Hinton - Gateway to the Northern Rockies
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By Chris Istace for #ExploreNWAB
Nestled below the towering peaks of Alberta’s Northern Rockies amid the rolling foothills, you will find the town of Hinton. Surrounded by dense forest, endless lakes and powerful rivers upon the traditional territory of the local Indigenous First Nations, the region holds mesmerizing beauty.
With its close proximity to Jasper National Park, William A. Switzer Provincial Park as well as the Rock Lake-Salomon Creek & Whitehorse Wildlands, the town is truly a gateway to the great outdoors. With its perfect location along the western Trans-Canada Yellowhead Highway, Hinton makes a great weekend getaway destination.
Kelley's Bathtub is a warm, scenic lagoon perfect for a refreshing cool down on a hot day.
If hiking, cycling, fishing, kayaking, canoeing, swimming, boating, picnics, outdoor education, or just relaxing (wow what a list) sounds good to you then put William A. Switzer on your list. Locals Michelle Puyo and Roy Seney joined me for the day to take in the beauty of the provincial park and to take me to Kelley’s Bathtub. Who the heck is Kelley and why are we visiting his bathtub?, I joked.
The foothill and mountain views are spectacular from the Athabasca Lookout.
Our first stop upon arrival was at the Alberta Parks Visitor Centre, on the shore of Kelley’s Bathtub, which is a serene protected lagoon off Jarvis Lake. At the visitor centre, we learned all the activities possible in the park. Luckily, we timed our stop at the right time as the park staff often hold interpretive programs. Puyo picked up the horn of a Bighorn sheep found in the area; “I can’t believe how heavy they are.”
One of the pleasant activities in the park is the short but very zen hike around Kelly’s Bathub. At the middle of the loop hike you find yourself on the wooden bridge spanning the water that feeds the “bathtub” lagoon from the massive Jarvis Lake. We found this a great spot to just sit and soak in the vista. In the distance the rising peaks of the Rocky Mountains provide dramatic scale and stir the soul. This short loop is such a photogenic trail so don’t forget your camera.
The next stop in the park for us would be the popular Athabasca Lookout. For the adventurous hikers, runners and cyclists this can be reached on trails from the visitor centre. We drove back south on highway 40 and up the roads from the Nordic Centre. Once at the trailhead it was a short but steep hike up to the expansive and awe-inspiring vista from the lookout. Roche Miette mountain and the Athabasca River are two awesome sights upon the landscape in the distance.
The Overlander Mountain Lodge has it all, a rustic lodge feel, amazing views and great food.
To round out the day at William A Switzer Provincial Park, we had a swim in Kelley’s Bathtub. “I always come to enjoy the nice beach and calm water, swimming is so relaxing,” said Puyo. After a day of hiking the local trails, it’s the best way to cap off the day.
Standing atop Athabasca Lookout and looking southwest to the peaks in the distance was the perfect way to prepare us for one of the nicest patios you could imagine. Driving back through Hinton and then west towards Jasper, we arrived at Overlander Mountain Lodge.
As we walked in and took our seat on the patio Roy and Michelle mentioned it was their first visit. “The rustic log-built lodge is beautiful, it is so relaxing and inviting,” said Michelle. The lodge is a local family-owned business and has the warmth of home. We enjoyed a finely selected charcuterie tray and wine to relax and take in the view.
If you happen to visit the Overlander Lodge on a Saturday afternoon don’t miss a stop at the nearby Jasper East Gate cabins. You’ll find the General Store and weekly artisan market, which carries local crafts and artwork, fresh vegetables and specialty game meats. Michelle was quick to select some tasty jam and fresh veggies. If time allows sneak by the Folding Mountain Brewery on the same property for a locally brewed pint.
Rounding out our visit and the top requested destination at the visitor centre, our trio arrived at Beaver Boardwalk. The boardwalk and trails work through a network around Maxwell Lake and its marshes right in Hinton’s town limits. The name Beaver is given with good reason, because the boardwalks work their way through multiple beaver dams. I can see just how relaxed Roy and Michelle were as they strolled the boardwalk that night, a nice way to wrap up a busy day and weekend of adventure in Hinton.