Alberta’s New Park: The Castle Wilderness
The Castle Wilderness is a 1000 square kilometer wilderness area that as of September 2015, was set aside by the Alberta Government as a Provincial park. The government has faced pressure from hikers, anglers, backpackers and environmentalists to protect this wild area from development and preserve it for recreational use. The area is now closed from commercial development, for oil, mining and logging operations.
The closure is part of the platform of the newly elected NDP government in Alberta, which Environment Minister Shannon Phillips has said turning the area into two parks, a provincial park and a wildland provincial park, was on the governments agenda for years. The wilderness is home to many important and threatened populations of species like grizzly bears, cutthroat trout, bull trout. The area is also ecologically diverse, much like Waterton Lakes National Park. In fact, the area was actually part of Waterton Lakes but was at one point removed and set aside as a provincial game reserve and opened to resource exploration.
Recreational users of the area have long been exploring the area, which isn’t easy. The area is rugged, with few trails that are marked or maintained. It’s a truly wild, adventurous area.
Where to stay
In the heart of the area is the Castle Mountain ski area, which has a motel, hostel, chalets and condos for rent. Visitors can also stay in nearby Pincher Creek, a town with many choices of accommodation, services and restaurants. There are great camping sites near the river for car camping at the Castle Falls Provincial recreation area.
What to do
The must-do in this area is definitely Table Mountain. The hike gains 700 meters over a distance of 5 km and is steep scree in places. It rises from the foothills by Beaver Mines Lake campground and gains elevation quickly for sweeping views. You’ll find yourself on an amazing plateau with no crowds. If you carry on to the summit it’ll only take you another 45 minutes, and you’ll get a full panoramic view of the place where the prairies meet the mountains. You will likely encounter bighorn sheep which frequent the area. This historic mountain has a special place in First Nations culture.
The park consists of sweeping ridges that lead southwards to Waterton. Check out Bovin Lake, it starts up Loaf Mountain and turns south towards Avion Ridge. Avion Ridge is Watertons northern park boundary.
The Great Divide Trail roams through Castle Wilderness. Mostly, the route follows established ATV trails, but starting at Waterton all the way through to the ski hill, stays high up on ridges on scrambly terrain. The Great Divide trail runs from the US to Canada, to get more route information check out their website.
Fishing is popular and world famous in Southern Alberta. In the Castle area, Golden Trout were introduced to the first two of the South Forks lakes, giving some amazing fishing with these wild and nice-looking fish. The lakes are wonderfully situated too in a stunning mountain cirque, filled with fossils.
If you’re into kayaking, check out the Castle River. It runs down an exposed bedrock with 15 meter drop from Castle Falls to Rodeo Grounds. The river can range from class 2 to 3, depending on the water level. There is plenty of surfing as well on this cold river thanks to the natural wave trains.
The cross country ski trails at Syncline become mountain bike trails in the summer. In other parts of the park old logging roads are plentiful. With many of these trails hard to access due to downed bridges or in states of disrepair, a mountain bike can help you access hard to reach areas quickly. Old logging roads cut nearly every valley in the park.
Are you going to explore the park this summer? Read more about the Castle Wilderness here.