Explore Crowsnest Pass on the Water 3 Ways


Rebecca Bollwitt

I looked at the notes I jotted down about my first fly fishing experience: “Chili” was the first comment. The second was: “Squishy. Both have to do with the Crowsnest Cafe and Fly Shop, where Susan Douglas-Murray and her partner Alan Brice offer guided lessons and fly fishing trips out of the shop and cafe in Crowsnest Pass, Alta. They also make a mean bowl of chili, the aroma wafts around the fly shop making you feel at home, even if it’s your very first time picking out a Low Rider, Popper or Flash Stone fly.

Go #RockiesExploring and uncover Crowsnest Pass

About an hour east of Fernie, and two hours southwest of Calgary, the Crowsnest Pass area of the Rockies is where the continent converges, and where folks like Susan and Alan offer experiences for rod-reeling beginners and pros alike. You can rent gear at their shop like I did, which led to my concise notes about how it felt stepping into the Crowsnest River in my first pair of hip waders.

Photo: Stevie Froese

Susan gave me some tips about how to hold the rod. “Unlike throw fishing, this is more like a pendulum.” We both held the rod and she went through the motions of fly casting. “It’s all about who you’re with on the water,” she said. Susan honed her skills with experienced friends who not only challenged her and helped her learn the art of the sport, but also provided good company - which is important out on the water.

In the Crowsnest area, there are three main rivers to fish: Crowsnest Oldman, and Castle. Of course, if you want to find the very best spots, you should head out on a tour with Susan and Alan.

Chasing Waterfalls

Waterfall Crowsnest Pass
Photo: Rebecca Bollwitt

At the centre of the Continental Divide, in a valley between a chain of towering mountains spanning two provinces, you’re not only going to get epic views you’ll also find some great waterfall hikes for cooling off in the summer. Head out with Heather Davis from Uplift Adventures, based in Crowsnest Pass, for guided hikes and interpretive adventures.

“I named my company Uplift Adventures for two reasons: One is the way that you feel - uplifted - but also because our Rockies were formed through a geological process called uplifting. I like tying in the super fun happy feeling with a little bit of nerdiness in there because I’m a nature lover.”

Crowsnest Pass is a small community of five coal mining towns, and that means there is a lot of history here, which Heather loves to share. With a degree in environmental science, she’ll also tell you all about the local geology, and flora and fauna along the way.

Crowsnest Pass
Photo: Doc Pow

She took me to the Miner’s Walk in Blairmore, a 1.6-km hike with 59-metre elevation gain. At the peak it features a waterfall and along the way, there are the old McGillivray mining shafts and tunnels visible in the rocks.

Depending on the time of year, and if run-off is in full swing, you’ll also spot some super exclusive, limited-edition waterfalls. Heather found a scenic cascade running off Mt. Sentry, near the Alberta Visitor Centre across from Crowsnest Lake. It may not be around all year, but it sure is lovely in early summer.

Camping on Chinook Lake

Crowsnest Pass
Photo: Stevie Froese

It’s easy to stay a while in the Crowsnest Pass area. Grab a campsite at nearby Chinook Lake, at the foot of Mount Tecumseh (southwest) and Crowsnest Mountain (northeast). The warm, smooth turquoise water beckons any paddler or swimmer and the 90 well-treed tent and RV campsites make an idyllic home during your stay.

“We get to live somewhere where people holiday,” Jessica Atkinson said, as she prepared to head out in a canoe with Heather. Jessica owns Stone’s Throw Cafe in Blairmore. She moved to the Crowsnest Pass area in 2003 and enjoys trail running and mountain biking in the summer, and snowshoeing in the winter. “I’m more adventurous now at 45 than I was at 25,” she said.

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It’s just that kind of place that inspires life-changing experiences.

Standing on the shore, I hear the beep of a walkie-talkie. A girl was coming down from her family campsite to cast a line into the lake. Mom was checking in. She looked like she had far more skill confidence than I had when I stood out in the Crowsnest River with Susan earlier that day. Just then, an eagle soared overhead, swooped down, and with both talons effortlessly plucked a fish right up out of the water and kept on flying. Nature sure had us beat!

Crowsnest Pass
Photo: Doc Pow

After my turn in the canoe with Heather, I skipped a few rocks across the water, then headed to the campsite along the beach. I sat by the campfire as the sunset turned the lake’s green surface into hues of orange and yellow through the trees. I wrote another note in my book before the daylight disappeared: “Chill.”

3 tips for fly fishing from Susan at Crowsnest Cafe and Fly Shop:

  • Look for a trail of bubbles in the stream. Insects will follow, so that’s where you’ll want to put your fly in to make a catch.

  • Don’t bring the line up too quickly when you get a bite; you don’t want to harm the fish.

  • Make sure your hands are wet when you handle the fish. It has protective oils on its skin that our hands can damage if they’re not wet.

When You Go

Grab an awesome itinerary and start your Southern Alberta adventure.

Check out the Crowsnest Pass website to get planning your trip.

Want to enjoy Crowsnest Pass in the winter? Read SnowSeekers story on how to get the most out of the area.

Uncover more adventures in the Canadian Rockies. Check out ZenSeekers' #RockiesExploring Expedition page to see how you can have an adventure like this.

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