to the meadow

Bow Valley Bike Path (8.6 km return, 85 m elevation)

The Bow Valley Bike Path is an easy ride for even the youngest riders with views of the Bow Valley and Mount Yamnuska. You can ride from the Visitor Centre all the way to Bow Valley Campground on a scenic paved path.

Washrooms? Outhouses at parking lot
Stroller Friendly? Yes.
Directions from Calgary: Head west on the Trans Canada Highway (Hwy 1), until you get to Exit 114 for Exshaw / Bow Valley Provincial Park. Merge onto Hwy 1AB N. Take first left at sign for Bow Valley Provincial Park. Drive 600 m to Bow Valley Administration and Information Centre.


New spring leaves on the Bow Valley Bike Path
Family photo along the Bow Valley Bike Path - Mount Yamnuska in the background

Middle Lake Day Use Area and Interpretive Trail (2.5 km loop)

Middle Lake is a pretty picnic spot with a great view of Mount Yamnuska! We've stopped for lunch here many times and had a lot of fun geocaching and walking the shoreline.

Tips: 
  • If you are keen on learning about wildlife and habitats, print the Middle Lake Trail Brochure from home or pick one up at the Visitor Information Centre in case the kiosk has run out. 
  • If you're short on time, walk the lakeshore (1 km loop) instead of doing the forest loop.
Washrooms? Outhouses at parking lot
Stroller Friendly? Yes, but bumpy and rooty
Directions from Calgary: Head west on the Trans Canada Highway (Hwy 1), until you get to Exit 114 for Exshaw / Bow Valley Provincial Park. Merge onto Hwy 1AB N. Take first left at sign for Bow Valley Provincial Park. Drive 3.7 km to Middle Lake Day Use Area.

Middle Lake, Bow Valley Provincial Park
Middle Lake, Bow Valley Provincial Park
Middle Lake, Bow Valley Provincial Park
Middle Lake, Bow Valley Provincial Park

Many Springs Interpretive Trail (1.9 km loop)

Many Springs Trail was a fun one because it had structures (a bridge and boardwalk), bubbles, and a micro geocache. Be sure to spend some time at the second "lookout" to see the bubbling springs and find the geocache.

Washrooms? Outhouses at parking lot
Stroller Friendly? Yes, lots of boardwalk.
Directions from Calgary: Head west on the Trans Canada Highway (Hwy 1), until you get to Exit 114 for Exshaw / Bow Valley Provincial Park. Merge onto Hwy 1AB N. Take first left at sign for Bow Valley Provincial Park. Drive 6.1 km to Whitefish Day Use.

The natural springs allow different plants and animals to live here.
Many Springs Trail, Bow Valley Provincial Park
Many Springs Trail, Bow Valley Provincial Park
Where to see springs bubbling! The geocache is near here too!

Whitefish Day Use Area and Bow River Trail (1.6 km to Bow Valley Campground)

Whitefish Day Use Area is a nice spot to fish, throw some rocks in the water, or have a picnic (I prefer Middle Lake as the tables are more spread out and you cannot see the Exshaw Plant though). 

For an easy, but pretty stroll, hike to the Bow Valley Campground via the Bow River Trail.  

Washrooms? Outhouses at parking lot 
Stroller Friendly? No, the river trail is quite narrow and bumpy.
Directions from Calgary: Head west on the Trans Canada Highway (Hwy 1), until you get to Exit 114 for Exshaw / Bow Valley Provincial Park. Merge onto Hwy 1AB N. Take first left at sign for Bow Valley Provincial Park. Drive 6.1 km to Whitefish Day Use Area.

Looking west from Whitefish Day Use Area
Looking East from Whitefish Day Use Area
Flowing Water Interpretive Trail (2.4 km loop)

Flowing Water Trail is a fun trail that takes you through lush forest, wetlands, then along the Kananaskis River back to where you started. The trailhead is at Willow Rock Campground near the showers. Great wildflower viewing in May and June! For more information, please see this post.

Washrooms? Flush toilets in the shower building
Stroller Friendly? No
Directions from Calgary: Head west on the Trans Canada Highway (Hwy 1), until you get to Exit 114 for Exshaw / Bow Valley Provincial Park. Merge onto Hwy 1AB N. Take first right at Willow Rock Campground and park near shower building. The trail head is on the north side of the parking lot and is marked with a hiking sign.

Flowing Water Trail, Bow Valley Provincial Park

Barrier Lake

Head to beautiful Barrier Lake for hiking, mountain biking, and paddling. Trails around the lake include Prairie View Trail and Barrier Lake Fire Lookout, Jewell Pass, and Stoney Trail. It is possible to make a loop of Prairie View and Jewell Pass if you want to mix it up.

