The Bow Valley Bunker

by - Monday, November 28, 2016

Known as the Heart Creek Bunker, Diefenbunker, Vault, and Bow Valley Bunker (among other names), the large caverns in Mount McGillivray are a unique hiking destination with a colorful history. Urban legend has it that the massive bunker was carved into the side of the mountain to house important government officials during the Cold War. The real reason for the "bunker", however, was to store sensitive documents1. Due to budget constraints and humidity, documents were never stored here, but the caverns remain as a testament to the politics and paranoia of the late '50s. An interesting place to visit year round.



The trail to the Bow Valley Bunker begins at the Heart Creek Parking lot, just off the Trans Canada Highway, across from Lac des Arcs. Look for the Trans Canada Trail marker across the parking lot from the Heart Creek Trailhead. If you pass an interpretive sign about black bears within a few metres, you're on the right track. Continue through mixed forest to a gravel lined gulley (200 m from the parking lot). The path has been re-established post floods and is easy to follow. 

Start here
The broad trail is Chariot friendly but bumpy in sections.

1st Gully
At the halfway point (~1 km from parking lot), you will cross another gulley. Continue through the forest on a fairly level trail, then go down a big hill. At the junction (marked with a Trans Canada Trail marker), turn left. At the next junction (also marked), turn left again. From here, it's only 200 metres to the cavern entrance.


On dirt trail

First junction - go left
Second junction - go left


Almost there - Heart Mountain in the background
Bunker entrance
Bring bright headlamps so you may explore the 80' x 25' caverns2. There is also a smaller cavern that may have been meant to be a reception area or lounge3.

Looking into the cavern
Looking towards the entrance
Looking down at Lac des Arcs
My kids were a bit freaked out by the darkness and graffiti, so we didn't venture too far inside, but were still happy to discover this interesting site. We enjoyed some cocoa and cookies at the cave entrance and watched a train go by Lac des Arcs below. A quick win when you want to try something new!

Bow Valley Bunker Trail At A Glance

SAFETY NOTE: The last 100 metres to the bunker is avalanche terrain. Avoid this area if the slope is snow covered.

Distance: 3.8 km return
Elevation gain: 94 m
Difficulty: Easy
Chariot friendly: Yes
Directions from Calgary: Go west on Hwy 1 for 86 km. Take exit 105 (Lac des Arcs) and turn left.   Continue straight to the Heart Creek Parking Lot.

This is a fun hike to do on the way to or from Canmore as it's quick and easy!

What's your favorite short hike in Bow Valley Provincial Park?


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