April and early May is a great time in Kananaskis Country. Those who love snow can still find plenty of skiing along the Spray/Smith-Dorrien road, while hiking opportunities open on the foothills side of Kananaskis.
I took advantage of a sunny day and +25C temperatures on April 20 to enjoy the excellent hiking on the Indian Graves Ridges at the southern edge of Kananaskis Country. To get here, drive south of Longview on Hwy #22 to Secondary Hwy #532, the Johnson Creek Trail. Go west for 13 km and park at a red gate, just before the Willow Creek bridge.
The initial destination is the ridgetop to the north of this starting point. You can either follow an old road for about 200m and follow a short, steep trail to the right, or you can head up a cut-line to the east. Either way, you’ll get to a barbed wire fence with a reasonably well defined trail on the west side. A short, steep section takes you to the top of the ridge and a great viewpoint on a sandstone outcrop.
The rest of the hiking along the ridge is a gentle wander. The better trail follows along the west side of the fence line, just below ridge-line and it offers plenty of open views towards Windy Peaks, Hailstone Butte, Sentinel Peak and Mt. Burke to the west. For views to the east, you can follow the ridge-crest on the east side of the fence line.
Near the high point of the ridge, the fence-line trail descends a short distance to Dignard Coulee. Continue up the other side of the coulee to a road. You can follow this road back south to the Willow Creek valley for the shortest loop. If you go north on this road, you will soon get to a gate leading to a gas wellsite. Turn back from the gate and go up to the Willow Creek Hills ridge-top, south of the gate. This ridge splits into three fingers that lead south. The most easterly one parallels and eventually takes you down to the road leading to Willow Creek. The most westerly ridge takes you to the junction of Willow Creek and Iron Creek and involves the steepest descent.
My favorite is the middle ridge, which is a wide, open, gentle walk with excellent views to the west, south and east. Along the way you’ll see several giant limber pines and the first spring flowers. Before you know it, you’ve reached a large meadow along Willow Creek, about 1.5 km from the trailhead. Total distance for the loop that follows the middle return ridge is about 9 km with 250 m of elevation gain.
These sun and chinook exposed hills dry out early in the season and are among the first places to to be ready for early spring hiking.
[altpwa user=askrasti album=IndianGraves]