A Secret Little Gem - AQ Ambassador Bryan Hume

Bearspaw reservoir is a little known gem for a great flat water paddle if you’re willing to navigate a little tougher put in. Maybe the best place to start this blog is by offering a little bit of history... The Bearspaw Dam was completed in 1954 to address concerns of potential winter flooding and excessive ice pack on the Bow River as it ran through the City of Calgary. The reservoir was named after Chief Masgwaahsid (or Bear’s Paw) who one of the chiefs that signed the 1877 treaty at Blackfoot Crossing.

The reservoir is a long narrow stretch of water that offers flatwater paddlers an opportunity to paddle some decent kms without the need to drive too far from home. Bearspaw is situated on the Bow River just west of Calgary in the Springbank area and is fed from its source, Bow Lake which is north of Lake Louise on the Ice Field Parkway.

In days gone by there was easy access on the north side of the river when a kid and his kayak or canoe could park at the base of the dam, walk up the access road and put in right beside the dam. Sadly this access point has long been inaccessible. Currently, there are no “formal public access points on the reservoir but there are a number of informal access points, one of which I have regularly used with no concerns. The south side access now on Paddling Maps was quite difficult a few years back and required skillful footing to climb down a steep embankment to get to the water’s edge. In recent years though, somebody with solid skills took it upon themselves to build a well-anchored set of stairs down the embankment to make access a bit easier. There are often fishermen casting in a line from the bank in this location. The put-in and especially the take out is definitely more manageable, especially for longer touring boats or canoes, when paddling with a buddy but I’ve certainly managed to get my crossover kayak in and out on my own.

Getting out on the water with some of the competing demands of work and life can be tricky but this little secluded gem offers local paddlers a chance to get on the water for a quick paddle fix and still manage daily commitments. If it’s a longer paddle you’re looking for, Bearspaw offers a round trip shoreline distance of somewhere around 25 km. Regardless of which direction a paddler heads out in, and there is an abundance of wildlife that can be seen on the journey. There are many species of birds that frequent the area including eagles, double-crested cormorants and occasionally swans. Deer can also be spotted along the south shore.

For paddlers who want to have a little fun playing in some easy eddies, it’s great to head west and upstream toward the headwaters where the flow offers a few of areas to play in. The distance one can go heading upstream really depends on the time of year and the flow rates coming downstream from Ghost Reservoir. Early on in the season this section can give you a bit of a workout and is a good spot to practice some ferrying in the current.

Heading east toward the dam itself are some lake property homes on the south side and farmland on the north. Periodically a train will interrupt the solitude of the paddle as the Canadian Pacific Railway has its main line running along the river valley to the north. There are a couple of lovely lush green coves on the south side of the reservoir that definitely helps a person feel that they’re nowhere near the city.

There are two public park areas that are to be built along the shoreline, Bearspaw Legacy Park on the southwest side of the reservoir and Haskayne Legacy Park on the southeast side. These two parks have been on the books for quite some time but apparently the first phase of Haskayne Legacy Park should be completed in the fall of 2020. I’m crossing my fingers that they will eventually offer easy waterfront access. Until then I’ll carry my boat from the parking access point, across a short field, down the wooden staircase to the water’s edge and enjoy the solitude and create my own momentum with a paddle on Bearspaw.

- Bryan Hume, AQ Ambassador