New year, new route: Prairie View – Jewel Pass Loop

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View from the trailhead – A frozen Barrier Lake looking towards “Mary Barclay’s Mountain” and Grant MacEwan Peak  Photo: Canmore Runner

I’m not really one for new year resolutions. However, in keeping with an earlier post, looking back to look forward, I have resolved to focus more this year on running in pursuit of adventure and discovery rather than racing, intervals and hill repeats. This is not to say that I won’t train and race. On the contrary, Ms. Canmore Runner and I have signed up for the Broken Goat 50K in July and i’m very excited at the prospect of hitting the trails in Rossland BC. However, I don’t want racing to be all that I focus on this year. I want some adventure.

In practical terms that means I have resolved to try a new, preferably “epic” route, at least every one or two weeks. Now that might be a little challenging in the winter months when some of the places that I have in mind are only accessible to backcountry skiers. But that’s no reason not to try. And if this week’s adventure in Kananaskis Country was anything to go by, I think i’ve got off to a very good start.

On the advice of a friend (thank you Emily), I took myself off to run the Prairie View-Jewell Pass Loop. A stunning 16km run, with 980m of elevation, composed of a meandering climb through forest up to breathtaking panoramic views of the Rockies to the west and the prairies to the east towards Calgary, followed by a cruise of a descent through the trees before catching the undulating and occasionally technical Jewell Pass, criss-crossing a frozen creek and waterfall, and returning to Barrier Lake for the gentle run home. On Strava it looks like this:

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The run begins from the Barrier Dam Day Use Area, just off Highway 40, about a 30 minute drive from downtown Canmore via the Trans-Canada Highway. You leave the car park and head off across the dam before taking the trail that veers off to the right and away from the reservoir and up towards the trees. The trail is well marked, with handy maps at those crucial intersections:

Photo: Canmore Runner

After about 1.3km you’ll hit the trees. From here, the trail meanders up for the next 5km or so. It’s relatively gentle to begin with and not particularly technical. It’s probably quite runnable if you didn’t overindulge and under-exercise over Christmas and New Year.

Eventually you’ll come out into the open for your first real glimpse of what all this hard work is for:

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Looking out over Barrier Lake  Photo: Canmore Runner

You then continue, onwards and upwards, with the trail becoming quite a bit steeper and more technical in places:

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Photo: Canmore Runner

You also get a good sense of where you’re headed:

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McConnell Ridge to Prairie View Viewpoint  Photo: Canmore Runner

After around 5.5km you’ll reach a bit of a plateau, aka the Prairie View Viewpoint which, as you might expect, offers some spectacular views. But maybe not get your camera out quite yet. From here you can begin the descent down to Jewell Pass Trail, in which case get your camera out and start snapping. Alternatively, you can take a short out-and-back side trip up to the Barrier Lake Fire Lookout (elevation just over 2,000m) which is well worth the effort. In distance terms it’s only about 700m but its quite steep. And when it’s covered in snow and ice, as it was for me, it’s quite tricky too, both to find and climb. The Salomon Snowcross were in their element:

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Photo: Canmore Runner

You’ll know when you’ve reached the lookout on account of the lookout and helipad which are hard to miss:

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Barrier Lake Fire Lookout  Photo: Canmore Runner

So too, are the panoramic views. They are spectacular:

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Photo: Canmore Runner
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Photo: Canmore Runner
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Photo: Canmore Runner
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Photo: Canmore Runner
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Photo: Canmore Runner

Eventually you’ll stop taking photos and get on with descending back to the Viewpoint from which you’ll rejoin the Prairie View Trail and begin the long, cruising descent to the intersection with the Jewell Pass Trail. It’s a bit rocky at first:

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Photo: Canmore Runner

But soon gives way to this fast, winding trail through the trees:

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Photo: Canmore Runner

At around the 9km mark, you’ll come to the Jewel Pass Trail off to the left. Take this trail back towards Barrier Lake. This is an awesome trail. Technical in places and following a creek for most of the way that you’ll cross over twice. The second crossing takes you past this stunning waterfall:

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Photo: Canmore Runner

The Jewell Pass Trail is around 3km long at the end of which you’ll find yourself back down near the reservoir. Take the Stoney Trail to the left that winds its way back towards the dam. After 1.7km you can take a more interesting and signed hiking trail on the right that drops down to the lakeshore for a brief time. After 1.4km you’ll reach an intersection that you were at earlier in the day where you take a right and return to the dam and back to the trailhead.

What a great way to spend a morning. I need to find some more jewels like this.

Until next time, happy trails.

One thought on “New year, new route: Prairie View – Jewel Pass Loop

  1. Tim Harms 05/03/2016 / 10:32

    Ran this route on Feb 28, 2016 and it was everything I thought it would be, and exactly as described here. Incredible views and a great variety of terrain. Route up was very icy but handled it easily with spiked shoes (would not attempt without). Thanks Canmore Runner for a great job reviewing this and other trail runs – looking forward to new trail reviews!


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