In summer, head to Barrier Lake Day Use Area for beach time. The sandy beaches are perfect for sunbathing and sand castle building! While the turquoise waters are a bit cold for swimming, they are great to paddle on a calm day. Canoe, kayak and stand up paddleboard rentals are available from Kananaskis Outfitters.

Washrooms? Outhouses at parking lot 
Stroller Friendly? Yes, except for Barrier Lake Fire Lookout. 
Directions from Calgary: Head west on Highway 1. Take the Highway 40S/Kananaskis Trail exit. At the top of the ramp, turn left at the stop sign. Continue for 12 km. AFTER Barrier Lake Information Centre, turn right at Barrier Dam Day Use. 

Barrier Lake
Playing in the sand at Barrier Lake
Heart Creek Interpretive Trail (4 km return)

Heart Creek is a fun trail to do on a hot day as there are lots of opportunities to splash in the creek. Kids will love crossing all the bridges (9 in total) and looking for wildflowers. If you still want to do more exploring after, check out the Bow Valley Bunker which starts on the opposite side of the parking lot!

Washrooms? Outhouses at parking lot 
Stroller Friendly? No. The 2013 flood drastically changed the trail.
Directions from Calgary: Head west on Highway 1. 

Heart Creek

Bow Valley Provincial Park Amenities

  • Visitor Centres - Bow Valley, Barrier Lake
  • Cell phone service
  • Campgrounds - Bow Valley Campground, Willow Rock Campground, Elk Flats Group Campground, Jewell Bay Backcountry Campground
  • Washrooms

Activities

  • Hiking - See a complete listing of the park's trails here.
  • Fishing - in Gap Lake, Bow River, or Grotto Pond (stocked). 
  • Geocaching - At time of writing, there were more than 8 geocaches in the north part of the park (north of Highway 1).
  • Biking - Try the Bow Valley Paved Bike Path (8.6 km return) or bike on the road before the winter gate opens (seasonal closure from Middle Lake to Bow Valley Campground). 
  • CampingIf a day trip isn't enough time to enjoy the park, you may camp at one of many campgrounds listed below.  
    • Bow River - closest to Banff
    • Bow Valley - near Mount Yamnuska, has camping store. Very pleasant with shaded, private sites, but expect some road and train noise. For a detailed trip report, please see this post.
    • Lac Des Arcs - near the trailhead for Ribbon Creek
    • Three Sisters - at Dead Man's Flats
    • Willow Rock - near Mount Yamnuska, large trailer sites near the road and small tenting/car access sites in the trees, has showers

  • Paddling - Paddle at Barrier Lake (put in at Barrier Dam, Barrier Lake, or Widow Maker), Canoe Meadows (river paddling), Gap Lake, or Lac Des Arc.
  • Rafting - Inside Out ExperienceChinook Rafting, Discover Banff Tours, Canadian Rockies Rafting, and Kananaskis White Water Rafting offer family-friendly trips down the Kananaskis River through Bow Valley Provincial Park!

  • Rafting the Kananaskis River

    Directions

    To access Montane Trail, Bow Valley Bike path, Middle Lake Day Use, Many Springs or Whitefish Day Use, head west on the Trans Canada Highway (Hwy 1), until you get to the Exshaw / Bow Valley Provincial Park exit. Take your first left into the park. The park is just under an hour from Calgary!
    • Montane Trail and the Bow Valley bike path from the first day use area. 
    • Continue on to the Middle Lake Day Use Area, Many Springs Trailhead parking lot, Whitefish Day Use Area, or Bow Valley Campground.
    What is your favorite hike in Bow Valley Provincial Park?

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    2 comments

    1. Hi there, really enjoy following your blog. Just wondering if you would say any of these hikes are stroller/chariot friendly? I am looking for some great hikes to do with my almost-2-year-old, who still gets tuckered out pretty quick. I am pregnant as well so don't want to use a carrier for him at the moment.

      ReplyDelete
    2. Thanks for your message! Once the winter gate opens (May 1), Many Springs Trail is a great Chariot hike with boardwalk, bubbling springs, and wildflowers! It's pretty flat too. :)

      Montane could be done with a Chariot, but since it has rocky and rooty sections, and a hill, I wouldn't advise it while pregnant.

      Middle Lake Trail could also be done with a Chariot, but has a bit of elevation gain. I would recommend going for a picnic there and enjoying the beautiful view of Yamnuska (few hundred metres from the parking lot) if you don't have time to do the whole trail.

      Hope that helps!

      ReplyDelete

    Thanks for your comment! :) I will reply as soon as possible!