Section 2: Bow Summit to Saskatchewan Crossing
Total distance: 37 kilometres (24 miles)
Travel time: 0.75 hours
From Bow Summit, the Icefields Parkway drops sharply down to the upper reaches of the Mistaya River valley and takes you through grove after grove of engelmann and blue spruce. At kilometre 48, eight kilometres beyond Bow Summit, there is a rest stop and viewpoint for Snowbird Glacier on the left side of the highway.
As you near Waterfowl Lakes at the 56-kilometre mark, watch the roadsides for moose. One spring I sat in my car opposite Waterfowl Lakes campground and watched a moose cow with a young calf trying to swim across the far end of the lake. The mother was in the water swimming away, but her little calf was having none of it. Each time it put a foot into the ice cold water it would leap back and jump around on the shore like it had been bitten. In the end, the mom had to abandon her ideas of getting to the other side quickly and the two of them went around the long way. At the far end of the Waterfowl Lakes area standing guard over 3000 metres above Lower Waterfowl Lake is the massive peak of Mount Chephren, known as “The Black Pyramid” for its distinctive shape. Beyond Chephren a few kilometres and on your right is Mount Murchison, and Mount Sarbach is visible on your left as you begin the descent towards the North Saskatchewan River and The Crossing.
The Mistaya Canyon trailhead is located at kilometre 71, and from this point forth be on the lookout for black bears and the other large animals that call this area home. While crossing the bridge over the North Saskatchewan at kilometre 76 in the spring of 1996, park wolf researcher Carolyn Callaghan watched a gray wolf loping along the river’s edge directly below.
This area is known as the Saskatchewan River Crossing, or The Crossing, because it is where the pack trains of the explorers and fur traders in the 1800s used to cross the river on route to the wilds of British Columbia. It is the meeting place of the waters of the Howse River, the Mistaya River and the North Saskatchewan.
Artist Milton Achtymichuk brings back the flavour of the fur trade with this beautiful oil rendering of the trappers that characterized the early days at the Crossing.
At kilometre 77 is the turn-off for Highway 11 to Red Deer, an excellent route to travel in spring if you’re looking for black bears, and The Crossing restaurant, gas station and accommodation. After you’ve enjoyed the view of Mts. Sarbach, Outram and Forbes from the parking lot, continue north on the Icefields Parkway towards the Columbia Icefields.