Little Elbow Recreation Area

The gem of the Elbow Valley is located at the very end of Highway 66, 31 km west of Bragg Creek. The Eastern Slopes of the Rocky Mountains form its backdrop. It is one of the few areas in the Elbow Valley that contains three distinct life zones: the montane, subalpine and alpine. Moose Mountain is another. The montane region is the forested watershed that characterizes the foothills. Subalpine is the middle elevation between the aspen trees and the treeline. It is populated by firs and Engelmann spruce. The Alpine zone is the land above treeline where you'll find a little greenery, a lot of rock and some drop-dead views of the mountains and the valleys.

Four mountains figure prominately looking west; Banded Peak (the one with the horizontal bar), Outlaw, Cornwall (2970 m elevation) in the middle and Glasgow on the right. It has creeks, rivers and the extraordinarily beautiful Forgetmenot Pond. Some of the activities practised there are; hiking, biking, horseback riding, camping, picnics, paddling, mountain climbing, scuba diving and fishing (license required). There are frontcountry and backcountry campsites. There is even a campsite for your horse. The Provincial Recreation Area is really just the trailhead for about 200 km of trails. A popular trail is the Big Elbow/Little Elbow Loop that begins just across the suspension footbridge. It is 38 km long and forms a kind of island border bounded by the two rivers. The four mountains are encircled by it.

Nihahi Ridge trail (2.5 km) is my favourite in the valley. It takes its name from the Stoney word for rock. You walk along the river for a while, then through foothills forest, then scramble up rocky inclines. You are rewarded with a spectacular view up the Little Elbow River valley.

There is a herd of Wild horses that live in the area. I've also seen quite a few mountain sheep.

You can only get there between May 15 and December 2nd as the road is closed during the winter.

 

Highway 66, the road that runs through the Elbow Valley, reopened for the 2016 season on May 15. The road ends at the wall of mountains that is the Eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. There you'll find the Little Elbow Recreation Area.
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    Highway 66, the road that runs through the Elbow Valley, reopened for the 2016 season on May 15. The road ends at the wall of mountains that is the Eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. There you'll find the Little Elbow Recreation Area.
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    Your table waits. Well, by the time we get into mid-summer, finding an unoccupied table is pretty tricky. Famillies and friends often send someone out to grab a table early on a weekend day to ensure an afternoon idle on the shore of Forgetmenot Pond.
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    An unoccupied bench is easier to find, but even at that, some people bring their own folding chairs. People also bring blow-up boats, canoes, fishing poles and scuba gear to play in the water. That is Powderface Ridge in the background.
    Now that Allen Bill Pond is gone, likely forever, Forgetmenot has become very popular. A scene like this, with no one there is very rare.
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    A Barrow's Golden Eye duck glides across the turquoise water of Forgetmenot Pond. On the bottom of the pond is a memorial plaque the reads, ""This site is dedicated to the memory of CONSTABLE ROBERT JOHN VANDERWIEL, a Calgary police officer killed in the line of duty September 22, 1992."
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    This year is different. Unusual early warm and dry weather brought an early melting of the snowpak. But we got 6 cm of snow in Bragg Creek with more at higher elevations, 3 days before the winter gate opened. That's pretty normal, but it doesn't usually fall on flowering plants. It made for great photos of the Eastern Slopes.
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    Wild Horses. Walking along the gravel bed of the Elbow River I noticed a lot of horse poop. I figured it couldn't be equestrians. Then there they were. It's such a thrill to see these beautiful animals browsing against a backdrop of mountains. I've seen them all around this area, in a field by Highway 66 at the top of the hill before you drop down to the Little Elbow Recreation Area. But, I hadn't seen them here. They are reclusive, keeping their distance from people.
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    There are two herds of wild horses that I'm aware of in this area. One on the Tsuu T'ina Nation and this one at the end of the Elbow Valley. Considering all the domestic horses in the area are supplied with food and often covered with blankets throughout the winter, it's kind of amazing that these horses survive in such harsh conditions.
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    There are lots of good hiking, biking and equestrian trails in the Little Elbow Recreation Area. That said, the 2013 flood did some major damage to the trails along the shoreline. It appears that the Kananaskis Administration has decide not to fight mother nature. They've abandoned much of the Little Elbow Interpretive Trail and built a new trail high up on a hill alongside the road.
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    The footbridge over the Little Elbow was closed for a while, but is now open and accessible. It connects the frontcountry campground and parking lots to backcountry trails and campsites. The Big Elbow and Little Elbow rivers make a kind of island here with Banded Peak in the middle. The two rivers merge in the recreation area to become the Elbow which flows into Calgary.
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    According to Gillean Daffern, who wrote the bible on hiking in Kananaskis, Harold Chapman was the public's representative on the Kananaskis Management Board for 11 years. This is a great suspension bridge, a valuable link to some great backcountry experiences.
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    There are lots of great trails in the area. Not all are as pretty as this one. Some are more like roads, while others are simple dirt tracks.This one is just across the footbridge.
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    Many of the signs and facilities in Kananaskis are a little worse for wear. The originals are about forty years old. Looks like a squirrel made a meal of this one. I highly recommend the Nihahi Ridge Trail which is labelled in the lower left of this map.
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    Obviously a more recent sign that identifies the Big/Little Elbow Loop Trail. At 38 km, it is only suitable for bikes and horses. The yellow sign below warns of some difficult, even dangerous, obstacles produced by flooding.
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    The view overlooking the Little Elbow River from the footbridge. I think the mountains are Outlaw on the left, Mount Cornwall, centre and Mount Glasgow on the right. Banded Peak is hidden behind the treed hill on the left.
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    I thought Ford Trail was named after a person, but I now realize this is likely the origin of the name. This river crossing, or ford, is used by horses, wagons and even official trucks.
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    This is half of the main trailhead parking lot for hikers and cyclists.There is space for about 8 cars opposite the footbridge, although people often park along the roadside which is clearly marked as illegal. Must be a good source of income for the administration.
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    This is the Forgetmenot Pond parking area. The facilities are not bad, all things considered.

Little Elbow Recreation Area Map

Download an Acrobat version of this map

 

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