Big Hill Springs Provincial Park: An Easy Hike Close to Calgary

Big Hill Springs Provincial Park is a hidden gem and a place that I can see returning to over and over again.  Picture a spot that has a creek shallow enough for the kids to splash and play in, multiple little waterfalls, big rocks to play on, several wood teepees to walk through, picnic benches by the water, interesting geological features and a short easy hike with minimal elevation gain.  To top it all off, it is only 20km from the northwest edge of Calgary’s city limits.  The short distance to this park makes it a perfect little getaway.  

Before I get further into it, here are some quick facts you may want to know:

  • Hike distance is 2.4km.
  • Hike elevation is 20 metres.
  • There are washrooms and garbages.
  • The hike itself is not stroller/wheelchair friendly due to stairs, but the picnic spot is stroller/wheelchair accessible.
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Big Hill Springs Provincial Park Trail Map

 

I had heard about Big Hill Springs Provincial Park last year and have since been meaning to take the boys out there.  A random schedule-free Tuesday happened to provide the opportunity I was looking for.  I checked the Alberta Parks website for information and directions for how to get there using Google Maps. Then I packed water, snacks, a change of clothes for the boys, towels, rain gear and a wet bag.  I knew that there was a creek and a waterfall there and with Felix (5) and Max (2), if there is a body of water nearby, they will be in it.  What I didn’t know was how many fun water options there were out there, but more on that later.

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One of the many waterfalls and views of tufa.

When we got there I was surprised to find that the small parking lot was almost full (on a Tuesday morning!).  However, despite there being a lot of cars we only came across clusters of people in the picnic area.  Throughout the hike itself, it was only when we stopped and played at one of the many features that we crossed paths with other folks, which is pretty good when the hike itself is only 2.4km.

The trail starts just past the picnic area (across the road from the washrooms), and you maybe tempted to simply stop there.  On one side there are large rocks to climb on and a big hill to play on, and the other side has a creek with multiple little waterfalls.  It is the first hike I have been on where we had yet to start and already I wanted to stop.  I could easily spend a long time in that one spot, and Felix and Max’s eyes were wide with delight.  Before they would move on I had to promise them that they could play in the water AFTER we finished the hike.

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Max trying to resist the urge to jump in.

On the first part of the hike you are gifted with the sound of running water and Tufa formations.  Previously, I had no idea what a tufa formation was, and the boys were quite fascinated by all the “big bumpy rocky parts”.  Once you start turning away from the water the path winds through trees, and just when you don’t expect it you come to a clearing with another really huge rock complete with a little cave.  This was another Felix and Max highlight as they took turns climbing on top and crawling underneath.

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One of the big rocks at Big Hill Springs Provincial Park.

After the large rock the path switches back and takes you up the hill.  At the top of the hill there is a lookout point with a bench that awards you a wonderful view of the surrounding landscape.  Only a few feet down from the bench you will find 1 of the 4 wooden teepees.  We didn’t go down to explore that one, but if you continue on the path upwards through the trees, on the left just off the trail, there are 2 more wooden teepees in much better condition than the first.  The boys were so excited to find these and they spent a lot of timing running in and out and around them.  It even inspired Felix to gather some more wood to add to a small little teepee a little further down the path.  From that point the trail is mostly downhill and very short, ending across from the parking lot.

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One of the wooden teepees just off the trail.

Once we reached the parking lot, I changed Felix and Max into rain gear and we headed back to the picnic spot for their reward, a mecca of water play options.  In most spots the water is pretty shallow and only in a few spots did the water reach Felix’s knees (and he is only 44 inches tall).  Splashing, running, jumping, and having the time of their lives, the boys explored the little streams and raced twigs in the water.   During summer, I can imagine this spot being a wonderful little oasis and a great reprieve from the heat.  Since it is the beginning of April, the water was still icy, and after an hour of water play and being soaked from head to toe, the boys were starting to get cold.  It still took some convincing to get them to say goodbye to this magical spot, but I managed to get them back to the car, dried, and changed into clean clothes.

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Playing in the water at Big Hill Springs Provincial Park.

The whole drive home Felix and Max were excitedly chatting about their adventures at Big Hill Springs Provincial Park.  Both of them have asked to go back there already and I’m sure there will be a lot more trips out that direction.  It seems like one of those places where each season would offer something unique and worth seeing.  It is also a great introduction to anyone wanting a great picnic spot, looking to start hiking, or searching for an easy hike for kids.  Two year-old Max was easily able to walk the whole way and the water was shallow enough that he could traipse though the little streams with ease.  I’m so glad that we made the trek out there and I think you will too.

Happy exploring!

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