Grande Cache – Vast Wilderness, Magnificent Peaks and Mighty Rivers


Years ago, I recall driving through Grande Cache on Highway 40 and loving the thick forests as I passed by. But I didn’t really know what was waiting to be discovered just out of view.

Luckily, as fate would have it I found myself back in Grande Cache with the time to explore, and I quickly saw this is a landscape rich in outdoor beauty from towering mountains to mighty rivers.

Watch Canyon Whitewater: Sulphur River, Grande Cache with Wild Blue Yonder Rafting on YouTube.

Grande Cache is a truly remarkable outdoor destination located on the eastern slopes of the Northern Rockies in west-central Alberta. In every direction I looked from town, mountain peaks rose enveloping the community. At the town’s doorstep, to the south, is the wild and magnificent Willmore Wilderness Park spanning 4,597 square kms of protected mountainous landscape.

Grand Cache #ExploreNWAB
Photo: Chris Istace
A maze of stones creates a meditative landscape at Labyrinth Park in Grande Cache.

My exploration of the region started with a stop at the Tourism & Interpretive Centre to meet with Jenny Daubert. She shared with me the rich history and culture of the region, evident in the many displays. Outside you will find a full-scale historical building, murals and even the Grande Cache. This is a replica for which the town was named, a large cache for furs built by fur trader Ignace Giasson around the winters of 1818 to 1821.

To get our morning tour started in the right mindset, we made a stop at Labyrinth Park, created by the local Community Outreach Program. On the open field stretched out in front of us was an intricate maze of stones, with the peaks of the Continental Divide in the distance. It’s the perfect spot for allowing the world to slow down and find a zen moment before heading out for the day’s adventures. Daubert says the park is open 24 hours a day and is a well used and loved spot by everyone.

Grande Cache #ExploreNWAB
Photo: Chris Istace
A pretty bridge leads from Pierre Grey's Lakes Provincial Park to the little island of Desjarlis Lake.

From the Labyrinth, Daubert took me on a short drive south of town to experience the serenity of Pierre Grey’s Lakes Provincial Park. As we began our walk through the forested trails to the shores of the small lakes that make up the park, I marvelled at the calm I felt. The park, named after the trapper who had a trading post here, is made up of five small lakes surrounded by hiking trails and camping amenities.

Daubert’s favourite spot in the park is a bridge that allows you to walk from the shore onto a small island on Desjarlais Lake. I enjoyed watching people fish from shore, paddle canoes, and fish from their boats.

“I have lived here for years and yet every time I go out to enjoy the area I discover something new,” Daubert said.

Grande Cache #ExploreNWAB
Photo: Chris Istace
Wild Blue Yonder rafting company will get you out on the winding Sulphur River for a scenic adventure.

The Grande Cache region is intimately connected by lakes and rivers, giving the region a sense of calm while at the same time the white waters of the Sulphur and Smoky Rivers are a powerful force – perfect for white-water rafting adventures. Wild Blue Yonder rafting operates a number of tours out of Grande Cache each summer giving visitors a thrill a minute.

Kyle Stephens, a friendly, outgoing guide had us laughing at his silly jokes all day. The Canyon Whitewater trip is at the bottom of Sulphur Valley. Rocky outcrops, dense forest, and at times, towering rock walls line the canyon as we meandered our way along the water under Stephen's skilled rafting abilities. He spent years guiding in South America but now happily guides in Grande Cache. “There is a special feeling to the strong waters of the Sulphur and Smoky. This area is beautiful and I feel connected,” he says.

My rafting experience was so exhilarating that I'm thinking I'd love to get out in June when the river is really rocking after the run-off. By August, rapids are smaller and it's the best time for families with children as young as eight.

And it's not too early to think about your next adventure with Wild Blue Yonder Rafting. They are now offering pre-booking for the 2021 season. So start picturing yourself in the thrill of the moment rocking along (refreshing splashes included!) along the scenic Sulphur River.

Grande Cache #ExploreNWAB
Photo: Chris Istace
Spectacular views from the Sulphur Gates.

Earlier in the day Daubert had piqued my interest in the Sulphur Gates but I didn’t really know what to expect. The sheer size and scale of nature put on a show as the Sulphur River spills into the wide and powerful Smoky River. The Sulphur Gates are towering rock walls carved by the rivers, creating a magnificent intersection of rock and water. From the gates, we lazily floated down the Smoky River to our ride back into town.

All smiles, and changed back into my dry clothes, I rejoined Daubert to return to the Sulphur Gates but now on foot. A short drive to the north and onto a gravel road leads to the Willmore Wilderness Park staging area. We hiked up to the viewing platforms built along the top of the rocky outcrops of Sulphur Gate. First rafting along the bottom and to be now standing atop gave me a real appreciation for the rivers.

I also couldn't help but think about the dinosaurs that roamed this landscape eons ago because my next adventure was to be a dinosaur fossil-hunter for the day at the nearby "River of Death. Find out about that adventure here. 

Want to learn more about adventures like this? Follow Chris Istace @stasher_BC on Instagram or check out his website, The Mindful Explorer.


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