William A. Switzer Provincial Park Recreation Guide

by - Wednesday, August 10, 2016

William A. Switzer Provincial Park is a foothills oasis near Hinton, AB with five lakes to explore. The calm waters are inviting to paddlers of all levels and more experienced paddlers will enjoy tackling the Jarvis Creek Canoe Circuit. A network of hiking and bike trails connects the lakes, and the Hinton Nordic Centre has 35 kilometres of rolling trails that are groomed for cross country skiing in the winter! When it's time to relax, stretch out on the sand at Jarvis Lake's beach.

We spent 4 days at Switzer Park in mid-July and found it a pleasant change of pace from the National Parks. Lake time without the crowds!


Paddling

Switzer's lakes are the main attraction. Calm, clear waters make for a great experience no matter your skill level. We enjoyed paddling to the northern end of Gregg Lake and visiting a small island, beaver dam, and bird houses near the private residences. We had to work a bit harder on the return as the water flows north out of the lake, but it was still an easy, beautiful paddle.

Paddling on Gregg Lake, Switzer Park
Kayaking on Gregg Lake, Switzer Park
If you would like to try moving water, paddle the Jarvis Creek Interpretive Route (4 km one way). More experienced paddlers can paddle the entire Jarvis Creek circuit from Jarvis Lake to Gregg Lake, but must be able to navigate sweepers, beaver dams and strong currents. Portages are required on both routes during low water flow and a car shuttle is recommended unless you want to paddle both ways. A detailed brochure outlining the routes is available at Kelley's Bathtub Visitor Centre. More information is available from Alberta Parks.

Jarvis Lake
Canoe, kayak, and stand-up paddleboard rentals are available at Gregg Lake and Jarvis Lake boat launches from Switzer Park Paddleboard Rentals.

Beaches

Jarvis Lake has a sandy beach perfect for sunbathing and building sand castles as well as a playground!

Picturesque Kelley's Bathtub has a small patch of sand (a few metres long) which is fun for the kids if you're hiking there or visiting the Visitor Centre. Hiking info follows.

Kelley's Bathtub, Switzer Park

Hiking

Switzer's hikes have minimal elevation gain, so they're perfect for children!

Kelley's Bathtub (1 km loop) was our favorite short hike in the area. Jokingly named for a local hunter and outdoorsman who fell in (before the boardwalk was built), the pool's calm waters make for perfect reflections and pretty pictures. Walk around the pond and across a short boardwalk that separates it from Jarvis Lake. Afterwards, grab an ice cream bar and check out the exhibits in the Visitor Centre! There are picnic tables and washrooms here too.
Trailhead: Kelley's Bathtub Visitor Centre.

Kelley's Bathtub Trail
For a longer hike, try Friendly Vista (2.5 km loop). Bird watch, look for moose, and take a break at the various viewpoints along the lake. Insider tip: Be sure to pick up a Family Adventure Backpack from the information centre so you can solve clues at each interpretive stop.
Trailhead: Kelley's Bathtub Visitor Centre.

Viewpoint on Friendly Vista Trail
Kettle (3.5 km) interpretive trail takes you on the path of ancient glaciers. Walk along an esker (winding gravel ridge deposited by glaciers) to a kettle lake left behind when the glaciers retreated. We didn't get a chance to do this hike, but it was highly recommended by parks staff.
Trailhead: Behind the Gregg Lake campground shower building. 

Athabasca Lookout (1.5 km) is a short climb to a viewpoint overlooking the Solomon Valley. From this vantage, you can see all the way to the Rockies! Head northwest across the ridge to leave the cell phone towers behind. The best part of the hike was all the wildflowers! 
Trailhead: Luge Parking Lot, Hinton Nordic Centre.

Athabasca Lookout
Athabasca Lookout Trail

Mountain Biking and Cross Country Skiing

Bike or hike Jarvis Lake Trail (13.5 km) and Gregg Lake Trail (2.5 or 4 km). These gravel trails are rolly and suitable for kids on 20" bikes, but it's possible to bike and hike with younger kids as the hills are not too big. For forest, meadows and creeks, try the Jarvis Lake Trail. Gregg Lake's trail has mixed forest and some of the biggest aspens I've ever seen. We walked the Gregg Lake Trail as my mom didn't have a bike with her. Insider tip: Stop at the campground registration building for an ice cream treat!

Gregg Lake Trail
For more challenging trails, try the hilly, forested trails at the Hinton Nordic Centre. Mountain bike in the summer and cross country ski in the winter on 35+ km of maintained trails! (Day use/season's pass fees are in effect in winter.) 

Fishing

Jarvis Creek is stocked with brown trout and may be a good place to try. Locals also recommended Cache Lake and Petite Lake. Unfortunately the Trout Pond was already fished out, so we had no luck there and we got skunked at Gregg Lake (4 times), but heard that winter ice fishing for whitefish is pretty good.

Trout Pond

Camping

There are several great campgrounds to choose from in Switzer Park.

Gregg Lake Campground has the most amenities including showers, amphitheatre, playground, and power, power & water, or unserviced sites. Sites were well shaded. The only downside is that sites are quite close together. Reservable.

We chose to stay at Gregg Lake Lakeside to be closer to the lake. While these unserviced sites were not directly lakeside, the day use playground and boat launch were a short walk away. There is a large cook shelter, swing set, water pumps, and pit toilets in this loop. Sites were close together, but the campground was quiet, so we slept well. All sites were partially shaded. Reservable.

Gregg Lake Lakeside Campsite
Gregg Lake Lakeside Cook Shelter
Gregg Lake Lakeside Playground
Jarvis Lake, Cache Lake, and Graveyard Lake campgrounds have unserviced sites. 
  • Jarvis Lake looked the most appealing as it has a boat launch, playground, and beach with many shaded sites and walk-in tent sites. Reservable.
  • Cache Lake is smaller (14 sites), but has treed sites and a playground. FCFS.
  • Graveyard Lake is the smallest campground with 7 sites in an open grassy area. FCFS.
One of the best things about camping here is that there are no trains going by to wake you up in the night! It was quiet at night and we could see tons of stars.

Other Activities

Switzer Park has excellent programming throughout the week including:
  • Art in the Park at the Gregg Lake Boat Launch (so much fun!), 
  • Amphitheatre shows at Gregg Lake, 
  • Presentations at Gregg Lake Campground, and 
  • Family activities like pond dipping.  
Art in the Park
(Tables were set up on shore, but the girls wanted to dry their paintings on the dock.)


Check at the Visitor Centre or your campground for upcoming events.

Getting Here

Switzer Park is located about 30 km north of Hinton, Alberta on Highway 40 (paved). From Calgary, it is a 5.5 hour drive on Hwy 2 & 16, or 6 hour drive via the Icefields Parkway (Hwy 93N) or Cowboy Trail (Hwy 22).

Conclusion

I would recommend Switzer Park to families who like to get off the beaten path and spend lots of time on the water. This is a great place to paddle! 

Disclosure: As an Alberta Parks Ambassador, I received free camping, but all words and opinions are my own.

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