Jackpine River in Willmore Wilderness Park
Grizzly Bear courtesy of Larry Chapman

Safety First

Backpackers and horseback riders seeking a true backcountry experience can explore many hundreds of kilometres of trails where wildlife abounds. Visitors to the Rockies should be experienced and well-equipped for extended backcountry adventures.

One of the most used trails by horse enthusiast and hikers is from Rock Lake Staging area to Eagle’s Nest Pass. Access is on an old CAT trail from the 1950s used in oil and gas exploration. There are many campgrounds along this stretch of the trail. If you are a well-seasoned multi-day traveller, the trail continues to Grande Cache.

There is another CAT Trail, called the Sheep Creek Trail that starts at the Sulphur Gates Staging Area, has two crossings of the Muddy Water River, and goes to an abandoned airstrip at Sheep Creek. A spur-trail carries on from the airstrip to connect to the Great Divide Trail. There are many spur-trails along this route that can take travellers to scenic alpine expanses.

Both the Sheep Creek Trail and the trail to Eagle’s Nest Pass route have dangerous river crossings, especially in high water. Both the first crossing and second crossing of the Muddy Water River are two of the most dangerous river crossings in Willmore Wilderness and have been known to drown both hikers and horses, so caution is advised.  The Wild Hay River and the Berland River can also be dangerous in high water, especially for hikers. Extra care needs to be taken when crossing fast flowing rivers and creeks.

There is another dangerous area on the Smoky River called Clarks Crossing. It was named after Stan Clark who had entered the employment of the Canadian Forestry Service, becoming the first Superintendent in 1912. After he retired, Stan Clark became an outfitter and would take his hunters from Entrance to Rock Lake, over Eagle’s Nest, up Rock Creek to the Sulphur River, to Big Grave, up Kvass Creek, and down Wolverine Creek, across Smoky River and up to Sheep Creek. The Smoky was a difficult ford for foot and horse travellers. Stan Clark had packed a boat on a horse to the Big Smoky, and built a boathouse which is located upstream from the confluence of Wolverine Creek on the south side of the Smoky. The site became known as Clark’s Crossing. A trapline cabin of Stan Clark’s remains standing, located on the north side of the Big Smoky, upstream from the mouth of the Muddy Water River and across from his boathouse.[1] Clark’s Crossing is a boat crossing that has a very dangerous whirlpool close by, which has drowned men of yester-year who travelled across the river on horseback. A boat or raft should be used to cross the Smoky.

Travellers should pack readily accessible bear spray, fire starter, matches, a First Aid kit, a knife or multitool, a flashlight, rain gear, extra clothing, appropriate boots, a Garmin InReach or GPS, map, and compass. Weather is unpredictable and can change very rapidly. A hot summer’s day can quickly turn into stormy cold weather. It can snow and freeze in the Rockies during the summer months, so be prepared. Please remember that Willmore Wilderness Park is vast rugged wilderness with no amenities or help if you get into trouble. The weather, wildlife and remoteness of the park is unforgiving. We strongly recommend that overnight travellers who are unfamiliar with the area, seek the services of a guide and outfitter who knows this region of the Rockies.

The Willmore Wilderness Foundation, a Registered Non-Profit Canadian Charity has been actively clearing trails and rehabilitating historic campsites for more than 20 years. The Foundation owns and operates People & Peaks Productions Ltd., which produces television documentaries and social media for educational purposes. For more information go to:

[1] Susan Feddema-Leonard, (People & Peaks of Willmore Wilderness Park: 1800s to mid-1800s), 15

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