Elbow Valley - Fullerton Loop - The Particulars: Trailhead is located at the East side of the Allen Bill Pond parking lot (off Highway 66). Take the path under the overpass along the river to the gate. Loop is about 6.1km including the hike back to the trailhead (loop actually starts a good 1km into the hike). Trailhead elevation is about 1430m. High point is about 1585m. Loop takes about 1.5-2 hrs depending on conditions.
Yeah, so I was kind of a dolt and forgot my camera for the next few hikes, so sadly the next interesting one is Fullerton Loop. Despite the lovely spring-like conditions seen in Calgary and area for the first half of the month, late March seemed to be the neverending snowfall, especially in the foothills. Meanwhile, in between snow, it would warm up enough to start the mass melting. The crazy weather led to some interesting trail conditions.
Fullerton Loop is a great hike to see lots of forest life (N. usually spots it before I do), and to work your legs a little. It feels cold as you start out along the river, but warms up as the trail twists deeper into the forest. It's a great trail to walk year round, as long as you have proper footwear and accessories (Yaktraks or cleats for the bottom of your boots, even then some parts are too icy and may not be safely passable). I cannot stress that enough. It merges with a cross-country trail, so it's worth keeping an eye out for skiers until the trails split.
After passing through the gate, the trail runs alongside the river for a short walk before turning into the forest. At the top of the first real incline, there is a fork in the path. Hikers want to go left.. to the right is the cross country trail.
After the split, the trail meanders along a creek that is crossed many times via bridges such as this one. At this point in late March the water had melted and frozen so much it was actually overtaking the bridge! It's tough to the tell, but the little bit of the stream that is actually flowing, is flowing across the footpath in front of the bridge.
Soon after there is a fork in the path -- this is where the loop starts. The best bet is to go counter-clockwise and take the right fork (the bridge as opposed to the stairs), as it saves the best payoff for the end of the hike.
The trail continues in this fashion for sometimes -- steady incline, lodgepole pines, bridge crossings. The trail dips once in a while, but you can expect a bigger incline almost right away.
Keep your eyes open! It's quiet enough in early spring (the trail gets much more popular in the summer) to hear anything that might be burrowing nearby, such as the little guy we ran into here:
Can't see him? Look closer:
This little guy turned toward us just as I snapped the photo. I think we need to make him our mascot. Check out those whiskers.. and that little mouth! (Click the photo for a better look)
It was snowing by this point... but that doesn't matter. It made everthing on the trail seem that much newer and fresher. It did unfortunately mute the lookout a tad though.
The cutline view is actually much nicer live, even on a snowy foggy day like this one.
The nice bonus on this hike is that the viewpoint payoff is not just one spot. The trail leads to a high point and then turns South so it covers most of the Western view from the view point. The above shots are looking North-West and West.
The trail was absolutely deserted this day. The fog sort of muffled the sound and keep it closed in, so it was tough to gauge what we were hearing and how far away it was. We saw deer, but they ran away before we even got close. Everything had that post-snow frozen sheen to it. When you're hiking it's easy to miss the little things, and without thinking N. and I nearly walked right through this:
It was tough to see and nearly impossible to photograph, but it was a perfect snow covered spider's thread, stretching from one side of the path to the other. There was the gentlest wind blowing at the time and the string was beaded with snow drops. No sign of Ms. Spider (or Mr. I suppose). I'm sure it was only there for a moment in time and we felt lucky to have been able to see it (and not walk through it!).
The southern part of the view is by far the best, and I won't ruin it by posting the foggy picture here. From here one can see a huge section of Elbow Valley, not to mention the Allen Bill Pond parking lot and maybe even your car. It's somewhat satisfying to see how far you've come. If you've done the Diamond T hike, you can see that lookout from this lookout as well.
From here it's a steep downhill along the ledge of the hill. There's plenty to see, but pay special attention to the fallen trees to the left of you as you start downhill. It's tough to imagine the wind that must have felled these beasts.... you can tell from the stumps that remain these were strong healthy trees blown over. Intimidating.