A full-day hike over rugged terrain and a bit of bushwhacking will get you to a beautiful little spot in David Thompson Country called Waterfall Creek. It’s a trek that is practically impossible for most families and one that would certainly result in whiny children and exhausted parents.
But as we rounded a corner on the trail and caught sight of the falls, we felt fresh and exhilarated. This was undoubtedly due to the fact that we took a helicopter to get there.
Heli-hiking might be cheating (all the fun and none of the hard work), but it’s an indulgence that makes a lot of sense for families who want to experience the pristine beauty of the backcountry. It’s like taking a magic carpet to a wonderful world that is just out of your reach.
We had arrived at the Icefield Helicopter Tours heliport near Kootenay Plains Ecological Reserve earlier that morning feeling a little excited and nervous about our first family helicopter ride. After a safety briefing and a group weigh-in, we ducked our heads and climbed inside a six-man helicopter with the rotors whirring above our heads and were carefully buckled in by the ground crew.
Our pilot Aaron told us all about the helicopter and the scenery and we listened and asked questions via special headsets and microphones.
In a matter of minutes, we were soaring above breathtaking metallic blue glaciers and rugged mountains. The sharp ridges of the enormous rocky peaks filled the entire window and seemed close enough to touch.
Aaron said we should keep an eye out for small white specks along the flat ridges — a common place for mountain goats to relax in the sun.
He also described the interesting geological formations as we looped effortlessly over the pristine landscape.
Before long, the helicopter set down at the edge of a river and we climbed out to explore the area. Our guide Roberta identified some of the wild flowers and other flora as we made our way up a nice little trail to Waterfall Creek.
When we reached the waterfalls, our two teenage sons stripped down to their bathing suits and leaped into the bone-chilling water. It was a test of manhood that none of the rest of us felt compelled to emulate. Instead, we sat on the shore and enjoyed a snack while we watched the craziness going on in the river.
After a while, we hiked up a little trail to the top of the 12-metre-high waterfalls. We sat on large rocks near the top, felt the mist from the small but powerful falls and enjoyed the stunning mountain landscape.
When it was time to leave, we were almost wishing we had booked a longer stop. It would have been easy to spend the better part of a day relaxing by these beautiful falls.
Even though we were sorry to leave, we couldn’t help feeling excited as we climbed back inside the helicopter for the 10-minute ride back to the heliport base. It was nice to be anticipating the jaw-dropping scenery before us instead of a difficult eight-hour hike.
The backcountry of the Rocky Mountains is impressive — no matter how you get there. You can think of heli-hiking as cheating or you can think of it as magic. Either way, it’s an incredible way to experience the wilderness with your family.
If you go:
* Icefield Helicopter Tours Heliport is located on Hwy 11, about 42 km east of the Icefield Parkway (Hwy 93). It’s about two-hour drive from Red Deer. They operate seven days a week, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
* A 20-minute Cline Glacier explorer flight with a one-hour stop to enjoy an easy guided nature hike at Waterfall Creek will cost about $228 per person. Longer stops or a gourmet picnic can be arranged for an additional fee. Icefield Helicopter Tours also offers longer heli-hiking trips to other mountain locales. Heli-yoga, heli-fishing, heli-horseback riding, heli-barbecue and heli-romance packages are also available.
* Icefield Helicopter Tours now has a second heliport called Kananaskis Heli Tours near Stoney Nakoda Lodge in Kananaskis Country. A 12-minute tour starts at $119 per person from the Kananaskis site (not including a stop).
* Advance reservations are essential for any heli-tour. For more information on Icefield Helicopter Tours, visit their website at icefieldheli.com or call: 888-844-3514. For information on the Kananaskis operation, visit kheli.com or call 888-591-0222.
Exploring David Thompson Country
Hwy 11, the stretch of highway connecting Red Deer with Banff’s Icefields Parkway, is known as the David Thompson Highway and is one of the most beautiful drives in the province. The drive takes you past wilderness areas, sparkling lakes, rivers and campgrounds and ultimately leads to the Icefield Helicopter Tours Heliport.
After a heli-hiking adventure, there are plenty of other great sites to take in along this route.
Here are a few family favourites:
* Siffleur Falls hike: Not far from the Icefield Helicopter tours heliport are several other family-friendly hikes. Of these, the Siffleur Falls hike is the most popular. The five-km trail leads across a suspension bridge, over a boardwalk and up to an absolutely stunning waterfall. At the top, you can take off your shoes and dangle your feet in the icy waters while you enjoy a picnic lunch. Be careful not to get too close to the edge of the falls or the fast-flowing river.
* Allstones Creek Hike: Follow Allstones Creek bed up to the falls. The hike is about four-km round trip and highlights include fascinating geological formations and a beautiful seven-metre waterfall. For a more vigorous and challenging hike, consider taking the Allstones Lake Trail.
* Campgrounds: If you want to stay overnight, the Two O’Clock Creek Campground in Kootenay Plains Provincial Recreation Area is excellent for family camping. Another good choice is the David Thompson Resort Campground (www.davidthompsonresort.com). The resort has a playground, mini-golf, Frisbee golf, restaurant, pub, store, and gas bar. There are a variety of accommodations including motel units, RV rentals, and camping sites.
Debbie Olsen is a Lacombe-based freelance writer. If you have a travel story you would like to share or know someone with an interesting travel story who we might interview, please email: DOGO@telusplanet.net or write to: Debbie Olsen c/o Red Deer Advocate, 2950 Bremner Ave., Red Deer, T4R1M9.