One of the least known (and shortest) official trails in Kananaskis is strongly tied to the Friends of Kananaskis.
As you swing around Lac Des Arcs on the TransCanada heading westbound, you pass 3 roadside pullouts. The first is a wildly popular place to get your picture taken with a big cement plant in the background. The second isn’t very interesting. At the third, there’s a break in the guardrail, and a trailhead sign. This is the start of the Lac Des Arcs Waterfowl Viewing Trail.
This short, 1.2 km trail is remarkably peaceful, despite being right next to the TransCanada. From the pullout and trailhead sign, parallel the road’s guardrail for about 100 m following 2 blue sign posts. Then a short drop takes you away from the road.
Within minutes of descending off the roadside into the forest, traffic noise basically disappears. You’re immediately immersed in nature, with Prairie Crocus in the spring, Wood Lilies in the summer and forest birds all year round. Expect to find typical residents like Crossbills, Chickadees, Nuthatches, Woopeckers and Siskins. It’s rich with Warblers, Kinglets and other songbirds during the summer.
In short order, you pass the first of 4 birding blinds. At all of them, there are benches and interpretive panels to help you ID the most common birds. You can look through slits in the walls at Lac Des Arc, and get a close-up view of the waterfowl on the lake.
The trail terminates at the lakeshore at an extensive birding wall, through which you can look north and west across the lake. Herons, Swans, Geese, Mergansers, and dozens of kinds of Ducks can be seen. And overhead, there are resident Ospreys and Bald Eagles circling, under the looming peaks of Grotto Mountain, Mt. McGillivray and Heart Mountain.
The trail’s history
The Friends built this trail – entirely by hand – during the summer of 2001. While it was opened for use in time for the fall migration that year, the grand opening was on May 25th, 2002. The trail was built with the financial and in-kind support of:
- Alberta Community Development
- Alberta Sport, Park, Wildlife and Recreation Foundation
- Ducks Unlimited
- Shell Environmental Fund
- Canmore/Exshaw Community Lottery Board
- Canmore and Exshaw Birders
- Lone Pine Publishing Company
The trail today
Despite being official, the trail often gets forgotten. Based on informal reports from the birding community, Friends volunteers walked it in mid-2022 and found it full of deadfall and overgrown. It had become a bit of an obstacle course. With Parks permission, in the fall of 2022, Friends Trail Crew Supervisor Bruce Gleig took his trusty chainsaw in and got rid of all the deadfall, restoring the walk’s pleasant rolling character.
There are still some more opportunities to improve it. The stairs at the end need some TLC. There are some trees growing in front of some of the blinds that we need permission to remove. There’s a bit of brushing that could still be done as the Poplars and Dogwood seem intent on taking sections of the trail over. Let’s just say that, as we write this, “Bruce has plans”.
Someone has installed a picnic table at a beautiful overlook near the start (it wasn’t us, and it wasn’t Parks). It’s a lovely spot to sit and watch the antics of the Osprey and Herons, and wonder just why people insist on putting a big flag on the island in the middle of the lake. Watch the Herons land and you’ll realize just how shallow the water is.
If you’re a birder – or even if you’re not – this little trail is absolutely worth a stop as you race towards Canmore or Banff. Like the birds, you’ll always find a quiet respite from the rest of Kananaskis here, and it’s hiding under everyone’s nose.
Discover more of Kananaskis’ special places here.