Flowing Water Interpretive Trail in Kananaskis

Author: Celine Brewer

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The Flowing Water Trail in Bow Valley Provincial Park is a real hidden gem. A short, easy Kananaskis hike, the Flowing Water Interpretive Trail offers hikers a wide variety of scenery in a short distance.

Along the Flowing Water trail, you’ll walk past a babbling brook through a forest, alongside the Kananaskis River, enjoy viewpoints of the surrounding Bow Valley mountains and pass a beaver dam. Not too bad for an easy Kananaskis hike under 3km long!

views of Yamnuska from Flowing Water hiking trail in Bow Valley Provincial Park

Flowing Water Interpretive Trail – Quick Details

Trailhead: Willow Rock Campground

Distance: 2.3 km loop

Elevation: 77m elevation gain

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Flowing Water Hike Highlights

The Flowing Water trailhead is located near the two main Willow Rock Campground buildings, heading north into the forest. The first leg of this easy Kananaskis hike begins alongside a charming little creek which runs through a beautiful forest filled with aspens and dogwoods.

Flowing Water Interpretive Trail - easy hiking trail Kananaskis

The first leg of the Flowing Water trail dissects one of the camping loops at the Willow Rock Campground. After 200m of hiking, you’ll start to pass by some campsites.

As is common in the Bow Valley Provincial Park, the areas of the Flowing Water trail which are exposed to some sunlight are bursting with beautiful, and sometimes exotic Alberta wildflowers. The number of wildflowers found here in spring are staggering, with huge amounts of lady slipper orchids, shooting stars, columbine, blue bells and wild roses (Alberta’s provincial flower).

lady slipper orchids along Flowing Water Interpretive Trail

This montane setting along the Flowing Water trail is not just perfect for wildflowers, but it is also excellent habitat for birds. Stop for a moment and listen to a forest filled with birdsong.

After 500m of walking along this easy Kananaskis hike, you’ll reach a large sign for the Flowing Water trail. This stretch of hiking trail is notable not just for the wildflowers (yup, still tons here too), but because it runs parallel to the Kananaskis River, just before it meets the confluence with the Bow River.

Alberta Wildflowers on Flowing Water Trail - easy hike in Kananaskis

When you are not looking at the beauty of the Kananaskis River through the pine trees and dogwoods, take a moment to enjoy the views of Mt. Yamnuska ahead of you (home of the popular, yet challenging Mount Yamnuska hike).

At the 0.7km mark of the Flowing Water trail, you’ll reach a spur trail to the right with stairs down to the Kananaskis River. It’s nice to get a closer look at this beautiful Alberta mountain river, but besides a closer look, there’s not much down there. Be sure to read the warning signs before going down – the warnings about water level changes are quite real.

River Views on Flowing Water hike Kananaskis

After the stairs, the Flowing Water hike continues along the Kananaskis River. The rocky cliffs on the far side of the river are very scenic.

Along the way, you’ll cross many little bridges and walkways over little streams flowing into the Kananaskis River. One of these little streams has rusty water – look for the interpretive sign for more information.

One of the nicest spots on the entire Flowing Water hike comes at the 800m point, where you reach an elevated clearing at a bend in the Kananaskis river. Be sure to stop for a moment to appreciate the special beauty in this little corner of Kananaskis Country.

Beyond the clearing, you’ll climb a short set of stairs through a hillside meadow littered with wildflowers, including flax, potentilla and crocus. There’s a bench at the top of the short hill with amazing Kananaskis River and Rocky Mountain views. Peaks visible from this vista are Yates Mountain (home to another of our favorite Kananaskis hikes), Mt. Baldy and the Twin Towers.

hiking Flowing Water trail Kananaskis

There is a dirt trail to the right, but the official Flowing Water hiking trail heads left back towards the trailhead. As you walk south along the top of the hill you’ll be treated to more exceptional Kananaskis River views down below on your left.

To your right, there are excellent views of Canmore’s Three Sisters (which look much different from this vantage point), Wind Ridge and Mt. Yamnuska. With beautiful Kananaskis scenery in all directions, this is a truly special spot.

At the 1.1km mark of the Flowing Water hike, you’ll descend back into an aspen and dogwood forest, which is also home to a large numbers of wild roses and bluebells.

wildflowers in June on Flowing Water hiking trail

Just a short 200m later, most of the tall trees have disappeared, leaving only tall shrubs. There’s a beaver pond on the left, complete with a wooden viewing platform.

You can see evidence of beaver activity, but we’ve yet to see one of those cute little rodents on this hike. Apparently, evening is a good time to visit if you hope to see a beaver on the Flowing Water trail.

As you can imagine, with all of this lush forest and abundant water, there are lots of birds and ducks in the area as well. If there are no beavers to watch during your visit, chances are good you can watch the ducks and birds for a while.

Beaver Dam on Flowing Water Interpretive Trail in Bow Valley Provincial Park

Leaving the wooden beaver viewing platform, you’ll pass a patch of huge dogwoods on your way to a beautiful aspen forest. Kids especially love this stretch of the Flowing Water hike as it has wooden walkways.

This area is close enough to the water to attract lots of birds. Keep your eyes on the trees and you may be rewarded with an exciting bird sighting. On our most recent hike along Flowing Water trail, we saw a Cedar Waxwing sitting on a branch not far from the hiking trail.

bird watching Flowing Water Trail Bow Valley Provincial Park

After a highly enjoyable 1.8km of Kananaskis hiking, the loop portion of the Flowing Water trail comes to an end. From here, you simply walk back anther 500m along the stream through the campground loop to the Flowing Water trailhead.

