Adventure coordinator Grace Wark shares her story about a weekend away from it all in the Castle:

It’s 6:34 a.m. and I’m searching for my car keys. I need to pick up Joanna by 7.a.m. so we have enough time to load 50 to 60 lbs of gear, snacks and water into the car, hit the QE2, and make it to the trailhead before high noon. Not the earliest start by backpacker standards, but early enough that we stop at Tim Horton’s for a final boost of caffeine to get us through the day.

This is my first time in the Castle Wildland, and after taking my first and second glances at the dusty red Front Ranges, I can already see what sets them apart from the rest of the Eastern Slopes. These mountains feel shorter, more rounded and almost less intimidating than the towering peaks in Banff and Kananaskis Valley. The east-west ridges of the Front Ranges are stacked like dominoes towards Waterton Lakes National Park. Our valley of choice runs up South Drywood Creek, with a final destination of Bovin Lake. All in, a 20 km round trip with 750 metres of what I would call steady elevation gain.

The first four kilometres of the trail follow the grated Shell Road. Not so far from the road, we can still hear the rumble of active well pads, well-marked with warning signs for passersby. After those four kilometres, the difference between the designated hiking trail and the Shell road is night and day. The echo of well pads is slowly fades into the distance as we clamber up the pathway into an explosion of bright and colourful wildflowers. Diversity here absolutely thrives beyond the reach of road-introduced invasive species and free-roaming cattle. From our collective memory, we spot forget-me-nots, columbines, lupines, sticky geranium, paintbrush and even provincially rare pink Monkeyflower.

Before turning corners or ambling into thickets of willow and dogwood, we find ourselves instinctively shouting “Hey bear!” or “Is there anybody out bear?” (to the tune of Pink Floyd’s Is There Anybody Out There?) to make sure we don’t startle our company. Mountain valleys like these are perfect for an ambling grizzly bear, full to the brim with bearberries and currants, and quiet, save the low roar of the creek, bird calls, and “chirping” Richardson’s ground squirrels.

This area is distinctly different from the Castle Provincial Park lands to the north, valuable in their own way but more heavily trafficked. Here in the Wildland, away from the road and the busy off-highway vehicle trails, these lands have very few signs of disturbance. We were almost shocked to reach the old OHV gate at the top of the trail, as we almost forgot this was once used as a motorized trail. Since the phase-out of motorized trails from this area in 2018, the landscape has already started to recover the large erosion gullies and braided trails from heavy flooding and motorized use.

After reaching the lake, setting up our tent, and recharging our electrolytes, we scramble up the ridge and find the perfect spot to sing Bruce Springsteen’s cover of Mountain of Love (a very specific sponsor request). Perched on top of a bleached old tree in full view of the valley, we were indeed feeling pretty “high on the mountain of love”. How could you not fall in love with the views, the emerald blue lake and choice company provided by a couple other groups of hikers and a chunky beagle named Hoser.

Despite the achy joints, the midnight thunderstorm and the persistent horseflies, there was absolutely nothing that could have spoiled this picture perfect two-day backpacking trip up the Front Ranges. If you have the chance and are able, I would highly recommend a day-trip or overnight hike to Bovin Lake. It was just what I needed to not only recover from my long-stay at home and otherwise busy schedule, but to remind me why we fight so hard to protect the Castle. I invite you to fall in love as I have, and join us in stirring up some trouble to keep it this way. More on that here.

Happy trails,
Grace & Joanna