Flowing Water Trail Location

The Flowing Water trailhead is in the Willow Rock Campground in Kananaskis. For anyone camping in Kananaskis, this is a fun, short hike to do nearby.

Drive to Flowing Water Interpretive Trail, Bow Valley Provincial Park

It’s a 53 minute drive from Calgary to Flowing Water, or just a 35 minute drive from Banff to Flowing Water. For those looking for a short hike near Canmore, it’s only a 20 minute drive.

There’s only a small amount of parking available for the Flowing Water trail in the Willow Rock campground. They also have a sign saying that there is no picnicking in the campground.

Flowing Water Interpretive Trail Statistics

This short Kananaskis hike is suitable for all levels. It’s a great family-friendly hike in Kananaskis.

Flowing Water Interpretive Trail - trailhead

How Long is the Flowing Water Interpretive Trail?

We measured the Flowing Water hike to be 2.3km. This is slightly longer than what Alberta Parks says at 2.0km, but we include the portion before reaching the main Flowing Water trailhead sign.

How Hard is the Flowing Water Hiking Trail?

The Flowing Water hike is one of the easiest hikes in Kananaskis. With only 77m of elevation gain, this hike is short, flat and easy but it delivers a ton of incredible scenery.

Wooden boardwalk on Flowing Water hiking trail Kananaskis

How Long Does It Take to Hike Flowing Water?

It should take a typical adult roughly 35-45 minutes to hike the Flowing Water loop trail.

We recently hiked Flowing Water Interpretive Trail with our kids (5 & 7) and it took us 1 hour. That includes the time to stop at the bench, inspect every bug and flower.

easy Kananaskis Hike - Flowing Water Trail

Flowing Water Trail Map

The Flowering Water trail is easy to follow and it would be nearly impossible to get lost on the Flowing Water hike. Just find the hiking trail marker along the trees between the two campground buildings and follow it down into the trees to start the hike.

Hiking Flowing Water Interpretive Trail with Kids

The constant changes on this hike make it ideal for hiking with kids. There’s something new around every corner.

It’s not a long or difficult hike, so this kid-friendly Kananaskis hike is a good time to slow down and give the kids time to explore.

Hiking with Kids Flowing Water Interpretive Trail

The Flowing Water hike is short and easy enough for most kids to complete themselves, even hiking with toddlers. This is a huge confidence builder for little kids and is a good building block for harder hikes.

Where to Stop for Lunch or a Break

The Flowing Water hike is short enough that you likely won’t need to stop mid-way for a break. But that doesn’t mean you won’t want to stop and have a snack or picnic lunch while enjoying the scenery.

The bench shortly after the wooden stairs along the river is a good place. If it’s a windy day, the wooden platform near the beaver dams is a great alternative. It also has benches making it a great place for a short break.

wooden platform and Benches overlooking Beaver Dam on Flowing Water Trail

Finally, just across the Highway 1X in the Bow Valley Provincial Park, you can find picnic tables at any of the other trails.

Flowing Water Hiking Safety Tips

While the chances of a dangerous wildlife encounter along the Many Springs hike are low, you never know when you might encounter a bear or other dangerous animal. Be educated and prepared.

Take the time to educate yourself on Bear Safety. And please, make lots of noise as you hike to alert the bears of your presence.

Cougars also live in Kananaskis Country. Learn more about Cougar Safety.

We recommend you check the latest Flowing Water Trail Report for trail conditions, wildlife warnings and possible closures before you head out.

Flowing Water Trail Logistics

On-leash dogs are allowed on the Flowing Water hike. Bikes are not allowed, but there are two bike racks to lock bikes up.

riding bikes to Flowing Water Trail from Montane Interpretive Trail

For anyone biking the Bow Valley paved pathway from the Bow Valley campground or the Montane Interpretive trail, it’s a short bike ride along the Bow Valley Provincial Park road and across the highway to reach the Willow Rock campground. Just take extra caution along the road and crossing the highway, where cars travel at high speeds.

There are toilets in the Willow Rock campground.

What to Bring for Hiking Flowing Water

Generally speaking, you don’t need a lot of hiking gear on short day hikes in Kananaskis. Check out our list of hiking essentials with the hiking gear and clothing we recommend to enjoy your hike, regardless of the variable weather and trail conditions.

One thing you should always bring is bear spray in an easily accessible spot, like this Scat Belt.

Flowing Water Hike Footwear Recommendation

The Flowing Water trail is well groomed all the way around the lake. Unless you are doing the Flowing Water hike in winter, you won’t need any special hiking shoes for this hike.

Flowing Water Trail in Winter

While we haven’t hiked the Flowing Water trail in winter, Alberta Parks does list it as a winter hiking trail. We always recommend bringing snowshoes if you are the first on the trail after a large snowfall or microspikes if the trail is icy.

Other Easy Hikes in Bow Valley Provincial Park

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Flowing Water Interpretive Trail offers some incredible scenery for such a short hike in Kananaskis. Complete with river views, mountain views and even a beaver dam, this easy Kananaskis hike is well worth the time.

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Celine Brewer, a local Canmore resident, is the co-owner of Travel Banff Canada. She has a passion for being out in the mountains any time of year. In the summer, you'll often find her hiking or mountain biking. In the winter, she enjoys cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and winter hiking the most.

As much as she loves the mountains, she also loves travel! When she's not playing outdoors at home, she's either traveling the world with her husband and two kids or working on their other two travel sites: Family Can Travel and Baby Can Travel.